I hardly got to see very many other exhibitions in the Brighton Photo Fringe and one I missed was Caroline Burrows' exhibition "See me Hide". I heard about it from a guy who wandered into mine and challenged me about the preponderance of nude photographs on display. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the reasons for his questioning but the good news was that it prompted me to look up Caroline's project online (the exhibition had ended) and I was intrigued by the honesty of the pictures and the rawness of the words or was it the other way round? It doesn't matter because the adjectives apply equally to both.
I wrote to Caroline telling her about my projects and the exhibition and suggesting a collaboration. She then replied with these wonderful words about her work:-
Thank you for your lovely email. This project for me has been very empowering - creating images out of feeling desperate or shitty or full of rage has been cathartic, a way to get in touch with resilience and defiance rather than having to sit with and endure overwhelming feelings. Exhibiting it has been something else entirely! Seeing, hearing and reading people's reactions is fascinating, supportive, affirming, encouraging, positive. Your email confirms how this process of creating, whether from behind the camera, in front of it, or both, offers agency and empowerment and choice in who and how we can be.
I'm planning to come and see your exhibition towards the end of this week, so if you're there we can meet and have a chat I hope. Let me know when you're likely to be there and we can go from there.
Thank you again,
She is a serious, thoughtful person and does not easily show emotion but I felt from the start that she was excited by my invitation. I put it to her that our reasons for exposing our bodies were similar in that we had both wanted to hide them when we were younger but nothing is ever that simple and the more that she explained, the more I realised this. There followed an interesting series of emails in which we discussed the difficulty of moving from self portraiture to photographing another person and her tendency to defer to the other person in such circumstances. We met a second time at my house and talked about a venue and what to wear; we were slowly formulating a plan for the shoot. She showed me some very personal poems that she had written and in the days that followed I felt the need to express my own feelings and sent her these words:-
You showed me the words,
Which I did not ask to read,
Which I needed to read,
Which you needed to show me,
Which I wanted to hear.
Your poems were strangely beautiful,
They told a story,
A story of hell.
I cannot remember the question,
But I do remember the answer I gave,
That I had, we had,
Given my own daughter the happiest of childhoods.
Soon you and I shall dance together,
And after, you shall tell another story,
In words and pictures.
A story of a woman and a man;
It will not be strange or beautiful
But normal and safe.
Then the shoot itself. Caroline had worried beforehand about her inexperience as a photographer, especially compared to others I had worked with. I reassured her saying that her lack of experience
meant nothing to me - I was interested in the way she thought and expressed her feelings. It was awkward for both of us. Caroline did not say much but nevertheless, bit by bit we relaxed and tried different things and by the end, we were flying. The photographs show this progression and, good as they are, I feel that they are a stepping stone to more intimate and intense work which I am hoping we shall start soon.
Whenever I begin a shoot, unless I am instructed otherwise, I wear a blank expression. This was my intention with this shot but I was surprised by the sadness in my face accentuated by the open collar of my shirt and the angle of the hat. I am sad, about the state of my body, my voice and my energy but this was completely unexpected.
Not so sad but there is a poignancy and a pathos nevertheless. The great entertainer in front of a plain linen curtain and walls pitted with age.
I didn't know what Caroline would do when she entered the shot and she didn't know how I would react but it works. This time, she is the performer wearing her flamboyant hat whilst she strikes a subordinate pose in my presence.
One of the last shots as the music on the 78rpm record boomed out a jazzy Latin beat. I like the blur of my right arm whilst my left hand points to the exit.
Slightly funereal, waiting for something or someone. The rich colours contrast nicely. Enigmatic. Suggestive. Quiet.
Wanton. Passionate. Scarlet. I play to the crowd whilst my dancing partner "dies" in my arms. I adore the way Caroline's right hand hovers in the air ever so gently and how the outline of her slim bicep and the shadow of her armpit reveal a hidden strength and resilience in her frail figure.
Is Caroline looking at me or the camera? Am I aware of her presence and what are my thoughts? A ghostly companion on the day with the bouquets of green vegetation and our clothing suggesting a celebratory theme.
Well, enough for now. I have learned a great deal through writing this piece and I hope that you will understand why I should want more.
seen - known. valued.
taken seriously. respected.
to be whole
a full sized person
not to fold myself into the spaces
left by other people
not to acquiesce, accommodate, hide.
- From "See me Hide" by Caroline Burrows
Caroline's project - See me hide - https://www.behance.net/carolineburrows