The One I Love - Exhibition and Private View

Scarlett publicity I'm working hard on my new exhibition 'The One I Love' which explores the relationship people with long term invisible conditions have with their pets.

Where : Free Space Project, Kentish Town Health Centre, 2 Bartholomew Road NW5 2BX

When : October 23rd - December 14th

Private View : October 23rd at 6.30pm to 8.30pm

Hope to see you there !

Naomi x

Living Differently - Holding the Gaze

Wall of meBack in 2013 I did an online photography course with Vivienne McMaster. Vivienne's work encourages her participants to "discover tools that will help you to cultivate a relationship of self-compassion both through the camera and in your every day life" (her words from the website), the premise being that self portraiture can help us look at ourselves with love and lessen the hold of self-criticism. It can be a radical act to show up in front of the lens and direct that gaze, that multi-facted honest gaze towards our most bullying critic - us. We can feel the earth shift when we direct a look of love towards ourselves instead.

A year before this I began using photography as a way to deal with living with chronic illness. After feeling trapped in my body I felt an enormous sense of relief capturing what was happening to me on camera. I was both the photographer and the subject and that allowed me to explore my feelings in depth without having them overwhelm me. The camera was a tool for both investigation and validating my experience. I began my self-portrait journey wanting to record the truth and the last thing I wanted was to 'play nice' for the camera. As I continued my work with Vivienne I learnt how to enjoy being in front of the lens. I found out that I was a worthy a subject as anyone I had turned my camera towards.

A few years have gone by and I'm still adapting to a life I did not choose, still looking for  my own story in the midst of change. The past 6 months have been very tough and I've got puffy and swollen in my face. This shouldn't matter, but it does. In an attempt to self-validate I forgot one thing - the constant passing of time. When I look at the photos above, all taken and processed on my phone, posing, pouting and beaming - I can also see someone trying hard to pretty herself for the lens. Looking at these pictures something is missing. Where is my body ? It's no coincidence that I live with an invisible illness.  I've managed to hide myself from myself.

Looking  again I can see that even the most processed of them are a part of my story. Some days I let my vulnerability show, others I shine with joy and then there are the times when I feel the only choice I have is to 'say cheese', hold my gaze and face the world.

Living Differently - Nothing is Beautiful

A week ago my solid, kind and adored therapist finally retired. I'm still numb from the ending of what has become one of my most important relationships to date. Every therapeutic relationship is different and ours evolved in to something far away from text books and theories and in to something imaginative, philosophical, supportive and ultimately saved my life more than once.  A few weeks before our final session we were talking about photography. I mentioned the work of Khalik Allah, whom I had only just discovered. I broke down in tears recalling the images of these New Yorkers - tough, broken and on the edge of survival. What struck me most is their vibrance. Yes, there's suffering here, addiction and poverty but there's also tenacity. That the photographs are in colour, deep saturated flourishing colour, spoke to me about the vitality of the human spirit. And that's why I wept. 'All photography captures life' I said 'Even if it's no longer there, it's the evidence that it has been. From the sky at night to a lamp on a table, to the people in the photographs, it's all about life. And because it's all about life it means that it's about beauty.' I thought about the photographic projects I've assigned myself since becoming ill - from taking pictures of the small and mundane, snapping the shutter at the same subject matter over days or weeks to my most recent project 'The View From Here'  (taken entirely from my bed during this recent crash). 'Even nothing is beautiful' I said.

My therapist smiled and repeated 'Nothing is beautiful' and in that moment we acknowledged both meanings inherent in this statement. The way I had originally meant it - even nothing is beautiful - and also remembering the despair I had taken to many session where I would arrive joyless and sad believing that there was no beauty in myself, or the world that I had access to. Nothing is beautiful, not this moment or any moment to come. But now my wish is that by stumbling on these words I can find moments, however short, where both the hope and hopelessness can live side by side. And that there will always be colour even in the most brutal of times.

Blooming

Bringing Art Home - an interview with photographer Supriya Sunneva Kolandavelu

I decided it was time to interview some photographers and find out what drives them to take pictures, Supriya Sunneva Kolandavelu, who brings to her work such a fresh and generous eye, talks about her own photographic journey.SONY DSC

What or who got you in to taking photographs and did you ever study it ?

