‘absent illness, famine, war or other stresses, a lot of life is lived in the neutral zone, a familiar garden, but a grey one, unremarkable, immediately forgotten, hard to describe.’ (Machines Like Us, Ian McEwan p7).
I am reflecting on this quote from Ian McEwan’s latest novel. I have been painfully agonising over my current project ‘That Other Place’, what it is like to live with someone with chronic illness. How I would love a neutral zone instead of the terrible experience I am going through now. After several really bad days I found it was too much to pick up my camera and pursue my subject. It was too upsetting. I had decided to change my project.
Over the past week I have been studying projects in the archives of Aperture magazine and the British Journal of Photography over the last ten years. A growing insight is the relevance of context to any photograph. Put in a sequence with context leverages the significance and meaning of a single photograph so much more. In line with Don McCullin’s thinking I also recognise that there is strong emotion conveyed from within the photographer in the subject matter they choose. I begin to believe for photography to be significant it needs to originate from some disequilibrium in the photographers emotional state. This can be euphoria but appears more often to be associated with more painful states.
In Gestalt psychology one idea is that an individual grows most when confronting boundaries he or she is uncomfortable crossing and crossing them. It seems there are parallels in photography. Powerful photography comes from tuning in to strong emotional states and pointing the camera at it or crossing boundaries we are uncomfortable crossing.
This leads me to find ways of pursuing my proposed project further. I have two avenues to pursue. The first is noticing my own emotional state and considering ways of capturing what is occurring. I am working on some images of myself when I am in a bad state and making notes on why I am in a bad state at that moment. The other is to consider metaphors for the state I am in.
I am photographing abandoned villages because they affect me in a deep way that I am still trying to understand. There is a metaphor for my state. I see buildings once lived in with a full and happy life now empty or being repossessed by nature. Interestingly, this made me think that something abandoned is only really abandoned by those who left it. As in the above picture new residents are thriving in this space that has been left. This image above resonates with the way I feel inside and raises a question about how I can accept the growth of this new resident inside me.
The other thought that arose was that the alternative projects I was beginning to think about were grey and trivial in comparison. I am in pain and it is not going to go away any time soon so somehow I intend to find strength to pursue it in my photography.