At the end of August, we went to Arles and then to Paris. We had a wonderful time. We came home and I had a five day ‘staycation’ to work on my OCA studies. It was glorious. I felt relaxed and happy and totally immersed in photography and art.
On Sunday the 11th of September, in the course of my usual Alice-in-Wonderland down-the-rabbit-hole style of research, I read this article about how illness can improve creativity. I confess I was quite ready to be convinced by the notion of “not merely renewed but elevated mental and creative faculties coming out on the other end of a physically and mentally draining stretch”. I remember thinking, that fated afternoon, how I could really do with something like that to kickstart my seemingly burnt-out brain. I was imagining sitting in a well-cushioned steam chair, under a fluffy blanket, bathed in Autumn sun, in the beautiful grounds of a a luxury sanatorium, reading Barthes and finally understanding everything.
A few hours later I had a temperature of 40.2, intense rigors and was vomiting violently. Four months on, I have not been able to return to work, have spent weeks in hospital, had major abdominal surgery to remove a giant cyst from my spleen and I am still recuperating.
So yeah, be careful what you wish for…
It has been difficult to make the most this time I have been given. I have been battling with feelings of depression and financial anxiety and the frustration of not being able to do normal things. But I think I am finally getting physically well enough to tackle some studying again.
As a gentle kickstart, here are some random things that have caught my eye recently…
This was a happy story. I finally managed to get hold of a DVD of Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus, directed by Andrew Douglas, and am looking forward to watching it.
Still catching up on the many projects documenting the migrant crisis. One of the most interesting for me is Seba Kurtis’ Heartbeat. The title refers to the capability of the police to detect even the heartbeat of a mouse in the lorries crossing into the UK. “I photographed some of the guys being held at detention centres using a really long exposure, so the film comes back completely blank. Then in Photoshop I pushed the levels up to reveal the information in the image, in the same way that the heartbeat detector reveals the information inside the tanker.”  The images provide a metaphor for the invisibility of the migrants and the surveillance to which they are subjected. Kurtis concludes however that “photography is actually a poor platform” to speak about the issues that migrants face. I suspect no single form of communication could come close to conveying what these poor people are enduring.
I was very happy with Helen Marten winning the Turner Prize (and also enjoyed the odious Gove’s frustration with it). Adrian Searle puts it well: “There is a formal language at work here, leading the eye as well as the mind on a journey. Her art splices mental associations with an acute sense of materiality, scale and tactility. In her art, thinking is made concrete. It is more than free association or an unfocused interior monologue. We are forever losing the thread and refinding it with Marten. There are stems and branches, thoughts shooting off, parentheses, pauses for breath, full stops.” 
This was an interesting article about the Trump victory and what that says about the state of photography in the US. Ed Kashi argues that there has been a failure by journalists and PJs to create and disseminate the images and real stories that will “move the needle on public understanding”. He writes, “It is alarming that even though we live in a time where access to information is easier than it has ever been before, so many people live within a closed loop of falsehoods.” I cannot help feeling pessimistic as our society moves ever more quickly towards the soundbite, 140 character stories and single image Instagrams. One wonders how much tolerance there is for longer narratives and I certainly haven’t seen a contemporary equivalent of, for example, the Migrant Mother image to portray successfully the disenfranchised who sanctioned Trump or Brexit as a protest vote.
I found myself quite intrigued by the art of Blake Neubert. He uses a razor to scrape away layers of his paintings to reveal macabre and sometimes horrifying imagery underneath. “When I was younger, I guess I always thought there was one story – the truth, or the ‘real version’. As I get older, I see how we are able to shift the truth or make it fit our lifestyle. It’s something I have just always paid attention to. There are so many ‘truths’ out there. It also echoes my life a little bit. I have always been convinced there were two very distinctive versions of myself: the very polite, appropriate professional; and the irreverent, antisocial, borderline personality guy.”  Neubert says that his images are not designed to shock or offend but are a way for him to try to come to terms with all the horror he sees in our violent world. His work appeals to me as I wrangle more and more with the idea of twinning images and creating diptychs.
And finally, an inspiring thought from Ira Glass that that I picked up somewhere along the way: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one piece. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Let the fighting begin again …
- British Journal of Photography, September 2016 edition