Behind the blog title: explaining broken cameras & gustav klimt



For more than two and a half years I’ve been writing in this space with the label Broken Cameras & Gustav Klimt above my posts. And I’ve probably not done enough to explain it. I’ve roamed around the topics inspired by it, and thought one day I would offer an eloquent explanation. This is not that day, but perhaps an explanation of any sort is overdue.

The questions often come, enquiring what it’s about, what informed it. Whether there’s a reason behind the cryptic title.

The truth is a combination of the spontaneous and the profound.

The spontaneous is that on an early August evening in 2011 I decided to start a blog. I was annoyed about something someone had written on the internet – a trait that has become far too common in my blogging experience. And I wanted to write something in response. I had no platform, no place to put my words, my concerns, my disagreement. So I set up a blog and the following morning posted for the first time.

The title was what immediately came to mind. I put it in the wordpress title field and have stuck with it.

But the reason I plucked for this obscure combination of words has a longer history. To a week and a half spent in Alpine Europe a few years before.

I went away, I took some time out, I travelled, visiting 5 cities in 10 days. And I wrote. I wrote a lot, from the first evening I arrived under a lamp while sat on a park bench in Salzburg, to coffee shops and McDonalds and a hostel in Geneva while watching Million Dollar Baby.

I got home with pages scribbled, then put onto a computer and the word count clocked in at something a little over 12 000. And the title I gave to that compilation was Broken Cameras & Gustav Klimt.

I’ve played with those words since, toyed with whether there might be something more to them, or if they were potentially part of something bigger. But mostly they were a wrestling of faith. Of finding words to explore what I was thinking and feeling and experiencing. Words to give voice to my hope and my dreams and my fears and my hesitations.

And two motifs came to the fore to describe the way I experience my faith coming to life and bringing life. A broken camera and the work of Gustav Klimt.

On only the second day of my trip I broke my camera. In fact it wasn’t even mine, it was my parents, borrowed for the trip, to take photos of the places I was visiting, the architecture, the cathedrals, the castles, the beautiful rivers winding through ancient cities. But I broke it.

I spent that afternoon in a melancholy mood in Vienna. I was disappointed, that something could go wrong so quickly. I had put so much hope in having a great trip and my way of recording it and giving witness to it to other people, was dealt a brutal blow. I walked through a grand park to the north of the city centre and I reflected on things going wrong.

I have sometimes had this arrogance that I could do anything if I set my mind to it. I could be who I wanted, achieve what I wanted. And then things began to go wrong. I didn’t get the job I wanted, I wasn’t sure who I was or what I was doing. And I broke a camera.

Sounds ridiculous. It was.

But if God can speak to Balaam through a donkey he can speak to me through a broken camera.

Things go wrong, that is part of life. And as much as our faith is about following Jesus and growing in likeness, it is also doing this in a context where things go wrong. Living out faith in a broken world.

The last day I was in Vienna Gustav Klimt got me thinking about beauty. Before I went away I had been chastised for never having visited an art gallery. I was not particularly bothered about this, I had never been very interested in art. But as I sat in the garden of the Belvedere Palace, quietly miffed it was an art gallery and not a museum, I realised I would be in for even more of a scolding if I only did not go somewhere because it was an art gallery. So I walked through the doors.

From the little I know of art, I knew I liked Gustav Klimt’s paintings. As I looked at ‘The Kiss’ I tried to work out why this was such a magnificent piece. It is one of his most famous, and from the case it was housed in, most expensive paintings. But it shouldn’t be any good. It does not provide a likeness, the colours are all wrong; I couldn’t even find any deep symbolic value. Yet somehow this chaotic collage of gold leaf, silver and oil creates something quite incredible.

Some time ago Portsmouth University advertised its courses with the slogan: “What comes after the Internet?” unfortunately the answer does not lie in any of their courses, or those of any other university. Innovation cannot be taught only inspired and encouraged. Likewise, beauty is not located on a map, there is no guidebook, no x marks the spot. Beauty may be captured but it cannot be controlled. Something truly brilliant and beautiful, existing on the very brink of chaos, is so finely tuned the faintest shift can lead to disruption and failure.

Beauty exists on the edge of chaos, in places that don’t make sense.

Faith is worked out in a broken world.

Hence Broken Cameras & Gustav Klimt.

12 things you learn on a bloggers trip

 1. Instagramming your lunch is obligatory


2. The first question in any cafe/restaurant/hotel/airport: is there wifi?

Copyright Rich Wells

Copyright Rich Wells

3. 4 way extension leads are a vital packing requirement. (And that doesn’t make for an interesting photo, so have a shot of two cows.)

