Chris Sutcliff

Artist Man I am

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26th Nov 2017

The Lake District

The Lakes is my favourite spot in England, it’s outstanding beauty perfectly balanced with the amount of pubs it throws at you. I quickly realised that I could take a million photos of majestic mountains and waterside pontoons and bore everyone to death, so here are just a couple of the good ones that don’t repeat a theme. I still don’t have good editing software. You’ll just have to imagine they are better.

This was on the veranda of our hotel. I pulled the axe and the log out into frame and far enough away from the wood pile to get the background to blur, then laid down prostrate on the floor to take the shot. A Scottish guy and his dog came through the door at the wrong moment, it looked like I was trying not to fall off the planet. He asked me what kind of photography this was, and I did not really have an answer for him, so I just said my legs were tired. A day later we got drunk with him and his wife, because people are ace and so is Gin.

This is a really popular spot a short walk from Keswick lakeshore theatre. It is so popular that there was a long procession of people and dogs lining up to get here, so we had to wait and wait for everyone to get the fuck out of the way for the 1/250th of a second needed to take this shot and make it look peaceful and secluded. It was not peaceful and secluded.

There are more waterfalls in the Lakes than you have had hot dinners, this one is just outside of Ambleside town centre. There had been several attempts at getting long exposure shots to work all weekend, this one was by far the most successful. We stayed here too long and annoyed people. Photographers are awful scum.

All these shots represent attempts to improve composition or get more interesting technical results. I feel like I’m getting a better idea at what will or won’t be too terrible, and making better decisions at how to capture them. Onwards and sideways, you know how it goes.

by Chris
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14th Nov 2017

Camera Practice 5 – Portrait

Amy agreed to be my model without knowing that I had never directed a model before. It turns out that is quite a difficult skill to just wing on the day, so I didn’t know where she should look or how she should look or how long anything was going to take. She stared into the sun too long because of a certain shot I wanted to get and was reduced to tears. She might not be my model again.

I think this will be my last camera practice post. I’m sort of getting the hang of it all now, and not just because I figured out how to make backgrounds go blurry. My current issue is editing. Apple recently did an iOS update that made photos take up less space on your phone, unfortunately this also meant that they did not format properly on my site. As I can no longer upload photos here from my phone, I cannot use Apple’s pretty good editing software to get the images looking good, nor can they be sent here from my Instagram account. It’s a bit of a pain in the arse. As an interim remedy, I am uploading the pics from my laptop, but it is not an amazing piece of kit and the editing software in the photo folder is basic, to say the least. I have a friend who believes he can get me a decent package that has been ‘borrowed’ from the internet, so it should be all good again soon.

With that in mind, my next photo uploads to this site should be honest to goodness attempts at actual photos that actually look good, otherwise you’re doomed to endless posts of me pratting about making rookie mistakes that both offend and embarrass all my readers. If you’re even still here.

by Chris
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14th Nov 2017

Camera Practice 4 – Holiday Snaps

Don’t you just hate it when people show you their holiday photos? What a grotesque, obnoxious and self aggrandising display, a total lack of respect for anyone else’s time and energy. We don’t give a shit about YOUR holiday, that’s why YOU went on it and we fucking didn’t. Anyway, here are mine.

At the end of each day, just as the sun starts to set and the rough seas of the afternoon are calming in readiness for the evening, the women of the village come to the sea to fish for octopus. They use hand lines that they throw out into the bay and then reel straight back in, over and over again, pacing up and down the seafront to cover the greatest allowable area. I followed this lady to the point of looking weird and creepy, taking shot after shot while I adjusted the shutter speed like the hapless novice I am. Eventually I got this image of her silhouetted against the sunset in mid-cast and was super impressed with myself. I ran over and showed her immediately, she seemed utterly perplexed that this was a thing worth getting excited about, which I suppose would happen if you did it every day. I then ran up to her friend and asked if I could take a picture of her too. She gave me a look that suggested I should just piss off instead. Not everyone likes a giddy hippy camera twat getting all up in their face. No sir, they don’t.

by Chris
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22nd Oct 2017

Surviving Debt

I hate money. To clarify; I hate the stranglehold it has on people. I panic about squandering my savings before I can travel with it, a privilege really, because I used to panic at the amount I owed out. That was my life for twenty years. I had to end my debt before it ended me; here’s how I did it.

