On Life, Peril, Community And Photography
A conversation with Cathy Teesdale
By Caf Fean
I cheated death in the summer of my second year while studying English Literature at Exeter. I was trying to scramble down a broken limestone cliff to a deserted beach when both handholds and footholds gave way underneath me. Still about 80 feet up, I bounced all the way down, landed on the rocks below on my head and smashed my skull in two places. Then I staggered around the beach for two days, drenched in blood, before I was found. When they got me into hospital, apparently I kept saying “I am NOT going to die!”, which must have been the mantra that kept me going, and away from the sea’s edge, all that time. It took me the better part of a year to recover fully, but the experience gave me an abiding fascination with the power of the human spirit to survive against terrible odds.
I grew up surrounded by art as both my parents were painters, but I was no good at drawing myself so fell in love with the magic of photography instead. In 2013, inspired by Humans of New York, I set up the Humans of Greater London project, to encourage more empathy and connection, celebrate London being a beacon of multiculturalism, and help restore some much-needed faith in humanity too.
Last summer, my partner Simon and I decided to relocate to Hastings and as soon as I found Rock House I was determined to win admission for us both to work there. They vet you pretty thoroughly to check that you’re sufficiently community-minded and find out what you’re planning to contribute, and I’m loving that we’re now part of a lively, friendly workspace where everyone walks the walk as well as talking the talk.
I’m a big fan of collaboration rather than competition, so happy to now be documenting the regeneration of the Observer Building with three other photographers in a project called ‘Four Lenses’. Two weeks ago, I spent some dark hours alone in there, capturing some of its gorgeous graffiti and picturesque decay. At one point, I clearly heard people moving and talking above me, yet when I called out a loud, echoing ‘Hello?’, over and over, there was no reply. So I’m glad I decided to shoot handheld at slow speed with flash, as the resulting blur in a few corners suggests the ghosts which might still be there!
You can purchase a portrait photoshoot by Cathy Teesdale and contribute to the Observer Building crowd funder here: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-observer-building
Four Lenses is a photographic exploration of the Observer Building from the perspectives of John Cole, Benedict Stenning, Cathy Teesdale and Jonny Thompson. For more information visit www.theobserverbuilding.org.uk
• To find out more about Humans of Greater London visit:
• To see more of Cathy’s work go to: www.cathyteesdale.com
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