Journal extracts and pinhole photographs © Kayla Parker 1997
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THE EYE OF A NEEDLE 3rd April 1997
I get my chance to do pinhole photography at last. Frank runs a free workshop at the arts centre for Plymouth City Council Leisure Week. Only two budding photographers turn up - me, and Rich the politics student from the university. Frank has a collection of empty shoe boxes donated by a shop for the workshop. He has a special ladies' shoe box for me, which I fit out inside with black sugar paper and black electrical tape. I drill my pinhole in a square of aluminium foil which I colour in permanent black felt pen; my shutter is a flap of black sugar paper. In the darkroom Frank helps me load up my box camera with paper curved round about 8mm from the hole. I stick it to the inside of the box with masking tape. No one has any idea what the exposure should be. I do a self portrait to test it out, and go into the darkroom on my own to open my camera and dip the paper in developer. I'm so excited when a faint image appears - a ghostly negative of my jumper. After all these years I finally enter the magic world of photography.
SLIDE 17th April 1997
I shoot some slide film - mostly of my squidgy face hanging over the camera, peering into the hole. It's torture sitting there keeping still for minutes on end, but amazingly they all come out.
LABOUR DAY 1st May 1997
We miss Padstow again, and vote at Stuart Road Primary, taking great care to X the right boxes. Then we race round the city, recording the day. Stu snaps Tony Blair posters and a giant picture of John Major on the Tory House near Puffin. I have a pinhole camera. We drop the car off with Wolfman in Stonehouse for a new exhaust, and wander round to Mount Wise pools. Sunlight trickles in through the pinhole and I catch the F238, a flat-grey warship, speeding into Devonport docks, and the ruined arches of an old Navy boat-house. A sweet brown rat on tip-toe across the slimy shingle is too quick to be caught, and escapes down its hole. Families are out in the sun, walking along the dog shit path by the sea. One pushchair tows a toddler behind it on a triangular skateboard. A big Dutch dad has a kid on his shoulders who's scared of heights. Late in the afternoon I lie the camera on its back in the front garden and capture bluebells, tulips and marigolds reaching for the deep blue sky.
SENNEN 16th June 1997
Early morning I go outside. The sky intensifies to a saturated clear blue, slashed by screaming swifts. By mid morning a mottled net of white is pulled overhead. Gangs of sparrows cheep hysterically. On the window-sill in the kitchen the morning glory twirls. Upstairs in the studio I bleach leaf skeletons onto a found strip of black and white negative. Sennen Cove late afternoon, the sun breaks through again. We buy maple walnut ice cream in a cafe full of little kids just finishing a birthday tea of chips. The kids screech Liar, liar, your pants are on fire! at each other, and get the giggles. A few worn mothers smoke fags. The flicked and stippled waves in the bay are deep dark blue and turquoise, dog heads of seals bob about near the jetty. Two boys in wetsuits and wet socks climb up the rusty ladder and dive bomb the water. The moon is half full. I balance the camera and take some pinhole photos, of the splintering sun, the sea, evaporating clouds, our shadows and rockpools. We take the coast road round to St Ives. On the horizon the reflected sun shimmers like caramelised sugar. The landscape is full of stones, lit up by magenta foxgloves.
MEN-AN-TOL 7th July 1997
Up at 5, reading 'The South-West to AD 1000' 'till about half seven, then back to bed after watering the garden. Dreamed I was in the ruins of an Iron Age hill fort, high on a hill with steep banks and ditches, overgrown with lots of trees. The ground was covered in a patchwork of thick felt sheets and huge old carpets so I could walk up and down the steep slopes barefoot. The coverings over the prickly bracken weighted down with chains of massive flat shells - whorls of mother-of-pearl sewn together like a hippy belt. Each flat shell as big as a breadboard.
Off to the cosmic giant pinhole for the first filming trip. Hot blue sky with the odd puff of cloud, except round Zennor where a sea mist floated in among the rocks. After a hundred miles in scorching heat we park up and lug all the gear along a dirt track to the stones. Set up the Super 8 to time-lapse the shadows and laze about. I move anti-clockwise around the stone-with-a-hole taking pictures every few feet.
WOODS 8th July 1997
Even hotter today. We head off to the trees for cool shade. Set up cameras in Plymbridge Woods by a bend in the river. The leaf cover overhead is so dense there are no plants at all on the ground, just bare earth with leaf litter and twigs. There's been a mass exodus from school by the kids today, as most of them are out jumping in the river and paddling. It's amazing to see the perfectly circular pools of sunlight in the shade on the ground. Don't know how well these will show up photographically as there's a breeze overhead and the leaves move around a lot.
