I am revisiting ‘Boys in a City Park’ whilst I am working on an exhibition proposal. The project was developed during a personal enquiry into concepts of fracture and healing in Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine. At the point where the previous ‘Hospital Gardens’ project evolution was at the very limit of what seemed possible, I met a child whose traumatic experience was locked within him (see below image from exhibition and outtake of him with his mother). This moment was key and led to an exploration of a form of fracture beyond the physical and an introduction to the charity supporting families with autistic children.
When we initially approached the boy and his mother, as they wandered around the garden of the Central Hospital in Donetsk, she immediately dismissed our request to photograph him. She was particularly protective of her son at that moment; he had been attacked by a dog previously and had come back to hospital for some corrective plastic surgery on the scarring on his face but it was clear that he was also distant and emotionally vulnerable. Sometime later the mother came back to us and explained that her son had said he had wanted to do the photographs, so she agreed.
It is hard to explain the experience of sharing an emotional event as powerful and as complex as this; it is even harder to believe it is possible to capture something of it in two dimensions with a camera. Beyond this, it is even harder to believe that anything of our living present experience will communicate in anyway to an objective future audience.
It’s a mistake we can easily make as photographers (and as people), that because we feel something ourselves so strongly that this will automatically be felt by others; it isn’t. In the need to communicate, we are tempted to cut corners and fall back on aesthetic cliché’s to help make an immediate connection to others. Its hard to resist, especially in the moment when we must make an instantaneous decision on how to communicate an event as it reveals itself to the camera. In this respect, we must ‘become’ the ‘person’ as a photographer that interprets that immediate moment instinctively.
I am undeniably an objectivist, I am inescapably, emotionally drawn to the dogma; I allow the emotion of an event to occur uninterrupted in juxtaposition to the cold, hard reality of the camera lens and fixed composition. I believe that some part of the emotion and humanity are revealed as a foil and in spite of, the brutality of the objectivist dogma. By stripping away any aesthetic emotional language to ‘help’ communicate, we are left with the raw emotion which is not the whole story but a kind of ‘truth’. (A word I hate to use). My approach always feels dangerous and there is a very thin line between a form of success and complete failure but I prefer it to belittling such complexity with cliche.
I found this quote recently, I can't remember where but it resonated with me and reminded me of the boys in Ukraine and the bright and powerful flashes we used that captured a small part of their hidden world.
“All of a sudden there was a dazzling light and in the centre of that bright whirlpool was a core of blinding light that flashed down from the depths of the sky with terrifying speed until suddenly it stopped, motionless and sacred…The sparkling features of the being wore an expression of supernatural beauty and grief.” – St Francis receives the Stigmata, from Brother Leo’s account, circa 1224.
|Image_2096, Boy Bitten by a Dog, from series 'Hospital Gardens, Ukraine © Richard Ansett 2011|
|Image_2099, Mother with Boy Bitten by a Dog © Richard Ansett 2011|