We've just returned from an amazing week's holiday in Cornwall. Jen and I stayed at a place we’ve returned to again and again. Trelowarren is an old estate on the Lizard that rents out lovely cottages deep in a forest. Besides brilliant woodlands to walk away the stresses of work, they also have an excellent restaurant, pool, spa and tennis court. We always go out of season. Then we have the run of the place for walks and snuggling in front of the wood-burning stove while watching endless episodes of The West Wing or The Sopranos.
My work life has always involved travel. The past year has been epic and the last month even more so. LA three weeks ago; Portland, Oregon two weeks ago and last week, filming in the far north in minus 35C. I’m not at liberty to say where we were but it was awe inspiring, savage and unbelievably beautiful.
Still, as I head into the dusk on my way to my Dad’s 91st birthday and I peer through rain-streaked train windows at black Scottish mountains, I am minded to hang up my cowboy boots for a while. Stationary living appeals, domestic experience to be embraced, a little inertia welcomed.
How weird my world is at the moment. Last weekend I flew back from LA after a few days at the TCA press tour. This is a conference of the USA’s top TV critics held in the stunning Langham Hotel in Pasadena. Twice a year the TV networks gather there to promote new shows. I was attending with Jack and Todd Hoffman, the two leading characters of Gold Rush Alaska, to give interviews and insight into the show. At present the series is the #1 show in America for men and Discovery Channel have really got behind it.
I saw Oprah Winfrey, who was launching her new network, OWN; Mike Tyson, who spoke about his love for pigeons; and Jennifer Aniston who walked by looking serene. I probably should have spotted a host of other stars that to my wife’s despair I didn’t recognize. The reception, hospitality and access that was laid on by Discovery was amazing. And to cap it, each night when I went back to back to my bedroom there would be a new surprise awaiting. One night a cool bloggers bag; the next, three ingots of Gold Rush Alaska chocolate and on the last night, a hand carved didgeridoo...a fitting end to a weird and wonderful adventure.
Tonight's the night when Gold Rush Alaska premiers on Discovery Channel. It's already causing a stir. The Washington Post said it is ' Almost Homerian' whilst the Wall Street Journal calls it 'Jaw Dropping TV' but possibly not in the nicest of contexts.
I’ve spent the last week in edit struggling to tell a complicated story in a simple way. I have a maxim that I try to apply to all my TV work, which is ‘simple stories well told’; it’s difficult to achieve sometimes.
I’d always thought this motto applies more to producing and directing films, because the process of making a coherent, entertaining story that works for a broadcaster's audience is inherently complex.
But when I looked at the still photograph of Drew and Tiree, I see the maxim at work again. I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures that are contre jour. When colour and texture are removed, the essential is isolated without the detail.
So this is what has been obsessing me for the last year and why most of my friends and family haven't seen me for ages. I've been producing 10 x 1 hour documentaries for Discovery Channel in the US. The series is called Gold Rush Alaska. You can see the promo here . The show follows the fortune of a gang of unemployed men from Oregon who head north to Alaska in search of gold. It's been a rock-n-roll shoot and edit but there's a good buzz about the series. The subject has genuine and profound jeopardy and with gold prices going through the roof , unemployment rising and the recent swing to the right in the US it's very current. I hope it does well not least as recognition for all those who went above and beyond to get it on the screen against all the odds. It premieres on Friday the 3rd of December at 10pm EST on Discovery in the US. It's a Raw TV production of course.
It’s nearly a year since I first flew into the wonderland of Alaska. Just the fall and big snow to come until the season is complete and the circle closes. It’s been an intense encounter with a truly amazing part of the world. I'm always so busy when I'm on the ground that it seems that it's only whilst I'm in the air I can find time to take a snap. And it is snaps I take. I'm less and less interested in Cameras these days because I can't find one that's invisible. The closest I get to it is my Blackberry. There's little consideration of settings, lenses etc, only aquisition. Recently, when I was looking at my father's often two dimensional photographs, I worked out that he took pictures to capture places as trophies and return to friends and family with evidence of his independence. He made slide shows, I make a blog. We are trophotographers.