At 19, my Dad bought me my first car for driving to university and a credit card for buying petrol which he reimbursed at £80 per month. I lacked the maturity and responsibility for that to work out. Cards feel less real than money and they promote a sort of financial amnesia. You want a thing, and with a sliver of plastic that thing is yours and then you forget it ever happened. Gradually that credit card got used on anything I desired, and neither £80 per month or my part-time wage could keep up. I did not tell anybody this was happening, it barely even registered with me, it’s just how I lived and it slowly worsened. The rising numbers on my statements didn’t seem real either, so I continued without consequence into recklessness. One credit card became two and I maxed them both out. I got an overdraft to pay them off, then couldn’t get out of the overdraft. I got a loan to pay all of that off, then went straight back into the overdraft and racked up more debt on the cards with the loan on top. I consolidated all of that into a single, much bigger loan, and then started the whole process again. Within a few years I hit £16,ooo worth of debt where I stabilised because no one would lend to me any more, and settled into a cycle of minimum payments at maximum limits for years. Debt is not about the amount that you owe, but your relative ability to pay it back. I was never paying it back.

Living in debt is horrible, it’s a prison cell that you carry everywhere, a tremendous weight that you constantly strain to bear. I suffered from a persistent sense of dread that culminated periodically in panic attacks that would wake me in the night, gasping into the darkness like a hooked fish. I didn’t know how I was going to keep a roof over my head or feed myself. Every expense, bill and bank charge was suffocation on a loop, every knock at the door was a threat. I experienced a crippling social inadequacy, a continually demeaning avoidance of situations that required money, like going out with friends, and I lied about why because I was so embarrassed by my situation. This extended to lying to my parents because I didn’t want to let them down. I was unable to be generous so I felt miserly and unkind. Several of my relationships collapsed because of all this, I drained them of all support and myself of all respect. I felt undeserving of help because I knew I had caused the whole catastrophe myself. I don’t know how long I was treading water for, or how long I intended to try, until it all went from bad to worse. One day, the day after payday, I went to the cash machine and I had no money left. The entire month’s wage had vanished immediately on bills and rent and I stared blankly at the screen as tears rolled down my face. That was rock bottom. That was the moment I knew I had to turn my life around.

A friend referred me to a charity called Step Change (link below) and I signed up to their 5 year debt repayment plan. I hadn’t even conceived of the notion that there are companies who help people out of debt. They were friendly to deal with and the plan was manageable, so for the first time in a long time I could breathe again. Starting that program was the easy part, but debt is not just the money you don’t have, it is the habits you have created. If I didn’t make significant changes to my habits I would never climb out of the hole. I knew it would be challenging, but I wasn’t expecting it to be life changing. I sold my car for less than it was worth even though I was still repaying it, but then I started to walk everywhere and that made me fitter and less angry. I had to wear hand me down clothes because I couldn’t afford new ones, including office wear that didn’t fit, but that made me humble and less image conscious. I had only a few pounds per day for food, so I became a much more intelligent grocery shopper, bargain hunter and soup maker. I stopped buying any luxury items like books and DVD’s, and only spent money on either sustenance or experiences, which changed my whole view about what money was for. Most importantly of all, I started to say no to things. If something was unecessary, I politely declined it, and I learned to be thankful for what I already had. These weren’t just good lessons, they were a better way to live, and they forever changed what I meant when I said I ‘needed’ something.