13310882063_7423646a3d_b (1)
4. Mosquitos make a satisfied squelch when squashed on a screen. But leave a bit of a smear.

tumblr_n2y2t0LyIa1tvx3cao1_1280 (2)

Copyright Rich Wells

5. Waiting for Buffer to schedule your tweets is a legitimate excuse for being late for breakfast.


6. That meme about wifi being added to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs isn’t a joke. It really is that important. Or at least on this trip.


7. Last minute charging of all devices before a 20 hour journey home.


8. Realising how much of what you want to do is dependent on tech hard to access in the very place you’re visiting to blog about.

9. Realising that if the tech doesn’t work, that’s okay. A blog can wait a few hours, or a day. There’s also such a thing as paper and pencil.

10. Sometimes photos make things look better than the reality (it was still spectacular).

IMG_4346 - Copy (2)

11. Travelling to a part of the world to see the work of a brilliant charity is a privilege and an honour. I have loved it.


12. And seeing Buddhist monks on the back of motorbikes stops being quite so surprising.


If you’ve enjoyed following our trip to Cambodia and want to keep up with how the church in Tonle Bati continues to transform lives, why don’t you give to Tearfund? Donate at  and you’ll get regular updates on what your money is doing.



Hitting the pause button

single contact person

I thought it would be good to write a spectacularly emotive piece today. I wanted to conjure up sentences that flowed smoothly together building up into a powerful picture.

But actually, the fact I cannot illustrates my point far better than they would.

I am tired. I am exhausted. I am doing too much. I am stopping blogging.

Yesterday was an abnormally busy day. I started writing that day’s post, on why I was giving up on my fundraising drive. And ended it writing a guest post for the God and Politics blog on the ludicrous new report out from the National Secular Society. And in between worked flat out.

That’s one day, and an unusual one at that. But I have realised I need space. I read yesterday on a slightly feminine blog about the need to keep the margins of life clear. My life has no margins.

I have tried, in these last few weeks, to find some smidgen of space to assess my busyness and what I can do about it. Except I haven’t had the time to

I have found I have not given to my relationships what I would like to give to them. I have avoided entanglement opting instead to keep things simple, superficial and easier to withdraw from. That’s why I wrote on Wednesday about the challenges I find with blogging and tweeting and the social side of social media. I don’t want to make claims that are too wide or accuse others where it is me at fault, but I have found it oppressive.

Sometimes I want the world to stop. Sometimes I want to pause the internet. I want time to think, work out how to respond, what to say and how to say it sensitively and clearly. Unfortunately I don’t have that power.

I need to spend time with people building relationships, not spend time writing about relationships.

I find it hard to know when to engage, when to step back, when to fight with all my might and when to ignore the latest controversy that would barely break the surface if it wasn’t for the response it generated.

The pressure to write a few times a week to keep the traffic levels up, to mix in stuff I know will get hits with the mellow thoughtful pieces read by 17 people. The challenge to be the spokesperson for Christian guys on relationships issues (next Sunday I think you’ll be able to hear my thoughts on singleness and the church for various local BBC stations).

It all became too much.

So I am walking away. This blog is officially on hiatus. I don’t have the power to pause the internet but I can pause writing and responding. And when I say officially I mean I have decided not to blog for a while. There’s really nothing official about it, I haven’t asked anyone’s permission. For how long I do not know, probably at least a few months, probably six. (But may change my mind if there’s something I really really must write about…)

I am taking the self imposed burden to write off my shoulders. And I hope to free up some space both in my mind and in my diary.

I’ll carry on writing, I owe a couple of people guest posts I promised months ago. And if you want me to write something I’m happy to consider it. But I have assessed my priorities, and I have decided that right now, this blog is not one of them.

I’m also contemplating a medium term break from twitter, but not quite ready to go cold turkey on that one yet!

When I fall out of love with social media

Church pews in Tuscany


Are there ever days when you can’t face getting out of bed, when the trauma seems too much, when people seem difficult, circumstances challenging and it all just a little bit too much.

I have those days.

I have the days when crowds are claustrophobic and friends seem faux.

I have days when I am not very sociable, nights when I skip the party and times after church when I walk out the door without talking to anyone.

I have the good days too. Not just those when everything goes easy, when friendships are smooth when fun is effortless. But also those where it is hard.

When eye looks into eye. When words spoken meet ears listening. When hearts opened meet arms stretched.


I’ve been blogging for just over two years, tweeting for nearly five.

I’m neither a philistine or a fanatic of the social media variety. I like being social and sometimes I think I do a pretty good job of it.

