Category Archives: History

Japan tsunami – in memoriam


It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11th 2011 claiming the lives of 18,500 people.

Here are some incredible before and after shots capturing the devastation and the rebuilding that’s gone on in the past decade.

At the time, all I could do was write a poem as I, like billions around the globe, bore witness to the calamitous event unfolding before us.

I felt impotent. I tried to sell prints of my poem for $1 online to raise funds, to no avail.

I wished I was something useful like a doctor or a nurse, or a rescue worker that could do something practical to help.

Then I thought of all the creative people I had encountered during my long career as an art director in the advertising industry and I asked them for help. The response was phenomenal. I got donations of works of art from all over the world to be put into an auction to raise money for the Red Cross who were working on the ground over there.

Less than a month later, we held the Japan Art Auction at Jonathan Oakes photography studio in Manchester, hosted by The Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. It was an incredible success and, thanks to a great many people, we raised quite a few grand.

A lot has changed in 10 years. As you can see by the photos in The Guardian link above.

Things have changed for me too. I am now a Nursing Assistant at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.

And, whilst my poem did not raise a single dollar, it did inspire Austrian composer Albors Pascal Askari to write this hauntingly beautiful piece of music. All the proceeds from which also went to the Japan relief effort.

And, unbeknownst to me, my poem was on the English curriculum at several schools in London for a couple of years.

Who says poetry can’t make a difference?

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15 seconds


I came across this story of a girl the same age my daughter is now. She was born on the 15th August 1928 in Poland. And died at the tender age of 14 on 12th March 1943. When I say ‘died’, she was murdered in Auschwitz by the Nazis. Because she lived in an area of Poland earmarked for resettlement.

I was so taken by her image and her story – her absolute innocence, that I felt compelled to write a poem about her. To honour her tragically short life in some way. I know it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference if I write a few pathetic lines of poetry 77 years later. But it matters to me. It could’ve been my daughter, but for circumstance. Or yours. It still could be, the way the world is going.

Czeslawa Kwoka.

15 seconds.

For Czeslawa Kwoka.

There’s this girl.

Her nose and cheeks are pink,

like she’s just come in from the cold.

She’s looking up at the camera

with fear in her blue-grey eyes.

Her fair hair is roughly shorn,

and she wears an over-sized

blue and white striped tunic,

held together with safety pins.

She doesn’t understand what they are saying,

she doesn’t speak the language.

So the Kapo beats her about the head with a stick.

Her lips are thin and cut

like they’re trying to still a tremble.

There’s a badge sewn over her heart

with the serial number 26947 printed on it.

She has a name though. It’s Czeslawa.

She is 14 years old.

The same age as my daughter.

But she looks much younger.

Like a terrified little girl.

She hasn’t done anything wrong.

Except, be Polish.

And Catholic.

And ill.

Probably typhus or T.B.

The cause is irrelevant.

She’s too ill to work.

So she’s surplus to requirements.

The doctor will see you now.

He’s going to inject a final solution

of phenol directly into her heart.

It will kill her in 15 seconds.

Or not.

It’s not an exact science.

If he misses the ventricle it could take up to an hour.

Once administered, she will be thrown

onto the pile of bodies in the room next door.

Where her body will turn a shade of livid pink

for the next 60 minutes.

Because that is too long to wait,

to see whether the procedure was a success.

They are only allowed two minutes

and 22 seconds

per murder.

So she lies on the pile of dead people,

gulping for oxygen.

Knowing that she too, is soon to be one of them.

Photographer: Wilhelm Brasse

Colourist: Mirek Szponar.

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Parr Excellence.


Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Martin Parr would probably groan in pun-staking agony at that headline.

Oh well, you’re here now.

Martin Parr is one of Britain’s greatest photographers. Actually, make that ‘the World’s’.

He manages to capture the zeitgeist of working-class life in all its gaudy technicolour, wherever he goes. Whether that be Barnsley or Brazil.

He’s known for his satirical and ironic documentary-style images that look at our insatiable rapaciousness for consumerism. That, and people eating chips.

Martin Parr

I’m not here to write his biography, just show you some of his brilliant work. If you’d like to know a bit more about him, his life, his work, his foundation and his legacy, click here. But if you just want to see more photos of people eating chips, scroll down.

