"All My Eyes See"
Working for the Arts Centre really expanded my artistic horizons. I’d been involved in theatre since I was 13 as an actor and then, later, as a teacher, director and playwright. I’d always been a voracious reader and my degree was in English so poetry and the novel had always been an important part of my life. My interest in photography (caught from a university friend) opened my eyes a little to the visual arts but working at Ceolfrith laid wide a whole new world, not just passively recording but becoming actively involved in its creation
In 1975, All My Eyes See was THE biggie, both for the Arts Centre and for me. It was a major national touring exhibition and accompanying book. It was going to be shown in Sunderland (by now the Ceolfrith Gallery was the Sunderland Arts Centre), at the National Book League in London, at Aberdeen City Art Gallery and at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. And I was not simply going to document the installation in Sunderland but my photography was to be an integral part of the whole thing, the exhibition and the book!
And, to put the cherry on the top of the icing on the cake, it was devoted to one of my favourite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, to his “visual world”, the places he knew and loved and the drawings he made on his travels. I was to follow in his footsteps through Lancashire and North Wales, visiting and photographing such places as Stonyhurst and Pendle Hill (of the Witches of Pendle fame) in Lancashire; St Winefride’s Well in Holywell (Flintshire); a beautiful spot in the valley of the River Elwy, Ffynnon-y-Capel, another holy well; St Beuno’s in St Asaph; Rhuddlan, and then Oxford, with a couple of side trips to London.
I also reproduced all the pictures in his two sketchbooks and quite a number of loose sketches, and I was allowed to photograph a portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery (which became the front cover of the book) and another in a Royal Palace in London.
I still have my copy of the book, All My Eyes See—The Visual World of Gerard Manley Hopkins, but unfortunately the only memento of the exhibition itself is a clipping of a review of the exhibition in the Times Literary Supplement which talks about “evocative pictures of the places Hopkins knew by Peter Lathan.”
Dead proud of that, I was—and still am!
It was something completely new to me. I’d taken landscape photos before, obviously, but they were in the Lake District or the Highlands while out fell-walking. This was different, though, trying to capture someone else’s “feel” for a place, focusing on what the places meant to Hopkins, using his poems, his letters and his drawings to try to get inside his mind and thus, hopefully, enable others to share how he felt.
A real challenge but a joy to do!