My wonderful friend Craig Thomas, who is himself a self taught photographer, is a big inspiration for me. I borrowed a camera from a friend and later met up with Craig after getting Skype counselling on how to work with a camera. Craig was fast and eager to get me on track. He shared with me his wisdom about photography as well as taking me on several 'at home with Craig and on the road' workshops where he taught me what he could get into my stubborn mind. From there I was able to practice photography on a professional level. I have always had the eye but perhaps lacked the instrument to practice it until the last two years.

What sparks your imagination and inspires you ?

I think influences are all around me. I do believe that not only do I detect happiness through my own happy heart, but also evoke situations around me in which mirror my present mode, being happy. The same goes for sadness. When I feel sad and uncomfortable, I will in the same way provoke situations around me, so that I can have the space to express that feeling. I think that in order to express sadness, and relate in that way to other people's sadness, I have to allow the sadness to take me over. If I want to provoke happiness, I will have to provoke it within myself first.

What are you working on now ? I have a vision for creating projects that are produced by the public. I like co-operation rather then competition.I want to bring art home and encourage everyone to invest their time in healing themselves and their environment. I think sites like kickstarter or indigogo.com provide interesting possibilites in terms of getting a budget for a project, along with other sites where people exchange their skills for supporting their (and others) projects.

What have you learnt with your photography over the last few years ?

Being young and quite new in this area, the last couple of years have shaped me in many ways that are still appearing. Being behind the camera teaches one to remove oneself a little more, and to watch without interacting. That in itself has been a great lesson for me.

What matters most to you, how a photo looks or how it how it makes you feel ?

I get caught up in the moment, forgetting time and everything around me. When I realiced that the most beautiful things I have witnessed have happened when I was fully present I started wondering where these wonderful things came from. Nothing else was occupying my mind, for the moment to be good I have to be in it. I have to forget everything else but this moment, and notice it for what it is. If I can see it, it can be beautiful.

Can photography heal ?

I believe human feelings are connected up like a wire. I believe we have within us the healing power in which we tend to seek elsewhere, as all art comes from within.

How well can photography depict the truth and/or expand our knowledge of a world we do not know and have not seen ?

A great artist requires a great spectator. Wisdom comes from going away from oneself, only to come back to see what was always there but lacked an eye to look through.

Finally, please complete this sentence 'I love taking photographs because... I love taking photographs because it provokes a stillness within me and with an attentive mind, listening to my soul.

Seeing the World - an interview with photographer Rob Covell

I decided it was time to interview some photographers and find out what drives them to take pictures. Below is an interview with my friend Rob Covell. Rob has a deep humanity in him and an abhorrence of social injustice. As well as his great work I also admire him for sticking to his principles which he talks about in more detail here.selfportrait

What or who got you in to taking photographs and did you ever study it ? 

There have been a few factors, and I guess I don’t really explore the reasons until you ask me like that. 4 years ago I went to the Caribbean with my partner and took a cheap bridge camera and I couldn’t stop taking pics. That certainly sparked an underlying need for me to take photos. A year later I saw some beautiful photos on Flickr of a model, and I just thought how I’d like to take shots of my partner like that. The bridge camera was not allowing me to take control of the photos, so I bought an entry level DSLR. I’m self-taught plus whatever info I can cadge off other photographers.

What inspires you ?

My influences are really my passion for the things I photograph. I know little of the wider art form, so I couldn’t really name you many famous photographers that inspire me. I actually just like going through magazines or websites and will suddenly see a photo I really like. But as I said, for me photography is about capturing my passion, or the passion of the subject…or in some cases both! I see photography as a means to convey something, rather than just photography in itself. That also extends to issues in the world that I care about, where perhaps my photography can help give publicity or fresh angles.

What projects and photography you are working now ?

I’m working on a sports photography project and also looking to expand my fashion portfolio this year. I also want to get into wedding photography and really strengthen my overall portfolio.

Can photography heal ?

There is no question it can heal. For me personally coming off a recent illness, the relaxation and distraction photography has given me has been invaluable mentally. As for the subject… if I can take a photo that makes the subject see themselves in a positive light, say for example someone who doesn’t like their photo taken, and they are pleased with what they see… I guess that’s a mini-healing, or reconciliation with self. I love it when someone sees something about themselves that they like in a photo, particularly when camera shy.

