my absolute favourite photographer. Not only that, but in spite of natural fears about what I was in for, given the unknown quantities involved (not least all the other people on the weekend), it turned out to be a completely engaging two and a half days with a really fine group of people, all interesting and likeable, and not a single crazed egomaniac or unaware BO-sufferer or (apparent) psycho among them.
|A member of the hotel staff, in the lobby|
I took Friday off work and drove down to Folkestone in the morning. The first rendezvous for the Martin Parr weekend wasn't until 6pm (drinks in the hotel, the Langhorne Garden). But I wanted to make the most of the experience and by 12 noon I was sitting on the seafront at Sandgate, a 'suburb' of Folkestone just along from the town in blistering sunshine -- already casting my eyes around for suitable subjects for photos (abandoned grannies, scrapping children, etc, etc) but not actually daring to take any photos of them. I didn't see Vic and Bob or Paul O'Grady, all rumoured to live in or near Sandgate. The night before I had done extensive research on Folkestone in preparation for the weekend, including looking it up on Knowhere.co.uk, which is something one should only do as a last resort and definitely not about one's own home town as it will kill any affection you have for the place. Thus my view of Folkestone, prior to arrival, was one of hellish levels of grimness, perhaps comparable to Albania or Dagestan, with added loveable celebrity residents. As is so often the case (thank the Lord), none of my research was borne out -- or only to a very small degree and highly photogenically.
Rennies' Seaside Modern, in the lovely 'Creative Quarter' (aka the Old High Street). I've wanted to visit Paul and Karen Rennie's amazing vintage shop for years. Calling what they do 'vintage' doesn't remotely do them justice as they are serious (world-class) collectors and purveyors of the best modern antiques, particularly graphic design. In the past we have bought one or two Festival of Britain pieces from them that I don't believe you would easily find anywhere else.
Tearing myself away from Rennies, I toured the rest of the Creative Quarter, spotted an art gallery that I really liked the look of: Strange Cargo's George's House (with a show on that I liked too, by John Howard), and finally made it to the hotel.
Going down for the welcome drinks was really the most challenging moment of the whole weekend. No amount of publishing parties and conferences will ever prepare me for having to walk into a room of strangers and introduce myself. Especially a room full of photography enthusiasts jostling for their first moment with the Great Man of the weekend. I had the advantage there in that I had already made Martin and Susie's acquaintance, in the Rennies' shop, so they said hello when they saw me. I must just say at this point that Susie Parr was the loveliest, most gracious, delightful person and added a great deal to the pleasure of the weekend.
Before I had summoned up the courage to speak to more than a couple of people, we found ourselves walking en masse through Folkestone to our dinner venue. I thought (still in the mindset of Folkestone-as-Dagestan) that the deranged gangs probably wouldn't take us on if we stayed bunched together. Although it was dusk, I had reluctantly to accept that the town still seemed perfectly lovely and unthreatening. What on earth are they to do to dispel their online image? Soon we arrived at Rocksalt, a beautiful, modern restaurant on the harbour front (with a Gordon Ramsay trained chef). The meal was very delicious and I was keen on the use they'd made of local ingredients such as buckthorn. A jolly atmosphere soon rose like a heat haze around us. The School of Life certainly didn't stint on the wine. Then it was back to the hotel (unmolested, not to say ignored, by the ravening natives. I was starting to think my whole internet-inspired picture of Folkestone was entirely false) to sleep and prepare mentally for the real work of the weekend, which was to start at 9am the next morning.
|sunrise from my room|
|my shot for the 'cup of tea' challenge|