The steps I took really only worked for me because I was never out of employment, had no dependants, and had fantastic friends and family around me. So what I have to say will not work for everyone, I’m sorry. If you are in a similar situation to the one I was in, here is what I have to offer you:-

  1. Admit you have a problem. Treat debt like you would an addiction*, you can’t tackle it until you accept it.
  2. Tell your support network. They’ll want to be part of the solution and not the problem.
  3. Get help and commit to it, whether it’s with a charity like Step Change or any other approach.
  4. Change you language by including your debt in the amount of money available to you. Stop saying ‘I have £xx left in my wage’, replace that with ‘I have minus £xx in total’. That will remind you not to blow money on a whim just because it’s in your wallet. It’s not your money.
  5. This last one is kind of dumb, but it worked so well I still use it today. On a daily basis, divide how much money is left in your account by how many days there are left in the month, use that figure as your maximum spend for that day, or less if you can manage. That way you’re in constant control of your money, aware of your reserve, and you’ll eliminate unnecessary expenditure.

In November 2014 I made my last payment to Step Change and my bank account finally reached zero; I could not have done it without them. In the end I paid back over £20,000 including all the interest and bank charges accrued within the 5 years, which is a staggering amount and highlights the fact that the lenders are not at all interested in anyone getting out of debt once they are in, it truly is a well laid trap. My life was made awful because of debt, but it has been made infinitely better as a result of going through it. So I cannot bring myself to regret the experience, in fact, I am thankful for it.

I hate money. That will never change, but I understand and respect it now. That’s a way better position to be in.

 

*I made a comparison here between debt and addiction which I feel is important. Clearly no one is addicted to being in debt, but the ability to spend money that isn’t yours on whatever you wish without immediate consequences is highly addictive. This is why getting out of debt begins with changing habits as well as adhering to a clear plan under the supervision of a support group. Addiction does not care what the drug is, nor should we.

 

www.stepchange.org

by Chris
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12th Oct 2017

Marijuana – A break up letter

My Dearest Mary Jane.

As I write these words to you I cannot help but feel sorrowful, I really never thought this day would come, but you must understand that what I am about to do takes strength, and I feel the presence of that strength grow with each passing moment.

You have no doubt noticed that I have been seeing you less and less over these past months, dropping slowly out of our old routine of daily contact, stretching to weekly contact, and now longer. This has been difficult for me, and some days I miss everything about you, from the way you smell to the way you make me feel. It is that latter point though that has driven me to this decision. I hope I can explain it to you. You have remained the same, but I’m afraid I have changed.

I remember what we were both like when we first met some twenty odd years ago, how right we were for each other, how immediately and unconditionally we fell in love. I first heard about you from all my old heroes, writers and artists whom I idolised, and from my contemporaries who were all enjoying a fleeting romance with you. Everybody told the same story, that you would open my eyes, that you would change the way I thought, that you would turn me on to so much about life and art, movies and music. Everything they said was true. When I fell for you, I fell hard. You were my everything then. I regret nothing.

Over time you continued to enhance so many parts of my life. I met fantastic people and I went to amazing places with you as the driving force. One by one however, those other people started to fade away, and I didn’t understand at the time why they would turn their backs on you, not like I do now.

Life wasn’t always good for me, I know you know that. Whilst I appreciate you being there for me during my darker days, it is here that our relationship began to sour. I leaned on you more and more as a way to get through my struggles, I turned you from a lover to a crutch. I never should have done that, and I know you’ll leap to my defence and say it isn’t true but please, I’ve thought about this for years, and it is true, all of it is true. I slowly manipulated you from being the support of my creativity to the fuel of my self destruction. I must own that. My life will never be OK if I don’t learn to withstand the pain of it myself, I cannot hide behind you anymore, your protection was my addiction. Like I said before, you never changed, I did.

I have grown so very much older now and I look upon your ever youthful face and can finally see that we want different things out of life, you are ready to find your next lover, but you cannot do that until I let you go. Mary Jane, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you have ever done for me, my life would be a paler thing without you. You have taught me so much and given so selflessly, I will always remember you with love and I will speak highly of you to anyone who will listen, my friend, my flame, my teacher, my rock, my light. I support your every ongoing endeavour, particularly your foray into the medical world. You are going to help so many people, and you will be in safer hands. So go to them now, for this particular man must accept that you no longer serve him at all, and with that he must be free of you, and free you in the process.

