In November of 1991 my wife Dido won a Winston Churchill Traveling Fellowship to Chile to study the role of folk dance as a therapeutic tool for children with learning problems. Because it was going to be a long trip – about three months in all – and we had been married less than a year we decided that I would go along too. As it happened, Dido required her work to be visually recorded and so she appointed me her video cameraman.
When we arrived, Chile had been a democracy about the same length of time that we had been married, so this was a dramatic voyage of discovery in more ways than one. In fact, looking back on that trip now, over 30 years later, Dido and I agree that it remains one of our two or three most remarkable joint experiences.
We decided to keep a written journal of the trip even before we left England, but within a few days of our arrival so many weird and wonderful – not to mention hysterical – things had happened to us that I decided to record the most amusing and surreal in a series of cartoons. Presented here are a selection of those pictures – made literally on the hoof; on trains, on buses and even on planes as we traveled the length (there is relatively little breadth) of one the world’s most spectacular, most beautiful and most crazy countries. These pictures are a humorous and affectionate record of all aspects of the-then new democratic Chile, through the eyes of two wide-eyed newly-weds.
With only ten days to pick our olives and prune around a thousand vines, among many other farming chores here on our Andalusian finca, this post has few words and is all about the pictures. Suffice to say, I always felt the dry chalkiness of thickly applied gouache was a perfect medium for expressing the tonal aridity of the fabulous Atacama Desert. As ever, I hope all of you who pass this virtual way agree! Wishing all my visitors, readers and followers a 2018 as epic as the incredible Chilean desert itself…
Twenty-four years ago I experienced the dubious complement of being burgled of three of my favourite paintings.
We’d more or less completed the construction of our house in Andalusia when all our household belongings arrived from England. I say more or less completed, because we had yet to make the house secure with things like window bars and securely locking doors. However, situated as we were, in the proverbial middle of nowhere and with only a handful of people knowing our house existed, we felt reasonably secure receiving our possessions. And looking back on it now, I don’t suppose that eight months of living on a building site devoid of all creature comforts and luxuries had done much for our sense of judgement when it came to matters of domestic security?
A perfect illustration of just how crazy we were is represented by what happened the very first night we got our stuff back.
After an entire day of frenzied unpacking I decided to reward us by rigging up our much-missed stereo. Our ghetto-blaster had broken halfway through the build and for the past four months the only music we had to listen to was whatever happened to be playing on our matchbox-sized radio. Now, at last we could hear our music, on our wonderful sound system and most importantly of all, at our volume.
And as it was the volume I craved as much as the music itself, seeing as my choice of tune for this auspicious occasion was Led Zeppelin’s superlative “Trampled Underfoot” . My first hearing of the number was as a wide-eyed 15-year-old in the fifth row at Earls Court in 1975, when it had changed my life, and so it seemed like an apt song with which to celebrate this new chapter.
I put it on at full volume and immediately went out onto our north terrace to enjoy it against the appropriately spectacular view of the crimson Sierra Tajeda bathed in flaming sunset. Soon I was gyrating away in a state of manic bliss; then joined by our Maremma Sheepdog Aura, who, teddy in mouth joined in the head-banging. Shortly Dido appeared on our little bedroom balcony, next to the terrace, fresh from the shower, stark-naked, executing a superb go-go-dance.
All-in-all, quite a party…except that during one of the brief inter-riff silences in the music I thought I heard goats! And again, in the next silence, I could hear an instant of goat bell mingled with goat bleat. Then to my horror, I peered down the slope beneath the terrace, to the dirt track beyond our little vineyard to find myself staring into the face of one of the local village goatherds! I don’t know how long he’d been watching us, but his amazed expression was clearly visible, even from fifty yards away…
To cut a long story short, for years afterwards we were known in the village by the sobriquets that title this post. To this day, we still get odd looks from some of the older villagers.
Sadly, it wasn’t just the goatherd who brought us down to earth with a bump. The next evening, when we returned from a visit to the coast we found that three of my paintings had been stolen, including one of my favourites of the ships in Arica Harbour in Chile. What made the pain of the robbery worse was that we knew exactly who the guilty party was (not the poor goatherd by the way!) but for reasons too sensitive to divulge here, we also understood that there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it. Fortunately I did at least photograph the three pictures and have presented them here…
Standing a loved one or a friend, or even an animal before a fabulous vista is a cultural staple of the holiday snapper. For me, apart from the “I/we was/were there” element, the juxtaposing of a human and or animal before vastness simultaneously humanises and accentuates the majesty of the given panorama. Painters have been doing the same thing since the days of the great Dutch and British landscape painters of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, from Van Ruisdael to Caspar David Friedrich.
