Photography by Leon Diaper, writing by James Ranson.
Cumulus had loved Jenny since the very first moment they had met. She had been rushing to get out of the rain, when he, drifting about, had caught sight of her. She hooked a wet strand of hair from her mouth, turned in his direction and scowled, that first time. He had thought that as far as initial introductions went, it could have been worse. Cumulus was used to loving from afar and had had many crushes, all of which ended the very same way: he would shuffle nearer, edging in closer and closer, only to be met by the same old veil of fog he always did.
Leon Diaper hails from Fordingbridge, Hampshire, a town that boasts a homicide rate about eight times higher than the national average. The son of average suburbanites, he found escape from the crushing sameness of early 90’s South England through the images of Robert Frank and Terry Richardson. Inspired to become a documentary photographer, eager to discover subjects that could help develop his own visual discourse, he dedicated himself to learning the rules of photography so that he might break them more fully and artistically. To this end, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Photography from the Arts Institute, Bournemouth.
Cumulus accepted his lifestyle was widely incompatible with Jenny’s. She mostly stayed on land, while he often thought he’d never even touched it. Perhaps in dreams he had, walking around this way and that, bumping into people and being bumped into. He had just arrived back in town after being away at sea for a very long time and he was frightened he had forgotten what love looked like. When he saw her, he remembered it all. He decided there and then, Jenny would not slip through him like the others had.
The problem Cumulus faced was this: he was a cloud and she was a human.
Leon’s grandest, most ongoing subject is his fascination with the correlation between physical and emotional exploration; to him, adventuring and growing older are intrinsically one and the same thing.
What Cumulus had not counted on was the Sun and the Moon, and that they too were in love with Jenny. The Moon had announced it one night after he had spotted her coming out of the cinema. Cumulus heard his declaration and when he did, first his heart dropped and then he felt anxious. Intrigued to hear a cloud and the Moon had fallen for the same girl, the Sun searched far and wide for such a beauty. When he did catch sight of her he was at first smitten and then, after watching her cross a road, deeply in love. That first day he followed her around for so long he forgot to set, marking it as the longest day the world had ever known.
Unsurprisingly America’s landscape, with its connotations of broken dreams and forgotten youth, provides a pivotal character within Leon’s oeuvre. The forlorn coastal towns and desert communes he has sought out have afforded him the subjects and themes to develop and refine his questions.
Cumulus was distraught but took solace in the fact that he could get closer to her than the other two. The Moon watched her sleep whilst the Sun watched her live. Cumulus had been gifted both. He hovered above her, trying to work out what smell was and what she might smell of. He had dreamed they had gone out for a burger and that he had enjoyed holding it and eating it, and that she had held his hand, she had held his fingers. The Moon had dreamed he was her bed and got to lay under her. The Sun had dreamed he was water and got to bathe with her.
The subtlety in which he pokes and prods at them, each new subject unearthing more answers to a seemingly rhetorical question, is as tender and present in the face of a teenage wrestler as it is in a pair of discarded cowboy boots. Each subject and location attempts to distil a little more of his sense of restlessness, his thoughts about growing up and growing older. His journeys and the people he photographs are physical manifestations of his emotions, and in that sense his thematic ambitions are very much rooted within his perception of identity, entwined with his journeys. He is growing and, like all young men, trying to make sense of purpose, extrapolating this sense of awe-like wonder from his subjects: they are an extension of him and him, them.
The three decided it was impossible to try and court her so decided instead, to simply ask her to choose between them. Later that evening, the Sun delayed from setting, the Moon had risen early and Cumulus had left his soufflé to join the other two outside Jenny’s work.
They appeared side by side: the Sun, the Moon and Cumulus. All three looked impeccable: the Sun had settled on a dark orange glow, hoping to arouse thoughts of squirrels and soft leaves; the Moon made himself so vivid you would have thought you had telescopes attached to your eyes; whilst Cumulus looked like a velvet white beard you couldn’t help but want to nuzzle.
Like great artists before him, in particular the Neo-Realist movement in Italy, Leon is dedicated to finding poetry within everyday life, from a discarded shopping trolley to English truck drivers. Whether standing in the shadows of the Colorado Chocolate Mountains, or a graveyard in East London in snowy December, his vision remains intact. He lives what he believes in. Each subject is a friend.
Jenny came out and saw the three waiting for her: the moon, the sun and a cloud.
She stopped dead, her hand in the Man’s next to her. Cumulus, the Sun and the Moon saw and suddenly knew their plights were pointless. They could never have her. She hadn’t even recognised them. She just did what the rest of the world had done: pointed, screamed and panicked at what they thought to be the apocalypse.
His first exhibition: Americana, a collaborative effort between himself and two friends, presented three unique viewpoints of forgotten American towns. Leon’s photography has since featured internationally, from broadsheet newspapers to record sleeves. His next subject is the great Alaskan Pipeline and the discarded societies it intrudes upon. Leon is 25 and currently lives in London.
The three lothario’s gave a sigh and realised bearing their souls to humans was an untranslatable act. The Moon glided away, muttering something about exhaust pipes and guttering, the Sun blushed and slinked out of sight without a word, but Cumulus stayed where he floated: totally and utterly dissatisfied.
What Cumulus had not known was that while he had watched Jenny, he had been watched by Judy, the brightest star in the galaxy. She had been persecuted for her beauty her entire lifecycle and it was while watching Cumulus watch Jenny, she had fallen profoundly in love with him. She shimmied over until she was level with Cumulus. Whispers were exchanged and suddenly he seemed stronger, whiter than before. Judy left and he followed. He thought he might have a chance at being happy with someone at his height. He hoped to now dream about space and rockets and asteroids and not holding hands, holding burgers.
Please visit Leon Diaper website for more photos and stories.