It's an odd old life at the moment that doesn't lend itself to blogging, or much else outside of work or travel for that matter. My summer has consisted of long days and nights in the edits intercut with sharp sojourns to Alaska. Crazy commutes to location are part of the job but this one is a classic. It's three flights and two days to get where I'm going in SE Alaska.
Also known as the Pan Handle of SE Alaska, is actually on the west coast of continental North America, (confused?) check it out here. Being on the west coast, the weather is unpredictable. After a flight north from cool Seattle, the final leg is up the coastal canal from Juneau to Haines, skirting glaciers and overflying whales.
The journey should be on a small single prop plane on 'Wings of Alaska'. But often the weather is so changeable that I end up taking alternative methods of transport. I've taken a fast cat, cessna, chopper and slow boat so far. I head back to Alaska soon. Who knows, I may get to kayak home yet.
One recent diversion took me back through LA for the premiere of a show that's part of 'Locked Up Abroad' , a long running TV series that I look after at Raw TV. In this episdoe called 'The Real Midnight Express', Billy Hayes re-lives being incarcerated in a Turkish prison in the 1970s. His story inspired Alan Parker and Oliver Stone to make the film ‘Midnight Express’.
It took Billy an enormous amount of courage to take part in this film. He had to stand by his life-changing and costly mistakes in front of a theatre of TV critics, friends and subsequently a national TV audience. When it aired, it rated off the scale. I was delighted for Billy and the teams at Raw and National Geographic.
I've been away from the blog for nearly two months now; consumed by another adventure. I'm making a new series for Discovery that I can't write about; but I can write about Alaska. Last winter I visited for the first time and was blown away by the grandeur, scale and savage other-worldliness of the place.
This time we arrived mid April as the snow was melting and the greening had begun. Snowy peaks soar above fronds of silver rivers teaming with salmon that are preyed on by bear and eagle. Everywhere you look is drama. We hope to be here until the fall. What a privilege it will be to follow the seasons and cycles of this extraordinary world.
At this time of year my thoughts turn towards the sea. I grew up in Greenock, a hardnosed shipbuilding port in Scotland. It was rowing that first channelled my energies away from the street. Then sailing and canoeing on the river Clyde meant that when I moved to the Outer Hebrides in my twenties, there was only one place to be, the sea. Whether it was sailing trips to St Kilda; canoeing around Orkney or screaming across Broadbay in a Sabbath-storm windsurf, being on the sea seemed fundamentally important to being me. I seriously harboured thoughts of becoming a professional sailor when I crewed a schooner around the Med for a summer. But I finally decided against it; instead I moved to London and immersed myself in film and TV again. Staying in London means I don’t often go down to the sea. I miss it, but nowhere as much as I thought, London rocks in ways I never expected.
My old man and I just had our first ever Skype call on his new birthday laptop. He was completely made up. Now all I have to do is get my remote connection to his desktop working and a whole new world awaits him from the comfort of his armchair. God alone knows where I'm going to find the time to guide him onto the web but it seems a curious and fitting role reversal.
It’s an age that very few people have seen but more will. If you’re turning ninety this year, you were born two years after the first world war ended; were nineteen when the second war started; and were nearly fifty when the first man stood on the moon.
And so it was that my Dad did attain this incredible age on the auspicious date of the 8th of February 2010. I’d been agonising long and hard as to how best to mark the event. At one point I’d seriously considered hiring a helicopter and flying him to his beloved St Kilda. That was until I found out the price tag and that none of the family were mad enough to fly 100 miles out to a rock in the Atlantic.
After much debate I took the sensible, and as it turned out, much more enjoyable option of organising a big birthday bash for him in our hometown of Greenock.
It’s a sad fact but once a person reaches ninety many of their friends and family have long departed this earth. Nonetheless, I sent out 54 invitations and 50 people turned up to celebrate the ‘90 Years of Archie’. It was a wonderful life-affirming event, and incredibly, the first birthday party my Dad ever had.