In what ways is photography exploitative of its subject matter ?

I think this is a very deep and important question, with no doubt many perspectives to it. I personally avoid taking photos of suffering, eg. If I’m photographing a marathon, and someone hurts themselves, I find it gratuitous to zoom in on their agony. That extends wider to those photographing more serious human suffering, eg. In war zones. If what you photograph can make a difference to the subject’s plight, then there is an argument for the invasiveness of some photography. If it’s all about the photographic award of the shot, then I have a problem justifying it. I regularly photograph protests against Deaths in Custody, and I’m very wary of how raw the emotions are of those who have been bereaved and unjustly treated. It’s a responsibility not to step over a line in conveying what needs to be told, and putting out a family or loved ones personal desperation.

Another angle on this is the exploitation of women. I have strong views on how women are portrayed in the media, and at the same time my photography has recently moved into the realms of fashion/models, although this is not exclusively female of course. But I feel a personal responsibility to what I maybe portraying in my pictures and to the subject. I won’t manipulate photos for example, and I won’t use a shot that the model doesn’t like. I firmly believe in re-addressing media/social perceptions of what is feminine and what is beauty and that’s something I hope to develop.

Finally, please complete this sentence 'I love taking photographs because...' It helps me convey what I see and what I love and lets me see the world with new eyes.

Divine Symmetry - an interview with photographer Craig Thomas

I decided it was time to interview some photographers and find out what drives them to take pictures. Below my good friend, Vermont based photographer, Craig Thomas shares what inspires him. SONY DSC

What or who got you in to taking photographs and did you ever study it ?

I am self taught and got into it after a great catastrophe. I find it very healing. I had been used to working in groups and am very highly motivated, I find the solitude of photography much more appealing and it also makes me much more effective in my output.

What sparks your imagination and inspires you ?

I find classical arts very inspiring - my work seems to fit the music of Beethoven, Vivaldi, Bach et al. I am trying to achieve a similar 'epic' quality in my own work. I am also heavily influenced by the arcane arts. My research into divine symmetry has led me to the world of alchemy, hermetics, science and ancient cultures.

What projects are you working on now ?

Right now I am working on a book out here in Vermont, I have collected a large body of work on my three year journey. Now that i find myself in a new country with a new life it will be helpful for me to have a way to show people 'the best of'. I love displaying my work in print more than any other medium.

Film or digital ?

Digital for work as it makes life very easy and inexpensive but ultimately film is the master, nothing beats it.

What matters most to you, how a photo looks or how it how it makes you feel ? I was watching an interview with Nan Goldin the other day and she said, unsurprisingly, that when she was shooting it was all about how she felt. The composition and artistry was the second stage, when she got the negatives back. In a sense she gets in very close and then removes herself.

I have no attachment to the work i create itself, to me it's the innate nature of being a photographer - collecting flattened moments of a reality distilled through my own thoughts and feelings. If a photo gets stolen take a better shot. If I lost all my work somehow, shoot it all again. I find that my ability and perspective increases rapidly so i often go back an re-edit work.

As for actual shooting, it's all about the knowing and the trust that I'm letting the events infront of my camera unfold. Framing for me is important but there is also a moment in time that I'm looking to capture. That's the moment when my subject let's their guard down for that split second.

Can photography heal ?

For me photography has created the single greatest healing experience I have had, and continues to do so. I found that reviewing my work gives me a great sense of where I was at at the time of shooting. I then remember the story of the shoot itself, so as well as analysing my work I can also analyse myself at the same time. I find the more at peace I am with myself the better my work. These two things are congruent in creating focussed and strong work.

Finally, please complete this sentence 'I love taking photographs because.....

...it helps me answer questions in a way that nothing else can.

The Language of Movement - an interview with photographer Kim-Leng Hills

I decided it was time to interview some photographers and find out what drives them to take pictures. The compelling image below is by Kim-Leng Hills whose personal story is an inspiration, as is her work. Kim Leng Hills

What or who got you in to taking photographs ?