STONE TWO 20 July 1997
Just past Falmouth, head South cross country along a slim winding road, high hedges on either side. The tarmac of each blind bend panic-streaked with skid marks aiming straight for the verge. Following the map my brains become scrambled and we reach our destination before we've realised. Reverse up the road, and turn off down a bridleway opposite a chunky white cottage. The trees are the dark thick sappy green of high summer, ageing, resinous and dusty.
Down the dirt track past two cottages, then curve over a concrete bridge above the dried-up river. Park up round the corner by a field and have our picnic. We sit in the car and eat Sainsbury's bread, olives, herb salad, houmus, Emmenthal and Laughing Cow Lite, then drive back up to the road about a quarter of a mile above the crossroad.
Set off with cameras and map to hunt the holey stone, but it's not where the map says it is. One and a half hours later we are hot and humid, have scoured both sides of the river valley, evaded a gang of charging heifers, climbed through a barbed wire fence and scared a lot of rabbits. The only stones we find are a line of granite fence pots along a wheat field on the Eastern ridge of the valley.
On the way back to the car I ask a woman sitting outside a cottage by the bridge if she knows where the stone-with-the-hole is - she does, but by the time we get there it's too dark to film anything.
DOLPHINS Monday 21 July
Squatting in the front garden about 7 o'clock, pinholing the flowers in the roasting sun, when Mike North strolls by on his way to the PCQ stores. He's just spent three hours up the Hoe watching some dolphins in the Sound off Drake's Island. So we shoot off to West Hoe and there they are. Tiny black fins flicking through the blue water, white bellies flashing in the sunset. It's a high tide, just on the turn, and they're fishing shoals of mackerel. About a quarter of a mile out, and so tiny they look like fish jumping.
TESTING TESTING Saturday 26 July
Connect with the landscape. A rite of passage, from one side to the other. Passing through into the dark chamber (camera obscura), to die a death and emerge new/reborn. Test filming on the EOS of one of the garden pinholes. The result: a golden painting that shimmers.
GNOMON Sunday 27 July
8 o'clock, muted sunshine after a light sprinkle of rain yesterday. Neighbours out in the road shrieking and slamming doors. They're not arguing, just extrovert. Blurry wodges of colour come and go on the ceiling as the camera obscura gets going. Stu asleep in his cyber-bedroom. How come he sleeps 3 to 4 hours more a night than me? Now clear blue sky outside and heating up quick. I water the plants in the back yard: 4 cherry tomatoes and 5 more passion flower buds. I sit in my studio drinking tea and make a gnomon from a wooden knitting needle, bought years ago in a charity shop (in case it came in useful - this must be 10 years ago at least), and a silver washer, found in a gutter on one of my walks to take sunset photos.
I wrench the imitation ivory button off the top of the knitting needle and saw a channel in the wood, then superglue the washer in place. My gnomon is like a magic wand you can spy the world through. In the afternoon we test-drive the gnomon on Super 8 by sticking it into a plant pot in the back yard.
LOCAL STUDY Monday 28 July
I venture upstairs in the local library and investigate Local Studies. A large room with floor to ceiling books on all sides, wobbly tables in the centre, and hard wooden chairs. The other punters are studious-looking middle-aged people, a few OAP's, and a mum whose daughter's had enough and keeps whining to go now.
I have decided to pursue my local studies, and am searching for information on the holey stones, particularly the Tolvaen (about which there is hardly any information anywhere - I have yet to see a photo of it).
EYE WITNESS: SHADOWS Tuesday 29 July
Outside a storm's building up, gusting to gale force. I witness elemental forces loosen a tree from where it's growing in the gutter of a Georgian town house. Branches thrash about in the eerie warm wind, the trunk cracks, and the tree falls crashing to the pavement.
I'm in the kitchen of a large empty house (childhood in Walsoken) and see shadows flickering about outside. Dark spectral shapes hover above the concrete yard, threatening me. Stuart scares me by removing a loose pane from the bottom of the door and wriggling inside. I want to feel more secure - anyone could get in.
We drive a huge truck through a mining landscape to the bottom of a high cliff in a deep quarry. The only way up to the surface is to drive the truck into an industrial-sized lift, a large enclosed metal box. (The thought of this gives me the horrors: will we get out once the doors shut and the lift starts up?). We tip a sack of potatoes from our lorry down a chute (our cover) and prepare to enter the lift. Everything's massive, larger than life, and grimy with coal dust. Some men intercept us before we rise: 'Do we have the correct passes?'.
