Well, 15 days into the new year…and how come it feels like 150 days since we celebrated that milestone? Its been a whirlwind of emotion, if not activity. But, I had a wonderful day. I met up with Lk-, my former flatmate as he was in London for the day and we had a long (not boozy) 2 hour lunch, talking about men, relationships, banking, milkshakes and Italy. Mostly it was about men and relationships. And milkshakes. It was interesting to listen to the perspective of someone who has been in a relationship with someone for his entire adult life. My view on relationships has really changed.
It isn’t like I’ve had very many of them, but I have a much different view on them. I am a bit wary of them at the same time that I would like to be with my soulmate. But what is a soulmate? I’m not sure I know anymore. I have always thought it was someone with whom you share interests, values and some goals but also someone who ‘gets’ you and who accepts you exactly as you are. At different points of my life I’ve thought that would mean spending deep and intense time together and also being happy being apart but having that golden thread that connects us by the heart or soul or whatever (not pants) keeping us together even when apart. At other times, I’ve felt it is someone without whom I wouldn’t want to live. I guess having a long distance relationship where I saw him only once a month or once every 6 weeks wasn’t enough for me. Living with him – that was WAY too much. But then…he wasn’t my soul mate. So, after 50 years of living, I’ve learned a lot about relationships and I feel I know nothing at all.
After lunch, I went off to see Vivian Maier’s exhibition. It was a small exhibition and I’d love to see much more of her work. I had offered Lk- to join me but it isn’t his thing and secretly, (although now that it is on the internet, its not much of a secret, is it?), I was glad he declined. I prefer to look at art alone. I’ve said it before. I don’t know why. I could theorize and justify but it is what it is. When I see a piece I like, I will talk to strangers about it, but I don’t want to divide my attention. And, perhaps that is another reason why I don’t like art openings – although it is becoming a thing I have to do to attend openings in order to support the artist. In that case, I don’t mind at all that I am not really there to look at art but to support them. I usually go back after to have a good look at their pieces, alone, anyway.
Anyway, I digress…I was struck by Vivian Maier’s story. She was an interesting character. I suppose, from what I’ve read about her, that she wanted to remain unknown in her lifetime for her photography. She was a loner but she clearly loved people. I am fascinated by people and I love to shoot people. I ended up filling my instagram account with street art sort of by accident because looking at art was less energy consuming that looking at people. Lately I have been craving people again. Even this summer, at a street art event, what really interested me was the artist I came to see. I took candid photos of him painting and he never knew I was shooting them. I sent him the photos of himself and deleted them from my camera because they can’t ever be used and best they not get found by anyone else (street art is not always legally painted, though on that occasion, it was). He is a beautiful man – full of tattoos and singularly focused when he is painting. I find myself wanting to know his story and wanting to know him. And yet – I never said hello. I interact with him on instagram but I never said hello. How strange is that? For me, there is something in the watching and observing that tells me a great deal about a person. And, of course, maybe I like to make up the story. I am a feeling and intuitive type. I like to take things in while being anonymous. I like to observe. When one begins to relate, one loses that ability to be the watcher. Hell, I guess I’m a voyeur.
There is a little Vivian Maier in me. And, I understand the desire for anonymity. I have written online for nearly a decade but I never tried to gain a following and I never wrote under my own name before. This year it has been different. Writing under my own name feels uncomfortable and there are times when it inhibits what I say. There is a part of me that envies Vivian Maier her very private photography habit. And at the same time, I am deeply saddened that she never completed her life’s work and her negatives sat undeveloped in a storage locker while she slipped away in poverty. In a way that story scares me because all women have a fear (according to the Jungians) of ending up a homeless bag lady. I feel that fear as I get older and I have no children or nannied children who might take mercy on me. Like all art, I am drawn to the women who make it. There are obvious reasons for that I am a woman. But it is more – their POV is often different to that of a man. What I liked most about Vivian Maier’s work were the children and the women. Yes, I found her mobsters quite funny, actually, but the women and children always captivate me. In fact, before I went to see the show (and I knew very little about her as a photographer) I had stopped in Trafalgar Square to watch the bubble man. Bubbles were out in force, yesterday…I guess being that it was the last day of summer holidays for many children. I always struggle with the ethics of shooting the homeless and of shooting children. With the homeless, they have no privacy and so I feel it is not fair to invade their space on the street. I feel it is abusive. And yet, I don’t want to ignore homelessness and so I have made a compromise and decided to shoot their spaces they make for themselves on the streets, but not them, themselves. As for children, well, is it in the best interests of the child to shoot them? So, I have made a compromise there, as well. As long as the shot is not super clear and they can’t be readily identified, I am happy to post it. I’m not sure that I’m happy with that compromise because they are a part of the story. I am not settled on the snapping of children. But, I took some photos of the kids with the bubble man yesterday. I am not settled in this.
