Those familiar with this blog will recognise that some considerable time has elapsed since my last entry. I’ll be upfront and tell you this was down to a bout of ‘winter blues’. I entered Part 5 of FiP around the end of 2017 and with the falling of the mercury and the shortening of the days my energy and enthusiasm ebbed away. And to be fair there was lot to ebb away: the feedback I received from my tutor for Assignment 4 was really positive and constructive and I bounced out of Part 4 on quite a high. I was beginning to see how FiP was helping to develop me as someone who expressed their creativity through photography. I would never have said that of myself at the beginning of this journey.
But I can’t help but feel I’m hiding behind the label ‘winter blues’. Yeah, I like a lots of others get a bit down-in-the-dumps in the colder months but last winter was a bit different. Readers of this blog will know that the last couple of years have been difficult, with my partner having had treatment for cancer. But thankfully, the treatment has been successful and last December, a year after her operation, she was told it hadn’t returned. Naturally, there was ‘whoops and shrieks’, and ‘high fives’ all around and it meant we could start living our lives again. And while it was immensely positive news to hear, looking back, I have to acknowledge the whole experience had left me somewhat washed-up and washed-out.
So, that was my mindset at the start of FiP Part 5. I did consider turning the camera on myself for this final assignment, the beauty of which, allows the students to chose their own topic. Not unrelated to the stresses and strains of recent months I had started to gain weight. My keenness for cycling had diminished to about zero and I now had a wardrobe filled with clothes that didn’t fit anymore. The grand plan was start 2018 with a new zeal: eat less, drink less, get back on the bike and burn some calories; after all it worked before. But no, in my state of mind this wasn’t going to happen.
I did try to photograph this, what amounted to a New Year’s resolution for the Assignment 5, and while avoiding the obvious self-portrait approach I found it just too intimate. I suppose I was recording a personal failure and it wasn’t something I wanted to share with the world. Hats off to artists like Jo Spence who could do just this sort of work but at the time, it wasn’t for me.
Throughout the ups and downs of the last couple of years I’ve never really stopped taking photographs. Even when the motivation was too low to press on with my studies I still carried my camera with me. It’s mentioned in more depth elsewhere in this blog but I have become interested in trees. And there is one tree in particular that I keep returning to. I suppose it has become something of a muse but I keep visiting it and photographing it from different positions and in different light throughout the calendar. It’s an old lime tree that clings on to existence despite its broken boughs and dead branches. It looks like it’s lived a life and feels quite allegorical for the journey my life has taken of late.
In mid January (2018) I called by the tree to take some images in the morning light. This wasn’t FiP photography, it was my own on-going work. For FiP I was still trying to get my head around the ‘autobiographical’ dieting theme. I took a few shots, for some reason the auto focus wasn’t behaving itself and so I switched to manual, I took some more and then moved closer to the tree. I lifted the camera to my eye and there in the viewfinder I found a solution to my Assignment 5 problem.
I wasn’t looking for a solution to my photographer’s block and perhaps that’s why it was all more surprising when it revealed itself. But looking at the out of focus branches in the viewfinder had a resonance with my mental health at the time. I certainly had some of the NHS website’s symptoms of ‘winter blues’ (lethargy, tiredness, reduced enthusiasm) and the images I went on to make connect with how I felt at the time. I took take several out of focus photos, often recording varying degrees of out of focus for the same image. Over the coming days I returned to the tree and explored this theme several times.
This exploration continued in postproduction. I’m not one for extremes of manipulation but I have explored enhancing the vignetting in some of the images. The most time consuming of all was the idea of producing the images in a square format. I felt this somehow connected with the difficulty in decision-making I had been experiencing with my photography. The square format being neither up nor down, landscape or portrait seems to echo this state of mind. However, while I still like the concept, the square image series did not work as well as the one made in landscape format. The latter reflected my state of mine better than the square format.
Well, there it is, Assignment 5 completed. I’ve attached the contact prints for both the square and landscape versions to allow others to compare, and constructive feedback is always welcome. I consider it an exploration of my mental state at the beginning of 2018 as described above. And in case anyone is left wondering, I’m now feeling a lot better and getting back to my old self – I’m even back on my bike!
Contact Sheets: Landscape Ass 5 v1 –
Contact Sheets: Square Ass 5 v2 –