OSMAN AND HIS SNAILS – a lockdown opera

I was asked by Nigel Osborne, composer and aid worker, and Tina Ellen Lee, Artistic Director of Opera Circus to join them in making a film of a locked-down opera with 5 singers on different continents thousands of miles apart. Nigel told me the moving story of Osman Kavala, a Turkish human rights worker, imprisoned in Istanbul with ridiculous charges made against him. 

Recently a story appeared about Osman and his pet snails.


A work of (unpaid) true collaboration began when numbers of the team helped to write the libretto; with Nigel composing the music across two days and nights; Anthony Ingle transcribing the music to piano and providing the 10 minute track for the rest of us to be guided by; followed by Tina asking the five wonderful singers, with whom she has worked for many years, if they would give their time; and a young Danish musician, Mikael Hegelund Martin of Beats across Borders, offering to clean up and balance the sound recorded on mobile phones; and Andy Morton, a singer and director in Australia, helping his fellow singers into their roles. 

I worked via Skype across the globe under our lock-down, coaching the singers to remember to frame themselves against a solid colour, central to the horizontally propped-up mobile phone; and as if in some comedy skit, asking them to bring the one or two movable lamps in their own locked-down flats around to the front so the light was on their faces, to hang grease proof paper or a thin white linen shirt or skirt in front of the lamp to soften the highlights, to tape a newspaper page onto a broom handle, with it in turn tapped to an chair’s upright so that light could reflect back into the darker side of their faces. I asked them to remember, while singing, where their eyelines should be in particular shots, and so on. They were very patient. 

Everyone worked as volunteers with the sole purpose to help Osman, a man most of us had never met. When I had conversations with the singers before they recorded in their darkened rooms on their own, listening to the piano track in one ear and concentrating as best they could on their roles with neither a camera operator, sound tech nor a director to help them, one of the singers told me she found a picture of Osman and put it next to her phone, to sing to him. 

I believe we were all conscious that perhaps the fate of a good man was to some degree in our hands and that every delay perhaps meant Osman would be held another day or month or year away from his books and loved ones. 

The opera will be shared and distributed through Amnesty International, PEN, Open Democracy and by everyone who loves and believes in justice and freedom. Music and song have a powerful part to play at the heart of our humanity and care and respect for each other.

The film goes live on 22 June 2020. I will post whatever call to action may develop. Please pass this to your friends.

The film can be seen here in English, and here in Turkish.



THIS GOOD EARTH a feature documentary


THIS GOOD EARTH  is a documentary Robert has been filming since June 2018. It is now in post-production.  The film is about the state of the UK’s food and farming system at this critical time in Britain’s history. These two combined sectors of food production are financially larger than the aerospace and the car industries.

It is divided into three parts: Soil, The Land and Biodiversity and Farming, Food and Disease. It links farming and food system to the state of the countryside’s flora, fauna and soil, to regulations, to health and wellbeing of people and to the state of the earth and to excessive loss of species. It concentrates in Dorset but has far broader relevance.

Farmers, bakers, cooks, scientists, health professionals and professors tell these stories.

The central themes are:

  • How the food system can avoid further adding to greenhouse gasses and ecological degradation while producing healthy availably priced food able to feed nine billion people by 2050.
  • How people can be helped educationally, financially and culturally both by government policy and on the ground to willingly develop diets to increase their health and wellbeing.
  • How the financial, institutional, corporate, policy-makers and the political class continue to be impediments to rapid progressive change.
  • What the relationship is between agriculture, the overall food system, global warming, hunger and non-communicative degenerative diseases, and how they are an unnecessary consequence of individual and corporate desire for wealth and power.

We believe this film will be interesting to educational institutions from primary schools through higher education, to those interested in and care about global warming, agriculture, the production of food via the international food industry, flora and fauna species preservation, land use, and good food as well as those interested in food poverty and human rights.

At each stage of post production, we have shown the film to those who have been interviewed or participated in some way, to be certain they believe they have been fairly represented and if they have any comments or criticisms to make. We have been pleased by the responses.

