It was only supposed to be the blogging equivalent of a gap year but somehow, once out of the habit, it became inexplicably impossible for me to get back into the habit again. So three years have passed and I have made a new year’s resolution to gently begin flexing my blogging muscles again.
I am moved to write again because of the loss of a very special friend, Alan Craigie. I think it will be difficult for me to truly do him justice in this post however, but having a written record of this superbly creative, witty, and intelligent man seems somehow vital and I wanted you, unknown people in cyberspace, to know him a little better.
Alan passed away in September and in the four months since, we have begun to miss him more acutely than ever. He was a truly unique individual; softly spoken but devastatingly witty, generous but anarchic, his intelligence surpassed us all by far. The breadth of the things he knew about and the depth of what he could remember was truly astounding – 20 years after reading a book or seeing a film when all that was left in my hazy memory was that ‘I liked it’ or alternatively, that ‘I didn’t like it’, Alan could recall all the plot intricacies and describe the characters in the most minute detail.
He was always our barometer of good taste; quirky and stylish in all things whether it was interior design, taste in film, music, books or food. I discovered so many new things through Alan – King Creosote, Modest Mouse, Murakami, Powell and Pressburger films, Eames, Fos, soft shell crab, Pedro Ximenez to name but a small handful …
Having both studied English Literature at Glasgow Uni we both decided, over a post-tennis match pint, to do a post-graduate course in technology and media. Alan immediately saw the design potential in Flash and whereas the rest of us spent our time learning how to make a circle bounce crudely across a computer screen, Alan went off and in a week had created a beautiful, pulsating jelly fish that hypnotically followed your cursor around the screen. He never worked for anyone but himself after finishing that course, such was the demand for his unique mix of design flair and technical expertise.
He was creative in so many ways. Our house, as with so many of his friends’, is full of his exquisite art and photographs, gifts from him over the years. In my own pursuit of photography, Alan was my litmus test; if he thought the image was good, then I knew it had merit. I remember being high on a mountainside in the Himalayas, thinking how best to do justice to the breathless landscape around me and saying very explicitly to myself ‘How would Alan take this photo? What would he do now?’ Many of my own images, I feel, are shamelessly influenced by some of his images.
He received the devastating diagnosis of an aggressive, inoperable brain tumour in June 2014. We tried to meet up as much as possible in the months that followed; for Portuguese custard tarts or churros or a craft beer – all the things he loved. All dependent upon the rounds of treatment, the fatigue, his declining health. The last time I saw him, H, F, Alan and I all shared a chilled beer and a delicious Ninja bun in the Hospice, with a warm breeze blowing outside, as if life was continuing as normal. Looking back now, I think we spent much of last year in a wilful state of denial; that he would beat this terrible thing and we’d get our clever, witty, gentle friend back – but that was not to be.
This blog is predominantly about photography so I’m sharing some of the pictures I took in the immediate aftermath of Alan’s diagnosis, when we realised how few pictures we actually had of him, and suddenly felt strongly that we needed images of the artist as well as the art.
But these photos are, of course, indistinguishable from the time and context in which they were taken; wrapped around the shock and fear of what this diagnosis meant, the anticipation of the treatment that was to come, the awkwardness in my reason for taking the photos in the first place, Alan’s discomfort in being the subject of the photos, and now, of course, the profound sadness at his loss.
You can see some of his best work on his Flickr site – craigie3000 – the most recent images he uploaded, taken during Neue Reekie in June 2015, indicative of how the tumour was affecting his sight but the ones that go back for years before that are so beautifully composed, perfectly capture moments; of Portobello, of the Highlands, of his beautiful boys and of Orkney – his spiritual home. They have a silence and a timelessness that I can only humbly aspire to in my own photography.
Alan’s father-in-law wrote the following poem, inspired by a painting Alan had given him about 25 years previously. It was read at the funeral and I have re-read many times since – I find it very moving and think it strikes a perfect note of farewell.
by Bill Fulford
We watched them go
From the boat
Heads held high
Walking along the quay
Their footsteps echoing
As they went on up
Into the town
We called out to them
They heard us
Though none looked back
So we called again
This time subdued
Then said good bye
And let them go
31st Dec 1969 – 10th Sep 2015