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Alan Craigie

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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.

 

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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. 

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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.

Shore Leave
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

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Alan Craigie
31st Dec 1969 – 10th Sep 2015

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Written by Spiller

January 17, 2016 at 6:35 pm

Five days, fifteen films and fat like fatty fat fat full of filo pastries…

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This interesting little journey started, unknowingly, last summer at the Edinburgh International Film Festival when, after a Q&A with the fascinating film director, Eyal Sivan, I hesitantly, politely, nervously asked, in an ever-so British way, if he would mind awfully if I took his photo. He was chatting with some folks in the Filmhouse Bar and he was more than happy for me to take his picture. The bar was buzzy with festival go-ers, there wasn’t much time or space in which to think or compose a photo but I asked him to ignore me and carry on his conversation, which he did, and while he was talking I took a couple of pictures. I wanted to capture something of his mesmerizing intensity and I hope that with this resulting image I managed to do that.

Eyal Sivan

It was a momentary encounter. Of no significance really. But a pretty decent image to come from it (apart from the annoying lights on his forehead but this was a busy cafe so you have to take what you can get!). I posted the picture on this blog, as is my habit from time to time, and thought no more about it.

Then earlier this year, while browsing the internet for photos of Eyal Sivan, I came across this picture below. I took a double take at first. Much as this might prove to be the pinnacle of my career as a photographer so far, to have a photo I took on the front cover of a magazine, since I had no idea that it was going to be used, I wasn’t sure that this photo could be mine.

However,  yep, there again were those annoying little light flashes on his forehead which confirmed that this was indeed one and the same photo.

Publications_EyalSivan

I sought some advice about what to do because this was completely foreign territory for me, copyright, image rights, blah, blah, blah… but crucially, for me, as a non-professional, I have to say that ultimately I was very flattered that another Film Festival chose my image to put on the front of their brochure.

We came to a very satisfactory compromise. As well as profound apologies for the oversight in failing to credit the image to me, I got the fantastic bonus of free passes to the Thessaloniki Film Festival earlier in November and spent a totally brilliant 5 days, watching 3 films a day, escaping the cold and wet of the UK for the glorious sunshine, fine food and great films that Thessaloniki had to offer.

The highlights, for me, were the Aki Kaurismaki series, Constantina Voulagis’ ‘A.C.A.B. All Cats are brilliant’, and Lore by Cate Shortland. The programme was excellent and female film directors featured quite prominently which was great and having gone to the Festival with my lovely friend Esther, who is herself a very talented director, it was all in all a perfect few days.

Picture 6

(c) Esther Richardson

(and in keeping with the spirit of the post, I just stole this photo off Esther’s Flickr stream :-))

Battlefields

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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Albania is unique in that it is the only country in the world to have declared itself an Atheist state, ‘The Religion of Albania is Albanian-ism!’ was the slogan. All churches, mosques, were closed, turned into sports halls or storage warehouses, all religious worship declared illegal. In the 1960s, there was a concerted campaign to destroy ALL religious buildings and it was largely successful.

The buildings that survived (this picture being one of 8 churches that survived from the original 40 plus in Berat) did so as they were deemed to have historical and cultural significance rather than religious importance.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

This picture is of the badly damaged interior walls of a Bektashi temple (Bektashism being a form of Sufi-ism), the exterior of this tiny temple bearing very few indications of being a place of worship and was indeed a store house for 40 years until the ban on religion ended in the early 90s.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

So what fills a void, when you ban the worship of an unfathomable metaphysical presence? The oversized ego of equally unfathomable but rather more physically present Communist leader, in Albania’s case, Enver Hoxha. Apparently, on the death of Stalin, Hoxha gathered his citizens in Tirana’s central square, made them all kneel in respect and reverence and swear an oath of ‘eternal fidelity’ to their ‘beloved father’ Stalin. Presumably, the irony wasn’t lost on him…

As far as monuments of vanity go, this building, Hoxha’s Pyramid as it is called, is fairly modest. If you’ve ever had to scoop your jaw off the pavement as you take in the size and scale of Ceausescu’s Palace in Bucharest, you’ll know what I mean. Although, having said that, Enver Hoxha did have his name scrawled into a mountain range so wasn’t so modest after all.