Presented here are sadly no Friedrich’s, but this set of enhanced-photos from all my years of travel do nevertheless express something of that dramatic relationship between “us” and the landscapes we move within…
This dates back to the late 70’s when my old mate Simon and I drove around Cork and Kerry in his old orange Datsun. This is Simon peering over the edge at Slea Head near Dingle on the Kerry coast (famous for being the location for the movie Ryan’s Daughter)…
Taken around 1981, this is the summit of Mount Gilboa. The field of boulders could seem to bear witness to the power of David’s curse in his great lament for the fallen Saul and Jonathan that nothing should ever grow upon the mountain’s slopes again…
Of all the photos in my extensive archive of old camera film, there few that still excite me as much as those I took in the Atacama Desert in 1991. Regular visitors to this site will know that I have something of a passion for deserts and wildernesses.
Rather than try explain in words what it is exactly that gets my juices going (and to be honest, I’m not even sure I fully understand myself) here are a set of images from that trip. I made a series of mostly huge canvases together with a complementary set of small gouaches from these pictures, and they were the basis of two of my last one-man shows as a fine artist – one held at the Chilean Embassy in 1992. The first picture presented here (91 Chile Atacama) was the basis of the super-large canvas that eventually found it’s way to an architect’s studio in Seattle, as payment for the designs for our house in Spain.
The original images were taken on my then-antique Nikon FE using Agfa chrome slide film, and one day I hope to have a scanner with sufficient power to faithfully reproduce the pictures digitally — or better still, pay the Atacama a return visit with my current camera. Nevertheless, I think that with these pictures I’ve managed to reproduce some of the magic of Chile’s genuinely awesome “Mars on Earth”…
One of my most visited posts was Before We Met – a photo record of my wife Dido’s career as a professional ballerina and model. Dido was injured out of the ballet in 1985, about four years before we met, and so very sadly, I never got to see her dance.
Nevertheless, I was privileged to witness Dido as she utilised the single-minded commitment and personal discipline she learned as a classical dancer to retrain; firstly as an occupational therapist (OT) and then later as a scientist specialising in the development of children’s brains. These qualities combined with her intelligence, imagination and wit meant that ballet’s loss has been a considerable gain for countless numbers of children with a range of conditions from autism to hemiplegia.
Seasoned readers and followers of this blog may already be familiar with our trip to Chile through my series Our Real Cartoon Adventure. But, for those who are not in the know, I should explain that in that in 1991 Dido – then starting out as an OT – was awarded a generous Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to go to Chile to study the role of folk dance as a therapeutic tool to support social integration and participation for children with learning problems. As we were only recently wed, and as Dido would be gone for several months we decided that I would travel along, ostensibly (and actually, to a significant degree) as her cameraman (still and video) and thus provide a visual record of her work.
All but one of the photos presented here are recreational however, and provide a happy record of our travels through that wonderful country, from Lago Chungara in the extreme north to Lago Llanquehue in the southern Lake District. What I particularly love about these pictures is the way they illustrate Dido’s adventurous spirit, her sense of fun, her incredible toughness and her beauty – inside and out. Moreover, they provide compelling evidence that there’s lots of life to be had beyond showbiz!
*In addition to being a Winston Churchill Fellow, Dido was recently made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts for her contributions to Neuroscience, Occupational Therapy and the Arts.
It’s been the best part of three decades since we visited the copper mine at Chuquicamata in Chile, and I still can’t decide whether it was a thing of stunning aesthetic quality or a vast, hideous blemish on an otherwise almost virgin landscape.
The facts are these: It’s the second deepest man-made pit, and the largest open-cast copper mine in the world by volume.
Moreover – before anyone gets all outraged and self-righteous about my conundrum – the copper wiring powering the laptop, Mac or PC you’re currently looking at this site on comes from this very pit or another mine just like it somewhere else on the planet.
What I remember mostly from our visit (apart from the terrible air quality from the smoke stacks nearby) was the sense of overwhelming awe when we first looked over the edge of the mine. I also remember the expressions upon the faces of all the members of our little tour party at that moment as we all looked at each other in disbelieving amazement. Everyone was smiling – inanely and bemused for sure – but we were smiling.
As usual with these gallery posts, ultimately it’s the images which must do the talking and the convincing – or otherwise. Do they make you smile or make you cry.