Just Thinking: A Statement of Artistic Intent. Or, Why I Take Photographs.

"This is an obscure series that becomes even more interesting alongside your personal story. Much like you describe, photography is a language that expresses thoughts and emotions, often in poetic ways. There is a sense of suspense and uncertainty left with viewer, which is precisely what makes these images successful. You as a photographer have created a veil of sorts that doesn’t quite allow the viewer in. Our minds are constantly trying to make sense of what we are looking at (a dog behind a dirty window? a man walking down the street?). You have withheld the literal meanings of these images, and forced us to look further, question, and perhaps walk away without resolve." -Excerpt from an anonymous review of A Certain Distance from LensCulture.


When I received the above review it was the first time I thought to myself; Wow! I did it. I have somehow managed to express what I intended to another person. This is an interesting stage for a photographer, or any creator. As I think for many of us, verbalizing what we do and why we are doing it can be quite difficult. This is also the purpose of the, for me dreaded, letter of artistic intent. Personally, photography is an attempt to communicate beyond the boundaries of language. The problem becomes how to express your goals as an artist in a way that both clarifies your practice to a viewer but doesn't fall into the trap of explaining it. So, why do I take photographs?


I was never very interested in taking photographs. When I picked up my first camera it was a way of sharing time with someone I loved very much. A way of exploring the world we lived in and comparing views and discoveries. A dialogue that had a limitless potential. The relationship ended but I still think of photography that way. I am just no longer sure who I am talking to. I had no idea that simply picking up that cheap Russian film camera would lead to an obsessive fascination with the narrative possibilities of photography, or photo based work, and their physical processes. I am equally intrigued by new digital technologies, and the hybrid of digital negatives and alternative processes, as I am by the almost meditative process of images appearing as if by magic in a traditional darkroom. 


My favourite photographers, albeit very different in focus and style, are all story tellers. My current project, A Certain Distance, came into being with that realization. My early work, largely street photography from Japan, received generally positive feedback. However, there was one comment that kept reoccurring.  That the work had a sense of detachment, that the reviewers did not get a sense of my story, that there was not enough of me.  It was then I fell into a kind of trap because that distance/detachment is me. I also realized that I had found my story. That in order to get out of that trap and continue to develop as a photographer I would have to tell a secret I have struggled to keep hidden for almost forty years. 


A Certain Distance is a collection of photographic short stories exploring different aspects of living with mental illness. The project will be completed in book form as well as a series of editioned prints and multidisciplinary presentations. 'Surfacing' is the first of these short stories. It was meant as both an introduction and a way of introducing the other themes I am expanding on in more detail; dysthymia, chronic depression, derealization disorder and the often self-imposed isolation that comes about as an effect of these. The second, 'Still' which is a love story of sorts, is in the final stages of editing with two more stories planned and in various stages of completion. Mood disorders make the world smaller, you become trapped inside this slowly shrinking anorexic space. There is a strength in owning something, in speaking out. It allows you to step out of that space and for the possibility of new doors opening. 


There is always a first time for everything. Nothing is static, the goal is always to improve, to develop more, to take more chances and to learn from the failures and missteps that are inevitable, both as a photographer and storyteller. With that in mind I know that as time goes by this statement will change. Maybe even shortly after I publish it. For me this is the essence of it all. That continued quest, an intimate involvement with your subject, a personal vision that comes through in your work. I don't really know where this leads but I am endlessly curious to find out.