4 min read

Imagine a day in the life of a Beatle

Jamie is Associate Minister at Holy Trinity Clapham, where William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect worshipped. He is also Area Dean of Lambeth North, supporting churches in south London stretching from Waterloo to Brixton and Clapham.

From an era before selfies, Paul McCartney’s cache of photos, even the out of focus ones, prompts Jamie Mulvaney to consider what perspective we need on ourselves.
Two gallery vistor stair at four photo portraits of The Beatles.
Viewing Paul McCartney Photographs 1963–64: Eyes of the Storm.
National Portrait Gallery.

Imagine a day in the life of a Beatle. It's easy if you try. Or is it? 

Last year, the late Matthew Perry allowed us a searing insight into life with a rollicking read about his very high highs and very low lows. Yet more books have been published recently on the toxicity of fame.  Britney Spears is the subject of an autobiography and a biography. Another simply borrows the title, Toxic. John Updike wrote that 'fame is the mask that eats the face'. Baz Luhrmann last year documented Elvis Presley's destruction in his typically kaleidoscopic way. And into this media mix a recent exhibition shows a more innocent, intimate moment in the fame prototype of Beatlemania, intriguingly entitled Eyes of the Storm

Surely with the Beatles predating the selfie-stick and Snapchat, we'd be reliant on paparazzi. But as Sir Paul McCartney can play pretty much every musical instrument, it's not a surprise he knows how to use a camera. And so, it emerged during lockdown that he had kept 1,000 previously unseen photos from 1961-1963. 

To relaunch the beautifully remodelled National Portrait Gallery, McCartney displayed a whole cache of photos. One of the criticisms of present-day photography is that it's too easy, that we retain all sorts of out-of-focus photos on our phone.  McCartney had preserved all these, and although it's curated and edited, there's many photos that wouldn't normally be seen. 

You get the fab four goofing about, and also in quieter moments. There's young George looking shattered in the back of a car, and John concentrating. McCartney forgot that Lennon pulled this particular face, with his finger to his lip. His song 'Help!' emerged a year later. He told Playboy, 'I was fat and depressed, and I was crying out for 'help'.’ They were indeed in the eye of a storm. 

We’ve lived with an orthodoxy that we understand ourselves through self-expression – that we ourselves are the ones to define who we are. 

And in the middle of the storm, we see the Beatles finding moments of joy. They land in New York for the Ed Sullivan Show, at the top of the charts and the top of their fame. Fans chasing them down Manhattan streets, fans balancing precariously on an airport roof, and one inexplicably holds a monkey. American optimism had been battered by JFK's assassination and the Beatles' arrival was a welcome respite. This joy became even clearer (and more vivid?) as McCartney switched to colour when they reached Miami. But before the colour, the songwriter in conversation with Stanley Tucci singled out seeing a worker he snapped while they were on the train – perhaps a mirror to his own working-class roots and family.  

But then there are also the more explicit self-reflections… A series that struck me were McCartney's self-portraits, looking in mirror, out of focus. McCartney said that his first thought was this was the National Portrait Gallery - at least they could be in focus! But then he realised they had a warmth, and a softness to them.  

Those of us who are not Beatles, or famous, also often live our lives out of focus, with blind spots, or a little dizzy from the storms around us and within us. Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor, before the selfie was invented, wrote about our self-perception in relation to the outside world, and that we are 'self-interpreting animals'.  

Since the eighteenth century we’ve lived with an orthodoxy that we understand ourselves through self-expression – that we ourselves are the ones to define who we are and how we relate to the world - even how we relate to ourselves. It’s so much the norm, it might seem confronting to question it, but in an increasingly confusing world, this is an increasingly difficult way to understand ourselves.  Whilst many of the Beatles' songs are about perception, King David also wrote in the psalms about our need for an external perspective: 

'You have searched me, Lord, 

    and you know me. 

You know when I sit and when I rise; 

    you perceive my thoughts from afar.' 

What we each need is a perspective on ourselves from the outside that is warm, soft, but also in focus. What if there was a perspective on ourselves free from blind spots, a precision lens that fully sees and fully understands the essence of who we are, and who we might be? Someone who sees the deleted photos, and yet is completely gentle and loving in how they see us? The way we truly understand ourselves is in relation to our Creator. God shows us both what is seen and unseen. Like in these photos, God is not fazed by the contrast of light and darkness, and provides a way out of the storm: 

'Search me, God, and know my heart; 

    test me and know my anxious thoughts. 

See if there is any offensive way in me, 

    and lead me in the way everlasting.' 

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4 min read

Benefiting from the many facets of beauty

Belle is the Reporter at the Centre for Cultural Witness, writing for Seen and Unseen. 

A jewellery start-up is challenging what Belle TIndall perceives as empowerment and agency.
Three women stand, two lean into each other sharing a joke, while the other laughs too.
Members of Zena's Launch Pad team, Kamuli, Uganda.

