“When a person picks up a camera and starts to feel photography is for them, it is usually for reasons so complex that simple biography will not do. If you suddenly find that a camera really is your means of expression, it is not so much because it gives you the chance of a brave new start, but because it’s a way of drawing on the unspoken experience of your life lived so far. Making photographs is so often an act of recognition, conscious or otherwise, that what is before you resonates with things that came before. Those things might be direct experiences. They might be movies, picture books, music or novels. We can never know for sure.”
David Campany, Intimate Distance, 2016
I wanted to write a little about something I’d briefly mentioned in an earlier post, which is the change of direction in my project that has occurred during this module in response to advice and feedback received from my tutor and peers.
As I’ve outlined elsewhere, I’m really interested in the idea of urban solitude and how we experience this state and how we articulate and contextualise this experience. I’m also really interested in commonalities amongst us, in the idea that there’s this unspoken network of loneliness where people are closely packed yet living in silent isolation and I believe that if we can stimulate an open debate about this issue then we’d be on the way to being able to challenge taboos, while also accessing and offering support.
My project had increasingly sought to invite contributions from others around this issue, in various methods that felt right for them. I’ve found this aspect of the project really rewarding, providing as it has an insight into the emotional world of some people that I know well and people whom I hardly know at all. These insights have been incredibly privileged, as well as confirming my initial supposition that there’s a rich seam to be explored. The topic is so big, with direct and indirect links to issues as varied as mental health, social mobility, the link between music and memory…there are so many threads that can be explored.
Of course, the potential breadth of this topic had caused some difficulties. It’s a challenge to be able to provide structure to a project when the topic is so vast and the potential responses from people are limitless. I also found that I was increasingly being thwarted by practical and attitudinal obstacles. For example, many people had agreed to contribute to the project and then, despite gentle but persistent prompting on my part, failed to follow through.
In an attempt to gain some momentum and in an effort to further broaden my appeal to potential contributors/collaborators I contacted Georgina Lawton, a journalist who had written a piece for The Guardian earlier this year about her experiences with loneliness.
I asked if she would be willing to contribute to the project in some way but she was unfortunately unwilling to do so.
Overall this failure to engage people with the project was increasingly disheartening.
At the same time, I was feeling a growing disconnect between the story I was trying to tell through others and the origin of the inspiration behind this project which undoubtedly had come from within, and which I had gradually drifted away from without even noticing. I’m unsure whether this was due to an implicit unwillingness to confront the issues that a deeper examination of my own feelings might unearth, but I had certainly become a little emotionally detached from the work and this was affecting the quality of the work and my motivation to produce it.
A comment from Krishna (our module tutor) a few weeks ago really pierced the fog, as she challenged the direction I’d been taking with the project. She felt that the work produced and inspired by others would be better as a standalone project and that the focus should be on my own perspective and vision at this stage. This view seemed to be shared by my class mates who were present in the webinar and I left the session feeling quite shaken. I wasn’t sure at first why this advice was so discomfiting, but on reflection it was due to all the reasons I’ve outlined above – the imperceptible drift that had occurred from the original heart of the project, the fact that this advice challenged a possible reluctance to truly examine my own motivations for pursuing this project in the first place and I realised that I’d thus gotten a bit lost and had needed an outside view to ‘bring me back to my senses’.
I reflected on this and the pitfalls I had fallen into in the project to date. I’d certainly suffered due to a lack of structure. Listening to various practitioners describe how they approach project work, one of the key themes was the idea of a narrative impulse that infuses the work with life and allows the photographer to know when the project reaches its natural end – when the story has been told the end has been reached. Of course, if the narrative structure isn’t clear and if themes haven’t been clearly defined, it’s difficult to know how to proceed and it’s impossible to know when you’re off track. I had certainly suffered in this regard.
So I went back to the beginning.
As David Campany writes above, the reasons we shoot are often complex but are almost always connected to our own experience. I have tried to examine this much more closely, seeking to understand what solitude and loneliness mean for me and why I am drawn to articulate this visually. I think I have a clearer idea about this now and as this clarity has been restored it’s been interesting to note how my motivation and passion have returned.
I’ve been considering the work of others that's inspired me and still resonates with me, people like Todd Hido and Lynn Saville (to name just a couple) and examining why I shoot at night, why the issue of solitude is important to me and what my own feelings and memories are of loneliness, how it resonates with my emotional world.
Alongside this, I’ve been re-examining the aims of my project – how I hope to tell the story, who I hope to reach with the work and why would they care.
I’m confident that this change of direction and period of self-examination will result in a stronger project and a more coherent practice moving forward and I’m excited about moving forward.
· HIDO, Todd., CAMPANY, David. and TYLEVICH, Katya. 2016. Intimate Distance: Twenty-five Years of Photographs, A Chronological Album. New York: Aperture.