Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Manchester Bombing - After the Attack

Erin in her bedroom, from series After the Attack, 2018 © Richard Ansett
Erin in her bedroom, from series After the Attack, 2018 © Richard Ansett


Shot just before the first anniversary, this image of Erin is from a series of portraits of the young girls affected by the Manchester Arena bomb. The series attempts to capture something of the emotional and psychological impact that a traumatic event can have on the present for a survivor as they attempt to move forward with their lives. The effect of PTSD is unique to every person but a common reaction to this particular event has been a fear of returning to any large public space and in these studies the otherwise innocuous bedroom locations acknowledge that in many cases survivors can find leaving the house difficult. Part of the healing process is a need to withdraw.

In photographing vulnerable subjects a circle must be squared; an instinct to protect with an equal and opposite responsibility to capture something of their struggle in the moment. Empathy is both inherent and learned and is an essential component in the process towards any potentially great portrait but sympathy can limit the necessity to press a subject towards a representative state.

When attempting to capture any expression that reflects complex humanity we must be vigilant of the conventional rules of engagement and resist the instinct to treat the contract between artist and sitter as normative. It is important to be constantly aware when photographing a subject that they are equally aware of us and any emotion we capture is a response to that relationship as evidence of the complex relationship the subject has with the wider world.

To evolve in the pursuit of an atypical genuine and complex emotion is to continually feed new experience and education into practice. The self awareness that comes from learning about the hidden forces that motivate behaviour leads to an evolution in every aspect of external persona that attracts the projection of the feelings of others. We can literally (and often silently) become a vessel to receive the emotions of others by recognising (and in some cases) removing the obstacles to our emotional progress. Humans are incredibly sensitive readers of each other on a subconscious level, certainly in trusting someone with our most difficult feelings but a cognitive understanding of these signals free of infection and denial can only be learned.

To capture something genuine that offers insight into the subject, ourselves and something representative for the human experience is the holy grail and requires great commitment which may very occasionally be rewarded.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Monocultural Monumentalism

The project 'Lynching in America' distills a horrific national legacy down to the simple collection of soil by the descendants at the site of a 16 year old boy's murder in a woodland glade outside LaGrange, Georgia.

Ironically the blog Wakeupscreaming has invited me to contribute to their issue themed 'The Great Outdoors' with this series, which feels more micro rather than macro and is the
 antithesis of what might be defined as great.

The photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams' iconic monochromatic works shot at Yosemite National Park are the personification of 'The Great Outdoors' and continue a romantic tradition of representing US landscape. Free from any presence of humanity these monumentalist cliches offer a simpler more palatable monocultural language, a bigger 'universal truth'. The chaos, pettiness and failures of humanity seem too complicated for Adams and he withdraws to contemplate an alternative utopia free from our parasitic species. So vast are the mountain scenes that I can no-longer make out the noble attempts of individual truth and reconciliation being played out in our intimate landscape (at the same time the flaming torches of the marching fascists are drawing the gaze of the worlds media just down the road in Charlottesville).

When defining beauty by natural rules we should take time to comprehend the terrible cost in Darwinian terms in its evolution. At the end of her life, Leni Riefenstahl similarly withdrew from the world to an undersea paradise in her trite films that accidentally re-enforce her fascist credentials.

I am suspicious of representations of the natural world without some acknowledgement of the presence or impact of humankind. To be representing the present we must start to perceive the chaos and mess of contemporary society as a beauty too. The romanticised representation of the natural world is a dangerous meme that threatens a complex democratic and free thinking society.


Frances with soil, LaGrange, Georgia USA (from series Lynching in America) © Richard Ansett 2017

Yosemite National Park, Ansel Adams