Oh dear…still being prompted by something on Facebook!  Am I becoming an addict ?

Recently I was contacted by Roger Turner, who writes pieces about local history for a Herne Bay advertising magazine, he wanted photographs of the raft races that were held in the town. He couldn’t find any. Then someone, I don’t know who, told him that I might have some. I have a whole boxful, about a hundred in all, I gave him the box and told him he could use any of them if they were of any use. This week the little advertising magazine was published with Roger’s article. This morning I woke up to find that the page had been posted on Facebook and had aroused a lot of interest.

It reminded me that at the end of the eighties there was no where, except for the museum and church halls, where you could exhibit art work in the town. What is now the Maharajah restaurant in the bandstand was an empty derelict building. I asked permission to use it as a temporary exhibition area in the summer holiday. Ken made some display stands and I made an exhibition called The Two Hundred Yard Show. I had created all the work in the show using starting points derived from some aspect of the hundred yards on either side. Some of my photos of the raft race were part of it. I also had prints and textiles. I sat in there and worked whilst it was open so that people could come and talk. You may have gathered by now that I am a great believer in communication. I hate artists who say ‘It is what it is, don’t expect me to talk about it’ Of course I totally understand that not all work has a narrative but there is always something to say, even if you explain about the colours you chose or the materials that you used or the fact that it was spontaneous etc.

Health and Safety had just reared it’s ugly head. I sat in there one day weaving a little tapestry on a small frame on my lap. This official guy came up and said ‘You can’t do that in here.’  When I asked why, he said ‘someone could bump into it on your lap!!!’ The raft race was stopped by Health and Safety too I believe. Of course occasionally it was pretty hairy, if the sea was rough or the tide was particularly strong but there were always safety measures. The lifeboat was there and the Rescue boat, with Fred Kent, from the Hampton Pier Yacht Club. What I loved about it was the ingenuity of peoples ideas and the sheer skill that went into some of the rafts.

nov8bestraft

This one was brilliantly engineered, fast too. I think they came over from Essex

Then there were the fun ones of course that you knew were going to turn over the minute that they were launched.Nov8raftrace2

                                      Burning Ruba make a promising start.

                                nov8raft1

                                                  A small child investigates.

Nov8raftchild

                                                The children are part of it too.

nov8raftropechildi

                                               Marley Plank Special with family.

Nov8Newyorkdog

                                                           Dogs want ‘in’ too.

nov8raftjester

                                         New Yorkie , one crazy crew!

Nov8raftyorkclub

                  and again…..What is that zany bloke in the blind fold getting up to?

It was a real community effort, there were teams from the police, the fire service, hotels (the Hotel St George comes to mind) pubs, clubs and factories, men and women. It was before the harbour arm was built. I would love to see it come back in a slightly different form using the lagoon inside the harbour arm. It could be in the form of time trials or measuring how far a raft could go before it sank. The roads are closed for the car show so surely you could halt normal boat traffic for a while, and there is another ramp.. It needs to be somewhere where people can see it, what could be better than the beach and the harbour arm as viewing venues.

Although I wasn’t skilful or patient enough enough to get correct exposures , I enjoyed documenting all the goings on of which there will be more later. I knew that it wouldn’t be that long before they would become an archive of some kind. I love looking at photos of Herne Bay at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century especially where there are people. There are some that show parades for visiting royalty with beautifully made foliage arches stretching over the roads. It is social history that interests me, not political history, I like knowing how ordinary people lived their lives. What was it like going to the bakers, who cut your hair, what did you wear, who made it etc ?

I have written before about exhibitions that had an effect on me and I would definitely add another one, it was a photography exhibition called the Family of Man and it took ordinary subjects like eating a meal. laughing, being angry, getting married, grieving and showed people from different countries and cultures as they experienced those things. Basically it was about the things that we have in common with all humanity. If I want to cheer myself up I think of one of the images of ordinary people from the mid west of America gathered together in a hall rocking with laughter. If I want to be calm I think of one that shows the back of an old man in robes at the top of a slope looking out into the void… for sheer humanity an image of a very old persons hands holding a pen as they painstakingly learn how to write. I have the book of the exhibition and I treasure it. There are many other photographers whose work has affected me in some way but that book seems seminal. But there is also the unflinching look at the oddity of mankind that stays with me in the work of Diane Arbus…yes I do think documentary photography can play a huge part in bringing us to the understanding that all human beings even the wickedest ones have more in common than that that separates us.The Quakers say that there is that of God in every man but that could be translated as good. I believe that Catholics believe in original sin but I believe in original good. It is what happens to us in life that determines the direction we go in. Sermon over for today! Now let’s finish with something joyous.

 

nov8piper

 

 

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