A recent health event has meant I’ve had to reconsider the direction of my life on all fronts.
I have a heart condition, which has suddenly deteriorated, and I’ve made the decision not to have surgery. It was diagnosed several years ago, and I have known that I would need to make a decision regarding surgery for a long time. Generally the condition gets worse gradually, and mine was following the usual path until last month. After a routine scan I was held back and the registrar asked to speak to me. I wasn’t expecting the news at this stage, so it has been a shock. Creating the space to speak with my nearest and dearest has been my priority.
My spiritual beliefs have been the bedrock of my decision to allow my life to follow its natural course. I feel a deep sense of peace with my decision.
What I want right now is to have the best possible quality of life for as long as possible. When I consider my future a few things are important to me. My friends and family, photography and study. I had planned to move on to studying for a degree in photography, but I no longer think that this is appropriate for my health and wellbeing, so I have decided to alter my direction.
Naturally I will still make photography and continue with personal projects, but I’ve decided to study for an Open Foundation in Creative Writing with the Open College of the Arts. I like to write, and I combine photography with my writing, especially when producing photo-essays. Converting to creative writing will minimise the stress, and it also means that during those times when I’m less able to be physically active, I will still be able to be meaningfully occupied.
Quality of life is the most important thing whilst I allow the cycle of life to play out. Daily I ask myself “What can I do today that will bring meaning to my life, and give me the opportunity to create value and culture?”
The Plan is simple. I’m taking a break between Foundations in Photography and the undergraduate BA in Photography. I will resume my studies in January. Study is so good for my mental health that I have considered enrolling immediately on the degree, but I also don’t feel that’s right just now.
I haven’t read photography books for some time, so I have reintroduced this progress. I don’t particularly enjoy reading these texts, but my practice does benefit from it.
My personal projects are important for my development. I have started to photo the London underground stations, both inside and out. The inside is a plain photo of the sign and surround, and I’m trying to capture points of interest outside of the tube station (not always possible as some of the surrounds are dull. My intent is to do this for the whole 270 tube stations, and I want to capture the mundane commute, but also include points of peace or joy along the route. I’m considering producing a poster size map of the London underground system and making a collage using 3 inch by 2 inch photos to present this series. The following two photos are the inside and outside of Charing Cross.
I’m aware that photographing a square mile will be an aspect of Express Your Vision, which is the first module of the degree, and I intend to use London’s Square Mile for this.
Today I am photographing my trip to Brighton from the perspective of me kneeling down. I simply want to try a new perspective with my photography and to document a simple journey. Love, peace and joy to you all on this beautiful Sunday.
I approached Jessa Fairbrother via email in order to receive feedback/advice about how best to keep the reverse of my embroidered photography tidy.
Although she didn’t give direct guidance, she did say that I was clearly doing things ‘right’ and that we all sew differently, and my development would come with time and exparience.
Part of me feels child-like by asking for direction, as though I can’t stand on my own two feet. However, the reality is that I wish to be an exhibiting photographer, and I will benefit from seeking and accepting the critique of others.
Fig. 1. Minor Constellation 1; 2018
Jessa Fairbrother sews on top of photographs to use “the body-as-site to explore communal meanings and is concerned with making explicit the moment when performed gesture and gaze of the viewer collide.” (Fairbrother; 2019). She uses needlework as exploration and reclamation of her body.
I’m taking an unplanned study break. I move to London at the end of next week, which is incredibly exciting. I’m also finding the pressure of moving to be exhausting. I’m learning to listen to my body, and just now I’m needing to rest.
I am experiencing moments of anxiety, not a huge amount, and I think the exhaustion and need for additional sleep, is the way my body and mind need to do things in order for me to cope. The anxiety had triggered my neuro-muscular condition quite severely, which will also have an impact upon the tiredness. I’m going with what my body needs at the moment, and that feels so healthy.
I’m still waiting for my self portraits to arrive. My next steps will be to review Cindy Sherman’s use of masks, and then to begin embroidering over my portraits. But that’s for once I’ve moved.
Looking after myself is not a natural experience, but it’s happening. It’s a change that I put down to working the 12 step programme. It’s a relief to pace myself, focus on one thing at a time, and rest. Rest includes play, which right now is about watching comedy and the occasional movie.
I’m on track with my eating, and working closely with my nutritionist. I can’t believe that I’m coping with change without restricting my diet or bingeing and purging. I feel very grateful.
I’m excited, I’m focused, and occasionally a little anxious.
Although I don’t have a moving date as yet, it’s likely that I will be moving at the end of the month. I’m excited that I want to begin having contact with people, especially my peers and others in the creative community. Opportunity beckons.
It’s also getting close to a cut off point for deciding which course to study. Do I continue studying with the Open College of the Arts, or with the University for the Creative Arts. I’m very suited to distance learning, and I know that studying with the OCA provides me with as much opportunity as I wish to develop creatively, and flexibly. I’ve pulled off a coup by connecting with Laura Letinsky, and this tells me that I can create my own opportunities by studying this way. I value the tutors and the course material.
Studying with the UCA will give me access to a dark room, a vast library and work placements, as well as the opportunity to collaborate with other students in other fields. But… I’m getting these opportunities with OCA students, and as an undergraduate I can access any university library.
When I put it in black and white like this I can see that I have a preference. Next week I will speak with student services at the Open College of the Arts, and then meditate before making a decision.