I have a conundrum. I’ve started and re-started this article four times now. And I’m surprised that I’ve settled on this opening. But alas, I have a deadline to adhere to and a cold coffee to warm back up. So, this will have to do. I’m struggling with this opening paragraph because when it comes to writing about Zena - the female-led, non-profit, environmentally friendly jewellery and accessory brand - I simply do not know where to begin.  

There are too many facets of Zena that deserve to sit front and centre in this article; too many details to revel in, too many stories to tell, too much success to pick at and analyse.  

Where do I possibly start?   

How about with the delightful fact that the brand is named after a beloved pet goat who makes appearances on their TikTok? You know, kick things off on an endearing note. Or perhaps the fact that there are playlists curated for all occasions, dance challenges, and even a recipe for tequila lollipops on their website? That would certainly alert people to how seriously this team takes the art of having fun. Or maybe I should open with the fact that they’ve both challenged and refined how I perceive empowerment and agency. I could explain how they have alerted me to the importance of investing in female entrepreneurs as a means of tackling extreme poverty and profound gender inequality.  

Yes. I think that’s it. Let’s start there and work our way backwards, shall we?  

These women are not beneficiaries, they are benefactors – and that’s an important, not to mention beautiful, distinction. 

In which case, here’s the heartbeat of Zena, here’s what you need to know in order to understand everything else about them: women living in rural poverty are currently facing two major barriers when it comes to business opportunity and entrepreneurship, and Zena are tackling both head on.  

Firstly, female entrepreneurs in these settings have little to no capital with which to launch their business ventures. To combat this, every single product offered by Zena, whose HQ is in Kamuli (Uganda), is hand-crafted by women who were previously living below the poverty line. Through the Zena apprenticeships, these women are able to support themselves and their families while also earning/saving the capital they need to launch their own businesses once the short-term apprenticeship comes to an end. These women are not beneficiaries, they are benefactors – and that’s an important, not to mention beautiful, distinction.  

Secondly, as well as a lack of capital, these women are battling a lack of education. And so, through a multi-phase entrepreneurship programme (The Zena Launch Pad), Zena are giving their apprentices both the theoretical and practical tools that they need to launch and sustain their own businesses. Women are graduating from this programme with literacy and numeracy skills, a viable business plan, industry-specific knowledge and skills, as well as leadership and development.  

Because here’s the bottom-line, the foundation upon which Zena stands, the deep conviction of both Caragh and Loren, the co-founders and CEOs; agency matters. Widening one’s understanding of success to encompass these women’s agency, for better or for worse, matters. Empowering these women to earn their own capital, to see the unfolding of their own ideas, to know that their decisions matter, it makes all the difference. No dependence, no hand-outs, and no debt. Just the kind of empowerment that is laced with agency.  

It’s bold. But it’s working.  

There was utter delight in her eyes when she explained how good generates more good and creation generates more creation.

So far, time-stamped at this moment in time, Zena’s hybrid and holistic approach has led to 67 female entrepreneurs, over 150 children in school, and nearly 500 lives lived above the poverty line. Women are hiring other women, businesses are birthing more businesses, education is generating more education.  

Pretty special, isn’t it? Pretty Jesus-like too.  

I had the immense joy of chatting to Caragh, one of the co-founders and CEOs of Zena; she reminded me that multiplication is one of Jesus’ most classic moves. Just as the people sitting around Jesus with wide eyes and numb backsides witnessed one humble lunch feed tens-of-thousands of mouths, so are Caragh and her team witnessing jaw-dropping multiplication happen before their very eyes. There was utter delight in her eyes when she explained how good generates more good and creation generates more creation. Compassion is contagious and innovation spreads. Although Zena is by no means an enterprise that squeezes itself into a religious box (empowering women of all faiths and none), it is easy to see how Caragh and Loren’s faith in a God who wrote generative goodness into the fabric of reality, informs their mission to write it into their business model.  

Something else that is woven into the DNA of Zena, much to my delight, is an unabashed celebration of the female consumer. 2023 may well be remembered as the year when an economic earthquake was caused by Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and Barbie. According to Forbes, it is likely to be regarded as the year where people began to take seriously and analyse the power of 'the female dollar'. And Zena, with their penchant for all things pink and glittery, have been sitting ahead of the curve for a little while. Their products, as seen in Vogue, Marie Claire, and Harvey Nicholls (as well as embellishing the looks of numerous celebrities), seem to have been made with this cultural moment in sight. Their aesthetic perfectly encapsulates the resurgence of female playfulness and the reclaiming of ‘girliness’ as something to embrace and revel in. As I have already referenced, joy is something that this team take incredibly seriously.  

The celebration of women infiltrates every layer of Zena’s existence, that much is clear. While their products delight the female gaze, their profits sow into female entrepreneurship. Both of which display how working toward gender equality, particularly in contexts such as Kamuli, is a means by which we can wage a war on extreme poverty. 

Women serving women, who are serving women, who are serving women. And on it goes – so beautifully circular. So intriguingly God-inspired.  

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