I’m passionate about work, which documents and reveals real life, work that moves me. Work that reveals elements of life I would otherwise not be able to see or experience first hand. I appreciate creatives who go beyond an average persons comfort level and reveal things that are personal to them. This may include a story about their own life or experience or of those who are on the outskirts of regular existence. Nan Goldin’s bohemian transsexual and vibrant friends are an example of this. I’m passionate about stories and work, which reveal and express them in a way I would not be able to. Just like a song can express the way you feel.
The book I chose was ‘Exquisite Pain’ by French artist Sophie Calle. The book documents the countdown to the end of a love affair as well as Calles’ journey after: a person coming to terms with deep loss and grief. Calle manages to blur the lines between art and life, instantly engaging the reader on her journey of ‘exquisite pain’ and inevitably evoking an emotional response.
Maybe it’s because I’m female. Maybe it’s because I too have been discarded abruptly. Either way Calle has managed to express artistically so precisely what it’s like to go through a break up it inevitably related to me. I found myself comparing and conjuring my own stories and experiences as I read the book, which is why I think Calle as an artist and storyteller is so successful. I admire her bravery to share such an intimate journey of heartbreak and recovery to such an immense audience.
For Calle the break up became a source of artistic expression and form of therapy. After documenting her countdown to the break up, she began her healing process: re-telling the story of her break-up over and over with meticulous detail with people that she met and friends. In exchange they would also re-tell an event by which they suffered tremendously. The book breaks new boundaries in its intimacy, fearlessness and universal story. It brings a sense of comfort to know that your not alone, Calle and many others who also re tell a story of heartbreak reveal how these feelings are universally shared. I admire Calle’s ability to realise this and bring her own experience, niche and story to create a truly compelling piece.
In terms of the books aesthetics, it’s extremely successful in enhancing the story and reading of the book. There is a visual divide demonstrating Calle’s transition beautifully. The book in shape and size resembles that of a religious prayer book or collection of confessions, evoking a sense of preciousness. The book is divided into three sections. ‘Before Unhappiness’ composed of alluring photographs, reproduced love letters, air tickets, captions and passages from conversations she had, which takes the reader through the 92 days to Calle’s abandonment. This is reinforced through the use of a red stamp, which appears on each two-page spread. ‘The Break-Up’ conveyed through an image of a burning red telephone in a hotel room, the tool her lover used to end it all. Everything radiates out from this image. ‘After Unhappiness’ which consists of black and white pages with the image of the red telephone repeated on every right page. It consists of Calle’s re-telling of the break-up and stories of others. The colour red is echoed throughout. Red for Russia, red for China, red for Japan, red for love, red for anger, red for blood, red for pain, red for the damned telephone which was the last and first thing she saw after the event. This section is more constructed, less chaotic to the first section. It shows how Calle’s character has changed: now more logical and matter of fact, before more dreamy and fanciful, the image of the telephone being the centre of everything.
I truly loved this book and the story it told and illustrated so beautifully. Calle touched a subject, which affects every person every day: pain and heartbreak. However, she found her own experience and niche and brought something entirely new to a tired out subject matter. This is what I admire and appreciate most, her ability to share a personal story, which has the power to talk to anyone and everyone.
Upon reflection my dream assignment would be to document a range of people on a one to one basis who are on the outskirts of regular society. This dream assignment would allow me to travel to different countries to seek out such subjects. I would want to focus on themes and subjects that relate to sexuality, objectivity and social conforms. This would include people who are any one of the following: transgender, sex worker, bisexual, pansexual and/or drug addict.
People like this I find utterly fascinating. It would be a dream come true to get up close and personal with these sorts of characters, using photography as the tool to tell their story. I would love to have the chance to get to know them on a regular basis, thus allowing me to document their day-to-day life and produce strong sets of revealing, honest portraits. My dream would be to produce work and follow subjects similar to Eugene Richards, Brent Stirton and Marie Hald.
5 steps to achieve this dream assignment:
- Research subjects
- Locate people and stories of interest
- Get funding, a team who would like to participate in the assignment
- Contact, meet and get friendly with people I would be documenting
- Start shooting