Do a pretty good job of it? What kind of way of talking is that?!

It’s instinctive I tell people, it’s like a language, you just have to find your voice. Don’t listen to those who tell you rules on who to follow, how to tweet, the etiquette of engagement.

Social media is a world many people don’t know. I tried to explain tweeting to my sister last year and all I got was a blank stare.

Social media is a world some people claim to own. Not in a legal possession sort of way, but in a these are the ways you should engage and you’re welcome regardless, but really, if you’re going to do social media properly, then this is how you should do it. I’ve always reacted against that sort of thing.

Sometimes it is oppressive. I found myself defending myself for not following more people on twitter recently. I’ve tried to keep it to a realistic number, and my excuse is I’m pretty good at engaging beyond that, I’ll almost always reply, I’ll jump into amusing conversations, hilarious memes.

I felt it necessary to defend that I was doing twitter right. Or at least acceptably. Or maybe that my way was right.


I chose to blog about relationships.

I chose to write about emotions and feelings, and the way they find their way like water into the recesses of our life.

I chose to make honesty and openness the hallmarks of my writing. I chose to make myself vulnerable, to make myself known across the ether to those who do not know me.

And people read what I wrote. Not loads, but enough. My family, my friends. The odd influential blogger who might tweet about my writing. Retweets that generated traffic, comments from journalists and those the subject of my posts. Attention that I never felt I deserved but started to crave.

The shock finding that according to some algorithm this blog is ranked 5th out of all religion and belief blogs in the UK. Nice but weird. And unsustainable, at some point the new rankings will come and I’ll tumble off that perch.

The cost of my hallmarks was each post got harder to write. Vulnerability cuts deep. I had exposed each layer and to take the next off was painful. Writing about fear, about shame, about doubt, about past experiences or lack thereof. Writing about hopes and dreams and fears and anxiety. And fears.


Walking into church after one of those posts was always hard. When I say I find going to church hard. And then walking through the doors the next day.

I tell myself if I’ve helped some people grapple a bit better with their own struggles with church, if I’ve provided an ounce of hope to those unable to see the light, then that’s worth it.


I never hesitate before opening up twitter to share my latest thoughts, join in whatever conversation is the topic of the day, tweet links to my latest post. I only pause a moment before making my most vulnerable statements.

I’ll spend evenings when I don’t feel like going out browsing twitter jumping into and out of conversations, commentating on the latest TV, on whether or not I should watch another episode of Breaking Bad. When I leave church early I’ll banter with people I do not know. I joke in ways I wouldn’t normally. Not in real life.

It’s not like real life.

Yes I said it. Shoot me down. I don’t think social media is real life. It’s a construct, it’s a facade. It has elements of reality mediated through technology and distance that can be great.

I enjoy it, sometimes I love it. I’ve met people I would never have otherwise, and kept up friendships that might have waned. I’ve learnt and I have grown. I’ve had in depth conversations with people I’ve never met.

But I think we ask of it too much.

It is not the same as the person sat before you. The eyes that look into eyes, the words and the silence that speak compassion. The hug at the end of a conversation. Social media hasn’t learnt how to transmute a hug.

I’ve jumped the shark. Any suggestion I might know what I’m on about gone. Any social media credibility abandoned. I don’t think my Klout score will ever recover.


It’s not only the how but the what. Not only how you engage in social media or blogging that is focused through an informal never quite agreed on set of norms. But also what views are valid. What is acceptable, what will be met with nods of approval, affirming responses.

I know I can write that stuff.

Sometimes I’ve shied away from topics because it might lose me credibility. The people I want to like what I write might not like me if I said this about that, or that about this.

The feeling that my words need to speak for themselves. Because they are what I leave.


When I think about the people I love the most. Those closest to me. My family and my best friends.

It is not their words that I value. It’s not their clever phrases or ability to find humorous words to add into Christian book titles.

I have a friend who is annoyingly good at cutting to the heart of situations, of getting to grips with what’s really going on. But that only works when I’m looking into their eyes.

When I think about a community that cares I think of people around me. Those I see and know and am able to touch. Those in real life. Sure social media can give me a boost. It can be loving, it can be kind, it can be compassionate.

But I don’t think it will ever be more than a bolt on to the community of people I call my friends. And if it becomes more than that maybe I’m not giving enough to my friends. Those who I can give a hug to.

Why I write about relationships, and why I hesitate

good-relationshipsTwo years ago I started this blog with a series of four posts one day after the next on relationships in the church. For better or worse it established the foundations of what I would write a lot about, and more to the point, what I would be known to write about. I go through phases of leaving the subject to one side, letting it have a breather, but the issues do not go away and my opinions don’t always want to keep to themselves.

