A friend suggested that I needed a good dose of a photographic session with James Hockings who (with his ex wife Judy) owned and operated Off Broadway Photography on Richmond Street in London. I was told to go for the big shoot consisting of about 3 hours duration requiring several changes of clothing, and be prepared to have a ton of fun. Surprisingly, coming from a family of photographers, I was always more comfortable on the back-side of the lens, but I thought “hey, what the hell have I to lose?” and booked the appointment for the following week.
It would be a photo shoot that in many ways changed my life and how I perceived the world. It would provide me with friends whose time I shared is something that I remember well to this day. The shoot began in the studio with lights and backdrops and flashes popping off and music playing, and for the first time ever it seemed, I felt important, or at least important in a "different" way, and the exchange between this photographer and I was as if we had been friends since birth. It took no time for him to read my face and the manners of expression that came from within, and he knew just the words to say that gave me permission somehow to trust him with my story, and as I spoke, the shutter clicked, the lights continued to flash, and I felt more and more at home with this man whom I had just met.
Several wardrobe changes later, the shoot continued on the streets of London – in the back alleys, down side streets, the nearby park, and on Richmond Street itself. Passersby would gather to watch the photographic episode, and I honestly felt beyond important, and knew that people would be returning to their offices or homes thinking that perhaps they just encountered the shooting of someone important. You see, while I may not have been important to myself at the time, I sure was to Jim the photographer, and at the end of the session, I not only felt like a million dollars, but I knew that a new friendship has just been created, and my grin went from ear to ear.
I retuned to the studio a week later to review the literally hundreds of photographs that were taken that day, and once again met with Jim and his small staff; Judy, Karen (the front office girl), and crazy Stephen (who spent most of his time in the darkroom being one of the most incredible lab dudes I will probably ever come across… ever)! I placed my order for prints - not actually believing what I was looking. I never saw myself in that light, nor provided myself the opportunity to actually look beyond the face in the mirror which only reflected what was on the outside, and generally with hair that needed drying or styling, teeth that needed brushing, or a zit that either needed to be squeezed or touched up somehow.
Another week later, I was back to pick up my print order, and visit with my new friends, and once again left feeling better that each prior visit had rewarded me. I found myself popping in to say hi, or being called in by one of them if I dared walk past without opening the door to at least say “Boo”. I’d take smoking breaks with them out front, or sit in the front with a cup of coffee and just shoot the breeze, and it wasn’t long before I was offered a job to join their staff and work alongside Karen, processing and re-touching photographs, acting as Jim’s assistant, setting up for studio shoots, and learning more about the art of photographic sales.
It was a wonderful job for guy with photography in his blood, and the smell of the developing chemicals would take me back to the smell of my father when he returned home each day from General Electric in Peterborough where he was an Industrial Photographer for close to three decades. I worked at Off Broadway Photography with Jim Hockings, Judy Cairns, Karen Nearing and Stephen Andrews for just over a year. The studio was well positioned in a section of London’s finest and most expensive real estate, and I remember trying to grasp the financial responsibilities of renting this space, affording the utilities to keep it heated and run the studio lights, not to mention paying four people our salaries so that we could eat and consume the substances of pleasure we all seemed to enjoy at the time.
I remember the day when Jim said, “Bob, let’s you and I go to lunch together”, and he took me to the café located right next door, and we ordered, and shot the shit as we had done every day for the past year. I knew what was coming. I saw the sales figures, and I was good with simple math enough to know that I was about to be let go, but poor Jim just couldn’t say the words, and he choked and he stumbled, and he simply broke down in tears. I remember reaching across the little table, putting my hand on his shoulder and telling him it was "OK", that I knew what was coming, and I said “Bob, you are fired”. We hugged, shook hands, ate our lunch and returned next door to the studio where Jim announced that I had just fired myself, and we all sort of laughed and cried, and I finished my day, but certainly not sacrificing my relationship with any of these fine people.
When the studio got busier, I would be called in on a temporary basis to assist with whatever needed to be done, and we all spent a great deal of time together in our social hours which again is something I will never forget. As happens often in our lives, our directions change, and as such, the studio closed, Judy began to teach in China, Stephen found himself also across the world exploring his life and desires, and Karen bought a house and continued to raise her young boy. Jim continued privately with his photography becoming too busy to have a store-front studio to contend with, and as such, our contact dwindled, and while the amount of time we spent together faded, every so often an email would come through, or a facebook message would pop up on my screen and we all would connect with a few words reminding ourselves that we were all still, in some way, important to each other. I remember the number of times Jim telling me how he was “gay from the waist up” which still cracks me up. I get much use out of that line today with some of my gay positive friends. Jim and I shared a love for dogs, and he was the photographer who shot the pictures of my Punk’n and I when she was just a pup, and it was he who granted me a free shooting session of the two of us yet again, just prior to my move from London back home to Lakefield.
