The Vulnerability Of Self by Greg Turner

The Vulnerability Of Self

by Greg Turner – His website is HERE

Over dinner with some friends recently I was introduced to someone who, while having a successful business career, also described herself as ‘an artist’. The deliberate use of that moniker was interesting and I asked at what point in her creative journey she had finally felt comfortable using that title. She acknowledged the validity of the question and explained that it had taken her completion of an under graduate degree in Fine Art before she finally felt justified in calling herself an artist. Ironically for me as an observer, all it took was a look at her work (she’s a sculptor and an incredibly talented one) to see the artist and not just the person.

Self-doubt has long been a feature of the creative process and of artists in general. For sure I don’t consider myself an artist and until recently the word ‘just’ was quite deliberately used before the self-description of ‘amateur photographer’ on the front page of my website. When asked why by a friend, I explained it was deliberately self-deprecating; I didn’t consider myself good enough to call myself an amateur photographer just yet. That term, to my reading at least, connotes some degree of proficiency and talent I wasn’t sure I possessed. We agreed I would remove after her reassurance that I was more than talented enough. As a graphic designer, she routinely works with and appraises various photographers work so she should know, and yet the doubts still linger…..

‘Tina’

‘Tina’

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I started this project as a way of examining the concept of the person and the three manifestations of any individual. The more photographs I take though, the more I realise that I am exploring that concept from the perspective of self as much as anything else and that process is similarly tinged with self-doubt and vulnerability. I guess I’m exercising my own demons such as they are; the little boy at Catholic primary school who while not subject to physical abuse, was exposed to prolonged and painful emotional abuse. It has an effect that is carried through to adulthood and at various stages in life is processed through different lenses, if you will excuse the pun. The current lens I am using is both metaphorical and literal.

There is a certain irony with using the camera lens to explore that vulnerability and self-doubt. Traditionally, it is the subject that is more nervous of the lens because it’s their vulnerability or self-doubt that is being observed if not exposed. For me, the fear and doubt is as equal behind the lens as in front of it, it’s that mirror phase again with the subject looking back at me, being me.

‘The Film Producer’

‘The Film Producer’

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The three portraits on this blog say a lot on this subject. In the first, ‘Tina’,  it was her tattoos that immediately caught my eye and why I asked if I could take her picture. Her immediate response was to ask for posed quite freely but her pose is at once both vulnerable and defiant. The way she holds her head shows strength, you can see the muscular structure of her neck suggesting that physical strength, the look in her eyes and of course, the obvious hand gesture, which I confess I did not see at the moment I took the picture and initially cropped out. And yet she is intensely vulnerable, after all she has just asked for money because of her situation.

The next picture is the polar opposite. ‘The Film Producer’ shows a man consummately at ease with himself. He knows who he is, he knows what he likes and he is very comfortable with that. There is not the slightest hint of vulnerability here or at least, any vulnerability or self-doubt that may have once been has long since been forgotten.

The last image, ‘The Bike Messenger’, the pose is relaxed but the cigarette and the off camera look show tension; he’s relaxed but not completely. The tension is probably the reflection that he’s just agreed to have his picture taken by some random stranger in Soho. I imagine he’s having second thoughts but isn’t sure how to get out of it. This is self-doubt brought about by the sudden vulnerability of the situation.

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Of course, all this could just be complete nonsense. The pictures could well be no better than something you’d have developed at Happy Snaps and my reflecting on them over intellectualized nonsense (actually that part probably is true; I hope the pictures are a little better than snaps though).

Greg

14 Comments

  1. Good thoughts and you’re really putting yourself out there, which I guess is what artists do.

    I asked someone recently about what makes a photo artistic and they said it’s (partly) the intent behind the photo. I liked that cos it makes me think more about what I’m trying to acheive. Also I want to get my photos off the computer, print them and put them on a wall.

  2. These pictures are art. Love the way the people glance and evade and perhaps toy with you. One can imagine each of their stories from these shots (and probably be wrong) because they are alive, and connected to you.

    As an amateur myself, I can relate to the tendency to be self-deprecating (better to put oneself down before the ferocious wolves slash one online for technique or some inadvertent visual cliche one didn’t know to avoid). But don’t. Was reading a wonderful comment in the Gordon biography of Dorothea Lange made by a colleague of hers, the documentary photographer Jack Delano, who said:

    “I have always been motivated not by something inside me that needed to be expressed but rather by the wonder of something I see that I want to share with the rest of the world. I think of myself as a chronicler of my time and feel impelled to probe and probe into the depths of society in search of the essence of truth.” Okay. It’s a little overwrought, but it’s a good description of what anyone, amateur or professional, can aspire to.

