RECENTLY, I’VE BEEN thinking about the way that visual art is often accompanied by writing. With large exhibitions the art of famous artists’ is almost always preceded by wall text and an extensive catalogue describing the various creative points in the artist’s career with biographical points of interest along the way. With less well-known artists’ the writing is usually by the artist in the form of an Artist’s Statement printed in a leaflet or gallery printout.
When I visit an exhibition I try to look first and read second. I’m not quite sure what I expect from these written pieces. Like clues for a treasure hunt, they litter the gallery space. They certainly seem to be an important point on the learning curve of responding to art. As children, we may look at paintings or sculptures or multimedia creations and be asked and want to make our own versions. If we go on to study art further it is necessary to write essays, create our own theories, respond with words.
When I was young I drew a lot and read a lot – the visual and the verbal being one and the same. To some extent I still adhere to that method. I often look for story, a narrative in the imagery I look upon. It’s my response based on my background, interests, education, family etc. Neither right nor wrong, just mine. So with this in mind looking at the following photographs I wonder what do we see?
A young child – a little girl wearing pink glasses with a shock of blonde hair curling around her face. Sometimes the expression on her face is one of concentration. Sometimes curiosity. Looking a little closer these are definitely not pictures from the viewpoint of an adult. Here the camera is very close to the face capturing the small changes in expression from worry to a smile.
Occasionally the image starts to break down into pixels. The camera is digital. Some of the pictures are quite abstract with one appearing almost upside down. Its title intriguingly is ‘Feed Pump’. The figure of an adult looms above the girl’s head an elbow grazing her hair.
In contrast to the vibrant colour of some there are two black & white pictures sat side by side, the wisps of silhouetted hair echoing the delicate drifts of cloud in the background. It’s interesting that these are in black & white. Most of the pictures are in colour. When I look at the range of imagery it’s like a history of photography. Black & white, colour, portraits, landscapes, still lifes, consecutive stills, film strips. I could go on.
Sometimes the camera is flipped and we see what the girl sees. There’s the joyful laughter of a woman just captured in the top right corner, an empty glass occupying the foreground. Just below the glass the haze of something hovers, it could be a hand or a thumb just in the way of the camera lens.
Further on a larger portrait has an extraordinary presence. The young child looks down as we look up to meet her gaze. Her steady look, however, isn’t quite directly at us. Her gaze is slightly down looking at something else. What is she seeing?
Finally there’s a second hypnotic display of images. Like stills from a filmstrip we see the girl’s portrait over and over again, her image changing incrementally, her glasses slipping down towards the end. What is happening here? Why are we looking at these?
A couple of months ago a friend asked me if I would help her with exhibiting some of her daughter’s photographs. Anna was organising a fund-raising event and wanted Sophie’s pictures to form the central reason for the event. Anna didn’t want any editing made to the original pictures; she wanted them to be as Sophie had seen and made them. It was a joyful project to work on. I loved responding to the pictures in an intuitive way knowing that part of this response is informed by my knowledge in photography. The experience of working with Anna left me feeling much more positive and hopeful about photography and the role it can have as a hugely important tool for communication.
Here Anna describes her daughter’s experiences in the information that accompanied the event.
“Our daughter Sophie, who is now 6, was born with a unique chromosome disorder. This has led to her having severe learning difficulties and multiple medical problems, including the need for tube feeding, as she cannot swallow properly. She is unable to speak as yet but understands quite a lot and uses a mixture of sign and body language.
Despite all this she genuinely is one of the happiest people we know. Her canny social ability to captivate and entertain an audience continues to amaze us. Another surprise is her self-taught ability to use an iPhone and iPad. Without any instruction she has developed a clear interest in the cameras on these devices and in particular is very fond of taking selfies.
I find her pictures fascinating in what they reveal about Sophie and the way she sees and experiences the world around her. This led to my idea for putting together a small selection of these photos which have not been cropped or changed in any way – except for one with additions courtesy of her sister Laura.
I thought it was a way to promote the fact that people with learning or physical disabilities can be extraordinary communicators and give us a new take on ordinary things. I also thought it could also be a way to let people know about a couple of charities that have really helped us as a family – UNIQUE which brings together families affected by rare chromosome disorders and AMAZE a local charity which gives information, advice and support to parents of disabled children and children with special needs.
I hope you enjoy the photos.” Anna
All photographs are by Sophie Buckley, reproduction here by kind courtesy of Anna Cressey.