This morning, I saw a posting on my wall on facebook from a posting that Stephen Andrews made on his wall. It reads:
I am so sorry we lost touch but there was never a day or a moment
when I held my camera that I did not think of You.
Thank You Mr. Hockings.
You will be deeply missed.”
When we read a message like this we think “No, I didn’t just read that”. We go through a gamut of emotions to convince ourselves first that what is trying to make it’s way into our head can’t be true, or if we shut it out it won’t come true, and we therefore won’t have to face it, and that such a process will somehow fill and seal up a void that we know will inevitably be there and need some time and attention to heal. I immediately messaged Stephen back for more information, and Googled Jim Hockings name expecting perhaps a death notice link or something that could either confirm or deny what I was trying to convince myself I had not just read. I found a link to Jim’s blog, and slowly I came to terms with the fact that this friend, this person who for many reasons I cannot go into here made me look at this world in such a different way than I was, had died. In his final blog posting on February 18, 2013 he spoke of having Stage IV cancer, and that the tumor compressing his airway and aorta was, well… I will let his words tell you.
Here is my friend’s final blog posting:
I hate writing shit like this. I think I hate it because it gives me a kind of guilty, if not downright perverse pleasure in doing something and saying something that should not be placed before the public. John Wayne… Gary Cooper… strong silent men—at least in the two dimensions in which I knew them up there on the big screen…. Throw my father into that mix, and all my role models are lined up to piss on me for writing this. Let ‘em piss.
Quite simply, Stage lV cancer has presented to me, unbidden, an all-natural alternative to water-boarding and I am eager to share it and speak of its benefits. Lets call it “water-boarding-for-squeamish-civilian-granola-eating-tree-huggers”… A group, on the periphery of which, I have been seen upon occasion.
Definition thanks to our friends at Wiki: “Water-boarding is a form of torture in which water is poured over cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. I might add that the experience of drowning is hardwired into the most primitive area of the brain, what I call the “alligator brain”. The alligator brain has to do with survival at its most basic and has no connection with thinking or logic or even stored experience. It just fights for life.
For weeks now, the tumor strangling my airway and aorta has been producing coughing fits. Recently the coughing fits have been of such a nature as to trigger the drowning reflex in my alligator brain, producing such panic and anxiety that I have confessed to murdering dozens of US civilian diplomatic personnel in embassies around the world, selling nuclear secrets to the North Koreans and snitching a Snickers bar from Johnny’s Corner Sore when I was 11.
I have learned to water board myself almost at will. I am finding it cathartic to confess to any and every sin, real and imagined—a privilege I feel I have been denied my whole life by not being Catholic. I have learned to exercise a new neural pathway that sends coughing fit information directly to the survival center, bypassing all the medical logic that I am NOT dying and the past the patina of optimism that we doomed cancer victims are required to show to each and every visitor, or be accused (though not to our faces, of course) of contributing to our own demise by being “negative”. Confess or die! Send in your requests, and I will confess.
Posted by Jim Hockings/ The Hawk at 2/18/2013 11:46:00 AM
I won’t be able to tell Jim what that original photo shoot did for my self-esteem, nor how I remember it in such great detail when I look at that younger version of myself as I hold the photos taken that day. I won’t be able to remind him and laugh at the fun he, Stephen and I had at my apartment, photographing my Christmas village to make it look real, and how I learned that a very small aperture and a shutter opened for over 1 hour, would produce one of the most realistic visions of that ceramic village and bring it to life. I won’t be able to tell him how I appreciate his introducing me to some fine Jazz, nor how much I enjoyed comparing stories of why it was that we each thought we had the most craziest mother in the world. He met mine, and said “damn, you may have me beat on some counts”. He photographed my mother and I, and the resulting image was… well… beautiful to say the least. I think it was the last picture taken of her prior to her death. I will cherish it for the rest of my life.
During the past few years, Jim wrote several books of which I will now purchase and thoroughly enjoy reading. I remember his way with the written word, and his sense of humour that was like no other. I will read those books, and they will bring him to life for me once again.
Jim my dear friend, I come from a family of photographers, but I will always contest that you were the finest of all photographers I have ever known. I will also say that Stephen is in second place in that regard, not to mention a miracle man in the dark room.
Thank you Jim. Thank you for all of those times, and for the wonderful friendship we shared. I am so sorry that we lost touch like we did, but know that you have always shared a very special place in my head and my heart. You will live on in many ways through the many heads and hearts of those whose paths crossed yours throughout your life. I’m crying and smiling at the same time. Much like you were the day I had to fire myself.
To my friend Stephen, to Karen, and to Judy, let’s remind each other of our friendship and do something to avoid having to thank each other posthumously. That way just sucks. To you all, I raise a can of beer right now. I am blessed to have had each of you, and especially Jim in my life! Thank You! I love you!