Ireland.
USA. Kentucky Derby. 2015.
ITALY. Capri. Marina Piccola. 2014.
Sexy Beast, anyone?
Uruguay.
Barry Island. 1996.
WALES. Glamorgan. Tower Colliery. 1993.
Wales. Tenby. 2018.

If you want to have a look at some of his most recent projects, have a look here. You won’t be disappointed.

GB. England. Kent. Margate. 1986.
GB. England. Bristol. Pride. 2019.

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Liberty – Paul Eluard


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Paul & Nusch Eluard

When I first read ‘Liberty’ by French poet Paul Eluard I thought it was a love poem to his wife Nusch. Silly me.

After doing a bit of research (Googling) I learned that it was, in fact, about the Nazi occupation of his beloved France during the Second World War.

In my defence, I still think it reads like a love poem. Just love of one’s country, I guess.

It reminded me of ‘The Causes’ by Jorge Luis Borges. Another epic poem about love.

 

Liberty

By Paul Eluard

Translation by Guy Tiphane

 

On my school notebooks

On my school desk and the trees

On the sand on the snow

I write your name

 

On all the pages read

On all the blank pages

Stone blood paper or ash

I write your name

 

On the golden images

On the warriors’ arms

On the kings’ crown

I write your name

 

On the jungle and the desert

On the nests on the brooms[1]

On the echo of my childhood

I write your name

 

On the wonders of the nights

On the white bread of the days

On the seasons engaged[2]

I write your name

 

On all my rags[3] of azure

On the pond mildewed sun

On the lake live moon

I write your name

 

On the fields on the horizon

On the wings of the birds

And on the mill of the shadows

I write your name

 

On every puff of dawn

On the sea on the boats

On the mad mountain

I write your name

 

On the foam of the clouds

On the sweat of the storm

On the thick and dull rain

I write your name

 

On the scintillating figure

On the bells[4] of the colors

On the physical truth

I write your name

 

On the paths awake

On the roads unfurled

On the squares overflowing

I write your name

 

On the lamp that comes alight[5]

On the lamp that dies out[6]

On my houses combined

I write your name

 

On the fruit cut in halves

Of the mirror and of my room

On my empty shell bed[7]

I write your name

 

On my gourmand and tender dog

On his pricked up ears

On his clumsy paw

I write your name

 

On the springboard of my door

On the familiar objects

On the flood of the blessed fire

I write your name

 

On any[8] granted flesh

On my friends’ brow

On every hand held out

I write your name

 

On the window of the surprises

On the attentive lips

Well above the silence

I write your name

 

On my destroyed shelters

On my crumbled beacons

On the walls of my boredom

I write your name

 

On the absence without desire

On the bare solitude

On the steps of death

I write your name

 

On the health returned

On the risk disappeared

On hope without remembrance

I write your name

 

And by the power of a word

I start my life again

I was born to know you

To name you

 

Liberty.

 

Thanks to @chimesatmidnight on Instagram for first introducing me to the poem.

 

F.LEGER_

 

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Now, I am not.


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What with the Coronavirus and all this isolation, it’s given us all a lot of time to think about things. Some positive, some not so much.

I’m not a religious person per se, in that, I don’t subscribe to any particular theism. I guess the closest I would come is Pantheism. Even then, I have my own theories about it. In fact, I wrote my own Creation myth to go with it! (I’ll post that at some point in the future.) Or will I? Because the future doesn’t exist. Or, does it? Is everything predetermined… whoa! You’ve got me off track.

Phew, that was close.

We could’ve been here for hours discussing that particular conundrum.

What I do think about a lot is death. Don’t go! I don’t mean that in a depressing way. More of a philosophical one. What happens when we die? Is there an afterlife? Does such a thing as reincarnation exist?

What’s that got to do with Covid-19?

Well, a lot of people have died from it. And nature seems to be thriving since we’ve isolated ourselves from huge swathes of it. So, what is the point of us? Is there one? Are human beings as insignificant as a dandelion? (Or, significant, if you’re a dandelion.)

I dunno. I don’t have the answers.

What I do know is that human beings are made of energy. We can’t live without it. That’s not my opinion, it’s a scientific fact. Another scientific fact is that energy can never be created nor destroyed. The atoms that created you and I came from the Big Bang. And they will not go anywhere, but back into the universe. That means, the atoms that make up you and I have been pottering about the universe for the past 13.8 billion years! God knows what mine have been up to. It can’t have been good.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the energy that keeps you and me alive maintains its sentience once it leaves our bodies. But it did make me think of a poem.