One of those four posts, “Why guys don’t ask girls out” gets hits every single day, and a few weeks ago I read it and winced not only at typos that continue to be read but what I said and the way I said it.

Many of the things I wrote on four consecutive days stand the test of time. There are some concepts and ideas that I articulated for the first time which had been percolating through my mind for many years, others that slipped off the fingers onto the keyboard without sufficient thought.

There are ideas I have rethought as I have written and reflected on a topic that is tender to many people. I have had to change what I do because of what I wrote, but what I write should also be affected by what I do – and too often I have written in a vacuum. Continue reading

Liking likes, revering retweets, and passionate about page views

Drawn graphFor a long time, pretty much since I started this blog, I’ve struggled against getting hooked on how many people are reading, how many retweets my links get, likes and shares on facebook and generally anything that boosts the numbers on my stats screen.

And I’ve beat myself around the head about it. I’ve told myself it is my ego getting out of control. That it becomes all about the numbers and not about the content. That if I follow this through to its logical end I’ll write whatever garners the most readers. I’ve also worried that I’m getting affirmation from buzzes and notifications and waking up to a lock screen on my phone full of compliments to scroll through.

I’ve felt it too. I’ve felt the thrill of people liking what I have to say. And I’ve felt the rejection of a post I’ve spent half a day on read by just a few dozen people.

There has to be something wrong with this attitude, I have told myself too many times. Too narcissistic, too insecure. Not confident enough or sufficiently assured in God’s love for me to let a petty thing like page views affect my emotional state.

And then I realise.

Knowing the love of God does not turn me into an emotionless auto-matron.

Continue reading

Writing and wronging: learning lessons as I go along

Jan Feb 2012 002Recently I have rather gone off blogging.

There’s a lot I could say, I’m fascinated by the current resurgent feminism that is highly active in many Christian circles. I want Christians to have a grounded, reasoned, theological and compassionate understanding of equality. And I want it to make a difference.

I want Christians to have confidence in their beliefs and not fear their doubts. I could write a lot more about that.

I want the church to be a place where we stand close enough to each other to see the pain in the eyes before words need to be said. When tears are greeted with arms wide open and not a shrug of the shoulder.

I want the church to be a home for the fatherless. A refuge for the widows. A community for the lonely. A sanctuary for the forgotten.

I want the church to be united.

But that doesn’t mean I want dissenters to be silenced. I’m sure I’ve been guilty at times of playing the unity card. You know the one, a bit like the race card, the good intentions, honourable goals, but brought out to end a conversation

Unity is not unity if we stop those who we disagree with from speaking. That’s uniformity.

* * *

I was asked what my blog was about, and a friend kindly explained it was about how we should ask more questions. But I also remember that the question is not the end.

I think doubt is a good thing. I think it is what provokes us to think again. It reminds us of the seriousness of what we are doing. The act of doubting and looking for reassurance is the act of remembering that we are not alone.

Once I was in the depth of my most serious doubts about God’s existence. I was on a train, I was lost in my maudlin thoughts. And I was arguing with a God I was ready to consign to the heap of non-existence. And then I realised. I was arguing with God over whether he was really there. I granted him enough status to engage with, but I only wanted Him on my terms. I wanted a god I could define, a god I could control. A god that was not a god at all.

Because God is not at our whim. But nor is he distant. For a long time I had an image of God as standing behind me, with his arms wrapped across my chest. And I didn’t like it. I wanted to get in the face of God, I thought that was the pinnacle of worship. I thought that’s what a good encounter with God meant.

But if I am looking in God’s face then I am facing a different direction to him.

* * *

Writing is not a status game. And living a life of worship is not about status. Or perhaps more precisely it is. It is about being downwardly mobile, constantly seeking to get closer to those who are in the greatest need.

I had a difficult entry into blogging. The stats for my first month took a while to top. And even then only by a month of dedicated writing on relationships last summer. I’m told my honesty and vulnerability are what makes my writing worth reading.

But being vulnerable is hard work. There are mornings when I head into work exhausted from pouring everything onto the keys. From saying words I know others are saying in the quiet huddles and furtive asides. Words that they think shouldn’t be spoken because they’re not spoken out loud. But when they are said under the breath of so many people they need to be given oxygen.

That’s why I write about relationships, it’s why I try and get to grips with things I struggle to live out myself.

It’s why I’m looking for the words to explain the challenges so many face in living a life of faith.

Sometimes there’s also a place for a bit of controversy. Sometimes I don’t agree with something. I may be on my own, my views might be wrong, they might be unfair, they might be misinterpreted, they might be used in a way that I would prefer they were not. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak.

