When I wrote my master’s thesis, there was a compulsory written reflective element. For many, this kind of reflection may have seemed like an unnecessary extra, having already put together a much larger body of work to be scrutinised by the exam board. And perhaps, a few years earlier, I would have felt the same.
However, having devoted much of my thought to mindful photography over the same time period, I actually relished the opportunity to put into writing, stories of some of those learning thresholds that I recognised and crossed along the way, no matter how much blood, sweat and tears that journey involved.
So often, when someone asks who we are, our first response is essentially a series of nouns – a biography of sorts – I am a photographer, a mother, a wife, a vet etc. Even when asked what we do, doing being a verb, we use nouns to describe ourselves. Bridging the gap between this type of answer and a true understanding of who you are is about recognising that those labels we attach to ourselves are not a final destination; they do not define who we are at any one point. In addition, these labels are not binary in nature – we can hold many stories about ourselves all at once.
Tim Ingold uses the word ‘wayfaring’ to describe the improvisatory nature of our movement through the world, as through life, on a unique path, encountering a combination of intellectual, physical, emotional, aesthetic and spiritual experiences along the way that is known only to us as individuals. The contribution of these experiences to knowledge, including knowledge of self, lies in our conscious and subconscious interpretations, and are situated in the socio-cultural systems in which we are positioned.
So, how does this all come together? And, where does photography fit in?
Most people have read or heard stories in books or in movies - often just a snippet of a story; a word, a line which speaks to you in a way that you come away knowing that you have learned a little more about yourself. The words not only resonated with you but they resonated with you in this particular moment in time. If you'd have seen or heard the words a few days / years / minutes earlier, the words may not have taken on the same meaning. The truth of these words is mediated by the relationship between the story-teller and story-listener.
The same is true of other visual forms of art, including photography. The place in-between is where it all happens; the obscure, transitional space between the knower and the known, the observer and the observed. You learn, grow and become together. And so, in this space, you are not so much becoming as becoming with or becoming alongside.
In English, an animal or plant is referred as 'it' unless the relationship is personal. 'It' objectifies the other-than-human in an 'other'. Othering is not a phenomenon found exclusively in written word or speech, but also in visual representation and has been explored in depth by critics such as Susan Sontag.
As we wayfare, we are not doing so in an abyss but in relation with everything around us. Becoming, or more accurately, becoming-with through photography of the non-human, relies on, not just respecting the other-than-human (and using pronouns other than 'it', but making space for entangled experiences, kinship and multispecies worlds. Images are co-created in a relationship of reciprocity and gratitude. A sense of rootedness flows through me when I am practicing photography - it is no wonder that I am endlessly in awe of trees and plants that grow around me.
The three images I've chosen to include here were co-created at junctures in my journey towards becoming. The realizing of these images represents a crossing of learning thresholds towards greater self-understanding and they have deepened my interpretations of the complexities that are present in our ecosystems.
In addition to making meaningful connections and a sense of community, one of my personal motivations for starting this blog is to continue my own wayfaring, through writing. Words are within us. They are us. And they just need to be put on paper to be realized, for new knowledge to unfold.
Recommended books: Tim Ingold - Lines: A Brief History