Friday 30 October 2015

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. [And a love letter to local adventures.]

Imagine parking your car in a town centre car park at night, climbing out, closing the door behind you and, filling the air all around you, are the voices of small children, who you can't see, but who you can talking about what scares them ... in the dark.

Unnerving, no?
Well that's how we were greeted as we arrived at the Don't Be Afraid of the Dark event hosted in Middlesbrough's Centre Square - by creepy talk through a CCTV tannoy system which is usually reserved for telling people to pick up their litter or stop fighting.

And, as you weren't there, [unless you were lurking in the dark and  I just didn't spot you] I wanted to share photos and thoughts on the event for a few reasons:
  1. It's the kind of thing / the kind of event / photos I'd like to flick through if I spotted it on someone else's blog. 
  2. It's a little bit Halloweeny ... [in the same way that hiding upstairs and pretending you're not home when Trick or Treaters come is Halloweeny. Not just me?]
  3. And ... it continues the conversation we began the other week when I asked you about what you thought your town needed. Because not only did I take the photos from that post during this event, I believe the event itself was the kind of thing our town needs. 
And, from many of the comments you left I know many of you feel the same ...

  • That your town may not be the biggest or brightest. 
  • And it feels a little left behind in the creative stakes. 
  • And if only someone would shake things up a bit and give us something worth going out of our way to see we'd go out of our way to see it. 
  • That, alongside a nearby medical centre or school, our towns need a little bit of magic from time to time too.

So how about I share my photos from the Don't Be Afraid of the Dark event with you and, while I'm at it, I'll squeeze in a few things I found to love about the occasion?

And then, in turn, maybe you'll feel like seeking out something to love in your town ...

I loved that ... they must have been expecting me:
Too right there will!

I loved that ... these strange, ethereal objects had a practical use: 
The 'Litre of Light' installation was created to [pun intended] shed light on the method of using water bottles to illuminate homes in the poorest parts of the world.  The water sort of catches and refracts the light which is needed when people are living in the kind of basic, windowless, huts that can quickly and easily be built following disasters etc.

I loved that ... we got to experience the art gallery at night ...
Remember when your school held a concert or a presentation - on an evening? Remember how, even though you'd witnessed those corridors and rooms hundreds of times previously, seeing them at night, outside of school hours, seemed to cast those spaces in an exotic light? 

A little bit like you shouldn't be there ... or else ... like you lived there? That it somehow felt more 'yours' because you were experiencing it at a time of day when you would usually be sitting in front of your own TV? 

Well, that's what this felt like:
During the event the mima gallery stayed open until late so people could browse the exhibitions, try out some shadowy fun [more below], enjoy a cocktail and lots more.

It was wonderful. It was busy, bustling with life. It was festive and welcoming and made me glad I'd made the effort to wrap up on a dark October evening and leave the house when I'd normally be settling down in my pyjamas! 

I loved that ... shadowy fun with paper-crafting took centre stage in the gallery's dimly lit atrium:
People could join in with cutting and arranging figures in back lit frames to create atmospheric scenes. Here's one from the front:
And behind:
It was great to see people having fun playing with paper. 

And ... dare I say it ... it was good that it was something adults could play along with. So many 'hands-on' activities in public spaces are intended solely for kids ... and if you don't have any, and you're no longer one yourself ... you can get the idea that people think it's only children who like to be creative. 

I liked feeling free to take in the magic of the scenes without worrying that I was meant to be accompanied by a 5 year old!
For the record: I also loved ... how well my camera [Fuji XM1] handled photographing everything in low light without back-lighting the whole area and ruining the dark/light contrast. [You know I like to take every opportunity I can to feel relieved at making a good choice! Go me!]

I loved that ... they allowed people to float their light in the fountain:
You could make an origami boat, complete with LED light, and then float it in the fountain [which was turned off for the night ... otherwise it would have been a rather less serene sight!].

I'm sure, that for many of the children who were crouching to set free their glowing trinkets it was a lovely memory in the making. One which they might just recall whenever passing by in the more mundane light of day.

I loved that ...this artist used her child's handwriting to depict 11th Century proverbs in neon!
They were part of an outdoor installation by Beth J.Ross called 'I Haven't changed my Mind in a Thousand Years'. Each line, taken from the manuscripts has been turned into a neon art strip using the handwriting of the artist's little boy. 

I loved that ... we got to see behind-the-scenes. 
James and I took the twilight tour of a local nightclub that began life as a music hall in 1899

It was interesting to see the wide-variety of people who attended the tour: young women taking selfies, older people who remembered the venue as a theatre when they were young ...
... and several women, like me, who were taking photos of everything as well as trying to remember to pay attention to the guide!

