The Lockdown, anthropomorphism, photography and a conversation with nature.
About a year ago I started having therapy to help me work through some issues that have come up after abdominal surgery. I was initially rather skeptical that I would find any benefits from the process but I was so overwhelmed by increasing levels anxiety that I had to try something. These doubts were from the very first session completely blown away and it has turned out to be and continues to be a profoundly life changing process.
One of the many aspects of my life that it has helped has been photography because
this is such an essential part of how I communicate my experience of the world, it has come up frequently. In one session, I was talking about a rare Lockdown photography adventure, explaining the location that I had visited and what I had photographed. After talking for some time my therapist pointed out that when I tell her about places I visit, I often refer to anything to do with nature as though I am talking about friends or as though they are humans. This is commonly called anthropomorphism and we do this a lot. Something about this really resonated with me. In my sessions I often find myself talking about the powerful emotions I experience when I am out with nature. I felt there was more to this and that it explained some of my recent creative predilections.
I have for some time wanted to explore portrait photography, specifically nudes. Not in a studio setting but combining them with my love of wild and quiet places. I had initially imagined I would have to persuade people to do this for me, which logistically would have been complicated and or expensive. However after the surgery it became clear that the nudes needed to be of myself, both as means to help me try and make sense of the increasingly unsettling emotions I was experiencing but to also express something I had no words for.
With the arrival of Lockdown this avenue of self expression, along with my normal landscape photography, had been cut off. Eventually the desire to continue this exploration led me to experimenting with self portraits indoors. With each passing week I felt increasingly lonely and isolated, not because I was on my own but a deeper sense of loss.
I did some online research to try and get a better understanding of anthropomorphism and why it resonated so much with me. I came across two basic approaches to understanding this. One which pathologised it, saying that anthropomorphism was an indicator of some deeper psychological problem. The other was of it as a political strategy to try and convince people to relate to the environment like they would a friend. The hope being that people would be more likely to relate/engage with the environment and be more inclined to want to take better care of it.
Neither of these analyses felt appropriate to my experience - although as a landscape photographer you almost by definition want people to care about nature - certainly not the first! My experience of nature and my conversation with it, is so uplifting, comforting and
positive that to pathologise it just bewildered me.
My loneliness was not the loss of social contact it, it was less tangible. A good nerdy way of describing it, is like feeling the “Force” (as in Star Wars) and then suddenly being cut off from it. The warm reassuring/nurturing energy of being connected to all that life, just fades away.
I have tried going to Hampstead Heath or other parks to feel this "conversation" but when there are people around, it always gets drowned out. Like trying to see the stars in the night sky whilst standing in Piccadilly circus.
I watched the “Two Popes” during lockdown and at one point Pope Benedict talks about no longer hearing the voice of God, I found myself in tears and although I am not particularly religious, I could relate to this deep existential loss. When I am out in the great outdoors I never feel alone or lonely. In fact the more "alone" that I am, the more powerful the sense I have of being connected. The times that I experience this most wonderfully is during the early hours of the morning or in extreme weather. It is at these times that it feels like nature is looking deep in to my eyes and smiling at me and I can't help but smile back. It is a connection that helps bring meaning to my life and without it I feel alone and lost.
Happily the Lockdown has now eased and I am making my first tentative trips back into nature and I am looking forward to being alone in some quiet spot, feeling Nature’s warm embrace and hearing her soft quiet voice welcoming me back.