I was about 16 and was working my way towards being an illustrator,  I was obsessed with drawing and had just been accepted at at the century old Byam Shaw School of Art. I loved observing people, situations, life, everything around me. I'd get my friends to model for me, and I'd see if I could draw them as precisely and quickly as possible using inks. My Dad gave me his 1970's Cosina SLR and I would sneak out of school to go venturing with a friend of mine round the whole of North Kent, photographing onto Ilford film as we went. When the film had been processed, I'd then turn them into illustration infused images. Drawing over photographs with inks.

I also had an obsession with Jackson Pollock. I used to take the train to London to sit at the Tate and stare at 'Summertime Number 9A' seeing if I could find something new about it the longer I stared at it. I loved how Pollock would devote his mind into the language of movement and lines, completely creating ground-breaking work that had never been seen before. It was seeing a black and white photograph captured of him by photographer Hans Namuth that triggered my passion for Photo-documentary. As soon as I got my first debit card, I bought a Hans Namuth photograph of Jackson Pollock painting in his barn.

What sparks your imagination and inspires you ?

MUSIC! My Dad worked on the pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, and as a child I grew up listening to a wide variety of music and playing the piano, violin and the guitar. If you'd asked me who my favourite band was when I was 7, you would've gotten "The Mamas & Papas, Queen, Holst, Elgar and Debussy" as an answer. In my head, they all went together. So music has always been there as a lifeline for me throughout my entire life.

My Dad. As I've grown older, I've discovered more of his work he's kept hidden and not really shouted about. Turns out he loved making his own films and had produced a series of super-8 films of life in Malaysia when he'd met my Mum, and had put his own music to the footage. His photographic work is also incredible. Finding gems like these that have allowed me to learn more about my family over the years has definitely inspired me to keep going with my own work.

I could list a vast number of Photographic artists who inspire me, but if anything, its the people that I meet who inspire me the most. I teach full-time at the moment too, so surrounding myself with 11 to 18 year olds is one of the most inspirational places I've had the joy of being in for 12 hours a day!

The last exhibition you saw that you'd recommend ?

The last Photography exhibition I went to was Tom Stoddart's 78 Perspectives at London Riverside last Summer. Each image either made me want to weep or gave me goose-bumps.  Photo-documentary can create a huge impact when used in the right way. I ended up orbiting this exhibition for about an hour; the work was mesmerising and most definitely life affirming.

What projects are you working on now ? 

Currently, my life revolves around teaching full-time at a new Creative Media secondary school in London. On the weekends or evenings, I'm working on composing the score and sound design for a new theatre production by Alex Gwyther called 'Our Friend The Enemy' based on the Christmas Truce.

Photography-wise, I am often over in Devon with EarFilms helping document the development of their beautiful story-telling company.  I co-run a non profit organisation known as Art Is The Cure.

What has photography taught you ?

That photography can start mass community projects, and is an excellent way to challenge yourself. Through photography I have achieved dreams I've never thought would happen, such as making a book with Kevin Spacey and Steve Lazarides, meeting and working alongside Eddie Izzard, or giving lectures for the Tate Galleries.

Film or digital ?

Film. It's organic. The process of having to develop your own prints connects the photographer to the entire 'way' of photography. Generations miss the opportunity to know what it's like to have to wait. I teach students that once upon a time, we used to have to wait a week before we could see our images.

What matters most to you, how a photo looks or how it how it makes you feel ?

Both. When I photograph something, the image will come across a hell of a lot stronger if I've connected to the subject in the first place. It's why I love photographing live performance more than I do Fashion or Commercial. If the subject is interacting with the camera, if they are in their element, a moment where they're staring off into space, or reflecting any essence of themselves, then the image will be powerful. Technique can dance around how the subject 'performs', with practice; the technical side of things becomes second nature, and your brain and fingers and doing everything without you having to think about it. All you care about is coining the Decisive Moment as Henri Cartier Bresson so perfectly put it. The most powerful images can often come about completely unexpectedly.

Can photography heal ?

The notion to 'heal' can possibly mean to resolve something, or to perhaps create a sense of inner peace or calm. I strongly believe that photography can do that. For a start, it makes you stop, shut up, and just look, right? It makes you study something in detail and it also evokes some form of emotion.  Take a look at Tom Stoddart's work for example; it's shot with the purpose of finding beauty within the pain. Then there's someone like Gregory Crewdson who will get an entire neighbourhood to create a photographic scene, working with these people for however long the project takes.