It’s one I wrote a while ago and came to mind because of what’s going on in the world. How quickly and easily life can be arbitarily snuffed out whilst other life thrives. Perhaps the question is not, does human life have purpose? But, doesn’t all life have purpose?

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Now, I am not.

By David Milligan-Croft

 

I am an electron.

I am an atom.

Now, I am not an atom.

I am a star.

I am a white dwarf.

I am primordial gloop.
Now, I am not.

Now, I am molten lava,
Coursing through the juvenile earth.

Now, I am not.

I am a rock.
Marble, to be specific.

From the cliffs of Massa and Carrara.

Now, I am not a rock.

I am an amoeba.
Now, I am two amoeba.

I am sky.

I am cerulean-blue sky.
I am cloud – I am rain – I am river.
I am
w
a
t
e
r
f
a
l
l,

I am ocean.

I am vapour.

I am a droplet of dew on a monkey puzzle tree.
Now, I am not a droplet of dew on a monkey puzzle tree.

I am a puzzled snow monkey in a hot thermal spring.

I am a tiger.

I – am – a – tiger.

Waiting.

Watching.

Padding.

Creeping, slowly through the long grass.

I see you with your spear.

I. Am. Tiger.

Now, I am not.

I am a slave.
Skin flaking from my red-raw back
Like cherry blossom petals.

Now, I am free.

I think I am a Greek.
Therefore, I am not a Greek.

I am a hoplite.
My dory has shivered,
My hoplon is buckling.
Now, I am not.

I am a foetus.
I hear my mother’s muffled weeping
From somewhere close by.
Now, I am not a foetus.

I am the darkness
That envelops you.

I am a judas.
All that have gone before
And all that will come.

Now, I am a magician.
Now, I am not a magician.
Ta-daaaah!

Now, I’m a daddy!
I cradle your delicate life in my trembling palms.

One day, I will be your father no more,

But, for now,

I am.

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A Walk Among the Gods.


I’m going through a bit of a Greek mythology phase at the moment. I’m fascinated by the myriad of ‘minor’ deities they have to represent nature – they literally have thousands.

While going for a walk in the woods down by the river, I got to thinking about ancient Greece and – if I were alive back then – how many deities I would be walking amongst.

So I wrote a poem about it.

Hope you like it. Stay safe and well during these turbulent times under lockdown.

naiads greece

A WALK AMONG THE GODS

By David Milligan-Croft.

On my morning walk, the goddess of the forest

Spread her roots before me to form a stairway,

So that I may walk down the steep slope of the valley

To where the river naiads skittered above rocks,

Meandering over Gaea’s flesh toward the open arms of Thalassa.

The sun goddess winked and flickered through the branches,

Scintillating off the peaks of the river’s crown.

The sky goddess held up her sister

Enveloping her in a lustrous, cerulean blue cloak.

The goddess of the wind chastised the reeds on the riverbank,

Tousled the leaves in the trees and held aloft the birds,

Who sang their song to the nymphs and protogenoi,

As automobiles droned in the distance, oblivious to the rapture

Of the forest.

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Hopscotch in the rain


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You don’t see chalk on the pavement much anymore.

My daughters used to do it outside our house and up the street with the neighbours’ children.

I was walking to school the other day to pick my daughters up when I saw some lovely pastel chalk drawings on the pavement and it took me back to when I was a kid.

So I wrote a haiku about it.

As you do.

 

Hopscotch in the rain.

 

Chalk on the pavement;

Hopscotch memories fade, in

Fine summer drizzle.

 

 

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Unleash your inner Tempest


Addendum.

Unfortunately, the Shakespeare exhibition and all workshops have been cancelled until further notice due to the coronavirus.

Apologies for the inconvenience.

 

Fancy contributing to an exhibition based around Shakespeare’s The Tempest?

I’m facilitating an exhibition for Arc in collaboration with Stockport Libraries as part of Shakespeare Week.

The theme for the exhibition is to bring the great bard’s classic play to life visually.

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Here’s one we prepared earlier…

Who can get involved?

Well, there are two groups of people that can take part – locals, and non-locals.

