When I took a portrait of my daughter over the weekend, she complained that putting her head on the book was uncomfortable.
Jokingly I said: “Sometimes art hurts.”
To which she replied with: “It’s art?”
It made me think a lot about my return to photography and this renewed urge to take pictures pretty much on a daily level. At the moment, I look at everything wondering “would this make a good photograph”. It’s both enjoyable and painful, e.g. when you drive past something wonderful and you cannot stop and take a picture. Or thinking about a possible picture and then remembering that we are in the middle of a pandemic.
Ever since the Brexit referendum, this country has no longer felt like home. Prior to 2016, I would have said without hesitation that the UK is my home despite the fact that I had and have no citizenship. I realise that this is a statement full of privilege and problematic beyond belief but it’s the truth, I felt at home here and the fact that my skin colour is white made assimilation fairly easy. On the surface, I fit in. White, well-spoken, hardly an accent. It’s not that it was all smooth prior to 2016, but certainly the fact that at least my legal status was not in question was a huge aspect and yet I did not even appreciate it. Such is privilege, right? I am thinking daily of all the people who constantly have to fight to belong even if they have a British passport, let alone if they don’t.
Ever since 2016 I felt more and more like this is not my home, withdrew more and more from all community work I was engaged with until I stopped altogether. The feeling of “I don’t belong here” echoeing through every thought and every day like a dull pain. Some of this totally homemade but the majority due to witnessing the rise of an increasingly hostile atmosphere. Yet, for me personally, apart from the legal status nothing had changed, I am still white, still well-spoken, hardly an accent, I sort of fit the picture and as people keep telling me, I am the right kind of foreigner. Not something that makes me feel better for a whole host of reasons (oh, so neighbour X is also a racist, great.). I also get told to move “back home” a lot, when I complain about things in a whole range of tones. It’s a regular reminder that really this was never my home, even if at some point I considered it this. This remark also usually comes from people who never moved further than a few miles from where they grew up. So in essence, I don’t really talk to a lot of people, I don’t consider this place my home anymore, don’t take part in stuff and yet, I know I will have to live here until the kid is done with school and as you can imagine that is not exactly a recipe for happiness.
In comes the photography. I was watching the kdrama Encounter (I kid you not) and Park Bo-gum takes pictures with a film camera and I thought: “Oh look that’s something that you used to love.” And just like flipping a switch, I started taking pictures again. Mostly street photography, capturing in pictures of how I feel about this place. I think the pictures are fairly good representations of my frustrations, my disilusion and how sad I am. I am unable to process any pictures in colour at the moment, in fact, when I look at them in colour the world feels strangely wrong and unfamiliar, but in greyscale, the world somehow is recognisable again.
When I googled “What is art?” earlier, I saw this statement on a learning provider website:
Art, in its broadest sense, is a form of communication. It means whatever the artist intends it to mean, and this meaning is shaped by the materials, techniques, and forms it makes use of, as well as the ideas and feelings it creates in its viewers . Art is an act of expressing feelings, thoughts, and observations.Author unkown, link to source provided above
So if art is an act of expressing feelings, thoughts, and observations, then I am most certainly doing art. I am not sure if the fact if it can be considered art or not even matters to me. The act of creating matters. The fact that I am leaving the house matters. The fact of sharing the images on instagram matters. The thinking about what kind of images I want to take matters. The associations and pieces of information around the image matter.
I once read that art connects you to your deepest roots. And as someone who does not feel any roots holding her in place, this act of rediscovering photography is giving me something to hold on to. It’s a tenuous link but a link nonetheless.
As a funny aside: I live in an area called Bearwood and the other day I chuckled when I realised that the ancient Bear Goddess Artio has the root of the word “art” and woods have roots… so it felt somehow even more apt to think about photography in the way I do at the moment. Art seeking roots in Bearwood. I find that somehow poetic.
Naturally, most of you reading this will just think, this is the middle-class whining of a middle-aged white woman. And it is most certainly that. Because in reality what do I even have to complain about. Yet, I cannot help feeling this sadness, it’s just there and it just won’t go away. So exploring roots and belonging may be just the ticket to get me to a calmer place.