Talk Report: 2018-01-10

Report on Ann Cook’s talk: Granny goes to Glastonbury

Ann Cook, who lives in Wells, is a remarkable photographer. A Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, her photographs have appeared in national and international publications. ‘Granny goes to Glastonbury’ was the title of her talk to U3A members on Wednesday 10th January. The title was fun, but a little misleading. Ann may well be a granny…but the photographs and her revealing commentary were the stuff of a passionate and brilliant professional artist who is both inspired and ignited by the people and atmosphere of Glastonbury’s famous festival

Way back in 1991 Michael Eavis invited members of the local camera club to take photographs of the Glastonbury Festival, and Ann, a member at the time, gratefully accepted the invitation and found herself thoroughly enjoying the experience. She has photographed every Festival since, and regards it as a modern anthropological marvel. Her work manages to convey the almost intoxicating excitement of the Festival: the atmosphere with its colours and fun, the movement and character of the artists on stage and the eccentricities and friendly happiness of the huge crowds. When wandering around the Festival site, looking for characters to photograph, she feels her age is a help rather than a hindrance - hence the relevance of the title of her talk.

Tom Jones, David Bowie, Tony Bennet, Shirley Bassie, Nigel Kennedy, Amy Winehouse to name a few; Ann showed us images of them all, extracting the character of each so we could almost hear the music as we watched. She explained that photographers are only allowed to stay for the first three numbers of each act, so intense concentration is needed to extract the essence of the dramatically different performances. We were shown three very different images of Amy Winehouse: the first, taken when she was nineteen, a bright young performer, before her beehive hairdo; the second, a couple of years later, although still performing brilliantly, shows a thinner, changing woman. The last photo, taken only a couple of years before she died, showed a more erratic and troubled performer. As they say, pictures tell a thousand words….

But apart from this it was a cheerful hour, with wonderful photos of all kinds of performers and people. As well as famous names there were opera singers, acrobats, belly dancers and both comic and circus acts. Most of all we saw all kinds of people enjoying themselves. Ann always asks permission to take her portraits, which people are usually very happy to give. They obviously want their extraordinary outfits immortalised, often asking for copies of the photograph.

There were brilliant images of people glorying in the notorious mud and of workmen waving toilet paper in the air to promote the generosity of a commercial sponsor. We saw the ‘weddings’ which took place in a special “Wedding Chapel” tent over several years, with extrovert ‘brides and grooms’ celebrating their day in amazing guises. We saw photos of some quite extraordinary costumes, of tattooed people and of several very nearly naked people, of crowd surfing (passing someone over the heads of a solid mass of people) of organised tomato-throwing battles (a Spanish tradition!) and similar paint fights. And we saw sweet children, with painted faces and fairy wings posing, sublimely happy, in the Children’s Field.

Again, and again Ann captured the very spirit of the festival so that we felt that we had almost been there for an hour. She was thanked very much for an exciting and memorable talk.