If you’re local to Stockport, you can come along to one of our group sessions at The Heatons and Brinnington libraries. They are on Tuesday 17th March and Friday 20th March respectively.

There are two sessions at each library. 10.30 am – 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm – 3.30 pm.

You can pop along for one, or both sessions. (There’ll be different activities in the morning and afternoon.) Stay for 10 minutes or two hours.

For non-locals who fancy having a go, simply email me a pdf of your piece (or post it if you have time) and I’ll print it out. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Vermont or Verona, just pick up your pencils and paintbrushes and wear your heart on your sleeve.

It’s quite simple really. I’m asking people to draw or paint on top of The Tempest text, as in the example above. Artwork can be A5, A4 or A3 portrait or landscape and can be in any medium.

Sometimes called Humuments or Black-out poetry. You can use the text as part of a background, or highlight certain parts of the text to make a completely different piece of prose or poetry, which doesn’t have to relate to The Tempest at all.

See examples above and below.

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IMG_20200223_110307

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The exhibition opens on Saturday 28th March at the Arc Centre Gallery Cafe, Hat Works in Stockport at 11 am – 4 pm.

That doesn’t given you long if you’re not local and would like to submit a piece. We’ll be putting the exhibition together w/c 23rd March, so ideally, we would like email/postal submissions by Saturday 21st March please. I’ll be waiting with baited breath.

Email me at thereisnocavalry@icloud.com for more details or my postal address.

Good luck, the world is your oyster.

 

 

 

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The era-defining legacy of Tish Murtha.


Patricia ‘Tish’ Murtha is another photographer I’ve been wanting to write a post about for quite some time. And, like my previous post about Saul Leiter’s early work in New York, Tish Murtha captured the essence of working class Northern England during the late 70s and 80s under Thatcher.

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Tish Murtha 14/3/1956 – 13/3/2013. © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

Unlike Leiter, Murtha’s work focuses predominantly on the socially deprived. One of the reasons I love her work so much is that I can empathise with a lot of the shots. I can see myself in them as a kid growing up in Batley in the 60s and 70s.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

Her images also remind me of the early social documentary work of legends like Bill Brandt and Don McCullin. The sort of work we don’t see enough of. That’s because people don’t like to look at it. Because it tells us the truth about the society in which we live.

Local Boys in Bradford 1972

Don McCullin

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Bill Brandt

One of the things a great photographer does is make the viewer ask questions. Like, who are they? What are they doing now? In this case, who started the fire? Did they start it? Why are they unconcerned? What are they looking at?

Tish Murtha doesn’t just capture images of the economically deprived in our society, she captures joy and despair. Fear and determination. Hope and uncertainty. Perhaps most importantly – love and kinship.

 

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

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Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

Tish Murtha would have been have been 64 next month. Sadly, she died at the tender age of 56 in 2013 of a sudden brain aneurysm.

The legacy of Tish Murtha is carried on by her daughter Ella who has kindly given me permission to publisher her mother’s work, and to whom I owe a debt of gratitude.

Ella posthumously published collections of her mum’s work in the books Youth Unemployment and Elswick Kids which you can find here.

You can also get exhibition prints here.

I could continue this post with Tish Murtha’s work for as many Google pages there are showing it. But that would leave you with nothing to do. To find out more about her era-defining work – and how she saved the lives of four women through organ donation – why not explore her life and work here.

Happy birthday Tish.

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Bonjour 2020!


I thought I’d begin 2020 as I ended 2019 – writing in French!

Why? I have no idea.

Plus, it’s a tad late for New Year salutations.

I’ve wanted to write a post about Saul Leiter for many a moon.

Why? I have no idea.

Wait, I do. Because I love his work, that’s why. And I thought it only right and proper I shared the love.

I am intrigued by his voyeuristic style. Apart from Leiter being a pioneer of early colour photography, he managed to capture slices of the Big Apple’s social and cultural life in 1940s and 50s America. I think the compositions are very cinematic and each character could inspire a short story.

He said his early influences were the Impressionists Degas, Bonnard and Vuillard. But I’d venture to chuck Toulouse-Lautrec into the pot as well.

And he wasn’t just a dab hand at photography. He was pretty good at dabbing with a paint brush too. (Quite a few of his paintings are over-painted photographs.)

I’m not going to blather on giving you his life story, you can do that here. I just want to show you some pretty pictures. So, here you go…

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