I put together a book, an exhibition and a slide show of his ninety years. While doing so I discovered a lot about my Dad, myself and the continuity of family across generations. It was a very emotional day, which showed when I came to make my speech.
We gave Dad a laptop and a broadband connection for his present. Yesterday we hooked him up the web. Not many men make their first solo foray onto the internet at ninety. But not many men are like Archie Maynard.
"An Lanntair has been a source of immense pride and inspiration to us over the years.
It’s truly hard to believe that it’s 25 years since the three of us shared the stage to together at the opening in the Town Hall. But if the 25 years has taught me anything, it’s that the only one constant in life is change.
Indeed, it was the need for change that brought us together and crystalised the idea of the Gallery. As artists, we wanted the opportunity to exhibit and perform our art. But equally we wanted to bring new and inspiring ideas to the Islands.
We wanted to make a space where wonder, debate, controversy, beauty, excellence and passion were the norm.
What we envisaged is encapsulated in the logo, which was designed by the much missed Robby Neish. There was plenty of debate and passion around what it should look like, but Robbie’s idea of the lighthouse was inspired and beautifully executed.
A beam of light announcing a presence. But also a beacon that guides and welcomes. It is the embodiment of enlightenment.
Of course as you’d expect, there are far too many stories to tell. But if I had to pick one story that summed up what we set out to do it is this….
In 1985, a musician from Mali turned up in Ullapool with Robbie the Pict from Skye.
Ali, a religious man, had no idea getting to Stornoway involved a boat journey. Mali is a landlocked country and they banish all their demons into the sea. He told Robbie that he couldn’t possibly get on the ferry.
Robbie, not a religious man – but a desperate one – said, ‘In this country our men work on the sea and our gods protect them’. And so, to help combat Ali’s terror, they agreed to pray on their knees non-stop for four hours on the back deck of the car ferry (the Suliven) till they passed the light house at Arnish.
That night, 150 people crammed into the old Gallery space to listen to a man who had literally defeated his demons. It was the most extraordinary performance I have ever witnessed.
I shot a video with him in Paris eight years later and Ali still talked about that night in Stornoway as one of his most memorable performances. This from a man who filled stadiums around the world.
To all of the staff, members, board members, artists, performers, volunteers and visitors who have taken on the idea from the glimmer it was 26 years ago to the shining beacon for change it is now…we thank you."
Apart from the gang of three, the real headliner was Peter Capaldi. A little known fact about Oscar winning Peter Capaldi was that he was in a band called the Dream Boys. This band was made up of actor Peter, CBS talkshow host Craig Ferguson, George Lucas' visualiser (apologies, didn't catch his name and Google wasn't helping), and Roddy Murray, long time director of An Lanntair. Roddy took a trip down memory lane with a shoebox of memories, bad hairstyles and tales of a transit van. All credit to Peter for retaining his cool.
We’ve just returned from an fantastical festive break in the Highlands of Scotland. It had an ominous start though. We kept just ahead of the worsening weather on the train from London to Glasgow. But when we set out from Greenock with my doom-saying 89-year-old dad as co-driver the white out began in earnest.
While we inched our way up the blizzarding A9 my snow hating Dad, " the only place for snow is on a bloody christmas card", made constant pleas for sanity and a hasty retreat south. But when we finally slithered our way through the forest of the Rosehaugh Estate late at night to Red Kite Cottage we were as relieved as we were exhausted.
Our own little gingerbread house was everything we'd hoped for on the inside inside but it was only with the morning sun that we realised how lucky we were on the outside. Regular heavy snow falls and freezing temperatures, (down to -16 degrees celsius) meant we woke to find ourselves in a winter wonderland. The area north of Inverness that is known as the Black Isle had become the White Isle.
Despite living, working and playing in the north for years I’d never seen conditions like it. Everywhere, trees bent under the weight of continual dumps of snow. Ice crystals grown by frost glistened all around as drifts of freezing mist added to the drama of the landscape.