I try not to be a fool, I know the world, I know how messy the end of a relationship can be. I will still see you around, at parties, at the houses of my friends. I know there will still be the occasional flirt, maybe the odd stolen kiss. I get it. Things just happen sometimes, but that will fade, and the distance between us must be allowed to grow. I have to remind you that this break up is borne of strength, not weakness. So I will not relent or go back on this promise, you and I are done.

I will admire you from afar. I only hope that what I go on to become will earn your admiration in return. Please think of me fondly if you ever think of me at all, I no longer have space in my life for hate.

Chris. x

by Chris
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28th Sep 2017

Camera Practice 3 – Derelicts.

Burnley has been undergoing a fairly rigorous regeneration period of late, owing to many things but most notably the success of the football club and the opening of a rail link to Manchester, making it a proper satellite town that people can finally find on a map, or at least want to. Where there used to be derelict properties like this on almost every street, now they are being repurposed and recycled as flats, coffee bars and trendy offices for start up businesses. Whilst I obviously welcome this new lease of life, I’ve always had a fondness for buildings in this state; broken, empty and etched with the ravages of time and neglect. They are much more interesting, characterful and real than whatever they ultimately get turned into. I will miss them when they are all gone.

It is still exciting taking pictures of them though. It’s amazing how shifty and threatening people seem to be when you’re in a run down part of town with a camera. Especially when that town is Burnley. The facades have all been polished, sure, but in the cracks and the shadows the residents remain unchanged. I’ve learned to take pictures quite quickly, and then bugger off.

by Chris
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25th Sep 2017

Depression.

I always feel like I should be able to fix it somehow, if I can just trace everything backwards to my childhood and find the source of it, find the thing that is broken. I wish the problem was mechanical, a logical process of cause and effect, culminating in a resolution. It is not being comforted each time I cried. It is the first time I learned about death. It is my parents marriage falling apart. It is the cruelty of school. It is a chemical imbalance in my brain. It is an inability to connect. It is all of those things and more, or possibly none of them, either way it doesn’t matter.

In my teens I understood that not everyone saw and felt the world the same way I did; maybe all teens feel that, maybe that’s what being a teen is. My coping strategy then was comedy, and while it solved nothing it at least kept the gloom at bay. I’d get laughs out of my friends for validation reasons, I’d laugh at myself for sanity reasons. It didn’t always work, but it kept people around and I wasn’t a burden; nobody had to tolerate my affliction. My friend Dominic calls this part of me the ‘Court Jester’, and he gently reminds me when I fall back into that role.

By my late teens I was cutting myself. It was a form of transference, as though the surface level pain in my arms was easier to bear than the pain inside, with the added bonus of seeing it heal, something which the deeper pain never seemed inclined to do. That was short lived. A man called Mark, an ex lag who had once held up a petrol station with a shotgun, held a knife to my throat and told me that if I ever wanted to cut myself again that he would do it for me, and that I wouldn’t enjoy that one bit. I stopped immediately.

As I got older it grew with me, in sophistication and severity. It is not getting out of bed. It is not going out with friends. It is substance abuse. It is not eating properly. It is deliberately sabotaging relationships. It is fear of failure, and then ensuring it occurs. It is feeling too much, and feeling nothing at all. I blamed everything from my girlfriends, to my job, to my parents, to my education, to the political state of the world, and sometimes I remembered to blame myself. It didn’t matter. It persisted whether I attended to it or not. It does not relent. I actually wonder if I would feel abandoned without it now. It has become part of who I am.

These days when it comes I recognise it sooner, stress about it less, and accept it for what it is. Like a shapeless fog it moves slowly but stealthily so you’re always too late to get out of its way and it doesn’t fully leave for a few weeks after you’ve tackled it, but at least it leaves. Knowing it can be tackled is your weapon, remember that, especially when you feel too weak to use your tools:- Eat healthy food, take plenty of exercise, talk to your mates, do something creative, and ease off of any substance that takes your mind off things. You need your mind ON this thing, that’s the key. The slope is slippery and you will slide, but the slope is also long, so you might not slide off. Upon this slope we build our lives.

I believe you can make a friend of that black dog, but it is not your pet. It is wild. It is a hunter. You are either part of the pack or you are prey. As I write this tonight, on the very blog that has formed part of my creative life raft, I am definitely running with the pack, and all is well under the moon.

But I will take my turn as the hunted again some day. And we will see which of us has the greater resolve.

by Chris
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24th Sep 2017

Camera practice 2 – Barriers.

There is a security fence around my block of flats, more specifically it encircles some waste ground opposite my flat where another building was going to be until their money ran out. There is nothing there but scrubland, and traces of concrete foundations and waste water pipes. I couldn’t tell you what the razor wire is protecting, or whom it is protecting against. I don’t know if the additional security deters thieves from accessing my estate, or if it makes us look more attractive to them.

Whatever it is for, it is secure.

The Leeds to Liverpool canal also wraps around half my estate, snaking south out of the town and then heading west towards Blackburn, which always makes me feel sorry for it. It is very much like a moat. My second line of defence. Another barrier. The photo is the reflection of the motorway overpass on the canal surface. I nearly fell in whilst taking it.

Keep smiling.

by Chris
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18th Sep 2017

Camera Practice 1

My first decent practice attempts with my new camera, starring some people I don’t know in a pub, my mates beard, and a road I like to stand in the middle of so that cars don’t have to try too hard to hit me.

They were shot from the hip, and are part of my continued efforts to not rely on the auto settings of the camera, I’m trying to do it all properly like. I did take some colour shots, but they looked like they could have been done with any old camera, so black and white is my preference by a country mile. And speaking of country miles, I didn’t really get anything interesting from the landscape shots, so it would seem I also prefer people and interiors. By which I mean the pub. I prefer the pub.

Uploaded straight from my iPhone as a jpeg, because I don’t have photoshop. So the quality will just have to be whatever.

Enjoy?

by Chris
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14th Sep 2017

Return to sender.

It has been five years since I posted anything to this site. I barely recognise myself in any of it anymore. It isn’t the homecoming I thought it would be.

It’s amazing how much has changed in that time, and also how much has stayed the same; both of which are painful. I no longer paint. I am 40 years old now. I still work in an office job. I still smoke. I am still single. This stasis has eroded the best of me, and I have, in fact, begun to fade.

As for turning my back on painting, that was hard. I just lost the time, space and inclination, I couldn’t even force it. Creativity came in fits and spurts, I wrote some stories and poems, but I struggled to keep it up. Denying myself the chance to create anything had the same effect as denying myself oxygen; I got ill, and depression is no joke. There had to be a way to get it back, to be interested in the world again, to add something to it. So I bought a camera, and I guess we’ll just see if that works out.

There is a journey that I have been planning for what seems like forever, it started as a wish, but I am now staring down the barrel of the reality of it all and I just might be a little bit afraid. I have no choice but to embark upon it, I have already waited too long and there is nothing left to learn here, but change is scary nonetheless. The journey is a physical one, it will take me across the planet to distant lands, to new experiences, maybe even some adventure. The journey is also an emotional one, for I must be honest with myself and accept that I have become a wreck, an automaton who has distanced himself from the pain of feelings; a state I must go to war against lest it become permanent. The journey is also a spiritual one, not in the usual vein of people who use terms like that, I don’t need religion or a guru, this is about becoming a version of myself that I am at peace with.

Three years ago I paid off all my debts. Since then I have saved up enough money to pack up my life and go travelling for a year. I nearly lost my mind doing it, office work is a form of mental torture, but I persevered and I’m getting out of the rut.

Something is coming. I have no idea what, but it will be here for you to read about. The words begin to form, the need to write them grows and it is time once more to document all this shit, in the vague hope that I have something left to say. This will be the genuine story of a genuine life. A man who has found himself at the halfway mark of his existence, and wants the final half to have value. So he quits his life and goes looking for something else.

I’ll keep you informed. It will be nice to have a friend along for the way.

 

by Chris
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