Because unity requires honesty. If the body of Christ is to be more than a nominal label we apply when we want to, then disagreement has to be engaged with and not sidelined.

Last week I wrote a post and lost a night’s sleep. I disagreed with someone, and they disagreed with me back. I think that is okay. I don’t mind someone disagreeing with me. But something in me wanted to keep the peace, I didn’t want to cause a ruction, I wanted people to like me and I was afraid that publicly disagreeing might mean that some people didn’t.

I’ve mentioned being close to packing in placing words I scribe in this place. And I’ve been told not to do so. I like the affirmation I get, I like the kindness of friends and the support of strangers. It’s a nice ego trip but it’s not enough.

I will carry on writing hard things and I ask you to be my editors. To tell me when I cross the line, to share wisdom that I do not have. To encourage me and to call me out. The words may be my own but I want to learn more, and I need you for that. In the work we do we have supervisors and managers, in church we have leaders and support, in our family we have each other.

When we write we are also part of a community and we need each other. I certainly need you.

Breaking up is hard to do

Dear readers,

Thank you for your time, attention, comments and shares over the past few months. It feels like I’ve thought and wrote more about relationships in these weeks than I have, well since last summer.

And like on that occasion it gets to a point when I have to step away from the keyboard. When I have to let the hum of keystrokes fall silent and the words pause their progress across the screen. There are times for creativity, there are times for searching out wisdom. There are times for humour, and times for the shedding of tears. I have felt all of these while writing these past few months.

There are times when tearing back the covers and exposing the frailty of the your soul is the strongest thing that you can do. And there are times when you need to rest, recuperate and recover the longings of your soul.

Because I am tired. I am spent from exerting the energy it takes to write words that comprehend what I have spent most of my life ignoring. I am exhausted from embracing the honesty that I have adopted as my trademark, an ever incremental appetite that is not quenched by the post that tells of more than you ever thought you would tell.

It was one day at work when I had been asked to write for a new site called threads (going live soon, sign up to learn more). ‘What should I write’ I inquired, ‘something like your blog’ came back the reply, the ping pong went on, ‘what is it about the blog you like’, I was hoping for direction and clarity to make the writing easier. ‘Your honesty’ she confirmed.

I’ve always set out to write as honestly and bravely as I could, I never wanted anything to be off limits. But in some of the early throws last year I wrote with a shield of abstraction cast around me. Everything was general, projected onto others, with carefully calculated asides into my own thoughts and processes to dust my writing with authenticity.

The more I thought about it, the harder it became, I was trying to manufacture authenticity, I was aiming to write in a way that would ease people into my story but only on terms I choose, which in turn I was plucking out of the air. So instead of authenticity I aimed for integrity. I wrote what I felt, and when that helped me clarify the turbulent waters of my emotions and thoughts, and shone light on the segue between my plans and my dreams, and the oceans that stood between them: I acted how I knew I must.

I write early in the morning, it’s when I think most clearly with the first waves of caffeine rushing through my veins. Before work a couple of times a week I’ll sit and find words to convey what I want to say, grateful for the delay not given when I try to speak the same thoughts which often end up in a muddled, confused, sometimes abrupt tone. I’ll head into work exhausted from the emotional energy I have expended on the words I schedule for display later in the day.

I’m taking a break. At the moment I’m off work, I’ve had a long weekend away from twitter, apart from the odd snap posted from Instagram. And tomorrow I head off again. It is good for my soul to disconnect because I don’t always manage my relationship with the online world particularly well.

This is a season for rest. I’ve got a few bits of writing to do, some long promised articles which have slipped below the bottom of the pile, so I won’t be entirely silent. But there will be nothing new on this blog until September. After a constant progression of growth in readership from February until now, August will be a fallow month. A time when the ground is cleared and left without manipulation or exertion. A time when abiding in what already is comes before seeking out what is to come next.

I want to cut off the need to check how many people have read the blog today. I want to remove the frustration when a post I have thrown my all into languishes in double digits.

I want to take an axe to the root of the jealousy when a beautifully crafted and impeccably timed post goes viral. I want to disconnect my worth from the attention I receive.

So this is not a good bye. And I value your words more than you can imagine. In the cliched words of most televised high school break ups, ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.

I need some time alone, some time to gather my thoughts and to recharge. To find emotional security away from affirmation. And to learn the lessons that my desire to be honest has uncovered in myself, and to address the weaknesses I’ve seen displayed as an excuse for bravery.

Until the autumn, you are my friends. And I’ll still be tweeting now and then.