Day after day the conditions became more awe-inspiring. A lovely Christmas with family, warming visits to friends, great meals burnt off by long walks and suicidal sledging made for the perfect holiday.
That Calvinist streak in me is having a feeding frenzy right now. My twisted psyche demanded a guilt-laden price tag for six weeks of bliss. But despite the last month being about getting up to speed with this new job it’s not all been about work. Taking time off has reminded me how important friends are. A diary of promises and engagements made during my holidays has meant it's taken time for the work life balance to level itself out. There have been lots of great meetings and greetings with mates and colleagues but what follows is some pictorial evidence of the importance of friends and family.
At the start of the month I had a night out in Victoria Park that was supposed to be a quiet drink with my brother-in-law, Rob. Instead I ended up meeting so many old friends I felt more than a tad nostalgic. It is nostalgia that leads to a loss of balance, third degree burns to your leg and an inside out head, isn’t it?
Highlight of the month has to be flying up to the Hebrides to Malcy’s 60th birthday party. Malcy is one of my oldest pals and fellow founder of An Lanntair art centre where his party was held. Despite the horrendous weather outside, inside I was reminded of how many good friends I have from my time in Lewis.
Be it pain avoidance, wisdom or appreciation of family, I managed to make a relatively sensible exit, which wasn't in keeping with our past record for long nights. I knew that my grandson Drew and my daughter Laura would harbour no excuses the following day and I was right. Drew jumped on my head from the top bunk at seven in the morning, and I gave thanks at the altar of common sense.
From old friends to new friends. Mikael Strandberg is one of the world’s leading explorers and has been on some madcap expeditions in his time. However his latest plan to become the first person on record to walk unaided across the Arabian and Sahara deserts puts all his previous exploits in the shade (pardon the pun).
Jen and I saw him talk this week in the library of The Travellers Club on the Pall Mall. Now there’s posh! Surrounded by dusty first editions of Thackery, Dickens, Thesiger and shelfloads more, Mikael held the slightly worn travellers in thrall. He is an amazing speaker and a very brave man.
It’s been a month since I wrote my last blog. The time has flown by in a giant jumble of family, friends, travel and DIY. However, all good things must come to an end and in this case they are being replaced a with great new challenge. As of next week I start at Raw TV as an Executive Producer. It’s big job with brilliant people and lots of scope and I’m delighted and daunted in equal measure.
Despite the precarious nature of being a freelance Series Producer, one of the benefits (especially if you have your next contract lined up) is being able to take long breaks. In all I’ve had six weeks off and it’s been utterly memorable. After returning from France in what Jen and I reckon was one of our best ever holidays, I spent just a day to in London before heading north to the Hebrides with my Dad. The Maynard and Maynard tour of the Highlands is becoming something of an annual event. My father is an astounding ninety years old in February so these are precious journeys. Last year we circumnavigated Scotland but this time we concentrated on family and friends in Lewis and Harris.
I detected a positive vibe to the islands that I hadn't felt for many years. There are some inspiring examples of young people returning to the islands and getting on with plasterboard and projects. Nickolai and Beka Globe have made a fantastic new space for their pottery and photography at their converted Mission House Studio. And my old friend Ruraidh Beaton continues to build the legend of Am Bothan in his magical bunkhouse in Leverburgh. The advent of the long overdue Sunday Ferry and the reduction in ferry fares to the Islands through the Scottish Parliament’s revolutionary Road Equivalent Tarrif (RET) initiative have had an enormous impact on tourism. The roads were busier than I’ve ever seen them, lots of cars with surfboards on the roof and ever more dreaded camper vans in their wake. Ah well progress always comes at a price.
Talking of progress, my last day on the Island was spent at the helm of the Jubilee, sailing out of Loch Stornoway as the new Sunday ferry steamed past…bizarre. The Jubilee is fully restored 80 year old ‘Sgoth’ that I last sailed fifteen years ago. It’s another sign of renaissance in the Islands. The Jubilee, which was one of the island’s last serviceable traditional wooden sailing boats is now one of a fast growing number of this class of boat being built sailed regularly by locals and visitors alike.
