Over dinner with some friends recently I was introduced to someone who, while having a successful business career, also described herself as ‘an artist’. The deliberate use of that moniker was interesting and I asked at what point in her creative journey she had finally felt comfortable using that title. She acknowledged the validity of the question and explained that it had taken her completion of an under graduate degree in Fine Art before she finally felt justified in calling herself an artist. Ironically for me as an observer, all it took was a look at her work (she’s a sculptor and an incredibly talented one) to see the artist and not just the person.
Self-doubt has long been a feature of the creative process and of artists in general. For sure I don’t consider myself an artist and until recently the word ‘just’ was quite deliberately used before the self-description of ‘amateur photographer’ on the front page of this website. When asked why by a friend, I explained it was deliberately self-deprecating; I didn’t consider myself good enough to call myself an amateur photographer just yet. That term, to my reading at least, connotes some degree of proficiency and talent I wasn’t sure I possessed. We agreed I would remove after her reassurance that I was more than talented enough. As a graphic designer, she routinely works with and appraises various photographers work so she should know, and yet the doubts still linger…..
I started this project as a way of examining the concept of the person and the three manifestations of any individual. The more photographs I take though, the more I realise that I am exploring that concept from the perspective of self as much as anything else and that process is similarly tinged with self doubt and vulnerability. I guess I’m exercising my own demons such as they are; the little boy at Catholic primary school who while not subject to physical abuse, was exposed to prolonged and painful emotional abuse. It has an effect that is carried through to adulthood and at various stages in life is processed through different lenses, if you will excuse the pun. The current lens I am using is both metaphorical and literal.
There is a certain irony with using the camera lens to explore that vulnerability and self-doubt. Traditionally, it is the subject that is more nervous of the lens because it’s their vulnerability or self-doubt that is being observed if not exposed. For me, the fear and doubt is as equal behind the lens as in front of it, it’s that mirror phase again with the subject looking back at me, being me.
The three portraits on this blog say a lot on this subject. In the first, ‘The Bike Messenger’, the pose is relaxed but the cigarette and the off camera look show tension; he’s relaxed but not completely. The tension is probably the reflection that he’s just agreed to have his picture taken by some random stranger in Soho. I imagine he’s having second thoughts but isn’t sure how to get out of it. This is self-doubt brought about by the sudden vulnerability of the situation.
In the second, ‘Tina’, we see a very different story. It was her tattoos that immediately caught my eye and why I asked if I could take her picture. Her immediate response was to ask for spare change in return, as she was homeless. I agreed and she posed quite freely but her pose is at once both vulnerable and defiant. The way she holds her head shows strength, you can see the muscular structure of her neck suggesting that physical strength, the look in her eyes and of course, the obvious hand gesture, which I confess I did not see at the moment I took the picture and initially cropped out. And yet she is intensely vulnerable, after all she has just asked for money because of her situation.
The last picture is the polar opposite. ‘The Film Producer’ shows a man consummately at ease with himself. He knows who he is, he knows what he likes and he is very comfortable with that. There is not the slightest hint of vulnerability here or at least, any vulnerability or self-doubt that may have once been has long since been forgotten.
Of course, all this could just be complete nonsense. The pictures could well be no better than something you’d have developed at Happy Snaps and my reflecting on them over intellectualised nonsense (actually that part probably is true; I hope the pictures are a little better than snaps though).