Assignment 3: Mirror Write Up
‘Mirror’ Choose a community that you’re already a part of. It could be your child’s nursery or your regular gym class, but it should be something that takes up a substantial amount of your interest and time. Create a photographic response to how this group informs who you are as a person.
What aspects of this group or community reflect on you?
What do you share?
How does it function as a mirror reflection of who you are?
Sometime in the spring of 1994 (I can’t remember the exact date), I woke up hungover as usual but decided, for the umpteenth time, I was going to quit drinking. I was rock bottom mentally, physically and spiritually. I got through that first day and managed not to take a drink. I felt like I’d climbed Everest, and the next day felt so good and proud of myself that I wanted to celebrate my momentous achievement! For reasons I’ll never understand, I didn’t drink that second day either, and I called a friend of mine who I knew was an alcoholic but hadn’t drunk for a few years.
A few years.
I remember the call well, his compassion, and his willingness to help. The next day, he drove 300km to be with me and hauled my sorry ass to my first AA meeting. Forwards 30 years, I’m still sober and clean thanks to the fellowship and help of people in AA. It saved my life and has shaped it ever since.
I don’t attend or use AA every day, but it has been a constant in my life, and the people I’ve met there over the years have shaped who I am, as have the basic principles behind AA.
One day at a time.
How it shapes who I am
The word alcoholic carries a certain stigma for some people based on stereotypes and negative associations. This has shaped how I behave in social situations and how I feel about myself, but it also creates an awareness for me toward others around me. From a social perspective, whether it’s work parties, family gatherings, or when there is a lot of alcohol available, I find them hard work. It’s not that I tremble that I might drink; it’s more boredom than anything else. Generally, I leave early or hang around till the ‘tipping point’- when alcohol manifests in people’s behaviour. That said, not all social gatherings are like this, but if I feel uncomfortable, I leave. I am not anti-alcohol, it’s just not for me. It’s a condition I live with.
Despite being 30 years sober, I’m often surprised by how deep and psychologically complex addiction is. Life throws stuff at us, and we deal with it. I might have a bad week at work or be under pressure for a period of time-I have strategies to deal with these things and have to be constantly aware of what’s going on in my life. This manifests itself at odd times and in the strangest situations. A scene in a movie, an advertisement, people talking about their weekend or something that catches my eye in passing.
People I’ve met in AA- some 30 years ago- support me unconditionally when needed. This is our shared understanding and commitment to help others when they ask for it.
Creating a photographic response
Making a photographic series about alcohol addiction and how it reflects on me has been challenging. As a mirror of myself, of self-expression, self-exploration, and self-reflection, I began to consider images that offered an insight into my worldview and emotional landscape.
For such a series, I would have liked more time as I feel it would benefit from a much longer duration to gather the images and capture appropriate moments as they present themselves. In both creating and curating the series, I used what I consider key elements of this type (Mirror) of photography, including:
- Personal insights
At first, I struggled and procrastinated but took sound advice from Elina Brotherus when she said in her OCA student talk, ‘its better to work more than sit at home and think’. So I worked on the topic and gathered images and my thoughts, and the series began to take shape. I used the camera on my mobile phone with an app that enabled me to shoot in RAW format, my Fuji X-100v and a notebook to capture my thoughts. I decided to do the series in black and white as it’s easier to create visual consistency. A sticking point was what if any, text to use with the images. Should it anchor the image? Should it relay the meaning from image to image? How could I make the series work as a whole? In AA groups, you will often hear words of wisdom from the sublime to the ridicules, coupled with a morbid and sometimes self-deprecating sense of humour. I decided to dip into this to try and give the images a narrative and sense of the AA mindset.
This series was a challenge, including assembling a series of images that could work and deciding on the combination of text and image. Inityially, I was working too hard to make every image, and the series itself, pregnant with meaning. I tried to relay a message throughout the series but couldn’t get the images or text to work, so I decided to record my thoughts in my notebook and let the images come to me. I iterated the sequence over time, helping me decide the image text combinations. I printed out some of the images and experimented with different layouts -as well as using different gallery formats to present the images electronically).
Because the series is ‘Mirror’ exercise, it is subjective and, in this case, highly personal. AA is not a club. It’s a state of mind, a way of life, and so I have used my camera for self-expression and introspection. My focus has been capturing my worldview and interpretations of living with addiction within the framework AA provides.
The images work individually and party collectively. I wanted to avoid over-prioritising my subjective view and avoid self-absorbed or obscure imagery, and, for the most part, I have achieved that. The best images for me are 1, 2,3, and 7. The text below the images is a mix of AA 12-step references and words of wisdom picked up at AA meetings, some tongue and cheek. For example, image 6, is about judging other people when we should be looking at ourselves. Image 4- I’m not sure adds to the series. I was going to do a self portrait for the last image but felt it didn’t belong.
I think I have the basis for a decent series but would like more time to expand it to cover more of life’s encounters and give it more personality- not just visually but in the text. A good pre-amble or artist statement followed by images in book format without text might work just as well as one-word descriptions. This is definitely something I would want to experiment with and explore (further).
Berger, John, 2008, Ways of Seeing, London,Penguin Modern Classics
British Journal of Photography, April 2023
Howarth, Sophie, 2005, Singular Images-Essays on Remarkable Photographs, London,Tate
TATE, Finding Francesca, (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/francesca-woodman-10512/finding-francesca accessed 25/05/2-23)
W,Bill, 2019,Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book: The Big Book: The Original 1939 Edition,Dover Publications, Inc
Nicolas, Jon, Mirrors or windows?: Thinking about objectivity and subjectivity in photography with John Szarkowski https://www.photopedagogy.com/mirrors-or-windows.html (accessed 12/05/2023)
Seawright,Paul, Sectarian Murders, https://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian (accessed May 4th 2023
Sonntag, Susan, 1997,On Photogrpahy,England,Penguin Books