Photography has helped me face my own self-doubts. During times of great suffering I have picked up my camera, climbed mountains and battled hail storms. It has taken me to where Ansel Adams found his inspiration, made me really stop and look. And feel. And put the camera down.

In what ways is photography exploitative of its subject matter ?

I remember when I first started working with the incredible teens at Teens Unite Fighting Cancer. These amazing people were dealing with life-limiting illnesses and teaching me so much about life and what they go through every day. Then there were strangers I met on the street, be it workers or the homeless. I was constantly inspired and wanted to begin a guerrilla project of plastering their faces on walls during the night, so that when the people of London awoke, they would suddenly see faces of ordinary people looking over the city. I wanted to share their stories and call it "Invisible Heroes". I had the backing of ITV in collaboration with my organisation Art Is The Cure  and it was one of the first projects [my Director] Rich and I wished to do about 3 years ago, but eventually fell through simply because of the idea of 'exploitation'. I  wanted to show the fact that we all struggle, we all have our stories to tell.

How well can photography depict the truth and/or expand our knowledge of a world we do not know and have not seen ?

Take Jeff Wall for example -- how he cleverly gets actors to re-enact scenes, or to create false moments, but photographs them in such a way that they seem genuine and/or following what conforms to a Decisive Moment. It simply underlines the fact that we can so easily take a photograph as truth regardless of it being manipulated. I am constantly fascinated by impermanence and the fact that everything is constantly changing. Photographs can be said to capture 'evidence' of what something looks like, or once looked like, in order to educate us of what is 'fact' and what is 'fiction'. Because we can see it, we tend to believe it.

Finally, please complete this sentence 'I love taking photographs because.....'

I love taking photographs because I love going into another world and feeling a part of me become 'freed'. When I first started getting into photography, I realised I fell in love with being able to spot things other people usually missed. It's why I loved Street Photography so much. I could easily walk around unnoticed and capture things with a telephoto lens, or a fixed 50mm, and get images of situations or moments that no one else had realised was going on. Then when you look at the image for even longer, you suddenly notice other parts about it too. I think part of me is drawn to capturing the human spirit; what keeps us alive, what keeps us buzzing, and how we treat ourselves and each other. Maybe that's what draws me to photographing the devastating and beautiful aspects of human life. From professional dancers, straight through to famous artists, or a random act of kindness.

 

Looking at Daylight - an interview with photographer Aaron Graubart

I decided it was time to interview some photographers and find out what drives them to take pictures. First up is New York based photographer, Aaron Graubart, whose immaculate image you can see below. AaronGraubart

What or who got you in to taking photographs ? Are there any specific life events that drew you to it initially ?

When I was a small child, David Attenborough’s “Life On Earth” TV series and accompanying books made me want to be a wildlife photographer. My first photographs were taken with my fathers camera in the garden, trying to photograph plants and insects. My first successful photograph was of a friend’s dog, Wilbur,  lying on a bed on a white blanket. I was struck by how the sunlight coming through the window lit the folds in the blanket. I guess I’ve been taking essentially the same photograph over and over again ever since.

What sparks your imagination and inspires you ?

Paintings, Drawings, Books, Films, Looking at daylight and how it behaves, rarely other photographers.

Film or digital ?

The important thing is the image - how it was made is irrelevant to me.

What matters most to you, how a photo looks or how it how it makes you feel ?

If a photograph isn’t intensely beautiful (whatever that means) it is unlikely to make me feel much of anything at all.

Finally, please complete this sentence 'I love taking photographs because.....

I love taking photographs because it makes me feel useful.

Living Differently - Terror in the Body

8241699797_777fb7e767_c This is a photograph I took a few months ago of my bed. The title, 'Home', will hopefully mean something to the thousands like me who live with chronic illness and spend a lot of time housebound. The idea for this blog has been floating around my head for some time but I was reluctant to put finger to keyboard and write it. So much of my conversations these days seem to begin with the phrase 'since becoming ill...' and if I was bored by this opening gambit I could pretty much be assured that others would be too.

