Transitions was my first focused photography project and while the experience was incredibly rewarding, it was utterly terrifying to initiate and shoot. It seems odd for a mature, middle age man with all the confidence of his life experience and achievement to back him up to express such abject terror at approaching a group of teenagers to ask if he can photograph them. I now know how a new teacher must feel on their first solo day on the job. The fear was genuine and rooted deep in my psyche’s fear of rejection, of being a fraud of being poorly judged. My initial interest in this group as a subject for exploration was layered with themes of exploring the idea of transition and emerging identity but it was also strongly influenced by my own sense of a lost youth, of having not been able to access and make the most of being either a child or a teenager. The project isn’t an attempt to live vicariously, but it is about confronting the anxiety associated with having experienced severe emotional trauma as a child.
I had thought that the project was finished. I’d shot about 300 images and selected a set of about 40 images, mostly portraits and showed them in two places in my local town but mostly I had thought it finished because I felt I had reached a limit as to what these young adults would tolerate (in terms of an outsider invading their territory). I felt the need to give them some space and not outstay my welcome. But just recently a number of the subjects have approached me elsewhere in our town and asked me why I’d stopped coming down and encouraged me to come back from time to time. That was very touching and very revealing. It told me that the sense of anxiety I felt about becoming a nuisance was likely more in my own head than real.
So, I have decided to try and re-engage and see what happens. The weather has picked up and the last few days have been very fine and dry, so the park has had a good crowd and the golden hour has now pushed back to a point in the day when I can reasonably escape for an hour or so without conflicting with either work or family life. But despite the rites of spring lifting my spirits, heading down to the park has been filled with just as much anxiety and trepidation as it ever was as the start of this project. It is the same fear of rejection, of being a fraud or a nuisance; of being told to have my ‘mid-life crisis’ elsewhere. And yet, just as before, the process of engagement has been just as rewarding, the young adults that are my subject just as engaged, empathetic and understanding as before and so the only conclusion I can draw is that the sense of anxiety is only located inside of me and not anywhere else.