This is my favourite photo of the tour [again, when I wasn't paying attention to the guide] ... it's maybe even one of my favourite of the two of us ever:
And, seeing as I've already mentioned him ...

I loved that ... I had someone to share it all with:
Not only did he sort out practical things like booking the tickets for the guided tour and driving us there, he excelled at the other stuff too. He didn't question why I wanted to spend an October night outside in the dark, he was open to whatever on earth the evening was going to offer, and he didn't hesitate to play with the shadowy paper-cuts just so I could take photos ...
When you know you've got someone who will take whatever happens in his stride, you can really breathe out and enjoy being there ...
Which brings me to my final love note to my local adventure, which you might relate to. Let me just set the scene ...

I'd been following this event on Facebook, and telling family members they should come along [which they did]and it all sounded so interesting and festive and worth a visit that I just assumed the place would be thronging. That the word would have spread .That the whole city would be there.  I even doubted we'd get parked easily. And yet ... 

... when we got there there was just a handful of people wandering around between just a few focal installations and, as enthusiastic as I was, I couldn't create a festival atmosphere on my own! 

There'll be all kids of explanations I'm sure. Arriving at 8pm we'd probably missed the majority of families who'd brought children after school; it wasn't exactly a summer's evening and, on another occasion I too might not have bothered to get my coat and hat on and make the effort. And there was just one food stall, and not a lot - other than the events in the gallery - to draw people into staying on a little longer after whizzing round to see the features. 

Fortunately I had my photography to keep me occupied ... which is what helped me to pause and focus on what was there ... rather than what wasn't ... and so ...

I loved that ... this half rainbow made the perfect metaphor for what our local events need:
'Over' [a work by Stuart Langley and  Andrew Middleton] needs one thing to make it complete ... you.

From a  distance it's just half a rainbow but, step inside ... 
... and through the mirror you'll see it's complete! 

So yes ... it would have been great if the Don't Be Afraid of the Dark event had been as busy and atmospheric as I'd imagined it might be. And it would have been amazing if it could have tapped into something like Durham's Lumiere extravaganza. 

And yet ... things like this have to start somewhere and we have to do our part in making sure the powers that be can't say "Well, not enough people came to the last one, so we can't fund another.". 
We need to remember that our small local events are just like that half a rainbow: sometimes, to turn them into what they're meant to be, we need to meet them halfway. 

We need to do our bit and turn up on autumnal nights and be prepared to help make the magic for ourselves.


For more details on the event and the installations you can view the programme here.

Do chip in your thoughts on this ...

  • maybe you run local events and have first hand experience.
  • maybe, like me, you really like staying in on a night and have to really prod yourself to make the effort to attend things like this! 
  • maybe you've started going to more events, experiences, tours, exhibitions etc recently and would like to share what you've gained from it [I definitely have over the last few years ... and I've gained plenty of stories, photos and blog posts from it!] 
Whatever you'd like to chat bout ... let's get started ... 



  1. What a thoughtful post Julie! The event sounds like a lot of fun, and I'm sorry that more people weren't there. Talking of starting small, we went to one of the early Goodwood Festival of Speed events which was small and intimate. It's now a huge very professional event with hundreds of thousands of visitors. LOL at you comparing visiting the gallery at night with being in school at night! I used to work in offices above a nightclub in Brighton (Sherry's - the one in Brighton Rock) and I loved going in there in the daylight! I must admit to not going to events in our town often enough! We had a well organised art trail in the Summer, and I failed to visit a single exhibit!

    1. I'm as guilty as anyone for not always making the effort ...

      My sister goes to the Goodwood festival - you never think about how those events started do you? Good point!

  2. Really great and worthy post, J. Especially loved your last section. (Think I would have exploded with joy seeing that rainbow become whole). In the town I grew up, a lantern parade was initiated for Christmas. The first year there were 24 families who participated. My Mum tells me the last time she attended, there were thousands and it's a major tourist event, now, for the town. There's even going to be a Christmas market for the whole weekend this year! Good things do build their own momentum.

    1. It's nice to have someone who can remember the before + after effect of these kinds of things. You get to see the continuity - I wonder how those 24 families feel about being the pioneers!

