I was drawn to Thompson’s work through her project Notes from my Therapist. I have been seeing a therapist for the last year during the final stages of my wife’s illness and following her death. I talk about this work below but first start with an interview she did of Alec Soth. It was going to be about Niagara but she knows him well and instead decided to interview him about love. This is also relevant to my FMP in which I explore love, loss, life and death.
Alec Soth – The Ones We Love – Interview by Carrie Elizabeth Thompson.
Here are relevant parts of the interview to reflect on for my FMP.
What is love? – For me, the thing I understand better than love is separation. I understand how we live inside our own heads and everything outside of that: trees, cats, people—all of that is something separate. I guess love has to do with the feeling of an external being not being truly separate. You feel like another person is a part of you the way your toes are a part of you. But surely there are many different kinds of love. My hands feel like a bigger part of myself than my toes and so on.
What series and/or image of yours do you feel is most related to your definition of love? – I suppose the project I did in collaboration with Stacey Baker had a lot to do with this understanding of love. On one day I photographed all of Stacey’s dates during the world’s largest speed dating event in Las Vegas. The next day Stacey and I interviewed elderly couples at the largest retirement community in Las Vegas. These couples had all been together for decades. Their love was a great example of separate individuals growing together. That said, in terms of photography, I’m more interested in the pictures I made of Stacey on her dates.
Emmet Gowin said a similar thing: “If you set out to make pictures about love, it can’t be done. But you can make pictures, and you can be in love. In that way, people sense the authenticity of what you do.” What are your feelings about Emmet Gowin’s statement? – I definitely agree about the impossibility of photographing love. Photography is just light reflecting off of one surface onto another. Just about everything else is projection. A photographer can project love onto the subject, but that doesn’t mean the viewer will feel it.
Maybe it makes sense that it is hard to get to your feelings about the emotional side of your work because, as you said, the thing you understand better than love is separation. – I’d argue this feeling for separation is emotional. I’d also argue photography, in particular, is a medium particularly adept at dealing with this subject. Photography is about looking at the world through a piece of glass—about light bouncing off one surface and landing on another. It is a medium built on separateness.
Notes from My Therapist
Thompson opens up to her experience with her therapist. Uncomfortable with her own ability to be vulnerable with a stranger she found a way to make the therapist vulnerable too. As she says “This is when I asked [my therapist] if she would take my photo each session. It was amazing how the tables turned instantly. She was now vulnerable because she had no idea how to use my camera and felt intimidated because I am a photographer. We were equal and that made therapy so much more real for me.”
The vulnerability lead to communication from her therapist on her last day.
“On my last day with her she wrote me a letter. This was a part of it, ‘I have learned that portraiture and therapy have some things in common. With each, one person sits before the other, in many ways exposed. With each, there is an opportunity to see a person as they are, as they were, and as they could be. Each offers us the chance for a glimpse of good and bad, the beautiful and the disturbing.’
This resonates with the work we are doing in SPEX but partly for the way people project themselves on to an image of another rather than what is truly implicit in the image of other.
“A photograph is a secret of a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know,” photographer Diane Arbus said.
The impossibility of photographing love in the Soth interview and ideas of separation contributing to what love is about.
The similarities in the process of therapy and portraiture seeking to see the person as they are. This requires lots of thought given the experience I have had seeking to exhibit how ‘I’ truly am.
The more a photograph tells you the less you know. What a quote from Arbus to work with.
Thompson, Carrie Elizabeth. On Love and Separation. [online] available at https://theoneswelove.net/Alec-Soth (accessed: 20th July, 2020).
Thompson, Carrie Elizabeth. Notes from My Therapist. [online] available at http://carriethompson.com/notes-from-my-therapist-2/nsu4pdra0bzqwlw7vq0m9042cgcy68 (accessed: 20th July, 2020)