Thursday, February 28, 2013

The solidity of the living

See a larger sized image here

Yesterday I went to visit the tree under which we spread my mothers ashes and made a self portrait. It is the last of the oak trees, high upon the Sugar Loaf mountain overlooking Abergavenny. If you've ever been there you can't miss the Sugar Loaf, it's the one that looks like an extinct volcano.

The past few days there's been continuos freezing fog and a little light snow in the South Wales mountains, it was bitterly cold and the upper branches of the tree were encased in ice. Not so much a haw frost, but more of a shroud of ice. The weather was on the cusp of change, and the wind blew chunks of ice upon anyone foolish enough to stand down wind. It felt like the dead were angry, which wouldn't have been unusual for my mother. Or it would have done, but unlike previous visits, I felt none of that grasping for presence, the fight for memory. The years have obviously salved that wound which death makes us carry within and reveals sometimes unexpectedly when we make associations.

It would have felt cold and impersonal to photograph this tree for Songs of Travel, not least because that series is in many ways a celebration of the landscape and how we move through it. However much those wounds have healed this will never be a place of celebration to me, but one where I will contemplate the space between the dead and the living.

This week I’ve also been involved in some interesting discussions with fellow photographers about the nature of our work and how much of a personal nature we should reveal through our work to the wider audience. There was also a very important discussion on what makes a photograph important between Francis Hodgson and J M Colberg in which the passage that stuck a cord most closely with me was Colberg's assertion that "The art of photography is not taking pictures, it’s making very good pictures, with rich layers of meaning." That doesn't necessarily indicate that we must always bare our souls, but for me one of the roles of the photographic artist is to be scrupulously honest with ourselves. And there will be times when that results in our needing to delve into some of the darker recesses of our souls, so that we may open ourselves for the catharsis of others. We suffer so that we give openly and honestly of our inner lives, as so many will not be capable of doing so. And yet, if we are not honest with ourselves and present an edited version then one has to question the validity of our work. If as Hodgson said "Far too many photographers don’t even realise that they might be expected to have anything to say.” And what we have to say can only come from within ourselves in an open, honest dialogue with ourselves.

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