“The film is fabulous; really defends nature from agrochemical farming.” S. Wilberforce – climate change campaigner

“Superb Robert! I loved it, as I knew I would. Lovely tone and feel, a sense of place and permanence, and wise people. The key messages come over well. The title is great: This Good Earth.” Professor Jules Pretty

“This is great – beautiful and thought-provoking and certainly whets the appetite for the rest.”      Tom Monroe, Dorset AONB

The sheer beauty of the film and its clear and carefully crafted mixture of personal experiences with expert science strike me as exceptionally powerful.  It sends a strong message while avoiding being preachy.  And it’s really informative, triggering all kinds of associations in my mind as I suspect it will for others.”  Richard Harvey, Human Rights lawyer

There is an early stage prom for it here.

We are aiming for a release in autumn 2020 and looking forward to creating partnerships with appropriate charities and other organizations who will accept the film as part of the progressive discussions to change our world for the better, in particular in regard to global warming and the human right to good, sufficient and culturally appropriate food for all.

Please contact us at ThisGoodEarth@gmail.com  


Life’s problems almost never offer ‘either/or’. Nothing is truly clear, little is completely understood and even less is fully right or wrong.

Making photographs begins with curiosity and with an itch. Without curiosity you have no need nor desire to enter what is often a time consuming exercise. Without the itch – an inexplicable desire to regard the light reflecting from the ever moving, ever changing and unpredictable three-dimensional flesh and blood world, and to coax it through a lens. This transforms life into a frozen two-dimensional artefact that becomes a representation rather than actual life. Without that itch, this task is too arduous.

It’s the curiosity of a child when she asks, “what is this” and “what is that?” It’s not ‘childish’ but filled with the innocence of ‘child-like’ curiosity, of making sense of her world.

For me, I keep asking ‘why’ until there is no ‘why’ left. At that moment – given the limitations of my knowledge and personality – I’ve reached as far down into the essence of the thing as I can. It’s like cooking ingredients of a sauce until only the essential syrup is left.

There are the curiosities of the external world with its wild, unknown but tantalizing hills and valleys beyond our horizons. Then there are the curiosities of one’s inner life of the psyche, often surrounded by restricted freedom and social immobility. But there we can discover unlimited dreams and desires. These two worlds describe a fusion between the inner and outer dimensions of our lives. Both are real and valid, both hold adventures for the soul and the mind. Both can be investigated through ones work.

When I am more concerned with my ‘self’ rather than the world around my ‘self’, my work becomes narrower, less generous and too preoccupied with a private dialogue. It’s particularly difficult for those under the age of 35 in the European and Anglo-American worlds to realise that the individual, without community, is of less interest and less value in this period when a unity of the well-meaning is so vital and when now, we must use our intellectual and creative tools to show in detail, what this world is. 

When we think otherwise, we enter the ideologues or worse, the fundamentalist’s world of fixed ideas and exclusivity which condemns all who dare to imagine or to disagree as ‘heretics’, ‘the damned’, ‘the other’ and as such, not worthy of life.

This child, wrapped in netting, rushing through an allotment, is a curious picture – an image about innocence, a delight with one’s own imaginings and phantoms. photo: Robert Golden

Art deals with the ambiguities of life. Fundamentalists, like bureaucrats, politicians and the security services only comprehend ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Bureaucracy, for instance, is characterized by its box-ticking methodology. That is because it only functions in black and white, in the tidy world of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to maintain their version of order.

Creativity by necessity of its processes let alone its inclination to embrace the unknowable,
is the enemy of order, the bête noir of defined options and of closed totalities demanded by those who control bureaucracies, rule politics and make war.

This is why, before anything else, we need to know that we can and must ask questions, that we must be endlessly curious. It is this curiosity through which creativity and freedom is discovered.


Before I discuss the exhibition
I want to explain some experiences and thoughts which have led to it.
There are two parts to this story.

The first is this:
I was for a number of years a photojournalist.
I saw injustice, unfairness, brutality,
and people driven to despair
through poverty, hopelessness
and the loss of jobs, community and dreams.

Later, while filming a series of documentaries,
I closely witnessed three post-war communities
and also intense poverty in many other parts of the world.
It was then that I began to understand the neoliberal globalization agenda;
and I recognized that silence makes one complicit with these wars and poverty.

Without entering too far into a political discussion,
those things I saw changed me,
and ever since, I’ve tired, within the limits of my abilities
to transform what I witnessed into clear messages:
photographs, films and texts.

I can say this: that while I learned to emotionally protect myself
and to not claim other’s horror and trauma as my own,
and while my attempts to allow rationality to hold
the judgemental intellectual rudder,
I was continually left with heartache.

Creative projects arise from these cells of anguish
and then from curiosity.
Even at my age I continually ask why this and why that?