Returning to London, I concentrated on getting the new kitchen installed interspersed with lots of catching up with friends in London. Amongst the highlights was the launch of Phil Stebbing’s massively ambitious 'Lifeline' project in Hyde Park. Phil is trying raise funds to send three teams of people around the world. Their mission is to meet others who are trying to live sustainably and build a Digital Ark filled with the secrets of sustainability. I did say it was ambitious.
Another memorable event was going to the one day England V Australia cricket match. Even to a relative newcomer to the game it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t a brilliant match, and England got soundly beaten. But nonetheless, great company, good weather and enough beer to last a lifetime more than compensated for the poor performance.
So that’s it. The holidays are over and the work begins. Bring it on.
Lifting my head and looking around me, the buzz of work has gone and I see art on every wall. Whether it’s tagging on the village streets, Picasso’s and Cezanne’s paintings or photo exhibitions galore, I’m electrified and inspired by how others see the world.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the Recontres de la Photographie d’Arles - a major photographic event by any reckoning. Many great photographers have shown their pictures here. We braved the 40°C heat long enough to view just a few of the 60 exhibitions, but three bodies of work really struck me.
Without Sanctuary is a shamefully banal series of postcards taken and published by Southern photographers of lynched African Americans. The collection is from the Centre for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and shows just what an incredible leap forward has been made with the election of Barak Obama.
Eugene Richards' haunting images of deserted houses in America’s Mid West were shot just before ‘the crash’ and remind me of McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. Willy Ronis, is one of France's great humanist photographers. He's nearly a hundred years old and his work glows with life, wisdom and dignity.
Since starting my blog, I’ve been forced to reassess why I continue to take pictures and publish them. It’s years since I earned my living as a photographer, so why bother?
Seeing these walls around me, I’m inspired by insight and commitment. Looking at my blog afresh I realise I am enthralled. Photography is still my first language and my love. For better or for worse I have an passion for people, a desire for them to understand the world the way I see it, and the need for a wall to hang my pictures on.
I'm not going to write much as I'm getting to be a lazy, lazy man in the French sun but here are a few Provençal impressions from the last week or so.
Wrapping the edit up at the wonderful Envy after nine months and leaving everything shipshape was harder than I imagined. But in the end I was really pleased with the series. It's been doing well in the US and is going to go out soon in the UK on five. The upshot of this final push was that I left the show more than a tad tired after some very late nights.
And then there was the actual last night itself when I should have done what any mature and sensible man would do and that is go home and fall into the arms of his neglected wife. But not Sammy, no, instead after a couple of pints at the Toucan we headed to Zoe Brewer's 40th party.
Now anyone who knows the Brewers knows that a night there, never mind a night as big as a fortieth, is going to be (how should I put it?) an occasion for celebration. Consequently we lived up to our joint expectations, did our very merry duty by Colin and Zoe and returned home a little after 6am. Again, most sensible people would have spent the day in bed but I had to clean the flat before my grandaughter and her mum arrived off the train from Scotland for a week's entertainment in London.
We had a brilliant time but the days were busy and the nights were late as we saw the sights and talked the talk into the wee sma hours. When Jen and I finally boarded the Eurostar for two weeks in the South of France the omens weren't good either. The carriage suddenly filled with many uniformed red Americans 'doing Europe'. They were all very excited about going under the English Channel and getting a good seat, (to view the darkness I presume).
However my fear of uniformity proved unfounded (I had a tough time in the Scouts); our American cousins were models of decorum. After arriving in Paris, yoga in the Jardin du Luxembourg, a pit-stop in our favourite Cafe Tournon (expensive, non? Charcuterie, fromage, pain and cafe creme - 50 euro/nearly quid - but well worth the experience), a mad dash across the city to Gare de Lyon, a whisk on the TGV and a thirty minute drive we found ourselves at the amazing Mas Dagan. It’s been a complete delight since then and exactly what a holiday should be, nothing and everything.