Spirits of the Wood

“Sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in” – Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility

Being a bit of a bottler, writing this has taken me some time or rather it has taken me some time to hit the publish button so this is from a couple of months ago, but I feel a little more comfortable about publishing it now than back then. Hope you enjoy.

I’m not sure what this blog will say about my mental health and I may well be carted off after it, but I feel it’s one worth sharing, despite me toiling over whether or not to.

My fitness has suffered over the last couple of months, nothing drastic but it’s notable when you look for excuses not to go out or venture far and as a consequence I have become lethargic, put on weight and mentally I feel I’m on shut down. Normally I can’t stand still, I always have to be doing something or be going somewhere, what has changed? I really don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps by the time I’m done writing this I may have an answer. Who knows. We’ll see.

One evening (at the beginning of June) I decided enough was enough and I needed (not wanted) to go out for a walk in a bid to start getting into shape physically and mentally. With my faithful companion in tow (Jedson, my nutty little beagle) and my camera slung over my shoulder and a 50mm pinhole attached to my DSLR I headed to a nearby wood. The evening was bright and sunny, warming to the soul to have these conditions again after having a week of continuous fog along the North-East coast. I had no preconceived ideas of what to photograph so I was under no pressure to produce something, I was feeling quite relaxed and happy to go with the flow and simply enjoy the walk. If I didn’t shooting anything, so be it – I wasn’t going to be disappointed.

It wasn’t long before I switched on the camera and started playing as I walked along the track towards the wood. Whilst re-familarising myself with the settings on the pinhole lens I used my shadow as a subject. I didn’t stop walking and I didn’t carefully compose, but the “Purgatory” image was made through pure instinct and it set a theme for the collection of images that follows. The titling of these images may sound rather odd, but please bear with me as I try to explain with a little biographical background, I won’t go into detail as it’s too difficult even now, but you’ll get the jist of it.

At first I thought these images were a bit dark and malevolent and naturally associated them with death and a spiritual passing. My wife will tell you that despite my ‘happy go lucky’ personality I tend to lean to the dark-side and it’s evident in a some of my photography, I do prefer dark & dramatic to the sunny & serene. Influential moments in life can inspire your work for any amount of time, mine I believe comes from a number of events going back over 20 years. The death of my parents had a major impact, my father died of cancer when i was 18 and my mum died of cardiac arrest whilst abroad before I turned 30. About a year after I was made redundant, just as the financial crunch happened, and to cap it all off we were expecting our first child and had just extended into the loft space and had a builder to pay. Anger, stress, anxiety and depression are not a great mix, I just count myself lucky that I my wife was understanding and supportive. The impact of those times do leave an indelible mark and as a result I do have melancholic days where I hardly say a word and maybe become lost in thought, but I’m OK with that, my family understand it and sometimes they give me the space I need. I believe those moments have subconsciously seeped into my work. But it’s not all doom and gloom, there is light in my life. I now have 2 daughters, I’m in a stable job and we’ve pulled away from the debt redundancy left us with. I have that balance now, dark versus light if you wish and where before I dabbled with photography using a compact camera the experiences has thrust me further into photography. With that all in mind I hope the titles make more sense.

Up first….

Pergatory
Purgatory

A sense of being trapped not knowing which side you are going to come out on. You’ll notice the swirls around the shadowy figure, I liken these to thoughts and memories and there appears to be the perfect balance of light and dark (thoughts).

The Serpent
The Serpent

Be careful not to be bitten and dragged under by this character. This is the anger, anxiety and depression I refer to above.

Underworld
Underworld

Peering into the abyss, seeing only the lower half of a robed shadowy figure on the left and on the right a defeated soul feeling powerless and paralysed. A glimpse of eternity? Escape beckons.

The Collector
The Collector

Depending on your circumstances, life can be seen as is a debt (burden) we all have to pay and at some point ‘Death’ will come calling regardless of circumstance it does not discriminate. Within the black mist ‘Death’ trails his scythe and behind the souls follow, but where will it lead them? I see this as the end of one chapter of my life and the next beginning.

The Crossing
The Crossing

A way out, leaving the darkness behind I cross the bridge.

Guardian Angel
Guardian Angel

Fulfilling its obligation the guardian angel ascends.

Apologies if this was a little dark for you, but it’s those thoughts that can give work a creative edge and keep us exploring. Despite it being really dark I enjoyed working on this small series. I think this year has been a bit of corner stone for mental health awareness, more people are talking and I hope are finding solace in doing so. I didn’t want to use the term ‘depression’ to describe what I felt as there are people out there who suffer from it to a far worse degree, but that is how I felt. I had coping mechanisms in place, but it doesn’t stop you worrying about anything and everything.

 

As it’s taken me a couple of months to hit the publish button on this blog I’ve had time to reflect on possibly why I’ve been on a bit of a shutdown. I can’t attribute it to a single thing but more a culmination of factors. Perhaps the thought of hitting the big ‘4 0’ next month (September) is subconsciously affecting me, not sure about that one but also I seem to have given up on my photography – let me explain. I’m still passionate about photography as a subject, but I’m no longer passionate about my own. Does it bother me? No it hasn’t which is very strange. I don’t seem to be itching to get out with my camera as much as I have done before I’m no longer plotting and planning ideas to work on. Also previous projects have halted, I’ve become more withdrawn from social media (which isn’t a bad thing). It all seems quite negative, yet I feel OK with myself whereas before I might have felt frustrated and tried to persevere, but not this time. Honestly I think I’ve relaxed so much that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be busy and I can only blame the gorgeous weather we’re experiencing in the UK which is allowing me to have more quality time with my family at our static caravan in the Lake District. I’m sure once the miserable weather returns the old me will be back and I will feel like creating images again.

Thank you for reading this and please feel free to share and comment.

 

If you’re interested I co-lead pinhole workshops in the UK, please click here for more details.

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4 thoughts on “Spirits of the Wood

  1. I live under the cloud of depression almost every single day. Thank you for being brave enough to share this part of yourself with us. I think these images are dark and beautiful, I would be so proud to create a body of work like this.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog it is really appreciated. There’s no quick fix as you well know, finding coping mechanisms helps which is where my photography comes in, but speaking about it or even simply writing things down helps. Stay positive.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ian, it took guts to put this out to the public, and I admire you for it. There have been several high profile photographers that have revealed the inner struggles they have faced, published in magazines of late. I too struggle with depression, an all consuming sense of no hope, although as I write, I’m having a good time. Having your project should help you, and in many ways, others as well. Now I’ve found your blog, I shall return to read more installments. Thank you for publishing and exposing, what for some, is still a taboo subject. I really like the images, especially the one where there are trees, and a large area of lightness. The struggle may well be deep rooted, but there is light and warmth.

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    1. Thank you Dean for taking the time to not only read my post but respond. It does lessen the burden a little writing about it but more importantly having an outlet such as photography helps articulate what is often difficult to verbalise. It’s certainly inspired me to explore these feelings more with my pinhole so watch this space. Thank you again.

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