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  • valeriehuggins0

Letting Go! (part 1)

I have started the year with a new project on the topic of 'Letting Go' through a workshop led by the amazing Laura Hynd, an experienced creative photographer, lecturer and mentor. I was initially attracted to the 6 week course by the promise of being encouraged to step out of my comfort zone, to push myself artistically and creatively. And now I am at the end reflecting on the process, I can say that has certainly happened!

The expectation of having to produce work each week to share has encouraged me to be playful, and with Laura's guidance I am now more critically aware of what constrains and enhances my practice as a creative photographer. It was also a joy to experience the contributions of the others in the group going through the same process of 'letting go', Each so different and yet offering me insights into ways of evolving creative practice.

I chose to focus on documenting the decluttering my home to demonstrate 'letting go'. I initially intended to pick a different topic each week, such as clothes, books, dvds/cds, the attic etc, but I found I stayed with one aspect: my dresses. Maybe the grass project that I had done with Paul Sanders in the summer - 100 days of grass! - had shown me that revisiting a subject again and again from different perspectives can be fruitful for creativity.

I aimed for a slow, calm appreciation of the objects that I was letting go of, finding ways to show my personal attachment to them. I restricted myself to one lens for the project, a 50 mm, reasoning that this is often used for documentary and portraiture photography as it gives a natural perspective, approximate to the human field of view. The images would have the intimacy that I wanted to convey.

The first session involved emptying the wardrobe of the dresses that I had worn for specific events over the past twenty years - sometimes only once or twice - and trying them on, as part of the saying goodbye.

I found the process very emotional. I complied a list of words that linked to 'shedding' and thought of these as I compiled the images. Including glimpses of myself was certainly part of the 'letting go'.

I was also letting go of my customary held-hand, spontaneous approach to image-making. The practicality of taking the images of myself, by having the camera on a tripod and using my phone as the viewer and shutter was a real challenge, but also helped me accept the randomness of the results. I got frustrated at times with unanticipated in-focus/out-of-focus areas because of the shallow depth of field offered by the 50mm!

As I delved deeper into the underlying messages of the project, I came across the Swedish concept of 'döstädning', or death cleaning. Sounds morbid, but it began to make sense to me. It involves simplifying life through decluttering - less stuff to organise, clean, store - while also making it easier for one's family when you die. I realised that the photographs of the dresses were stepping stones to something else - once I had a record of them I would find it easier to let them go.

But in the next week, as I pulled more and more stuff out of the wardrobe to document, I found myself feeling completely overwhelmed. Again I made a list of words before compiling the images to try to capture these emotions: swamped, smothered, drowning, submerged, buried, inundated, floored. These images resulted:

I could see that the process of planning a photoshoot gave the additional depth to the images that I had been after and helped to tell the story.

I wondered how I could tell the story of the journey of the clothes from my wardrobe to the charity shop. I remembered an exhibition called the Cult of Beauty that I had visited last year at the Wellcome Collection. One installation was Narcissister's 3 metre tall sculpture and the blurb says '(Almost) all of my dead mother's beautiful things' centres on the crushing weight of beauty ideals that are passed from one generation to another'. I decided on some kind of 'installation' with the dresses. I hung them on the washing line, and it was as though they came to life:

It was a (rare!) sunny winter's day, which gave amazing shadows:

and the wind was blowing so I used a slow shutter speed and a little camera movement to capture the dresses 'dancing':

As I watched the dresses, seeing them take on a life of their own, I thought about all the possible 'wearers', their differing identities, and the occasions they could have celebrated had I not kept them cooped up in my wardrobe. Why had I not let them go before? I realised I was trying to hold on the memories, the reminders of the happiness I had felt when I wore them at various weddings, parties, and graduations. But letting go of them would not diminish those memories surely?

I played round with multiple exposure to catch an essence of these feelings of other possibilities.

I was now over half-way through the project. I had given myself permission to change some of my set ways of creating images, I had tried out new ideas and taken risks. The photographs that I had created so far were very much 'me', and I realised that I had been on a journey of self-discovery. It continues in the next blog!

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