Presence/Absence – Exercise 4.12

Disclaimer: This article covers sensitive subjects, including a photograph of the act of self harm, which may not be suitable for certain audiences.


Brief:- When we look around familiar environments we tend to ignore or ‘not see’ certain things in them. In this exercise, you’ll explore the absence and presence of an object that you’re accustomed to in order to bring to the surface an altered ambience.  Your purpose here is to convey the trace of the absent person or thing, or to express something of an altered mood by a particular emphasis. Choose an environment that you know well, but one where you can move things around without getting into trouble!. Ask yourself what forms the character of that place for you. Take a photograph of the place or ‘scene’ as it is.  Now remove an item that strongly characterises that place or scene and take another photograph with the same framing, without the key object. This key object can be anything from a bed in a bedroom to the chairs around a table in a dining room or a particular tree in a landscape.  Yes, you can use Photoshop to remove items in images with the Clone Stamp Tool or some clever selecting and masking as in the photo below, where the surgery has been removed. But it may be simpler just to remove them while you take the photo.  Place the before/after, presence/absence photographs side by side. But, like the image below, it may not need it.

The photos will follow shortly, and I do have to say that if you are going to be triggered by a photo of the act of self-harm then do not proceed with viewing these photos.

If I exhibited these images in a gallery they would be spaced apart from each otber. This would mean viewers could have time and space to feel their emotions before proceeding to the next photo. With that in mind I have decided not to present them as a triptych.

The theme is one in which enable me to  create the dynamics of presence and absence in a manner that is important to me. My photography often comes from my heart, and explores themes that matter to me, as I try to find out who I am and where I fit into the world. Photographing myself whilst in the act of self-harm is extreme, it pushes the boundaries of photographic presentation. Ummmmm does it push the boundaries? really?

I self harm from time to time,  so it isn’t pushing my boundaries. Should I be asked not to photograph an aspect of my life? I do not know the answer, but it does feel quite extreme to be honest.

Self harm is often used by people as a way of coping with life. People from all walks of life self-harm, even distressed animals do. Self-harm is more often an act of staying alive and is not an act related to suicide. Most people who self-harm do so in order to stay alive, to stay in control, in a world which feels and has been dangerous and unsafe.

However, there are times when life becomes so intolerably painful that  suicide becomes an option. When feeling trapped, and feeling that there is no way in which to continue, the pain is too much to bare, that the individual can see no way out, it feels like there is only one solution.

The Way Home

Self Harm


The Ambulance – Dead Or Alive

Exploring lighting

I have been inspired by Jonathan Kiernan, an OCA Foundations in Photography peer, specifically because of his effective use of lighting.

I am an absolute beginner in this area. Having recently been given a speedlight, thank you friend, I considered the mood that I wanted to practice and portray. Sometimes there is something secretive, hidden and shameful about self-harming, so I wanted to create a dark environment in which the exposure is focused upon the subject, and its absence. I chose yellow because I felt it had a sallow feel. One that evokes a sadness and sickness. Jonathon will often make use of two or three sets of lights so that there are different energies within the photo. The third photo, in which the police and ambulance or undertakers have taken the subject away, gave me the opportunity to use the speedlight with blue gels to appear like flashing blue lights the emergency services when they are attending an emergency. This was tricky. I didn’t want the lighting to appear as if the hall had a blue light, I wanted to capture the light as if it were an external light source. It took quite a while and many photos, but I think that I got there in the end.

Lighting Practice


Jonathan Kiernan (here)


United Kingdom

United States Of America




25 Replies to “Presence/Absence – Exercise 4.12”

      1. I’m not much for tattoos either but discovered last year that many people use them the way they formerly used cutting. One of my teen volunteers was self-harming when we met but as a condition of working with me she has to stop self-harming. So far, so good. BTW, your photo was very good and it was interesting how you illustrated the stages/difference.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. A very powerful moving post Richard, absence is palpable. Being able to control lighting (I like the symbolism of the blue light) has allowed you that extra bit of creativity and communication of emotion, mood and drama, very good! I am sure your skills with speedlights will develop further now you are more comfortable with them. Thank you for the reference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s more than a reference, you are a bit of an inspiration and teacher when it comes to lighting. The fact you have completed two recent exercises with second and third light sources, gave me the confidence to use a light source outside of the room.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I debated on viewing this post.

    Having to force myself not to self-injure and find a different coping technique is often a daily challenge. But, I’m also a photographer, I want to see other people’s work. Powerful images. All of the emotions and the rush of cutting came back when I viewed your first picture. Beautifully done.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know I commented on IG but want to comment here, too. My problem with so much photography is that it presents the ideal as real/normal, even though it isn’t. Seeing something this real, as terrifying as it is, is just brilliant. I love the image of the empty room. For me, this makes the set more poignant. The emptiness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankyou Andy. You’re comments about being ‘real’ are highly apt. Often, depersonalisation or disociation can be motivating factors in self harm. It can act as a validation of being, of existing of being real.


  4. An important thought provoking series Richard, worthy of a place on (the right) gallery wall. This must have been hard to create. Please give yourself a good deal,of praise and love.

    Liked by 1 person

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