  3. Interesting article & photo’s

    Many of us try to be artistic.
    To express themselves.
    Which can be self-confronting.
    “The subject being me” reflects that.
    A step further, artistic growth could get connected to personal growth.
    That’s something for another article I think..

  4. I like your candour and appreciate especially the insider detail of your initial thoughts and reaction (and their subsequent reversal!) to the quiet gesticulation of ‘Tina’.

    Heaving a bit of kitchen psychology into things, I’m not sure I agree with your assessment of ‘The Film Producer’. I think to be of a certain age and still trying to cultivate such an appearance is indicative of neediness… the very wish to stamp a big-cigar visual identity loudly betrays long-standing vulnerability.

    Anyway, nice shots & a refreshing perspective, thank you.

    • Actually you are spot on and in conversation with him, he admitted as much. When I asked if I could take his picture, he readily agreed, commenting that any attention is always welcome. He was saying ‘I’m needy, I know I am needy and I’m OK with that’. I think vulnerability and neediness don’t neccessarily have to be the same thing. Perhaps vulnerability comes from being needy but not knowing how to satisfy that need?

      Glad you enjoyed the perspective. Thanks for the positive feedback (yes, I’m needy also!)

    • @Summerofadormouse: interesting analysis. Wonder what your thoughts are (Greg, please chime in as well; I’d welcome your thoughts too on the following: I feel the question of posed or unposed is immaterial in the end. I do a lot of portraits (by preference) and find that a bit of directing, and most of all patience gets you the most interesting results.

      The link here http://foto.nrc.nl/Picture/view/30865?order=date#picture (a face coming out of the mist? Nikkor 58/1.4G @ f/2.8; that’s what this lens does) shows you a portrait that was last in a series of almost fifty shots, but it showed the tiredness of the man, and the personal problems shining through.

      Really enjoyed these images and the comments!

  5. You can analyse and that is fine but if you sense worth in your images and they convey something then you are on the right road. Keep making images that appeal to you and the rest will follow.Thanks for sharing.

  6. Your discussion of “artist” as a label hits home with me. In addition to photography as a hobby, I play music, also as a hobby. I play out in front of people several times each week. Now and then someone refers to me as a “musician.” I quickly correct that notion, saying “I’m not a musician, I just play music.” There is a big difference between my music skills and a real musician – formal training (I have none), knowledge of theory (I have just a little), and actually making a living from playing or teaching music (I’d starve). While false modesty sometimes seems shallow, I will continue to err on the side of not disrespecting true professionals, whether artists, or musicians.

  7. These are great photographs. What more needs to be said? I often use a less categorical way of expressing this, even after going through the Modern Museum of Art in NYC: “That’s the one I would like to have to put on my wall.” And these are all the greatest “artists” in history. None can escape this simple judgement from this single person. So, hey, “I would have loved to have taken those photographs myself,” which is another way to say it without limited, general labels like “photographer.”
    Humor and a bit of irony can also get you over this hump of self-identity. After I first started taking photographs in a serious manner, my newly grown son asked me for 4-5 prints to take and put up in his new apartment. Pleased, of course (what better critic is there?), I said yes but you have to pay me a dollar per photo. Ha. You must be kidding! Not at all. But why? Well I just had my first photo published in a magazine, so I told him that once he paid me I could start calling myself a “published, semi-professional photographer.” I laughed, but still took the 5 dollars. As usual, he just wondered what got into his dad all of a sudden. All that mattered was that he wanted to put some of them on his wall. Later, some of his friends just assumed they were taken by a professional photographer. So much for unnecessary labels. I’m still just semi-professional, by the way, so not getting rich soon. But no mere “amateur.”

  8. Hi,
    three strong faces. None of them is really posing for you, the woman on the first page is no exception even though she looks into your eyes. I enjoyed the photos. They encourage taking people as they are.

  9. Do they give you a sense of accomplishment? Have they communicated something beyond words of description? If so, that is all that matters. Art is subjective. In the end, the only one we should be trying to please is ourselves. Will you be happier with future images? Probably, that is natural evolution as an artist. Keep putting it out there.

  10. A worthy reflection and exercise in photography Greg. You have given us something to think about. Aren’t we all “artists” in our mind…just a little! Some are camera crazy (in which there is nothing wrong with…just uncontrollable GAS).

    The great thing about photography is that it’s only you (or the individual) that can be content at some point with declaring “I am an artist.”

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