#streetphotographers #streetphotography #londonstreetphotography #thisislondon #womenandchildren A photo posted by Tania Campbell (@pinkstarpix) on
And, while the subject matter that captivated me is probably more ‘feminine’, I am also interested in women in art for other reasons. What they had to suffer is different to what men suffer, for their art. There is a secret sorority in following women’s art. Afterwards, I went to see Shirley Baker at the Photographers Gallery. I knew nothing about the exhibition but was delighted by it. Shirley Baker was a social documentarian and the project being showcased was her photography of the women and children of Manchester during the demolition of the slums (and a few men who loitered on the streets with them).
If you followed my 365 day journey, you will recall that I saw Nick Hedges treatment of slum dwellers of the north last year as well. That was a heavy show and I cried several times. I had to keep coming back to an image of children playing, just to keep from cutting myself (ok – a bit of an exaggeration, but I really did have to keep coming back to the children to keep from falling into a despairing mood). His work was powerful. There is no doubt about that. But it was depressing and I find I can’t remember anything now except the captions and stories, and that photo of the children playing. Shirley’s treatment of the same time period is radically different. Perhaps one could criticize the middle class Shirley of instrumentalising her subjects for a great picture and ignoring their suffering.
I prefer to take a different view on her work. I see the women and children of Manchester and Salford as resilient. My mother was a farmer. We weren’t rich. And although the children of 1965 were ten years older than me, I could see myself in all their games. I could see my mother and my aunts in the women’s faces. Children had little but they had imagination and they were captured in happy and carefree moments. Even the women were captured in their social circles, coping with their lives and making do. There really was a sense of RESILIENCE in her photos. The curator called her work humanising. I think it was universalising and showing that the spirit is universally resilient.
I loved the show. And if that makes me middle class and bourgeouis, then so be it. I love it when someone dares to show the triumph of the human spirit – especially among the underclass of women and children. That, to me, sends a very powerful message and one that I think in our consumerist and patriarchal culture we could do well to see more broadly represented.
I want to see us build a cult of resilience rather than glorify misery.
Fantastic exhibition of Documentary photographer Shirley Baker’s work in “Women and Children; and loitering Men” on through 20 September at Photographer’s Gallery. If you saw Nick Hedges’ show last year about Northern slums, this provides a nice counterpoint. #documentary #streetphotography #shirleybaker #manchester #slumdwellers #socialdocumentary #womenandchildren #womenandchildrenandloiteringmen #womenphotographers #documentaryphotography #streetphotographers #streetsuk #rolliflex #socialrealism #rolleiflex
So…with that incredibly long preamble…let us do our part today to build our own cult of resilience, shall we?
1. I am grateful for the women photographers who represent a unique POV on street photography and for their pioneering spirit against the tide of men and technology. I am grateful for all the pioneering women (my mother, included) who have laid the foundations for my generation.
2. I am grateful that M&S stocks spicy chicken wings and Caesar salad dressing because every now and then I get a hankering for a meal that tastes like it came from a Canadian pub.
3. I am grateful for the sunshine that helped me to maintain my energy throughout the day so that I could get up at 5:30, work until noon and then have the rest of the day to play. Ok, I slept in this morning, but I also know that it is 1st Thursday which means gallery hopping tonight and I need to store up some energy for that.
Joy – It was a joy to snap the children playing in the bubbles at Trafalgar Square.
Oneness – I felt a deep sense of Oneness with the women and children in Shirley Baker’s exhibition. In a different country and at a slightly different time, I saw my own mother and my self in her photos. I would venture to guess that I am not the only observer who did.
Service – I did something really great during the day and I remember thinking – oh! that is my service for today. The trouble is that I can’t now recall what it was. I think that makes it perfect service – it was natural to do and so natural, in fact, that I forgot I had done it. So…I guess I will just say that I tried to help Lk- to discover what he deeply wanted and to find a way to act with compassion to achieve that.
For what are you grateful today?