Thursday, 30 April 2015

SLIPPING IN THE UNKNOWN by Kathy Foote

SLIPPING IN THE UNKNOWN by Kathy Foote

I walked into the reception area of Bristol South Swimming Pool and Kathy jumped up and said "Hi Tim!" - we had never met before but it was such a warm, friendly greeting that really set the mood for the rest of the morning. Kathy originally wrote to me in May 2014 asking if she could photograph me as part of the project but it could not have been a worse time to write to me as I was just about to undergo my Deep Brain Stimulation surgery and I was not at all good. It is unusual for me to receive such a request as it is normally the other way round - I contact the photographer. Anyway, unfortunately for Kathy, although I replied to her initial email, my correspondence with her got forgotten by me in the aftermath of the operation - but not by Kathy. She sent me a private message on Twitter some months later to which I eventually responded (forgetting that we had already been in contact) and we were back on track again. Her first idea was an underwater shoot and that is why I found myself in Bristol South Swimming Pool on 30th April 2015.

Kathy introduced me to the manager of the pool, Max Wilshaw, a very nice guy who was also very enthusiastic about the project and helping both Kathy and I to set up the shoot. By then the pool had been cleared for us and, apart from one of the lifeguards, it was completely empty. Kathy closed all the curtains in the cubicles which surrounded the pool as I got into my brand new scarlet trunks. I couldn't wait to get into the water. I am not a great swimmer but I do love swimming and having the pool all to myself was glorious. Kathy got changed into her swimsuit and first of all took some overhead shots from the balcony but then joined me in the water. She had borrowed a tiny underwater camera from Shawn Sobers, who had filmed me in 2012 and who is her former tutor at UWE Bristol. She had already sent me some test shots and so I had some idea of what to expect. Fortunately, it was quite sunny outside and so every so often the sun shone through the windows of the building and lit up patches of water and my body under it. We tried various moves eg me curled up under the surface of the water and then treading water to produce a rush of bubbles although I don't think that I was so good at the latter but I was pleased at the amount of time I could hold my breath underwater.


We had talked beforehand about also shooting me in the nude and Kathy asked me to remove my trunks fairly early on and I think she felt this was much more successful because the light on my body looked beautiful whereas I think the bright red of the trunks (snazzy as they were) was a distraction. I love swimming with nothing on - it feels so natural to me and I loved every minute of this shoot because I had the whole pool to myself and Kathy was very clear with her direction and also very encouraging with her comments. I suppose we had been in there for about an hour when Kathy called a halt and said that she was very happy with what she had got. Often, when the photographer brings a shoot to an end, I feel frustrated but my fingers were just beginning to get a little chilly and mottled so I didn't mind.


We got dressed, said goodbye to Max and went for a drink at the local cafe and a very nice chat about this and that. Kathy is a very easy person to talk to and I was very interested in her this and she appeared to be equally interested in my that and vice versa. It was then time to say goodbye and we hugged in the street before she went her way and I went mine to catch the bus back to the centre of Bristol.

Kathy and me

It had been a lovely couple of days in Bristol. I travelled up there the day before the shoot and stayed the night with my very good friend, John. We went to university together and have remained the best of friends ever since. He is very kind and very witty and I love spending time with him. Also, before meeting John, I nipped over to the BBC to have a quick chat with Lucy whom I had met in Brighton when she was making a film about her grandfather who has Parkinson's although I felt my age when the receptionist in the lobby of the BBC said to Lucy ''Is this your Dad?". After the shoot, I had an extremely enjoyable lunch with Lin, another very good friend from University so all in all, an excellent trip.

But then, guess what happened? I received four photographs from Kathy and they were amazing. They were assured and professional but they were also inspiring and beautiful. The one at the top which I chose for the project is marvellous. It speaks of isolation but at the same time of collaboration and of pain but also of pleasure and fortitude. I wasn't expecting that. I felt confident, having seen Kathy's test shots, that they would work artistically but I wasn't prepared for how much they would move me. This main image bursts with life and vigour emphasised by the beautiful light on my body which is seemingly trapped in what looks like an alien world. Kathy has produced a picture that bears comparison with many of the shots in this project taken by more well known photographers. It is simply wonderful. 

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