  3. It fun to create and express one self. This time of the year you will be seeing a lot more creativity. But our area don't step out of the box. Wow and wild things don't thrill them. Any crafty items if over $20 most people will shy away. Most people are making $10 an hour.
    I like the 9th photo the ones of the chair...I believe I would of asked "Who would you like sitting in the chairs?"....Coffee is on

    1. If I'd got fully involved I probably could have cut out some people to sit on those chairs!

  4. To refer to an earlier discussion - commenting via an iPhone on blogger is enough to make one curse, having just spent ages typing in a comment for it to just disappear - grrr!
    This is also just the type of post I love to sit and read through. I had totally forgotten that magical feeling of being in school 'out of hours'. As a child who read a lot of fantasy books I was always hoping for the appearance of a portal into another realm.
    The photo's of fab - I have a Fuji bridge camera, which I love for loads of reasons, but it does struggle in dim light. It's good that you are pleased with your buy as it is a huge investment.
    I'd like to think that we would take part in such an activity, were there to be a local one, but in quite a few years of knowing about it I never did visit the Byron Festival. Which *hangs head in shame* has an uncertain future due to lack of attendance. That said a lot of the events were in the weekday, and many were not family friendly - they were listening to talks on Byron or readings of poetry.
    More annoyingly is the lack of publicity for some of these events - we buy our local weekly paper and often find out about something when we read a review/report on the event. Where was the publicity in the paper BEFORE it happened? (I think this is more because the paper wants to charge for advertising the events rather than the organisers not being very organised!)
    We have a music festival (which isn't my 'thing') which seems to be massively well promoted and attended, so it can be done.
    This is a good challenge - to find and attend a local event in the next couple of months - thanks! Oh and remember to use facebook to try and find them.

    1. That's a great point about publicity - I get ALL my recommendations/info/future planning ideas from social media ... then I feel obliged to pass on the info to all and sundry in case they've missed it!

      I don't get a local paper and I don't watch the local news - so I wouldn't know if I didn't spend time on Twitter/FB.

  5. Wow! Such a great post and so much to take in. I'm coming back for a second read and to comment!

  6. Your final two paragraphs in this visual intriguing and thought-provoking post (I use that adjective a LOT when I visit you!) are very cogent. We lost a lovely artisan market here because not enough people visited. It sounds wonderfully imaginative - great that there was a group to envisage it and make it happen. And that you had a lovely and utterly reliable companion :).

  7. yes, yes, yes - I keep an eye out for local events and try to go to a good variety of them. I totally agree about being happy to see craft activities where adults are expected to participate too. Thanks for sharing this fun event

    1. Thanks Helena. Yep - so many times I spot crafty things and think 'ooooh, interesting' and then see 'for families' or 'under 12s' etc ...

  8. Brilliant photography....great points, loved the rainbow analogy & we've just been to the Bondi Sculptures at the event that started VERY small & local, & probably didn't have many visitors the first few years....but the organisers persevered and now it's a world famous one with literally thousands of visitors, which makes it way atmospheric. Like you say, gotta make a start & if it keeps going, then it will get more popular and in a few years you'll be writing saying you couldn't move!!!!

    1. I know!! All the time I was writing about wishing *more* people were there I kept thinking 'but you hate crowds!'. And yet, a crowd [or at least a good bustle of people] really can contribute to the atmosphere.

  9. Well done you with the night time photography. I have tried a couple of times, with no success - yet! I do like your analogy about the rainbow, meeting half way to get the whole affect. What a fantastic display that depicts that! This year Mr Man & I were tourists in our own region (which I did have some posts about on Fridays). It was so much fun & quite eye opening to all that we have in our region. Our little village hosts every December the Farmers Parade of Lights, in which all the local farmers decorate their farm equipment with a Christmas theme. Santa & Mrs Claus arrive on the big combine harvester - it started out with one "float" and now it's so big that our local police force have to provide traffic & crowd control now. We're a rainbow :)

    1. Hurray for your rainbow! And I love the idea of begin a tourist in your town - we do that too - it tends to always involve food ....

  10. This looks like it was a lot of fun! I like to think I might have been able to persuade our night time nay-sayers out to see this: when we were in Edinburgh in September I wanted to do a haunted city bus tour but I couldn't get anyone to go with me.

    1. I'm a total night time naysayer 364 days of the year ... my guilt at not attending [when I moan about the lack of things to do] outweighed my love of staying in after 7pm! ;-)

  11. This had to be so much fun! So many interesting things to see and do and I love seeing things through your eyes. That was a great analogy about your school holding a concert and you've been there tons of times but it just felt [and looked] so different. I so remember going to the school functions and you are so right, it was different and as you described that in your writing, I honestly could feel those feelings that I felt when I was growing up and being in the school at different times. You have such a way with writing, you truly do!

    1. Thank you Debi! I hoped people would relate to that night time school feeling ... it's such an odd experience when you're young I took a chance that others would have felt it too.

  12. It sounds like a delightful evening one that I probably would have missed as I somehow just do not like going out after dinner, not even for a walk. I do remember thought what it felt like going into school in the evening - somehow it was different! Love that rainbow!


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