Home is where the hurt is

JasonWilde-Lower-ResFor someone who hates flying as much as I do, I seem to travel a lot. Countries as far apart as Mexico, Chad, and Japan have seen me emerge from the plane blinking in gratitude to the sky gods for my safe arrival, and ready to explore. But when I return to Guernsey I feel I am coming home. I turn inward to reboot and take a long hard look at myself and what I’ve been up to since my last visit.

Guernsey obsesses me. I want to back people into corners and tell them everything I know about it. Being exiled from the island hurt me into writing poetry when I was in my teens. I’ve written about it ever since, including in A Guernsey Double (2010) with Richard Fleming, and more published work since then.

Last week my wife and I took my mid-20s stepchildren and their partners there for the first time. But I soon realised what I chose to show them wasn’t just the island, it was a covert way of showing them myself. I began to wonder uncomfortably if I was actually seeing Guernsey at all, instead of something scripted by my imagination and my memory. Frankly it was all getting a bit ‘me-me-me’. It made me think how my writing about the island has been received with a suspicion – above and beyond the fact it was poetry – in some quarters. For example when A Guernsey Double was published, Richard and I were welcomed more than once onto BBC Guernsey, while Guernsey Press completely ignored its publication.  I can completely understand this however. It’s a bit like how I was tempted to blah-blah about the island, and show people around ‘my’ island. I fully understand that local people must be heartily sick of folks imposing a narrative on their home.

I couldn’t help note the irony that I was tripped into this realisation by an exhibition by London based photographer  Jason Wilde, whose exhibition Guerns, was running at the museum in Candie Gardens. Jason’s photos captured candid images of local people in their own homes. There was some piercing work in the exhibition, as you can see from the lovely spotty piece above. I loved the absence of sentimentality, nostalgia and how it didn’t over-egg its subject matter. The exhibition has an admirable clarity and truth about it.

This exhibition jabbed a sensitive spot on the island. Guernsey is a small place that was once dependent on tourism and its tomato industry. Guernsey Toms were familiar to shoppers in the sixties and seventies. But when the UK joined what was then called the Common Market, Guernsey Toms were undercut by cheaper Dutch tomatoes. The industry rapidly sank, and for a while this was replaced with flower growing but that withered too. The island that once glittered with greenhouses as you flew into it, is less sparkly now.*

Since that time the financial industry has been Guernsey’s mainstay. To keep it going it has imported lots of well paid folks from the UK and beyond, which is in danger of creating a two-tier society.  The gorgeous parish  I grew up in, St Martin’s, nearby houses were full of my relatives, who were ordinary local people. But the houses have now been gentrified. Now you just have to look at the cars parked in the gravelled front gardens to see how things have changed.

As Jason Monaghan, Director of Guernsey Museums said talking about the Guerns exhibition, “The contemporary photographic archive that is being built throughout this series is invaluable and is something for both current and future generations to enjoy”. I whole heartedly agree, and would add that Jason Wilde has photographed local people at what may feel like a vulnerable and uncertain time in their history.

I have recently finished a long poem about the island, imagining it as a kind of Atlantis sunk in time. It is the culmination of a long sequence of introspective poems that goes back to my teens, but this last one feels like the end of a chapter.

I am already planning my next visit. But next time I am going to go different places, and will speak to different people. There are new stories I’d like to hear told, and Jason Wilde’s exhibition has forcibly reminded me of this.

So it’s a big well done from me to Guernsey Arts and Guernsey Museums. Brilliant stuff.

* I took the snap below last week, there are several ruins of the tomato industry still to be seen.

P1010069

 

About Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, plays, libretti, prose, journalism and so on. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.
This entry was posted in A Guernsey Double, a writer's life, Guernsey, Guernsey Literature, Photography, Richard Fleming and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Home is where the hurt is

  1. Jane says:

    Sorry Peter but I have to disagree with you on this one. I found the very concept of this exhibition distasteful. I consider it voyeuristic and insensitive. The fact that the residents of what is a States Housing re-development became the target group is, I find, interesting. (And the re-development of a sink estate at that where the residents were frequently branded by the local community for most crime and anti-social behaviour) Would the middle class residents of the island have allowed a photographer into their home? I very much doubt it.

    Photography is a powerful medium. We can all be famous for a second (says Alison Jackson, unlike Warhol’s 15 minutes) and for many people it is both flattering and ego-boosting to be made the subject of a photograph that will appear in an exhibition. Suddenly someone who might feel that they are quite insignificant has their self-perception shifted. Good or bad? Depends on the individual and what comes after. The pictures are, and will continue to be, interesting as a social comment, as indeed are the present images of teenagers in their bedrooms in the 1990s.

    However, in an island that you know only too well, I fear that some of the subjects will live to regret the initial claim to fame.

  2. Peter Kenny says:

    Hi Jane — very interesting how our reactions were so different. Sounds like you really disliked it.

  3. Ann Perrin says:

    Loved that article and the history of it’s lost trades. Regarding the pics have only managed to see three, but frankly let those involved celebrate their five minutes of fame.. One of the roles of art is to be controversial so well done for making feathers fly,

  4. Jason Wilde says:

    Hello Peter. Thank you for taking the time to visit and write about my exhibition. It’s always helpful to receive feedback of any kind for personal work that’s been let loose on the public – your words are very much appreciated. Good luck with the story gathering!! Guernsey folk are a very friendly bunch so I’m sure you’ll hear and collect lots of interesting and inspiring material. I did. Good luck, Jason

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