‘I would like my work to cover everything that I am, everything I have seen, everything I want, everything I remember, everything I know, everything that interests me, everything I have done, everything I haven’t done, everything I want to be.’ (Blaufuks, cited in Campany, 2018; 320)
The themes of my FMP are trauma, turmoil, love, existence and memory. The project arose from a simple question in the first module of the MA ‘do I have any pain in my life?’ Cemre Yesil as my tutor asked the question and I replied ‘boy do I have pain in my life.’ At the time my wife, Karen, was deteriorating rapidly from secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.
Cemre’s point is that pain and emotion are attractive subjects for photography. They stimulate a strong response in a viewer initiated from the response of the photographer to what she or he photographs. As Don McCullin’s says ‘Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.‘ His reputation was established in the suffering and pain of war photography. Ivor Prickett’s ‘End of the Caliphate’ similarly focusses on the suffering of war. Jo Spence achieved acclaim in the 70’s with her self portraits of her fight with breast cancer.
Over the last two years I have gone through an extremely traumatic experience. My wife, Karen, became paralysed and chose to end her life in Switzerland. My project is a response to my experience. I have taken images through this period of myself or objects and places contingent to me.
In the early modules of the MA my project was entitled The Truth and Beauty of Me. In the first iteration I captured parts of me trying to express what I was going through. I was looking to find ways of expressing in a photograph the turmoil I was going through as the love of my life was living through chronic illness.
The second iteration introduced some staging of situations as I attempted to illustrate what I was going through. Both iterations were a steep learning curve. I was really interested in the reactions of viewers. I was curious about which photographs had an impact on people and what that impact was. As I look at these images now I can respond to them as a representation of existence at the time and as a form of a memory of something that happened to me. The work was live in the moment but is now a memory with which I can have a relationship. I do not feel like I did then and could not then imagine feeling how I feel now.
The search continued to find ways of expressing what I was experiencing in a way that a viewer could relate to in their own lives. In Informing Contexts I explored objects and places contingent on my experience. I have disappeared from the images but to me I am fully inhabiting these spaces then and now. I see this set of images as building on the earlier learning and making significant progress in what an image can achieve in an emotional sense. Audience reaction suggested I am making progress to illustrating trauma, turmoil, love, existence and memory.
The work continues to refine over 1000 images taken during the MA to a core set that represents what I want to say about my experience. Every Bird I See Will Be Part Of You is the current selection below. There are eight more weeks to go so I expect further changes. As I look at this set I feel I am making real progress to expressing the themes of my project in my work.
I keep redrafting in words what my work is about. My current attempt is ‘My work is an evolving memory my experience of trauma over 2019 and 2020. During this time my soul mate, Karen, became paralysed through secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. She then chose to go to Switzerland to die.’
I end by reflecting on the quote from Daniel Blaufuks at the start of this post. Work is always work in progress but I do feel all the everything’s Blaufuks refers to are now present in the images I am putting together.
CAMPANY, D. 2018. So Present, So invisible Chapter Daniel Blaufuks, loc 320. Robert Koch Editions. Rome.
MCCULLIN, D. 2020. Biography. [online]. Available at : https://donmccullin.com/don-mccullin/ (Accessed Oct 15th, 2020).
PRICKETT, I. 2019. End of the Caliphate. Steidl.
SPENCE, J. Biography. Tate. [online]. Available at : https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/jo-spence-18272 (Accessed Oct 15th, 2020)