I have a variety of diagnoses - Lyme Disease, Chronic Fatigue/M.E and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. On top of that I have lived with depression in varying degrees most of my adult life. Looking at this comely list I immediately sink in to shame. Although I know it's not my fault that this has happened to me I cannot help feeling I have been invaded by positive thinking body snatchers and should just pull myself together. Needless to say I would never judge others this harshly but there it is, the protestant work ethic leaking in to my daily thoughts and the idea that if I just tried harder I could magic myself well.

Thankfully I have learnt a number of techniques to counteract this tsunami of self-blame, one of the most helpful being a beginner's mindfulness. Even if it is for moments only I investigate my feelings thoroughly, where (if anywhere) they are located in my body and try to find words to describe the sensations. At that moment I become both the observer and the observed and it can give me a fleeting sense of freedom. But what really works is having a continuing creative process and, as I have written elsewhere on this blog, photography has been a bigger help than I could have ever imagined when I very first picked up a camera as a teenager.

2012 was a tough year. It is hard to describe the grieving process of becoming ill with no (immediate) hope of getting better. Everything changes. My life before my current state was not an endless fairground ride of jollity and excitement but I was unaware of how much freewill I possessed. Now my stamina and energy are so low I have become the flakey friend I often used to feel intolerant of. Every arrangement, from making my bed, having a friend over for half an hour, on bad days even cooking myself a meal - can be cancelled at the last minute. I live this new life in pencil, not pen.

Once I could earn my own living and as much as I would like to say this did not impact on my self-worth having to depend on benefits can make me feel infantilised. In short my independence, of both thought and action, was something that were so tightly wound to my identity that losing these to the degree I have feels like a living bereavement.

I am homesick for what I now feel is my 'old life'. Even though I know I am romanticising a past which almost certainly did not exist the way I paint it. I came to realise that my experience of depression was a help to me. I had already encountered such feelings of despair, ones I thought I would never flee but somehow miraculously did. I knew this landscape well, how utterly convincing it was that there would be no sunlight again after the dark night fell. Also, and I cannot emphasise this enough, therapy helped. Therapy really helped.

I had a hunch there was a through-line in my life experience. That's where I got the title of this blog. I have always been scared, on some level. Sometimes I have managed to muffle that fear with frantic activity, over-eating, sex, or any number of fleeting distractions and encounters. Now I live with an illness with an unsure prognosis, in a country where benefits for the sick are being eroded and, for good measure, having to move out of my beloved home of 20 years plus, fear is not something I can bury any longer. The foundations really are crumbling.

But this is not new. I never felt at home in myself, or to the degree I wished for, in the world out there. I have always been afraid of something, of a future where the sky falls, of people I love and depend upon dying, of not being able to survive. And although there are many days I hate my illness with an acidic intensity I realise I also have a begrudging gratitude for what it has offered me. I no longer have to wear a mask. It has been torn from me and I can now face the terror. There is no where left to hide. And this, at long last, is where I begin my journey.

Picture This – Naomi Woddis ‘How Light Falls’

Many superlative writers responded to a portfolio of my photography for a project called Picture This. I also worked with photographer and film-maker Craig Thomas, on a short film entitled Still Life, containing a selection of these images. Below is my contribution. At first I was reluctant to write a poem and, to be honest, the poem came before the photograph but I hope that the glaring sky with its scudding clouds is an apt partnering for my words.

How Light Falls

In between the spaces, more spaces. How light falls here. But not here. And how shadows have their own words for things even time cannot explain -

Here it ends. Here it begins again. Here it ends. And so on.

We can learn a lot from the language of light. Or those so ill they cannot recall anything other than this, and what breath and blinking means to those who cannot even carry air in their palms.

The cry of coupling foxes sounds worse to me than it does for them, or a cat wanting breakfast. Even the gulls cry is misleading.

Like all the photographs ever taken what looks like an edge, a beginning, a story is nothing more than a wish for something that has passed.

We cannot hold on to much anyway. I learnt this late on in the day.

What sounds like a shout could be a victory, the yell of defeat, or nothing at all.

Light falls here, and here. Darkness, shadow. Everything the air touches is right and true.