FURTHER STUDY Tuesday 29 July
After a visit to Local Studies, (lots of school girls researching holiday projects), I drop into the Arts Centre for a chat with Stefan and Camp Mark. Then go back to the library for another hour or so. I was wrong about the chairs - they're black tubular metal with a vinyl back and seat in creased browny-green. By five o'clock Local Studies is deserted apart from two hairy gentlemen who sigh a lot and mutter to themselves. I fear their studies are not going too well. The librarian is most attentive and helps me do my photocopying. He even removes the lid of the photocopier so the books fit over the glass better. Today I have scoured the general Cornwall: West shelves and found only one mention of the Tolvan stone.
Walking home, the sky is cool Wedgwood blue, mottled white with curdled webs in a tripe-effect. Around the sun, a halo of faint magenta followed by a circle of green. On the tree by the PCQ roundabout the little green apples have swollen to the size of snooker balls.
WEATHER CHANGE Wednesday 30 July
Marble sky, grey washes seeping across from the north west. Cool fresh breeze, a touch of Autumn. The plants moist and glistening after a shower. I inspect the columbine and stroke away butterfly eggs from under the leaves. My period starts. The Pinhole Photography book I ordered is in at last. There's more about the Tolvan stone in here than anything else I've come across so far. It says the Tolvan is nine feet tall, but the author must have assumed this from the 1870 engraving. Shame the weather has turned, but Suzanne Charleton promises sunshine for the weekend.
Before going off to record a badger watch for Wild Westcountry, Stu develops the roll of SX200. I unravel it and hang it in the boiler room to dry. All the pictures are there. I go round to John and Sylvia's with my secateurs and weed their garden for three hours, scooping up snails and flicking them over the wall across the back lane to the railway line.
CLOUDS Friday 1st August
Off to the Brewhouse in Taunton to pick up my pictures from the portrait exhibition. There's heavy cloud and a hot, humid wind. Awful traffic - holiday-makers and erratic convoys of swaying caravans. On the way back down the M5 we pass two police cars on the hard shoulder, and an estate car pointed in the wrong direction. As we drive by, a man wearing only jeans and trainers comes leaping down the bank towards the police.
We turn off at Chudleigh Knighton and climb up to the moor. By Hay Tor we are in deep cloud. The cool white mist is soothing, quiet and calm. We slow down to avoid prostrate sheep. Ponies wander about on the road and stop the traffic. One nose-butts the wing mirror of the car in front - the ponies target the passenger windows of cars as this is the side they get fed from most. At Bell Tor we stop for a 99. The wind is so warm in spite of the low cloud that my ice cream's dripping by the time I get back to the car from the van.
HOPE Saturday 2nd August
In the evening drop a showreel off to Anna in the wilds of South Hams. We drive down narrow zig-zags through steep green and red banks. The rain has melted the earth into strawberry juice, and tractors have squished it all over the tarmac. Swallows dip and swoop a few feet in front of us as we drive along. We go for a drink in Hope Cove, a strange isolated, idyllic place, seething with scandal and indiscretions. It's the end of the line - if you can't go back the way you came in, the only way out is on foot or by boat. You could stay here for six months and write a best seller about unfulfilled hopes and weird goings-on.
I record the night journey home by pinhole, the exposures getting progressively shorter as we approach civilization. From Hope Cove to Modbury is 10 minutes, Modbury to Brixton 5 minutes. By Elburton exposures are down to a few seconds, but get longer again as we circle North X and head down to Pennycomequick.
WET Sunday 3rd August
Another damp and melancholic day, enjoyable in a moody, masochistic way. Sunday with no sun. Inside it's murky and dark and we have the lights on all day. It's like winter, only hot. The sunny weekend hasn't happened and all location filming is cancelled. To get out of the house in the evening we go to Merrymeet to pick up the new EOS cable. I take pinhole photos of there and back, coming home via Menheniot down dark green tunnels that coil up and over the Cornish hills to the A38. In Plymouth just past Drake's X, lit up in the orange street lights, we see a skinny little fox padding across the road in the rain from the Methodist Hall to Marks & Sparks.
At home I unload the camera and discover I didn't spool up the film right. There's nothing on Roll 13, so the palm trees of Penzance and all my shots of night journeys are lost.
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