Project Proposal 3 – Solitude and Existence

Life is a miracle. We don’t exist. We have a short time on this earth. We cease to exist. We struggle to find ways to be comfortable with this. Our ego fights to protect us and give meaning to our existence. Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea that one day will no longer exist. It was our state before and must have been fine but now we have experienced existence we want to sustain it for eternity.

For my project proposal I suggest that photography is one of the ways we seek to confirm our existence. In the angst that often goes with the solitude of seeing photography is a way of showing ourselves we are on track. We are presented with evidence we can look over again. We can share and compare with others to see how we are doing. Importantly we imagine a photograph could be a way of extending our existence in some way beyond our physical presence.

The project is titled ‘Solitude and Existence.’ My hypothesis in this moment is that we take photographs and look at photographs because we believe they can help us with the problems we experience with solitude and existence. Everyone suffers with these two states. The Buddhist word Dukkha is continuously mentioned and refers to ‘the fundamental unsatisfactoriness and painfulness of mundane life,’ source. Our brains are wired to create meaning out of our existence. Although this meaning is intended to protect us from harm we want more than this. We want to know and understand the meaning of our lives.

In ‘What Photography is’ source James Elkins says for him ‘photography is essentially not about art, or representation. I find seeing is essentially solitary, and for me photography is one of the emblems of that solitude.’ Later (p38) he says ‘we all use photographs to help us think of ourselves and our world.’

We are solitary in the use of our senses and struggle to find acceptable meaning for our existence.

In the project I propose to

  • research writing and bodies of work that have explored these ideas.
  • produce images of people in the process of using photography to solve the problems of the solitude of seeing and the meaning of their existence.
  • consider the role played by pictures we take without people in giving filling the void we have.
  • form a hypothesis to test on why so many people take so many poor quality photographs and for many of them never look at them again.
  • enquire in to the idea of being present as a means of handling Dukkha. why is that so difficult and how is it that photographs seem to be a better solution?
  • consider the role biases of cognition play in photography’s attraction as a solution to the challenges of solitude and existence. example biases being those of confirmation, information and selection.

James Elkins provides further input (p28) with ‘Most photographs, I suppose, are snapshots, and most of those are of people familiar to the people who took the pictures. There are also the millions of photographs that give us ideal versions of our own faces and families.’

And (p47) It is easy to agree that photography’s apparent realism has been formed by the middle-class hope that photographs give us reality itself (as Bourdieu says), and it is hard to disagree that photographs are formed by a physical and mechanical interaction with the world (as a debased version of Peirce has it). By accepting both of these ideas, photography has become an activity that is both a projection of our desires about the world and an accurate record of the world. Weirdly, but characteristically, the idea that photography’s realism is wholly a matter of what we want to believe coexists with the observation that photography has a causal, physical link to reality.’

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I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.