Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Photo Post - Melissa

Theres a long story behind these photo's. My first year at Uni I took over 5000 photographs on the Nikon D40 DSLR (which is like the cheapest most basic DSLR there is). I edited them down to just over 2000 photographs. The pictures aren't really of work, and not many of them are drunken nights out. They're just pictures of our progress, getting to know each other, getting to know ourselves. I remember I even took photos on my first day. I wanted to document every tiny thing. Sometimes it annoyed my coursemates, I think theyre getting used to it now. I havn't fully explained to anyone why I've been taking these pictures. It all stems from my anxiety that I wasn't ggoing to flourish at Uni, that I was goingto wilt and die. I really thought that. I though I'd turn out like Russel Crowe's charecter in "A Beautiful Mind" because I wouldn't be able to cope.

Anyway, just as I was getting ready to start Uni back in september I was listening to the complete soundtrack of "Avenue Q" alot. People's first experiences of this musical are usually finding anime mashup videos to the music "If You Were Gay" or "The Internet is for Porn" but most people havn't head the whole show. It's tender and pensive. One song that really resonates for me is "I Wish I Could go Back to College" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ut6YtMXjaZY . That one line: "I wish I had taken more pictures." When I first heard that I was like, whoa, this is going to be the most important 3 years of my life and I can't let it slip by. It dawned on my how important these pictures when I look back after one year at this picture:

Lets begin.
First day. Thats the sun rising. I was there at 7:30am. I wanted a head start.
Staying behind to some more work with Benj (who was humerously drunk with exhaustion), Peter and Melissa on October 14th. Melissa died of Sudden Death Syndrome very suddenly on the 28th of October. It was a shocking blow to us all and I think it changed the dynamic of the group. I think it brought us all together. I was very insular then, shy and still getting adjusted. I looked over at the desk that Melissa, Elora, Rachel and Sophia shared and saw them giggling away, close, as if they'd known each other for years, and I always wanted to go over a join them. In reality we'd only known her for almost exaclty 1 month. It was a very strange form of berevement, it was like we were mourning for the future. Feeling grief for someone who would have been one of my closest friends.

29th October some folks arranged a beautful memorial. They went out and bought a whole load of helium balloons and less than 24 hours of hearing of Melissa's death (an emotional sponteaneous meeting called by Ashley, our tutor, one ordinary morning. The only time, and probably last time, I've seen my tutor cry.) over a hundred students, 1st year, and most of 2nd and 3rd year descended on Plymouth Hoe. On that very gusty day she and some students said some words, and we released the balloons. I was shocked how fast they flew away.

We wrote little messages to Mellissa on them. I wonder who found them in the end. I think it was the perfect spontaneous expression of loss. It would be 3 weeks before the funeral, which about a dozen of the class attended. It was about a 3 hour coach trip away, and while I was planning to go the date was changed and clashed with an event that I had promised myself to months ago and then hundreds of people were relying on me (I was chairing a debate between 2 competing schools about the ethics of the BNP) and I was unable to go. However, one unseasonably warm and clear December day Mellissa's mum Sandra and her young son appeared in the studio, clutching a dusty urn. It was the first time I met her, I didn't know what to say to her, and saying her young son was heart broken.
I was touched that Sandra wanted to scatter half of Mellissa's ashes in my home town Plymouth, where she only lived for month.
For the rest of the year we didn't see her family again, though a few of us stayed in touch. I sent Sandra a few messages on facebook of all places. Around Christmas, Easter, Melissa's birthday, a few words to let her know we were thinking of her, and Mellissa. Last week, as we wrapped up our first year with a big exhibition of the years work Sandra appeared in the studio again, with both her yound chrildren and infront of a big crowd of my friends, fellow students, parents and members of the public presented me with this:

 I was pretty much blown away. Firstly, of the 45 people in my class (granted, by the end it had whittled down to about 35 due to dropoits) Ashley chose me. I spend the amount of hours in the studio a week, sometimesd up to 70 but I'm by no means the "best", certainly not technically better than anyone, definatly not the most talented, I just put in so much effort. I didn't think Ashley ever noticed, but he did. Secondly, to be presented an award in honour of the dead person is a huge honour. Thirdly, to be presented an award in honour of a dead person I actually knew has left me reeling with a mix of strange emotions. Mostly happy ones, but still, looking at back at these photos I know 100% I'd rather have Mellissa back and gotten to have known her better, than be noticed.

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