The ties that bind, the roots that ground us …
Each of the deaths faced since the start of this year have thrown up feelings associated with those that have gone before – it’s inevitable. I had already been thinking about my late father more than usual before I left for Scotland, having re-found pyjamas which had once belonged to him – and then, shortly afterwards, rediscovering a box in the garage, crammed full of all sorts of things connected with him and his beloved Scotland.
Family, roots, identity, connections, loss and remembrance are matters that have pretty much preoccupied my thoughts since returning from a recent visit there. As ever, it was a joy to immerse myself in the beautiful Ayrshire countryside where my Dad was born and to speak with my relatives about updating and distributing copies of the Shields/Murdoch family tree that we had given Dad for his 70th birthday, the year before he died.
I also finally got to take the HAME letters to his ‘proper, real’ home in Ayrshire, something I’ve wanted to do ever since I first took them to the border at Carter Bar and subsequently, to Edinburgh and its surrounding countryside. Even though he lived in England, away from his place of birth for many years, Scotland was always home/hame to my Dad – and Muirkirk, specifically. I really enjoyed revisiting childhood haunts with my own children and sharing the placing of the letters in an area close to my Dad’s, his family’s and my own heart. I was struck as I always am on my visits to the area, by the lushness of the vegetation, the abundance of wild flowers and the unique colours of the landscape.
On the basis that everything’s connected, it felt uncanny to spot a small cluster of thistles on my way back to the studio on Tuesday; I felt compelled to pick a small sprig from the tall stems and return to the studio with it. I had just spent the morning collating the various images I’d cut from old gardening books. The black and white image of a man’s hands holding roots had jumped out at me; the purple flowers likewise, really stood out in the middle of massive construction work, currently going on around Lewisham station. Their surroundings here were in stark contrast to the environment I’d last seen thistles in, in the wild countryside of Ayrshire.
A simple tribute, I’ve given it the title Och, Daddy. My mind has been flooded with memories of the many hours I spent with my Dad as a child, helping him in his allotment, digging and preparing the ground for planting – and eventually, pulling up roots like those in the black and white image; those hands could be my Dad’s.
More work is likely to develop from this initial image, I’m sure – certainly, I feel I’d like to dig deeper (ironically) in terms of thinking more about the importance of family roots and connections; our identity and what we inherit; our place and our history. This leads me nicely to another experience I had while in Scotland – a visit to the Ties that Bind exhibition as part of Document Scotland. It’s true, everything really is connected …
… seeing the Document Scotland/Ties That Bind exhibition in Edinburgh during this recent trip inspired me enormously. So much of what the photographers present in the show is pertinent to what I’ve written about here and the things I’ve been thinking about. Four brilliant photographers depict the very essence of what it’s like to be Scottish – and coming a year after the Referendum, the images seem ever more poignant. On the basis that every picture tells a story and no amount of words can conjure up what the images do, here’s a link to details of the show, one which if you happen to be in Edinburgh, I thoroughly recommended you see: