Nice bit of publicity for LifeBooth :0)

I had a fantastic PR win this week, with Laura Edwards of The Cheltonian, kindly giving me some much needed exposure in one of Cheltenham’s great magazines!

I’ve scanned the article, so click the link below to see it :0)

LifeBooth Cheltonian Article

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Finding Nancy: The Movie

What with the pressures of running two businesses at the moment, I’ve not had much time for blogging, but I keep coming across Nancy’s albums and feeling like I should be doing more to connect them to her or her family. So today I decided to make a short film that I can throw out onto the McInterweb to see what happens.

Of course it’s one hell of a long shot, but the reality is I’ve run out of leads. I’ve even tried tracing her through my account without any luck.

So here is a very short film about the albums. On the off chance that you know someone who has lived in Stockton on Tees in County Durham since the 1930s, please do ping them then link :0)

I guess this is a real test of the whole six degrees of separation theory. I’m not expecting it to work, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it did! And wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if she is still very much alive…

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Blossom Re-Edited

A few weeks back I re-edited the Blossom film that I posted below. 5 mins is way too long – so I took out the best bits, set it to darker music as an experiment, and here’s the results. It’s filmed in Berekely Place in Cheltenham, UK.

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I made this film a couple of days ago in Cheltenham after being determined not to miss the yearly display of blossom that peppers the town. This area, Berkeley Place, is perhaps one of the nicest places to see it in the town (to my knowledge at least). It made me think of Japan whilst I was filming~ because of the film Lost in Translation. The music to the film is Girls by Kevin Shields, and is from the Lost in Translation soundtrack.

Today they announced that number of deaths from the Japanese Tsunami could reach 27,000. As I said to a friend of mine today who has family there, that kind of loss is hard to comprehend. He asked me if I would be okay with him putting the film on his website, Engage Japan, as a dedication which, of course, was more than okay with me.

I don’t know why I’ve always associated blossom with Japan. It’s not just because of Lost in Translation ~ I think it’s one of those things with visual culture where you simply see it so often when Japan is on the tv or in a film. I actually thought that the cherry blossom may have been the national flower of Japan ~ but it’s the Chrysanthemum. Anyway, I know this won’t be read or watched by many, but I just wanted to write that symbols can be important in connecting what is on our own front doorstep to things going on thousands of miles away. I was thinking of the Japanese people when I filmed and edited this, and I think of them when I watch it. I stopped myself from dedicating it on my Vimeo page because people see that sort of thing as pretentious or trying to raise your profile through the suffering of others. None of that is true.

For what it’s worth, this is for them.


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Cake/Film/Stories: These Are Some of My Favourite Things :0)

I’m playing catch up with a blog article I’ve been meaning to write for months now, so please bear with me as I take you back to…

Just before Christmas (!) I had my ten minute presentation slot at Gloucestershire Independent Network ~ a great not~for~profit business networking group where I have been a member for the last few months. The link to their page is live, but at the time of writing the site is being tweaked. If you run a business in Gloucestershire, I’d highly recommend coming along as a guest some time!

Every week, part of the format is that each member gets to pitch their business for 60 seconds ~ and every week one member gets a 10 minute slot to talk about their business in a bit more depth. Given the extremely visual nature of what I do, and the fact that my services are so unusual, the opportunity for an extended presentation was fantastic.

Thanks to a kind fellow member, we got together a few weeks before and made a short film about his life. I figured that if I was going to show an example of my work to people, it would have greater resonance if they actually knew the individual on whom the film was based.

The other thing I did (because hey, it was Christmas!) was to get my friend Kath from Cup Cake Yourself to print my company logo (edible) onto some of her truly yummy cup cakes (om nom nom nom), so I could place them around the breakfast tables. The idea struck me not because I was trying to “sweeten people up”, but because there was a rather specific point I was making about the nature of the films I create with my clients. Also, as the chef Heston Blumenthal has put it, “eating is a multi-modal process” ~ so my aim was to try and convey the spirit of my work in a way that didn’t just connect with the film, but through other senses too.

Now, I want to write that the great thing about cakes is they are celebration food ~ used to mark special events in peoples lives. However, the reality for many people (myself included), is that any excuse will do! After all, I think it is well worth celebrating every morning, with cake, the fact that the sun has risen and I still have a pulse! Personally I blame that Mr Kipling for eroding some of the symbolism of the cake and making it possible for its consumption to become a daily event…perhaps even a sport for some!

Cakes are really special though ~ traditionally they are used to mark important personal transitions in life such as weddings, christenings, birthdays, retirement, and reunions etc; but also important cultural events such as Christmas and Easter (if you’ll excuse the ethnocentrism!)

These transitions and events are kind of obvious reasons for tucking into a slice or four of cake, but here’s a curve-ball for you: several years ago, I made a short documentary on a gentleman who owned a cake shop in Swansea. He was a really interesting man who had actually made the wedding cake for Prince Charles and Lady Diana ~ and I was fortunate enough to see the photographs he had taken throughout the process of making the cake!

During the filming though, he showed me a picture of an elaborate black ‘wedding’ cake that was actually a divorce cake! Apparently the couple who were going their separate ways were doing so on very amicable terms ~ they felt more like brother and sister ~ so they decided to throw a divorce party together! I still think this was a fantastic idea ~ after all divorce really is a major transition ~ and more often than not a very painful and bitter one ~ so hats off to them for keeping it from going sour and having a sweet cake for a sweet separation!

The great thing about blogs is that you get to read mindless banter for free ~ so I won’t apologize for the random tangents I go off on, BUT (well done if you’ve made it this far), back to my original point…

Like cakes, the LifeBooth films are a celebration of life and living ~ in some ways it is the nostalgic look back to the actual experience of these periods of transition that make the films so special. People don’t talk about every single birthday they had of course, but they do spend time talking about such things as when they saw the person they ended up marrying and that feeling on the aisle, and when they held their first child with the plethora of heart-melting moments that follow on from that. These are the transitions in life that are important and that other people can become inescapably invested in.

To labour this point in a bit of a blunt way ~ you wouldn’t exist if your mum and dad hadn’t met. Neither, perhaps, would you exist if there hadn’t been a power cut that night in 1965 (I know that’s a long shot!). Either way, regardless of the point in time you were born, their history is your history, and together those histories are relevant to your own children too if you have them. This is why I am passionate about what I do ~ because through celebrating the life of one person with film, a tangible point of reference is created which connects the past to the present, and also the future.

And that’s the whole point about cakes and the LifeBooth films. Cakes are cultural markers for celebrating symbolic events that are personally and culturally important. They mark key moments as time passes, and within our culture, these moments are regarded as being significant and worth celebrating. Cakes are all about focusing happy unity through the symbolic chomping of lovely grub!

Whilst a LifeBooth Biography does not just have to be for someone who has hit a landmark birthday etc, they do connect with the idea that people move through their lives creating their story as they go ~ and this story is deeply connected to the stories of others. This is why, just like when the cakes are out at an event, family and friends gather together to watch the first screenings of the LifeBooth films ~ and quite often, there’s a big wheel of cake on hand too.


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The Art of Your (& Nancy’s) Story…

I recently finished a short promo film  for the LifeBooth website called “The Art of Your Story.” All of the photographs in the film, including the tickets and documents have come from Nancy’s album. I’m hoping to make a dedicated short film about her photographs in the future and send it to the local newspaper up in Stockton Upon Tees in the North of England (where she was from) ~ in the hope they may run a story and it will help me trace her. My own research has unfortunately run aground.

This film was shot as a “try-and-inspire-you” short for the website.

I find that filming “within” photographs using a macro lens works really well. Whilst there is an issue of “camera jitter” which I minimise best I can, the lens I use often brings a depth of field within the images which I love. It seems to make the images kind of come alive. I’ve been using this technique within recent biographies for clients and have had great feedback.

Anyway, I hope that you enjoy it! I’m hoping that posting it to the blog here will motivate me to add some more video content in the future.

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Everyone has a story worth telling…

Because of the nature of my work, I am sometimes asked why biography is important. People sometimes frame biography in terms of what they see as a culture of narcissism in modern society ~ “look at me with my [delete as appropriate] amazing/rubbish/(un)enviable/scary/heroic/nutty/successful/LOL  life”.

Whilst the ‘narcissist’ sticker could well be slapped onto many people, I think the word is essentially an ugly (perhaps even bitchy) one ~ especially when people use it in terms of biography. Biographies exist to communicate, inspire, educate, and entertain. They can connect with part of the core of what makes us human ~ empathy ~ and I believe that if we take time to learn something about the lives of others, our own lives and perspectives can be enriched in some way. I think this is particularly true if we are talking about your own family ~ or people with whom you share deep connections.

This is precisely what LifeBooth is about. I make auto/biographical films for amazing people who are not famous. They are amazing because they are human ~ and because they might be your mum or dad, your granny or granddad, your uncle, aunt, brother, sister, cousin ~ or even you.

Sometimes I think that perhaps we are relentlessly bombarded, and are too comfortable, with being fed by the shrink-wrapped slivers of celebrities familiar yet distant lives. I believe that biography shouldn’t only exist for life’s famous achievers, survivors, or those who have managed to tear off a tiny morsel of fame.

Having said that, whilst many of us might avert our eyes and reach for whichever robustly intellectual text we are reading, as the likes of Chantelle Houghton or Katie Price release their life story to edjumuckate the masses ~ they do still have their place. This is because they are obviously important to those who identify with these individuals; or those few who are able to fight the temptation to mumble “chav”, and look at the wider socio~cultural aspects of their lives, such as to why such celebrity exists ~ and see (if you really squint your eyes) that they are adding a tiny thread to the tapestry of which our whencestors will look back and try to understand our society and culture through the macroscopic lens of the individual.

Call me a big softie if you like… but I believe every life to be precious. This isn’t about comparing good-folk with evil-folk. I think the human condition is much more ambiguous than that ~ even the Darth Vader of the music world (Simon Cowell) has shown increasing signs of being nice! What I mean is that each life ~ each individual ~ from birth to whenever~upon~a~time; hacks, plods, drifts, saunters, and sails upon waves of events, experiences, and decisions that have been made by or for them. And so at any point in our lives ~ whether we are 8 or 80 ~ we have the ability to pause, recollect, and communicate. That’s our story ~ and it is beautiful not only because it is ours ~ but also because it naturally connects with all the important people around us whom we love ~ they are an intrinsic part of it.

With LifeBooth I have a big challenge ~ which is to get the word out that beautiful and meaningful biographical films are for everyone. It’s not easy, because it’s not a service that people know exists ~ so on the one hand I am faced with a big PR challenge (and the need to diversify services); but on the other hand it is about getting people to realize that actually, whether they worked on the shop floor of a factory most of their life ~ ran a million pound company ~ or have spent a large part of their life staying at home and raising their children ~ their life is amazing and worth recording for current and future generations ~ as well as the journey.

It’s all about creating a familial ‘artifact’ really ~ one that connects the past to the present and the future. This is what inspired me to set up LifeBooth. I’ve always had an interest in family photographs (which is why I based my PhD on the subject) ~ but whilst I find them so fascinating and informative, they also have their limitations.

I’ve often found myself staring at old family photographs (either my own or others) and wanting to know more about the people depicted ~ how they spoke, how they moved, their beliefs, passions, experiences, adventures, what they did for a living, what happened immediately after the photograph was taken?

Family photographs are beautiful treasures that can possess an exquisite silence ~ especially if they are of those ancestors with whom you are connected but have no actual living experience of. It is the silence of family photographs that I seek to challenge through my work ~ and that is why family photographs are so central to the films ~ because they become woven through the times, places, people, and experiences that my clients speak of ~ and somehow bring you closer to the past.


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A little home movie of my own…

I couldn’t resist putting this on the blog ~ allow a proud daddy and husband to show off  a little?   :0)


Music is Indaco by Ludovico Einaudi

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Last week I was at Keele to attend a business course and get my PhD thesis submitted to the library ~ which involves getting it printed off and nicely bound in (faux!) leather.

In all of the craziness of getting married, having a baby, and starting up my own business ~ I forgot to mention on the blog that I was actually awarded the PhD a little over a month ago!

Doing the PhD was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. The journey began about 12 years ago. I had three GCSEs and was doomed to a life of pretty dull (but nevertheless still honest) jobs. I decided that I wanted to do more with my life ~ to go to university and study anthropology ~ ultimately specialising in visual anthropology. I signed up for an Access Course which are like 2nd chances for people over 21 who either didn’t have the opportunity to go to University ~ or (like me) just didn’t try hard enough at school. The courses allow people to make amends and get a qualification so they can go to Uni.

Even as early as when I signed up for the Access Course at West Oxfordshire College, Witney ~ I knew that I wanted to progress to a PhD.

Seeing my thesis bound and lodged in the library was a rather profound experience ~ all the hard work, self~doubt, long periods of painful head-in-the-sand procrastination, and numerous highs and lows are there ~ but so is the realisation that I actually did it ~ and that is the thing that takes time to sink in properly!

There were several times when I literally had the phone in my hand to ring my supervisors to tell them that I quit. But something inside me ~ a tiny little seed ~ said that it would be alright. I think it was sheer bloody~mindedness that got me through it in the end!

One thing is for sure though ~ the experience did exactly what I thought it would do ~ it strengthened what I can give to my clients who commission biographies with my business, LifeBooth.

Oh ~ it also gave me the idea for this blog! :0)

I’ve never  been one for the 9 to 5 drag. I always wanted to do something different with my life career-wise. The way I see it is that unless you are lucky, when you apply for a job you are like a circle trying to fit into a smaller square. Some of you will fill in the gap ~ but there will be other great characteristics and skills that just won’t fit in. With LifeBooth I am making use of all of my skills and experience ~ plus the exciting promise of developing new ones whilst making a difference to people’s lives. This is the great thing about creating something for yourself ~ you’re a circle in a circle that will grow with you.

Other than the knowledge, experience, and credentials that came with my experience of doing a PhD, I think the one major lesson I found was this: no matter how hard things get (and believe me there  were times when things got so low I actually felt completely empty) ~ you always have a choice ~ to let it swallow you whole ~ or to gradually lift yourself out of the mess and take small steps forward.

Setting up in business is just as scary and unpredictable ~ especially with one as unusual and unique as my own. I still get that feeling sometimes of “what the hell am I doing?!?” ~ but that sheer bloody~mindedness is still there ~ and thanks to having already won one battle ~ I take that strength with me and know for sure that it really is possible to achieve your dreams and ambitions no matter what (or who) tries to keep you down.



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Finding Nancy Part IV…

I am trying to be a little more disciplined about the blog ~ hopefully updating it once every week or two. What with having gotten married, getting my PhD, setting up a business, and the arrival of my beautiful son Freddie; things have been a little crazy and are now starting to settle down! I’ve also been taking lots of my own family photographs recently which I will endeavour to post to Flickr some time soon!

I went back to Nancy’s albums today. Every time I look through them I feel like I get more questions than I do answers. The most burning one is if she is still alive. Quite often, when photograph albums end up on eBay, it is because the owner has died and there is no one else who wants them, or they have died intestate perhaps ~ and a house clearance has occurred. Indeed, these particular albums were picked up by the original seller in an auction house so I have a sad feeling that Nancy may have passed away.

However, whilst each viewing of her beautifully kept albums raises questions, they also provide clues about her life. Given that many of her albums connect with her travels in Europe ~ there is a sense that she was certainly had an adventurous spirit ~ especially so soon after World War II.

In fact, it appears that she had a particular affinity with Germany and Austria ~ to the point that in some albums there seems to be evidence of her actually being fluent in Germany and perhaps even working there.

For the album I was looking through today though, a trip to Austria in the summer of 1951 shows her first trip to Europe (from the information I have at least!).

Don’t forget to click on the photographs if you want to enlarge them :0)

Arrival in Salzburg...I love those old silver airplanes!


Nancy's Group

I think I have mentioned elsewhere in the blog, that Nancy did not just keep photographs of her travels in her albums ~ but also other documents too ~ including postcards that were mainly addressed to her parents.

Postcard from Haus Gertraud in der Sonne (bottom image)

A postcard from Nancy to her parents

From the bits I can make out, the postcard reads:

“Just waiting to have supper – our first big meal. In spite of train leaving Stockton 20 mins late and York 30 ,we arrived on time. I didn’t sleep at all. Plane from Northolt an hour later than schedule. Felt fine until last half hour when it got very hot, but managed to make it.

Had quite a long bus journey at speed, and then a hair raising effort into the mountains in a jeep. This happens every time one wants to go up or down. The train party won’t arrive until 9:30 pm. The jeep ride takes best part of an hour.

Party seems as though it will be predominantly female but we really haven’t got to know people yet. The beds are real German ones – no covers just a big eidendown[?]. the weather has been bad lately so we’re hoping it will pick up  […] Love Nancy”


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