The photo series Illusion is now live here on the site. Getting it ready to share has enabled me to look back on last year and particularly the early stages of the COVID-19 lockdown in the spring of 2020.
At that time I was, like all of us, affected by the information coming through the news and the statistics that started to be revealed. There was an increasing feeling of fear and foreboding growing around me and I was experiencing a sensation of becoming untethered from my reality. I suppose this is natural, as we were encountering a situation of magnitude, which hadn't been quite the same before.
Photography, Identity and Mental Health
My passion for photography is a key part of my identity; it is how I fit into the mechanism of the wider world happily. I was confronted with the realisation that the freedom to function in the way I usually do to make photographs was untenable. I am habitually moving through bustling, crowded streets of my home city and others far afield, observing and capturing images at close quarters and this was no longer possible.
When the fog of COVID-19 rolled in and blanketed the world, I became lost. Dazed. Unable to see a way through. But, as I became accustomed to the strangeness that lockdown had brought, I began to wonder whether I was, in fact, seeing the true nature of the world.
The alienation induced by the lockdown, and perhaps the enforced contemplation, has given an additional layer of meaning and understanding, a new way of looking at our experience of, and actions within, our neighbourhood and also the wider world.
Illusion and Reality
Einstein described reality as a persistent illusion. He wrote these words in a letter of condolence after the death of a close friend, just a few months before the end of his own life. In contemplating life and death, he considers the idea that, even though we cannot prove that anything actually exists outside of our own minds, we continue to believe in our illusions. Within lockdown, and especially while processing news of a threat that cannot be seen, this took on particular importance.
It has been necessary to think in a relational sense, during a time of not relating to others in the same way at all. The impetus on distance, staying away and not interacting has distinctly cold and unfriendly, even uncharitable, connotations. It has become our reality, however, to socially distance while still being open to the world and to other people. I really felt the loss of the reciprocal benefit of being within someone's company. The nuances of the benefit of closeness are hard to articulate. The building and reiteration of identity, of self, which is nudged along each day by an interaction with a stranger in a store here, and a moment with a close family member there, is lost. Instead, a circular Groundhog Day of anxiety-provoking news-listening, hand-washing and soul-searching ensure.
Coming Out of The Fog
It became clear to me (in the haze of uncertainty) pretty early on that I needed to find ways to bridge the distance and to think less about barriers and more about connections. I remember hearing one of the scientists saying that 'social distancing' is the wrong phrase, posting that we need social closeness even while executing physical distancing.
In this content, with my camera, I started to look for some other type of truth amidst the wreckage of our shattered realities.
Illusion is a photographic series that questions the state of reality. Triggered by a sense of instability during the lockdown; these hazy, off-kilter images translate a strange combination of serenity and restlessness. The process was a way to shift from my disquiet at losing the security of a fixed reality into embracing the possibilities of this new situation. I moved away from a static tunnel vision to focus much more on the periphery. It wasn't a comfortable process, but it was one that enabled me to escape from a reassuring but narrow view of reality, which, in itself, held some negative thoughts and feelings.
The images all carry a feeling of degrees of separation, through intangible layers, a turned back, the blur of a view through the mottled glass, In retrospect, I can see that I was looking for the balance between the mysterious depth of the layers and concrete stability created by the framing and composition, and acceptance of the longevity of the situation perhaps. The images become a way to look directly into the state of flux, rather than shying away.
Taking Stock, Building Resilience
We have the chance to stop and take stock of our mental health. This reflection can potentially help us prepare for the next unforeseen event. When we directly experience the quality of the present moment, we step outside of the illusion, rising above the experience of simply being buoyed along by events that are out of our control.
In Buddhist teachings, recognising the illusions we have created for ourselves is an important step on the path to enlightenment. Letting go of these illusions gives us the freedom we need to live our lives more truthfully, more consciously, more fully. We can become open to the changes we once feared or thought were beyond our capabilities. The tumultuous events of the last year have taught us that we cannot always control what is unfolding around us. But, perhaps we can choose how we respond to them. The ways in which we internalise them will shape our future lives. The Buddha reminds us that "All is illusion. Your mind's projections onto reality are illusions."