Space, 1999. More precisely JMU Tower and I’m looking at people standing on rooftops like walkers have breached their primary defences. Except that I won’t know about walkers for another 14 years so why are they there?
It’s 11th August. I’m a student at Liverpool John Moores University studying a BSc in Software Engineering. I’ve just started on my placement year at JMU Tower in the Computer Services department. The Phantom Menance had just been released to the sound of millions of voices crying out in terror. I’m 20. I’m young. Very young. A year later another placement student will take my place. He’s also 20, young but married with a mortgage. He leaves me speechless.
I do feel young at JMU. There’s talk of VAX and domains in the Windows NT sense not the .com. It’s a world away from what the degree had been teaching me. It’s fun. I go on to work on a project called InfoKiosks. Dumb terminals dotted around campus running a locked down version of IE so students can check the uni website. It’s 1999 and no-one has any mobile internet, well except me as I won the Matrix phone in a competition. WAP/WML. Yeah! A year later I’ll do my dissertation on mobile internet by building a student CMS so you can see your course schedule on the go. It wasn’t half bad.
So it’s 11th August and people are standing on rooftops. There’s a solar eclipse occurring and I’m watching it with IT professionals out of a tower block window surrounded by beige boxes and CRT monitors. Social media was limited to whoever you could shout at, text or email at that moment. It got darker. Long shadows were cast by lampposts. It was eerie. People pointed at the sky and others turned away from it like it was a space invader. Outside the building people were sharing special glasses and trying to watch it on paper. It seemed like everywhere I looked people were caught up in the eclipse.
I spend the next year working at JMU, another finishing my degree and then I’m off out there trying to be a web designer. It’s a couple of years before I get a digital camera and by 2005 I’m saying goodbye to web design and heading off on a freelance photography career.
Space, 2015. Precisely the Baltic Triangle on 20th March. The Earth has spun round the sun a few times and now I’m a thin(er), healthier, married man. I’m a mad man with a box. A little box of electronics that we joked about back in 1999. “Oh they’re working on digital cameras but they’re very basic. It’ll be years before they’re usable.” Here we are. I’m holding a 30 something mega pixel Nikon trying to photograph the eclipse.
I hadn’t planned on doing so. I didn’t have the right lens with me and was a bit annoyed at the sun. A spectacular show I can’t look at or photograph? Well that’s no fun. Screw you sun and moon. But of course I get caught up in the excitement. Fuji XT1 quickly progresses to Nikon with tilt shift and tripod. It does f/32. I managed to capture Pacman in a dark room. I was quite happy with that. It’s no double rainbow or anything but I’m happy. Outside Baltic Creative shedmates are spilling out to see the eclipse. Studios empty. Workmen look up. Twitter streams the same photo from every location in the UK as fast as it can. It’s an event and I’m sharing it with my new modern life… sort of. I’m standing alone in a skatepark trying to get a good photo while everyone is playing with a welding mask.
This is me now. 30 something photographer with a studio in the creative community of Liverpool. It’s a good place to be and I do wonder where I’ll see the next eclipse from. There’s one in 2026 apparently. The cosmic ballet goes on.