Truth, vulnerability and life online
“A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.” – Ian McEwan (Atonement)
I sit writing today’s blog post with my feet wrapped in a blue woollen blanket, the only sounds being the tap, tap, tap of my fingers on the keyboard and the gentle hum of traffic outside. Of course this could be false information. I might actually be in a hot and humid café in Dhaka, in my friend’s home as her children crash and bang their way through life or perhaps somewhere altogether more sophisticated. When we write we weave a story for the reader and when we post our images, our work, we do the same. There is trust there that we are telling the truth as we see it. There is trust there that we are being open and honest and therefore vulnerable. I always try to be.
When we capture an image or write our words some things are included and by turn some are left out. A human chooses what they want to show other humans. A camera lens does not actually behave in the same way as a human eye and yet (despite knowing better) we hold up the products of the camera as truth. The pen is led by its master and yet words on a page can be retweeted, reposted and freshly pressed as if they are written not in ink (or in small pixels on a screen) but as if they have been written firmly in stone as with commandments of old. Of course there can be truth in an image or in chosen words but only as much of a truth as the person taking that photograph or penning those words allows there to be. Images and words contained on blogs like mine would be more accurately described as a perspective of truth.
So why am I bringing up this topic? I have been considering what I post and why. Who do I post for? Is it for me or is it for my audience? I am not sure I have actually figured out the answers to those questions, which is why I am inviting you, my audience, in on the conversation. 2014 was a difficult year for me. I was never sure what to share. Sometimes I felt as if my sadness was seeping through my images. Grief and loss turned me away from cheerful portraiture and instead my eyes sought out bleak landscapes. As a photographer I usually look for the human-interest story and yet I found myself turning away from people for a while. Perhaps I had had enough of humanity. That was my truth and my perspective. Yet to put some of those images out there seemed very personal. Not all of them are online. Some will sit in my digital library collecting digital dust.
I started 2015 by choosing to embrace the word ‘be’. To be still with God. To reclaim a sense of belonging in my own small world of family and friends. To find a place to once again call home while for a while I lay my hat down and unpack suitcases…. Though only for a while. So what does that mean for my blogging? I want to be open and vulnerable with my work. I want to share my truth as I see it. So often the stories I carry are the stories of others. There is an immense responsibility in telling someone else’s story and that always lays heavy on my shoulders. I also know now that there is a responsibility I have to myself and to my loved ones to take care of my own story too. That is not something I considered much before this year. Therefore I think part of deciding to ‘be’ is also about deciding to keep a bit back. To put some photographs in a treasure chest where only I can see them. I do not think we need to share every fibre of our being in this online world to be honest or truthful. Being honest to ourselves sometimes requires holding on to what is dearest. A beautiful image does not become less so because the world has not seen it. An emotional poem does not ring any less true because only one pair of ears has heard it.
A person is an easily torn thing. I have felt the impact of untrue words on my life and on the life of my loved ones. True words also hurt sometimes. Some of my stitching came apart and some is still being sewn back together. Something I have valued though from my journey in the last year is the lesson the world has given me on holding dear what I do have. Being grateful for those people in my world who show me grace and light and love. I have also learnt I need to cut myself some slack too and to offer myself the same grace, light and love. It is these things and the ultimate grace of God that has allowed me to begin to heal. Part of being graceful to myself is to allow myself to share (as I am today) but also to allow myself to hold some things close to my heart. It is only in the last five years that we, as a society, have developed this chronic need to over-share. Why do we suddenly seek our value or validation for our work from strangers on a screen? Don’t mistake me here dear audience, I love interaction online, I just think sometimes we take it too far. For me I know I need to reclaim some of that personal and private space.
So this year I am going to promise to always do my best to share with as much candour and vulnerability as I can. However, I am also going to promise to keep some of life’s memories and moments in a metaphorical jar. A jar that I can dip into when I want to but a jar that will spend much of its life safe on a shelf protecting those bits of me, those truths, that are too personal for the world of the wide web. I encourage you all to do the same. There is nothing wrong with life online but true living, interaction and growth occurs away from our screens. I am stepping back, just a step, but an important one nonetheless.