I have at times, throughout my time as an artist, been accused of never having people or humanity in my photographs, and not showing any life around me. Humanity is not just people, humanity is what encompasses us. The way we interact with our environments, the reason things are where they are, the way they are. Do we know the stories of the strangers in photographs? Not always, people watching in a perfectly composed shot, we invent their stories and use them for our own narrative. I could say that those photographs have no humanity. The story of my photographs are very introspective, the essence of my humanity, they are what I see and what I obsess upon. Then there is the story of how and why they became, and I obsess beyond the image – how things got there, why are they there, social history, natural history, our impact upon the world.
When I was at university studying my degree, when viewing photographs we read into them, we researched our subject, and discovered in the brief artist statement what the photographers intention was, but there is not always provided, the in depth analysis of each individual photograph, not in the way that we apply to them. The reasons why they chose that photo fits and bends with our narrative. Reading the artist statement is an important necessity, or we are free to manipulate the image to mean something else, or create a dialogue that isn’t true.
The signs, the signified and the signifiers. What we see is this. A tennis ball sitting on the grass. That is the signifier, the form which the object takes. It tells us nothing unless we place meaning upon it. The signified is the interpretation, the what and why we place upon the image we are looking at. So that tennis ball, why is it there, where has it come from, who was the owner, what does it say about the environment, what was the weather that day, when was it taken, who took a photo of it, why did they take a photo of it, what is the point of it… Without me giving any statement of why I took the image, the viewer is open to question, and can draw assumptions as to why the photo was taken and what it’s purpose is. Now, I share the image alongside other photos of tennis balls, or remnants of tennis balls. I have opened this up to so many more interpretations. Why is there a collection of images of tennis balls in various degrees of degradation? I welcome others to interpret in their own way and add reason as to what the intention behind taking the images is. But now I provide reason in my artist statement, so that changes the initial viewing and interpretation of the photos. This is my experience, and therefore the humanity in the image.
My experience of taking images comes very subconsciously initially. I seldom start with a plan of why and what. But I am very self-aware. I question why. There is more to the image than it just being there, there is very definite signs within the images I take. With the example of the tennis ball, my reason became obvious quickly. I kept seeing them everywhere after I had become parent to a pet dog, on our walks they are there, why are they there? After the big mower has come to cut down the grass, they multiply and clearly come into view, like worms after the rain. But it isn’t just the mower that destroys these tennis balls, it’s the dogs that through rambunctious play, tear and rip and break their beloved toy. I have spoken to dog walkers that tell me that the tennis ball is their pet pooch’s favourite toy, yet they lose and destroy them so easily, seems like careless ownership of a beloved toy to me. My dog would never lose his favourite toy, bury it under blankets perhaps, but never lose or destroy it in such a manner. Bizarrely my dog doesn’t like playing fetch and is completely nonplussed by a tennis ball. Maybe that is my fascination. I have no association of tennis ball destruction with my hound, so the tennis ball becomes my obsession.
My way of working begins, as I focus on something compulsively. I then ask myself why. And by asking myself why, I will begin to research and discover more about my environment and everything within it. There is also a the added caveat that I am now disabled, so my environment has shrunk. But shrinkage doesn’t mean I am now devoid of inspiration or subject. It means that I am now more invested in my environment, in it’s history, in my interaction with it, I am a slow walker, so I take my time, I revisit often.
There is plenty of humanity within my images, perhaps you have just not looked close enough to find it.