How I know I am not Don McCullin.

Two nights ago I heard two screams from my wife Karen’s bedroom. One was her crying out in distress for me to come and the other was from the carer Krysta who was putting her to bed. The shocking thing about this tale is that my heart beat doesn’t even rise as incidents like this are so common. I went in to the bedroom to find Krysta on the floor clutching her back and clearly in pain. Karen is suspended in her hoist and similarly in pain as she is being held in the air by her straps.

For me this is the war zone I live in. If I were Don McCullin this is a great photo opportunity. As a photographer I could take out my camera and capture images of this scene of pain, distress and horror. I could zoom in close on the anguish in the eyes and the screwed up faces. Audiences would be unable to look away as they imagine themselves in this situation and pray it could not happen to them.

I am not Don McCullin. Instead of the photographs I first lifted my wife on to her bed and comforted her to calm her down. When she was safe I tended to Krysta and told her not to worry. All would be ok. We then got the ever there in a crisis Sabrina to come along and start the process all over again of putting Karen to bed. I remain calm and provide comfort until everything settles back down to our current normal. Only utterances of pain and discomfort as Karen goes to sleep.

I have thought about this incident. Don McCullin himself says ….

‘Photography for me is not looking, it is feeling.  If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you are never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures’ and ‘seeing, looking at what others cannot bear to see is what my life is all about’[i]

‘Looking at what others cannot bear to see’ could not be a better description of what I was confronted with as I went in to Karen’s bedroom. Something I had in common with Don McCullin was that I was calm. These incidents happen so often. This was nowhere near the worst we experienced prior to putting in the apparatus to make her more comfortable. I have got used to this as McCullin must have done in war zones. What I could not yet imagine doing is taking out my camera in a situation like this. However, as a photographer I am realising that there is a compelling need for people to look at that which they ‘cannot bear to see.’ If I feel a resistance to taking a photograph then it is quite possible that is a significant photograph to take.

My experience of living with Karen as she goes deeper in to chronic Multiple Sclerosis is now the subject of my MA Photography Research Project.

Susan Sontag says…

‘Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.  Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.’[i] Susan Sontag.  Illness as Metaphor.

The project is titled ‘that other place’ and will explore with my camera what is going on inside me and around me as I experience this hell. Feelings inside me will guide me when to take photographs. In many ways I need to turn towards that I wish to turn away from. I need to capture that which hurts me. I also need to look at those connected to me and see what it is doing to them. Sontag again helpfully reminds me..

‘the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own’

This is going to be a painful journey but I am hopeful it can also be helpful. I had thought photography helped me by taking me to beautiful and calming places to take images of a perfect world. I will still do that as a rest and escape but realise it doesn’t quell or dampen the feelings of loss and helplessness. I just have those feelings in a prettier place. Perhaps pointing my camera at what my life really entails can help me gain a better acceptance of my situation. This has been helpful with therapists and is perhaps another weapon in their artillery.

It is interesting to note that my heart rises faster resisting taking some of these photographs than it does when I hear screaming in the room next door. After the incident the other evening I picked up my book and carried on reading. This was a normal evening in my war zone.


[i] Sontag, S.(1977).  Illness as Metaphor.  Toronto.  McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd. Pp3.


[i] Don McCullin website.  [ONLINE]. https://donmccullin.com/don-mccullin/ [Accessed April 15th, 2019]

Categories: Positions and Practice

LEN

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
decisions.

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.