Today, I took a walk from the house in Freshwater along the Freshwater Way footpath down towards the bay. To make sure I actually looked at things around me, I left my phone behind so I’d be seeing things, not uploading them to Instagram then checking every few paces to check if anyone’s clicked like.
It was lovely to wander and get slightly lost. I didn’t find the start point for the footpath, so I wound up wandering along the streets, past the skate park, the field with a strange playground, the gorgeous thatched church, the street where the houses were called things like Hillview and Rivendell, until I thought I was going the wrong way completely. Instead, I stumbled onto the thing I’d been looking for: Dimbola, Julia Margaret Cameron’s house.
There’s a lovely set of exhibitions in there: a round-up of JMC’s life in photography, her portraits of the Freshwater Set: Lord Tennyson, Virginia Woolfe, Louis Carroll and Charles Darwin. It’s impressive to think how many of the heavy hitters of English writing lived or holidayed just down the road from me.
There was a collection of her portraits of children, where she experimented with mythological references as much as she experimented with the camera and in the darkroom. Seeing the evolution of her work as, in turn, she starts to frame her work like paintings, then where she learns to dodge, burn and blur. Later, experiments in photo-collage and in tearing the photograph apart to get the composition she wanted.
A small collection of posters, photographs and other mementos from the Isle of Wight festival through the years followed. It was quite timely to see all the references to rain and mud right from the start. I didn’t realise Jimi Hendrix’s last major gig was there.
The collection of print-to canvas photographs of the island didn’t quite hold my attention, but they were for sale and quite reasonably priced. Of the contemporary photographs there, the portraits of sailors’ faces close up were the most interesting to me.
What really caught me flat-footed, though, was the collection of photographs from Patti Smith. It was a selection of the 250 photos she presented as a set, including photos of Virginia Woolfe’s bed, Herman Hesse’s typewriter (on which he wrote The Glass Bead Game, one of my favourite books) and Robert Mapplethorpe’s slippers left behind after he died.
I stopped in the cafe for an Earl Grey, a teacake and a chance to think about what I’d seen. I also did a little sketch from memory of a thatched cottage and barn I’d passed on my walk last night. Just a rough, quick sketch, but I’m trying to improve my visual memory by actively looking and recalling later.
Then, of course, down the the breathtaking beauty of the bay and the wander back. I won’t try to describe every detail, but suffice to say, I’m very pleased to be here this Summer.
For details about the Dimbola museum, visit their website: http://www.dimbola.co.uk