I love beauty in photography. However there is a school of thought that photographs are not supposed to be beautiful. To be taken seriously they must have edge, darkness, ambiguity, grit, deeper meaning, complexity. I agree with much of this. And all these qualities are ones that I admire in the work of others. Indeed I aspire to it. But the pursuit of this has often left me feeling somewhat lightweight. That I’m not good enough. That my pictures are never – well lets just say – they are never the opposite of beautiful. I often wondered was it because I had never had big lows in my life that needed exploring – an unhappy childhood, a tragedy, some inner demons that needed unravelling. Don’t get me wrong – I am beyond grateful that I’ve had such a pain free ride so far. But I wondered that without such adversity and angst would authenticity and real artistry elude me. I’ve wondered if I had such problems could I channel all that emotion – explore it through photography – and finally create something that could be called – art. Well now…The last few months have given me plenty of opportunity to explore the darker side of life. My mum has suffered the most devastating of illnesses – and gone from being a sprightly, joy loving and energetic, working 69 year old – to being a person who doesn’t even know who she is. Memory wiped – both long term and short term – in one weekend. She now requires 24 hour supervision and resides in a nursing home surrounded by people in equally dire circumstances. Carnage has been wreaked on my family. But we’re getting through it. Do I feel compelled to explore all this emotion through photographing it? Man alive there are so many photo opps in nursing homes! But it is the last thing I feel the need to do. Instead – I revisited this post which I never actually published at the end of last summer. These pictures below – which I looked at prior to Mum’s illness and thought – are they too pretty? too meaningless? I look at them now and feel a strength and a depth coming from them. They were taken on the porch, of the homeliest of houses on a sunny island last summer. Moments of quiet beauty presenting themselves to me. Moments that whisper – life is beautiful. They at once call to mind a passage from the film Stranger Than Fiction…
“As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort…an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives.”
These simple portraits, taken no doubt in moments between chaos, remind me that things can be ok. Things can be more than ok. Things can be bloody marvellous and wonderful and yes goddamnit they can be beautiful. And that, my friends, is what saves our lives…or at the very least…saves mine.
All pictures taken with Kodak Portra film
Quote taken from Stranger Than Fiction