A precious gift that I recieved for Christmas, from a dear friend, was a subscription to an Annie Leibovitz Masterclass.
Masterclass is an app that provides master-classes by people who are world renowned in their field, it can be optained on Google Play Store and the Apple Store.
There are a few points that I’m taking away. Which I’ll bullet point below. But the most interesting point was a question one of her students asked. It was raised in relation to to photo-journalism, but I think it applies to all genres of photography. “Where is the line?” I photographed an act of self harm for part four of my coursework and in assignment four, and it was necessary for me to question was my photography relevant, necessary and provided in context. Ultimately this is a personal question and each photographers answer is subjective. It’s of note that Leibovitz says this question is ongoing for photographers.
You cannot capture an individual with one photo
To capture different aspects of personality more than one photo is required
It’s beneficial to return to work with an individual in a new setting at a different time (months or years apart
A series created in such manner reveals more about a person than a single shoot could do
Take lots of photos and regularly
It takes years to learn how to see
Keep photos that you’re not initially drawn too, your perspective may change over time
Recently I have been very kindly and generously given a speedlight, for which I am most grateful. I’m waiting until the gels and remote trigger which I have ordered for it to arrive, and then I will begin exercise 4.2.
Exercise 4.2 requires us to make use of any space with which we have access to for a few days, to add flat surfaces, and then objects, to create a space which only exists within the boundaries of the photo.
My space is going to be my lounge ceiling. I have paper, material and objects, which can pin too and hang from the ceiling. It’s a space which I intend to make more use of as the still life coursework proceeds. Seeing the photography of Laura Letinsky has been the trigger that my imagination has required to find some enthusiasm for this section.
We’ve also been asked to consider visual effect by exploring photographic effect, by making photos of things that have meaning for us. Well, as I’m slowly making these photos I’m realising that meaning and effect are personal and subjective. Yes, there are photographic techniques (composition, lighting, placement, colour, distraction), which positively or negatively impact upon presentation and reading of a photo, but photography, as with all art, is a subjective experience.
I am going to be working a little out of order at the moment. My health has been poor and rather than lag behind I will work on what I feel able when I feel able.
Here’s are some pigs. Pigs are a the spirit animal for abundance, the universe always provides what I need, and the many pigs around my house are a reminder.
Toxic Shame is a mixed media video created in collaboration by several Open College of the Arts Students. We study in different genres of the creative arts. It has been a very enjoyable process which has required thinking out of the box to respond to the work of other members submissions, based upon the theme for the month.
I would like to just say thank you to my tutor Jayne Taylor for her support, guidance and encouragement. I very much appreciate your input.
I have previously reflected upon the feedback which I received during a telephone conversation with Jayne (seen here).
The written feedback that Jayne has provided is a PDF which can be seen here. I am going to reflect upon the written feedback, but with preparing for my holiday, and having two more posts that I wish to make before I set of on my adventures, then I will further reflections until I have returned home.
Making this and the last post has taken me several days to get motivated to produce.
Photography was originally understood as being a means of authentically documenting reality
This view reinforced by Barthes in Camera Lucida – photographing “what was there”
Photo Journalism and documentary photography are meant to be factual and not misleading.
My view “as photographers we always mislead and never represent the external authentically”
My view “as photographers we spend more time excluding the distraction of what was there”
My view “our photography is shaped by our life experiences, psychology and ideology”
My view “our personality influences exactly what we choose to exclude from any photo we make”
My view has been reinforced by reading Photography A Critical Introduction by Liz Wells
Liz Wells highlights the photo “Migrant Mother” by Dorathea Lange
“Migrant Mother” is shown next to the other four photos Lange took of the mother and her children that day. It’s clear why Lange chose this as her final selection.
The context added by the other photos would have eliminated the emotional impact.
This is photographers manipulation of fact in order to present a moral viewpoint.
Editor’s, curators and accompanying text bastardise this “authenticity” further.
Ariella Azoulay adds to this by demonstrating how the Israeli National newspapers use photography unrelated to the story to reinforce an anti Palestinian Agenda.
In The Civil Contract of Photography Azoulay posits the idea that no one has authorship/ownership of a photo, as the subject, photographer and viewer all bring their own unique understanding and agenda to the photo
Kathryn Ryan (Canadian comedian) stated during her interview by John Bishop (John Bishop In Conversation With) that her daughter is a unique individual and as her mother she has no right to publish photos of her daughter.
She doesn’t own her daughter and has no ownership of her image
To do so would be an act of aggression as there is no consent.
This view is supported by Susan Sontag “On Photography” and Ariella Azoulay.
Hearing Kathryn Ryan was the first time this viewpoint made any sense to me.
In other contexts to commit an act upon another person without their consent would be illegal.
Asking permission to take a photo, even using a model release form can never be informed consent as we no longer know where a photo will be reproduced or end up.
Its been useful to solidify these ideas that have been floating around my psyche, it’s not to say that I agree with them all, and even where I do I think there has to be a loud call for balance. The views I’ve highlighted are valid, but where do we draw the line? There are legal lines of course, and I believe there are humanitarian lines. Governments often break these humanitarian lines for the purposes of propaganda (it’s happened in the UK in relation to “illegal” immigrants (no human is illegal!!!)). However, as photographers we can only do what feels right to us, and that’s different for us all.
Interestingly, as I have experimented with street photography I have become more comfortable with others taking my photo whilst out and about.