Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Reflecting on 2013 | Part One

Er, it's nearly March, so reflecting on 2013 now might seem a little out of sequence. However, in the past I've found it helpful to look back and look forward so gosh darn it if I'm not going to go ahead and do it anyway, despite the very welcome signs of spring.

Last spring really took it out of me. I was finishing off my degree of six years, getting quite churned up over my final dissertation, and at the same time I had quite a heavy wedding workload which stretched me emotionally to new levels. This doesn't really express the weight of what was going on internally, but to say I fell apart would be something of an understatement. It took quite a joint effort from other people in my world to support me in putting myself back together again. I'm not going to go into all the whys and wherefores, of all the processes of falling apart and finding my way through that - perhaps it would be good if I did, I know how much I value the candidness of others in these things - but the prospect of doing that put me off writing this post until nearly March, so instead I'll just share some of the aspects that relate to my photography work.

Regaining my perspective. I went on holiday in June and just couldn't face taking my camera. It seemed like it would only create work and pressure whilst removing me from the moment in hand. I needed a break from all those things. Once I was there without my camera I realised that I also really missed it. I didn't miss the admin of editing. I didn't miss the internalised pressure to interpret everything creatively. I didn't miss the choice between really being in a moment or capturing it. But ... I did miss the opportunity to digest my environment in a way that created something. I did miss archiving memories of people and emotion. I did miss reflecting back to myself through what I chose to see. I was very grateful that friends stepped in and did some of these things for me during this week, memories and environment were both captured. But I also think that it was a very valuable process to choose to leave my camera behind and rediscover some of the things I like about it through not having it.

Refining my philosophy. Due to a strange series of events I was invited to take part in a BBC Breakfast discussion on taking photos on holiday. I found the process of preparing, thinking and discussing really helpful in both identifying what is important to me about photography (memory, archiving and play), and in helping revilatise me in going forward. These were not necessarily the same philosophies as some of the other people I met in the green room, or of other photographers whose perspectives I sometimes read. But, there is room for more than one way of being and more than one way of thinking. Finding and refining my own ideas was very useful to me, both in my photography world and in finishing off my degree (which I graduated from, huzzah!!).


Rediscovering my play. We humans have a capacity to take ourselves very seriously, I wonder if it helps us feel legitimate. This is something that I can get very caught up in, both by participating in the wedding industry (which can take itself incredibly seriously) and by running my own business (which invites all sorts of perspectives on how one is 'supposed' to approach money, time, busy-ness, success etc). It's easy to get caught up in narratives that I don't actually hold to. When I internalise other people's ideas on weddings or professionalism or creativity or technique, all I do is make myself insufficient and miserable. When I focus on what my instinct and my internal drivers are whispering to me I enjoy my work more, both in the process and the results.

A big focus of the summer was to reconnect with my sense of play; to value the importance of it rather than downgrade it to merely a childish pursuit. I was drawn to photography because of play. I like to watch people at play, I like to show people at play, I like to be at play, I like to play with rules and ideas. Yet somehow play didn't seem a worthy enough pursuit for me to feel legitimate. I 'should' be capturing something deep and profound, something edgy or provocative ... shouldn't I?. Someone wise said that play seemed to do very deep and meaningful things in me, so maybe I should let myself see it as deep and meaningful. I liked this very much and have been letting this sentence seep in to my skin since he said it. I have enjoyed reconnecting with play in my life; buying a hammock, climbing trees, and expressing my inner eight year old, lighting fires ... all have helped validate play for me.



To reconnect with play in my work I started doing some free portrait shoot offers; taking money out of the equation helped give me permission to play again, to work from my own drive rather than what might be expected by the audience, to allow creativity that might have been squashed by expectation. I started setting aside some time at weddings for experimenting on something, something that wouldn't matter if it didn't work out. This gave me room to expand a little without fear or failure.

I also started playing more with non paid projects. It had become to easy to only use the camera for other people, so it was liberating to choose a project to work on for myself. My focus became colour and decay; exploring the beauty of things breaking down. This may well have been to reflect my own emotional processes, although I wasn't conscious of this at the time.

 Behind closed doors, the hidden world of S3

 Sheffield in colour: beauty in breakdown

Downtown Charleston SC - as yet unnamed.



Thank-you to everyone in 2013 who has been a part of this process: the therapists who have worked things through with me, the friends who have walked life with me, the couples and families who have hired me and laughed with me and trusted me to reflect back what I see, the many children who have entertained me at weddings and during portraits, letting me join in on their play and offering up their many wonderful ways without judgement or question. Both knowingly and unknowingly you have all helped to challenge, heal and sustain me.

(The portrait shoot that kept on giving; with every photo I took this little man offered me back a cuddle)


So ... on to reflecting on the year in photographs. I'm splitting this into two sections as this post is already very long! First up are portraits, tomorrow I'll put up weddings.

All images ©KateCooperPhotography2013

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