One of the clearest answers to the enigma
of our species unhappiness and insecurity
is that Democracy and capitalism are two systems
whose motivations are diametrically opposed.
It is this conflict that continually gives rise to alienation
and thence to exile in different forms.

Communality versus anti-social corporate interests;
egalitarianism versus top down authoritarianism;
care and concern versus exploitation of labour;
fairness versus taking every possible advantage
regardless of ethics and morality;
the rule of law-for-all versus the power to overrule the law
and most importantly:
kindness and generosity versus avarice, greed and brutality.

In all of my efforts
I’ve worked on projects that encourage understanding and resistance
to the dominant cultural and political assumptions.

We have allowed the neoliberal political and cultural establishment to convince us
that I am more important than We,
that its best to define ourselves
as consumers – destroyers of things,
than as producers – makers of things,
and they tell us individual psychology is a better way to know who we are
than is our collective history.

It is these things that have led us to an excess of avarice and materialism.
It is these things that have led us allow capitalism, money and markets
to rule our live
as we drown in their electronic trinkets and shallow culture
while the earth floods and burns.

If Karl Jung and other psychoanalysts are right,
our childhood complexes create subservience, dependency and fears
which force us to cling to something that absolves us from our guilt,
shelters us from the powerful forces around us,
and gives some of us hope that there is a better afterlife.
These are the unconscious and unresolved needs of the child within us.
These are the ways in which false consciousness exiles us from ourselves.
To progress, I believe we need to fully accept
that we are, under our skin,
brothers and sister.
This is in part what Exile reflects.

All of the above lead to the second part of the story.
One day a painter friend of mine, Ricky Romain
whose work is largely concerned with human rights,
asked me to come see a new painting of his
composed of 72 frames.

I stood in front of his large canvas,
my eyes darting from frame to frame and back.
I encountered the Bauhaus,
ancient Egyptian and Greek shards of mystery and culture;
there were dark clowns, dancing woman, wraiths and old people lamenting loss;
there were elegant, sinister, murderous old men and a terrified child or two;
there were ancient songs and cries,
there was music and the sounds of late 20th century crowded night-time city streets,
people begging to be allowed to live and others begging to die,
birds of prey and birds of hope winging through frames,
as if all the stories of humanity and all the suffering of humanity
were swarming in constricted places,
as in rail stations on the rail line to the camps,
or in union halls – dingy and forlorn with labourer’s fractured dreams,
and there was alienation, broken promises, isolation and more alienation.

It told me there was a film asking to be freed from this painting.

And this led to the idea of the exhibition, Exile – A Mind In Winter,
a mind frozen in the pain of rejection and the myriad forms of alienation
which ultimately leads to the cruelty of exiling the others,
because they are not like us,
those whose poverty or illness or skin pigment or pathways to their gods
or to the stunning emptiness of atheism offend or threatens us.

Ricky and I worked on the ideas
and asked our wonderful Congolese painter/poet friend,
Cedoux Kadima to join us.
Cedoux, a man who has had his own intense experiences with exile.

Now almost three years later we will have that large painting shown with others.
These paintings are based on an ancient Jewish mythical story about 36 wise men
who must exist as 36 in the world for all of time:
as they balance goodness against evil.

Thus the 72 frames of the painting
as there must always be a backup should one of the 36 falter.
According to the myth
they do not know they’ve been chosen by God? Fate? mathematical mysteries?
Thus they remain humble.

There are 12 painting by Cedoux.
His paintings are marked with his insistence of hope,
marked by ancient tribal signs,
and occupied by the street children’s faces
he so tried to help.

And there are 12 panels of mine
composed of photographs and texts
enumerating some of the many ways we are alienated.

As for the film,
it is a visual poem
asking people to not only look and listen
but to see and hear images of hope
as well as hopelessness and fear.
It is an articulation and a mystery
but, I wish that it seems almost a lullaby
that may expose a tender part of you to the fate of others
and then encourage you to act.

And finally, a quote:
“The ideals that have lighted my way,
and time after time have given me courage to face life,
have been Kindness, Beauty, Truth and especially Love.
Without the kinship with people of like mind,
without my pre-occupation with the objective world,
without the eternally unattainable in the field of art,
life would have seemed empty to me.
The day-by-day objects of human efforts:
possessions, outward success, luxury –
have always seemed to me, utterly boring.”

That is a paraphrase of Einstein.