Thursday, 3 January 2013

Reflecting on 2012

It's that time of year again, to reflect on what has happened in the last year. This year it seems to fall under the heading of Soul Work.

The Soul Work of Celebrating.
For a long time I struggled with celebrating - I hated Christmas and my birthday, I struggled with weddings and parties, I didn't know how to be in them and feel how I actually felt. I remember making a commitment to myself about 9 years ago to try and relearn the art of celebrating, and slowly I pieced together a new way of being able to navigate those times. My role as wedding photographer has been a part of this therapy ... of stepping into other people's day of celebrations and getting a privileged 'behind the scenes' view of the reality of things. It soothes my previously twang-able raw nerves. In my role I get to see how families interact, their pressure points and their affections. I get to overhear and observe how these groups have integrated painful events into their narratives, how tenderly the gaps left by lost loved ones have been incorporated into a happy occasion, how skilfully family ruptures and wounds have been soothed and negotiated, how illness has changed people and their relationships. I get to see people practising the art of celebration, not because everything is easy and perfect, but when it has been fought for and worked at. I get to see how people arrive at these occasions carrying so much in the way of history and humanness, that they hold so much in the way of story, both of pain and connection, and how they weave these aspects together with each other, and with the tone of celebrations. This has soothed me to be a part of, both to observe and normalise my own hidden pains, but also to genuinely participate in the act of celebration, offering up a part of myself to the process of celebrating these people and the archetypes they represent.

The Soul Work of De-Ghosting:
Last new year I talked about feeling like a ghost and wanting to learn how to earth myself when my role is to capture other people's lives. One way I have done this has been by having some physical products to take to markets and sell. Holding products has brought a different sense of satisfaction, of lingering with the end results a little longer, of hearing new stories emerge from from the images by sitting with them longer. This has helped to balance what can often feel too much like a data exchange, involving much ethereal computer time and too little time earthed in a real context. Engaging with customers over a market stall has been a really important soul experience, of letting myself exist in real time with real work that already exists, of interacting with others and being able to tell the stories of the images and find out new stories in return. For example: 

A lady asked where this photo had been taken - it turned out is was the same place her parents lived which has been a stomping ground for her and her family for many years. I was able to describe which tea shop to find these in and she told me of the great penny farthing race which is held there every ten years. I have marked 2020 in the diary to visit the next one.

My Aunt saw this and said "Oh yes, Grandad was an oddfellow". I didn't think this was entirely called for until she explained that the Oddfellows was a friendly society. Membership protected workers against the cost of injury or illness; a pre welfare-state community insurance. This street sign in Norfolk (where my Grandad was from) would have been were a local group met.

A jovial chap bought this card for his Dad who, he explained, had been in a parachute regiment. Dan was then able to whip out his "when I jumped out of a plane" story from when this photo was taken and we could both re-live what it took to get him there and the experience of free-falling and letting go.

It has also been a very stroking experience, to see people like images enough to buy them, to see them giggle  and delight in different things. It might not have been the most profitable experience in terms of money-to-effort ratio, but it was more than profitable in terms of wellbeing.

Oh and to continue the thread of de-ghosting, it's always interesting to receive a photo of myself in action - here I am contemplating the wonder of magnificent dance skills whilst accidentally miming doing a poo.
(photo by Paul Easton)

The Soul Work of Connection:
This year has seen a few examples of connections re-emerging and strengthening, which has done wonders for establishing my knowledge that I exist and marking that existence over time. This has often involved seeing brides after the event, for a host of different reasons. Sometimes this has been to connect over the business/creative side, as previous brides have set up as photographers and wedding planners. Sometimes this has been seeing brides at weddings of their friends (sometimes with babies in tow). This involved serendipitously doing a wedding in the church my father-in-law was vicar of way-back-when my husband was a bairn. One lovely example was visiting a bride to do a portrait shoot for her daughters first birthday, and being able to meet the whole family again in a non-wedding context, to chat and catch up, as well as to see images from the day adorning their walls as if I had stepped in to my own art show. I have enjoyed how sometimes friendships emerge and establish way beyond the wedding-client relationship. All of these encounters have been so valuable to me, in affirming my business ethos of putting relationship first, of countering what can involve many hours sat alone processing data, and redressing when the balance of being the observer and participant has become top-heavy.

All of these things have been an incredibly valued part of my third year engaging in this photography adventure, and I cherish them now I have space to look back with a wide angle lens. I remember an Alain de Botton tweet, "Time to leave a job is not when it's difficult or frustrating, but when it's ceased teaching you things": it is valuable to see that however much this role creates tussle in my emotions of doubt, worth and ability, and stretches my body to painful levels, that this particular manifestation of sustaining life is still doing just that. And so, on to a visual recap of some of my favourite images.

All images ©KateCooperPhotography2012