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A long time ago, when I was but a fresh faced teenager, I had two of the oddest idols. One was Rembrandt. The other one was a TV journalist (who I subsequently spotted on the beach and begged for an autograph). These trends were to set a very annoying pattern in my life. On one hand I had an artist’s mind, interested in the the artist’s enquiring process and the transformative nature of their work. On the other, I was fascinated by the mechanics of every day realities, the narratives of people’s lives, spaces and relationships. I always felt like I was at some crossing having to choose between these two different paths.
So I made one choice. Initially I had humanistic and journalism studies but took a step back in my education to study film, photography and sound, and later photojournalism. I got a job as a studio photographer and afterwards became a photojournalist. For a few years the camera became an extension of my body and I photographed everything. My family dramas and my own, projects on communities, portrait studies, anything that could be approached as a potential project. I worked for newspapers, magazines, charities and the occasional corporate editorials. I think I was good at it.
One day something shattered — perhaps it was the glass that divided me from the world. I had the distinctive feeling of living in a bubble, viewing the world constantly through a lens.
I put my cameras away, did a degree in History of Art while taking up painting. But my painting was suspicious. People who eventually believed me a painter were being deceived. The truth is that I was seeking redemption. By selecting an image and producing a 2 meter wide photorealistic painting for a few months, I was doing nothing more than expanding my photography.
Some people were amazed by how much my paintings looked like photographs, which is perhaps because they were in a way photographs. Made with time and effort and struggle, but always a concern to mirror the real. They were overblown hyper realities. I believed my lie so well that one day I decided to start painting freely and that’s when it became evident that I was rubbish. I just couldn’t overcome my obsession with mimicking reality.
And while I was pursuing this, the other side kept nagging at me, the other side of me who was interested in reality and had a journalistic heart. While I was successful as a painter and well received in the arts community, the people who had known me as a photographer were suspicious of my choice. It didn’t help either that for personal reasons I had also changed my name. I felt I had somehow betrayed them but I had to follow my instinct. But how could I be both, how could I combine my inclinations without feeling the pressure of choice?
I realise now, perhaps only too late, that I needn’t have chosen. That maybe it wasn’t a crossroad after all, just a wider road, full of more possibilities.
The most significant and eye opening moments in this revelation were when I saw the Gideon Koppel’s film “Sleep furiously” and later the multi screen installation “Altered Earth” by Doug Aitken.
These artists were able to combine a focus on the real, but with an artist’s subjective input. I couldn’t sleep properly after I saw those works — I was possessed. Time passed and I realised that not only could I record reality with an artist’s eye, but I could also expand into sound and film, all of them perfect tools to frame and interpret realistic narrative. At this point the idea of painting became obsolete. It’s just how I felt, and as I write this I still feel that way. So, for the second time in my life, I betrayed everyone who believed in my work. I stopped painting and picked up the camera again (as well as microphones and a camcorder). But having been through the pains of a stillbirth, then having a child with special needs, things got awfully hampered. I became enclosed in family life, unable to explore wider possibilities. At this point, nobody was taking me seriously. How could they? In Grayson Perry’s theory of the Helsinki bus station, I had got off the bus at strategically bad times. I had become unreliable. Connections I had with the art world started fading away, friends, gallerists, curators. I had a dream once that everyone was on a train and I could see it go past while I stood in an open field, feeling left out. However, there’s still integrity to protect, the need to keep it truthful, and I’ve always been obsessed with integrity.
When I started taking pictures again, it was like starting anew. Nobody knew me, I had zero status. I still remember saying goodbye to my photojournalism tutor, before I moved to England, and him saying he was sure I’d make it. His words still resonate. But deep down, to me, it’s never been about ‘making it’ in the outer world but rather being satisfied with what I do. I can’t help behave as though I’m the sole maker and audience and there’s no other way to be. When the rest of the world lags from that appreciation, I think I’m either deluded or they lack in vision. It’s an artist’s problem, to swing from highs to lows in self confidence.
I find myself suddenly alone, without a network of professionals to cling on to, in a grey, unexplored area where I’m not established enough to make my work stand out, yet I’m convinced of my capacity to achieve. All I know for sure right now is that I found my way in a wider road, and I’m happy to walk on. I only hope I won’t be alone for good and that eventually what I’m trying to achieve will yield results. And I hope that people can forgive my disorientation. When I tell them I won’t paint anymore I often get disappointed reactions. But it is how it is. (And knowing me, who knows what might happen?)
Everyday I analyse my own process, and what I’ve learnt from myself and my capabilities and interests is that I wish to continue pursing an odd path of artistic documentary practice. The world and its people fascinate me, the little and big dramas of everyday existence and experience. How memory shapes the present, how identity is defined, how lives and places evolve. In my confined possibilities as a woman who is also a primary carer, I can only reach for what’s around me. My family, the world in my neighbourhood, the occasional short escapes and trips away. I often dream of what I could do if I wasn’t so constrained but I seek fulfilment in what is attainable. I think I’m happy now, in this wider road. In short hops it’ll be fun.