Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Shespy(s) The Writing On The Wall

Big room, in front of a big audience – a young audience: I’m talking about OAPs. I talk about OAPs at lots of universities; even though one-arm pull-up mastery, unlike Golf Course Management’, is not yet a degree subject. I’m invited – my reason for being there at all, is to talk about photography. But I rarely do. I show them photographs all right: photographs of one-arm and one-finger pull-ups (mainly, photographs of myself, pulling; on, or in, the past). Nobody seems to object. Don’t forget: it’s the finger that fires the camera - I could be talking Photography after all.
Me, finding a vein (in myself) in front of an audience

I’m talking arms but I sometimes wonder how it affects their minds; university, nowadays, is all about training for a career; not leaning for learning’s sake – pulling for the sake of a pull – a life experience (rather than an experience for life).
And there’s no future in one-arm-one-finger pull-ups. According to the Guinness Book Of Records, only one person in one hundred thousand can chin a bar one-handed. But that’s the secret of a good lecture. Talk as if you are addressing just one person, you only have to reach-out to – touch - one individual. Anyhow, I keep getting invited back. I occasionally punctuate the talk with photographs of barmaid’s arms (it injects a little ‘glamour’ – I am after all being paid to talk about photography): images of me measuring barmaid’s arms – proving – providing photographic evidence that proves, that in seasoned barmaids, one arm – the pulling arm - is always thicker than the other. Perhaps I’m training photographers to become barmaids? All right for the women. But training transvestite- photographers - in off-the-shoulder-frocks - one arm massive, one arm withered (half Ian Dury, half Fatima Whitbread): pulling pints when they should be pressing shutters. A pretty unbalanced thought: references Diane Arbus.
I’m at University College, Falmouth (big dark room; big young audience), I’m showing them a photograph I’ve been looking at since I was twelve: the legendary John Gill, Maths Professor, Godfather of ‘bouldering’, doing an OAP, topless, in a cave. 
It would be impossible to underestimate the importance of this photograph of Gill, on my right arm. 
Directly after showing Gill pulling, I show a photograph of me presenting my arm to the camera - during a family holiday in Switzerland in 1977 - demonstrating the amazing effects of seeing the Gill photograph, and of only a year of one-arm-pulling. The rest is history. I’ve pulled every day since.  Shespy’s in the front row – she’s my age. You might wonder why my personal shopper’s attending a lecture on pulling. Maybe she thought (like everyone else) it was going to be a talk about snapping? Either way, I never give lectures on shopping. But here’s a woman in a shop doing a one-arm-pull-up.
When the talk is over and the applause has finally died down, shespy comes over and asks for my autograph. I think, funny, shespy witnesses my signature all the time – every time she points me at a purchase in fact - so why here, and now? Unnaturally (for me), I refuse. “That’s interesting”, Shespy says. “This is the second time today you’ve failed to acknowledge your own name”. “What are you on about”, I protest. Shespy explains: “When you were showing that photograph of Gill doing an OAP in the cave, I was waiting for you to mention the fact – a fact that seemed blatantly obvious - that your name – Greg – was written on the wall in front of Gill’s eyes. The writing was quite literally, ‘on the wall’, right in front of his face – right under his nose. Indeed, it looked as if Gill had risen up there in order to come face-to-face with you. Greg. Spooky. To think, while you’ve been worshiping Gill all these years, he was worshiping you first, as it were. Gill’s quite literally, ‘lifting himself’ – rising-up - in front of your name. He met you before you met him, so to speak. The writing was already on the wall.”
That’s the thing with photographs: you have to look both through and at them at the same time. I’d been looking through this photograph for thirty-four years yet never once recognised my own name. Now, thanks to Shespy, my personal shopper, all I see is: the Great Gill, pulling over me. 

For more information on the 'amazing' John Gill, visit his wonderful website: www.johngill.net  

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