Pain and distress is as much as aspect of our experience as love and happiness. Often we only honor the comfortable aspect of ourselves, while pretending, or avoiding the aspects that give us pain. Turning our attention to our lesser-loved, and more troubling feelings gives us access to parts of ourselves that need to be heard, held and helped. Sadness can connect us to the truth of our pain, the honour of our experiences, and the ability to move past it to something better.
In the early weeks of 2014, I was completely overtaken by The Artist. S(he) wanted to see if other people were hiding pain too.
I wanted to know if other people would experiment with their sadness, and see if they could make some progress with their own pain. They didn’t really understand what I was doing, and luckily they didn’t care. They were brave, and they trusted that it was worth trying. The agreement was that no one had to participate, but once they did, the image was mine to keep. I used one image from each subject, as part of a collective project.
It took about 7 weeks to shoot 19 people. I had no problem finding volunteers, but a few people backed out at the last minute, understandably.
Some thought it would be difficult to cry for no reason, but once we got down to it, the tears often started on the interview couch. I was not surprised to find out that everyone had something to cry about.
There were aching, soulful sobs, and tight, angry tears, and sad lonely tears of things long ago left behind. I shot 19 women, and each story is unique. The tears are easy to spot, but are hard to look at sometimes.
The process allowed me to connect personally with things that used to be ideas. Areas of expertise that no person wants to claim. I can’t explain what happens when you see yourself in a way you didn’t expect. Or when you find your face looks fierce and proud when you thought it would look weak. What a pleasant and grateful truth to see a warrior in the mirror, and not a mouse.
Around the same time, there was a photographer that got a lot of attention for the images he shot of John Schneider crying on a shoot for a show called ‘The Haves and Have Nots”. I had not seen these images, although they happened right around the same time that I was absorbed in my self-portrait series. The parallels were obvious.
JS had just lost his father, and he allowed the photographer to capture images of his pain, after the required images for the show were complete. I thought they were breathtakingly beautiful. Some of the people who had seen my project sent me the link to the photographs.
I always loved John Schneider when he was on the Dukes of Hazzard. I loved him even more after I saw these images.
I understood these images more than most, and I thought it ironic that these sort of feelings are welcomed and congratulated as brave when it’s done by a celebrity. I don’t know what I had expected from my own set of images. I imagined they would be experienced as uncomfortable and interesting. I thought people might be interested in exploring the boundaries of experiencing emotional pain, and discussing the feelings the images provoke. I thought there was some value to looking at the opposite of the feelings I was regularly being paid to produce. I thought it was art.
I was so wrong.
Someday I believe these images will be seen by the people who will understand them. Maybe then I will understand why they were so important to me that I destroyed my career, and my comfortable, veneer-covered life to make them.
I hope I will be able to know why I spent all of my waking time thinking of these images, and trying to make more. Something in me wanted to be certain I knew I was deeply unhappy. I believe most people are deeply unhappy in many ways, but are so brainwashed by the way we ‘live’ that they can no longer feel their disconnect.
I realize it’s probably only art when a famous person does it. I think JC’s images are powerful and real. This is the only kind of work I’m interested in creating any more, and there seems to be little market for it.
How will I ever sell people on the idea that feeling their own real, authentic feelings, is the gateway to a life connected to the real world. In this place, there are no tv’s or cell phones. There is nothing to distract you from the job of being human, and reveling in your own experience of life.
The paradox? You must awaken to your own discomfort, to live the way you are meant to live.