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]