I found the words of Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ (one of the few that I know off by heart) going round in my head as I stood in front of this building.

‘”My name is Ozymandias,King of Kings, Look on my works, ye might and despair”
Nothing besides remains, around the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away’

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Instead of lone and level sands, it’s ripped up paving stones and graffitied walls, Hoxha’s Pyramid left in ruins – physically and symbolically.

In the National History Museum, the wing which housed Albanian post-war Communist era exhibits has been closed, with no foreseeable plans to reopen.

It seems to me that you can no more eradicate a country’s religious and cultural heritage as you can its ideological past, however uncomfortable either might be in the current zeitgeist. You’re simply replacing one ruinous and bloody battlefield with another.

These pictures were my thoughts on this topic.

Written by Spiller

November 6, 2012 at 9:59 pm

The Unknown Partisan

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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

… with bird…

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October 31, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Kruje

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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

 

On our last day in Albania, we travelled up to Kruje, about an hour from Tirana. It is the best (some say, only) place in Albania to buy souvenirs, apparently, and the minibus ride up there was quite fun.

We had to make our way to the Zog i Zi roundabout on the outskirts of Tirana (we managed to navigate our way around Tirana really well on foot… once we turned the map the right way round!), ask various people where the minibuses to Kruje went from, squeeze in along some very curious but very friendly locals in a battered old minibus, swing around some hairpin bends up the mountainside with quite a stoned, hungover (or possibly still drunk) looking driver; it took about an hour and cost about £1.30.

And the views were stunning. Perched high on a hill with a perfect view down the valley back towards the capital. The path up to the castle was lined with shops selling statues of Skanderburg, the National hero, (pic below) and a large selection of Albania-themed trinkets. I am my mother’s daughter and can’t resist a good browse round a gift shop – and when the gift shop is the size of a whole town, well what sort of heaven is that…

Pictures of the views will come later, but let’s get our priorities right people and start with the souvenirs!

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Written by Spiller

October 29, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Albanian Portraits

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Some photos I took in Tirana. I do always try and ask permission (if appropriate) before taking someone’s portrait but in Albania this was problematic as a ‘Yes’ is expressed by shaking the head from side to side and ‘No’ by an emphatic nod (reversed by those who deal with tourists more frequently). I was never quite sure if I had permission or not, I just hoped that a lot of smiling on my part would help either way.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

The gentleman sitting outside the Etham Bey mosque, Skanderburg Square, Tirana

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Inside the Etham Bey mosque, Skanderburg Square, Tirana – the lovely man who put all the lights on so that we could see its beautifully painted interior walls.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

One very impressive moustache – in front of a tyre shop, Tirana

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October 28, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Greetings from Albania

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End of Day 2 in Tirana and I discovered WIFI in the apartment we’re staying so decided to post a photo I took on my phone today of a painting in the National Art Gallery.

We arrived in Tirana on Sunday eve in a spectacular thunderstorm – one that challenged both the skills of the pilots as well as the fixed smiles of the flight attendants.

The front of the plane was taken up by an England football squad (the C team apparently), the back of the plane was slowly getting drunk on duty free vodka.

Yesterday we spent wandering the streets of Tirana mainly. The roads have hints of the chaos of places like Delhi and Cairo, there are street sellers on most corners selling the most amazing looking fruit and veg; pomegranates the size of melons, melons the size of footballs and the largest watermelons I’ve ever seen!

The city centre has a great outdoor cafe culture, it’s got some impressive communist era architecture and interesting monuments to its revolutionary past. It has a spectacular back drop of high mountains that makes the air feel fresh and mountainous despite the mass of cars on the roads.

Everybody we’ve met and spoken to has been very friendly and helpful if a little bemused that we’ve come to Albania for our holiday.

We’ve eaten the most amazing food, full of Italian and Greek influences; homemade chestnut tagliatelle, pistachio parfait, aubergines, peppers and tomatoes grown in sunshine and devine in flavour as a result. All washed down with home made wine and Raki.

Staggeringly good value too and just a two hour flight from home. How long will it be before the stag and hen juggernaut discover this place, I wonder.

Written by Spiller

October 16, 2012 at 6:52 pm