A few years ago I did the Weymouths project and spent some time in an incredible place on the southwest coast of England. I just went back and looked at the photos and this is one that stands out for me. We took a sunset walk on this seaside path on the Isle of Portland, just off the coast from Weymouth, and I remember thinking: this is one of the most beautiful evenings of my life. A perfect combination of people and place and light that marked the conclusion of weeks of work (months, really). I took a photo because I actually wanted to capture something, not simply consume the scene and be done with it. I wanted to save it and store it away as insurance against the fear that soon enough I would forget it. And that if I didn’t forget it, maybe I would see these new friends and this place again someday. That’s what I see when I look at this photo that I took on August 8, 2012.
And so, I return. For the entire month of June I’ll be in England to create a new publication for the residents of the Isle of Portland. I’ll be based at the public library as an artist-in-residence. The project is a commission for the b-side arts festival and Dorset County Council, funded by Arts Council England.
My proposal: a publication (probably a 64-page newspaper) called Portland Bill (after the lighthouse situated dramatically at the southern tip of the island, surrounded by the roughest of seas), containing content from the people who live on Portland. I’ll collect and assemble their material with little or no editing, and the entire thing will be printed in August (with Newspaper Club) and distributed on Portland during b-side’s arts festival in September.
This was one of those days that I’ll remember for a long while. I woke up at the Dead House feeling nervous, thinking about today’s public book encounters. I’m comfortable as a quiet observer, especially in public. Knowing that most of today would be spent gathering attention and making a spectacle of myself (however benign) made me anxious, for sure. I knew this would be difficult. At various times I thought about how I could just drop the entire thing, throw out all the books, etc.
I was due at Bev’s house to pick up her bicycle at 9 a.m. On the esplanade along the way I was spotted by Julie, an artist I’d met in London at BookLive. She’d told me that she might drive to Weymouth to get one of the books on the first day, as research for her Ph.D. dissertation on archives (“Archive as Activity”). Julie, who had slept in her car on her trip down from Sheffield, was sitting on a bench and called out to me, and we exchanged a few serendipitous screams and laughs. Was wonderful to sit with her and talk about our journeys and the excitement of being in this fantastic place, and the circumstances that brought us there. Hers was exactly the beautiful burst of energy I needed to get me going this morning.
A bit later at Bev’s house I listened to her talk about her life in Weymouth while she made us coffee. Bev is a friend of Jane’s, who features prominently in volume 1, and through this connection I was generously offered Bev’s bicycle — absolutely perfect in an old-fashioned, big-wicker-basket kind of way.
Back at the bakery, I loaded up with today’s edition (Volume 1: River / The Interviews) and made my way to the northern end of the promenade (the “prom”). I set up in front of Aunty Vi’s snack shack, right on the sea, at exactly 10:45 a.m. By 11 a.m. all of the books were gone. It happened so fast but I spoke to everyone — Olympic ambassadors, students and their teacher from Peru (several copies of volume 1 are on their way there now). A family who vowed to take one to give to a friend who would appreciate it. Someone who said they would be back every morning to collect the entire set, making me promise I would be in the same spot every day. Somehow, 20 copies were suddenly gone, just like that.
Everyone seemed genuinely interested. Enthusiastic, even. The spontaneity of each encounter fed the energy for other people who came by, and each moment rolled into the next. Was such a great feeling.
Peter, the owner of Aunty Vi’s, was the most enthusiastic. He was the first to approach me, within 30 seconds of setting up, offering me free tea and coffee and calling out to everyone passing by to go get a book because “they’re rare and you’ll be one of the twenty!” Our temporarily shared territory created a bond and I was reminded of Lewis Hyde’s “territorial gifts” (exchanging a mint with someone sitting next to you on an airplane, for example).
Later, at Phoenix Bakery, I set up the reading room for the afternoon and had visits from an Italian language club. I gave them an extra copy of volume 1 that I found, and they vowed to pass it around and share it. Fellow b-side artists Frances Scott and Niels Post and friends came by, and an Irish family who had traveled to Weymouth, MA to visit relatives there. And Joff Winterhart drew me and the books and the visitors for a good part of the afternoon.
Jane and I shared a marvelous conversation about generosity and the giving/gift part of the project. She reminded me that the connections coming out of and into this project are human. That this exchange keeps us alive.
Meanwhile, Aidan the master baker was busy making delicious things downstairs.
I’m putting together some color palettes for the Weymouths books. These are collections of individual pixels sampled somewhat randomly from photographs I took in Weymouth, England.
- Stones on Chesil Beach
- River Wey
- Stone façade on Maiden Street (with a cannonball lodged in it, fired during the English Civil War, 10 February 1645)
- Ancient Roman stone from the temple ruin at Jordan Hill, 4th century
- Stone on the back side of the 1810 seaside statue of King George III
- House façades and trim colors on the Nothe Parade, compiled from 32 photographs