coffee time


The audio and video recordings in the coffee time series were made on family camping trips, many in Catalunya. The first one was made on 15 May 2010 near Esponellá. They have continued on and off since then.

Generally in the morning everybody is sitting around on low stools or chairs, waiting for breakfast. Usually during the recording there is not much talking. We sit quietly for a few minutes, each of us attending in different ways and to different degrees to the coffee coming to the boil and other sounds and activities going on. Some people take the chance to look around them; others are maybe playing, drawing, reading or waiting impatiently. When the coffee has come up, we normally heat some milk. Then breakfast is ready.

We have returned to the same sites year after year, and sometimes to the very same pitch. In some cases this means that the same bird or birds are heard - especially in the case of nightingales at Al Matá.

The title of the series is due in part to a saying of my grandfather, Ernest Smith. After he retired, he almost always had a coffee cup with him, which he would sip at, whether hot or cold, as punctuation for his activities around the garage and the yard on the outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Occasionally, when something was finished, or paused, or it was time to stop, he would say: coffee time, in a particular tone of voice - and he would smile, or chuckle, perhaps remembering shift work in the oil refinery where he worked most of his life. Effectively he was on permanent coffee time, now. I have some concerns that the aluminium in the old coffee pot we use for camping and at home, is associated with Alzheimer's disease, which attacked him in later life and was maybe already beginning its work at these times.

Like the smell of hot asphalt or gasoline, the bright blue bottles of butane are queasy markers in a history of carbon, stamping these moments irresistibly, the way Yves Bonnefoy talks about the blue in the fabric and the sky of a landscape by Poussin, where we see a happy figure pouring wine.

From 2016 there were more people drinking coffee and we started using a bigger, stainless steel pot, which takes longer to boil through.

The coffee times have been small but strangely significant moments - everyday and unusual - in the life of a household: we clean out the pot and get it ready and put it on the burner; then for a few minutes, depending on the wind and the gas in the cylinder, there is a kind of opening, before you smell the coffee and hear it bubbling up.


The videos are intended for display as a series on monitors at roughly 1 to 1 scale. The early ones were imagined for CRT based monitors or TVs set on their side so the image is in portrait mode. These videos are recorded on tape at standard resolution and 4:3 aspect. The audio is recorded using external electret stereo omnis placed to left and right on the ground. A 10 dB pad reduced the strength of the signal, to work with the Panasonic camcorder.

From 2014, the videos are recorded with the Nikon V1 camera in High Definition and widescreen (16:9) aspect. Audio again via stereo omni microphones to the Nikon's external microphone jack. These need HD monitors that can be turned 90 degrees for display.

The series reflects changes in the kinds of cameras and viewers in quite wide use at the time.

Alternatively, the series can be shown using projectors on their side. Images can be projected on blocks, vertical sheets of wood or on the wall, with the bottom of the image aligned with the floor and the scale approximately 1 to 1. (The coffee pot is 20cm tall.)


The series is also presented online as a timeline with index.