Not Waving but Drowning



Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
I was delighted to receive an email  this week from Tim Andrews.
Tim was diagnosed with Parkinsons when he was just 54 years old and one of the ways in which he has come to terms with his illness is though an ongoing project whereby he has posed for over 350 different photographers . I was honoured to be invited to participate in the project in 2013.
Tim's email was a request to come and film himself underwater in our swimming pool and whilst he was at it, wondered if I would I like to do another photo shoot. The timing wasn't ideal -  I was facing (with some terror) my first radio interview and deeply  submerged in preparations for an upcoming conference day at Patchings to mark the end of Masters of Vision However, it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.
The afore-mentioned commitments meant that I had very little time to ponder and cogitate, anguish and fret  about how exactly I was going to depict him. After over 350 sittings surely ideas must be getting a little thin on the ground? As with so many other things that have been going on this week, I felt l a bit like I had been thrown in the deep end (to choose a suitably watery metaphor). Certainly ‘much too far out’ as the poem goes. And so, while I didn't hesitate in accepting,  it certainly gave me cause to wonder why I didn’t take the easy road and postpone or possibly politely refuse the invitation. Misplaced confidence that I’d emerge waving rather than drowning perhaps.
As luck would have it one of those marrowy aphorisms popped up on my Facebook page  earlier this week - a suitably melancholic image  accompanied by the words ‘ Life begins on the edge of your comfort zone’. It couldn’t have been more timely.
We’ve all seen these sentiments expressed before (a couple of my favourites - T.S Eliot ” Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go” or William Faulkner: "You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore).
It’s not  always an easy message to swallow because we know there is  more than an element of truth in it.  We can drift along and take the line of least resistance and how much easier  it is to do what we always do, take no chances, remain within the artistic confines of what we know best. We try something new and immediately we have to embrace the very real possibility of failure. Probably public failure at that.
Change for change's sake does not always equal progress but now and again I think it does us good to look beyond that which we know to be comfortable and safe. It could convincingly be argued the only way we will gain ground is if now and again we embrace something totally alien. Or if not totally alien then a little bit beyond our comfort zone.
Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to come up with what I thought was a fairly obvious title for the shoot, given Tim’s health predicament and the fact that he was going to be in the water - ‘Not Waving But Drowning’. Tim had ideas about  being face down in the water and we also experimented with him jumping up and down waving his arms and generally splashing around.
I was mindful of the fact that we keep our pool on the chilly side so I’d certainly didn’t spend as long as I would have liked shooting him. I sent Tim a selection of the images I thought had worked out the best and fortunately we both agreed that the image below was the winner. However Tim’s interpretation was somewhat different to mine. He immediately thought of ‘Eight Hands’ from the film ‘Some Like it Hot’. Tim’s knowledge of movies is encyclopaediac to say the very least and although I’ve seen the film, it was more years ago than I care to admit to so I had to research the quote.  "We wouldn't be caught dead with men. Rough, hairy beasts! Eight hands. And they...they all just want one thing from a girl".
Now this may or may not be true, but what interested me was the different interpretation two people can put on the same image (although subsequent communications with Tim revealed that we weren’t actually that far apart as he saw a degree of desperation in it too). It rather leaves me questioning the lengthy artist's statements that many photographers add to their work. But that’s the subject of another blog.
The images from our brief shoot can be seen here

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