Recently, I posted a small body of work, ‘West to East’, which I shot at the end of last week. Up to that point, I had been mulling over various project ideas, which I am yet to begin shooting.
The ideas are good, but the feeling behind the images were taking time to crystalise into a form that gave me a clear sense of how I was going to go about shooting the project. Ideas are great, but I don’t subscribe to the fashion of using a concept to underpin images, which do not otherwise stand on their own as worthy of visual interest. For the project I am referring to, it is important to have a feel for the finished images before starting, even if the end result is a little different, because I have a number of disparate subjects to weave together with a common style. Finding an approach that fits the project and that is faithful to me, as a photographer, is proving difficult. I’m getting there, but its slow going.
Several months ago, I wrote about the importance of developing a personal style/approach, but it goes without saying really that even if you achieve this, there will be times when you feel unproductive, muddled or even paralysed. Writers block affects photographers too, but I’m not quite sure of the term we should be using! In my case, I think I have been trying a little too hard to solve the problem of how to deliver a project I want to shoot. Sheer force of will has little place in the creative process (in my experience) although determination is a related, but decidedly different quality.
Anyway, back to ‘West to East’. I’ve been going through challenging times in Afghanistan and I think the sense of perpetual adversity had calcified my creative parts. It’s hard to allow your mind to flow freely when it has spent the past six months beating on walls! However, in recent weeks a number of issues have eased to the point where I can feel the photographic itch turning into a burn. My mind has the energy and (compulsive) inclination to roam freely and a couple of days in Herat, removed from the tension and politics of Kabul, allowed it to break free and sprint towards the horizon. ‘West to East’ came at that moment of release. It was the moment of release and that emotional state defines the series. Photography is a language; a mode of communication and sometimes it is internal, requiring no audience for validation.
West to East was quickly followed by ideas for expansion and, while sitting on the balcony in afternoon sun today, a completely new project idea leapt into my head from goodness knows where. I had not been thinking of new projects. I had not even been thinking of photography. In fact, I have no idea what I had been thinking about and I am convinced that it was as close to nothing as my whirligig brain ever gets. Yet there it was: no inner discussion, no shaping of ideas, but a fully finished project I could explain to anyone in ten seconds and which I should be able to complete without being fired or killed (both of which are a bonus). It came from literally nowhere. On second thought, it might have come from my sandals, because I was fiddling with them at the time. Note to self: fiddle with those sandals more often.
For a long time, I have known that my photography and desire to write has tracked my larger, deeper, personal journey. This latest episode has demonstrated that just perfectly. No artist exists in splendid isolation from their environment (that’s impossible, if you think about it) and certainly not from themselves. While you may not be able to shape all circumstances, I do recognise (with a certain terror) those developing situations that threaten my creative source. They are accompanied by a familiar sense of claustrophobia. A subtle anxiety bears down upon the inside of my chest and something very important is pinned down by it. That thing can only be described as being the place of ‘expansiveness and connectedness.’ The first word is used to describe the changed perception of someone who is in love. Perhaps that’s fitting in so many ways that I’m content to stop typing now.