"Memories lie slumbering within us for months and years, quietly proliferating, until they are woken by some trifle and in some strange way blind us to life." W.G. Sebald
To research locations for my work Hogsmill Valley (1977) I undertook many journeys to the place of my childhood at the edge of London, the Sunray Estate, deep into suburbia, returning for the first time since I had moved away, forever I thought, in 1982. This encounter with my own history, and the rupture with my past that accompanied it after a 33 year hiatus, created a feeling within me I could identify only as nostalgia. The sensation I felt was not the sentimental ache we might associate with a wistful longing for the seemingly better days of our past. The ache I felt had more in common with the etymological root of the word, coined by a 17th Century Swiss physician from the conjoining the Greek nostos (homecoming) and algos (pain).
This pain arose from a disorienting onslaught of awakened memories, fragments of a life lived and mostly forgotten, brought back into being spontaneously and uncontrollably by the simple acts of walking and looking. These emergent pieces of me never seemed to cohere, instead they jostled with a Brownian randomness, constantly demanding my attention but never offering me the comfort of a contiguous personal narrative. I was deeply unsettled.
I became determined to respond to this unsettled state by making work, make sense out of no sense. One set of unearthed memory fragments, above all others, offered some promise, that of many walks home from school on early Spring nights, past a particular stand of cherry trees, every surface transfixed and transformed by the streetlights' intense yellow sodium vapour glare. The glow became a unifying presence across at least this disorderly subset of the self but, like Orwell's George Bowling, my search for many of the trees of my past was thwarted; chopped down for carparking. But, nearby, a pristine tree in full blossom and bathed in sodium light. I could make my picture and, like Sebald, achieve enough distance from my memories to, at last, gain a clearer view.