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the art of disassociation

I am currently reading Susan Sontag's On Photography and am finding it very interesting indeed. One of the themes that is explored is that photography is, by its very nature, disassociative from its subject. She argues, quite compellingly, that in the quest for the image one removes oneself from the activity(ies) that are the subject of the photograph and rather than being a participant, one becomes an observer and commentator both.

A little while back I was listening to Radio 4's excellent the Write Stuff (or was it ... never mind, I can' remember) where an author was talking about writing. One of the most interesting points he made was that once you had made the conscious decision to become a writer, everything you experienced from that point was viewed as potential material for writing. The world, instead of being a place in which you exist, becomes a place of material.

Writing and photography (and any art, arguably) requires a level of disassociation from the environment around the artist. Everything is observed, viewed, noted, photographed, remembered, weighed, considered and stored. The act of involvement becomes one of consideration, the act of remembrance becomes one of creativity. As writers and photographers we take what we have experienced and known, draw upon it, link it with experimentation and fantasy, and from this create something new (if not to the world then at least to ourselves).

Ten years ago I took up photography and now, invariably and subconsciously, I view the world through the eyes of a photographer. Since I have restarted writing, after a long absence, I have also begun to view it as such. The world has morphed from being an experience to being a potent source of  inspiration and creativity.

The act of taking a photograph disassociates you from the scene. Consciously you begin to interpret the activity, forming and forcing it to fit the constraints of your creativity. The camera pressed against your eye defines your view on the world and, by its nature, removes you from it. You remove yourself from it by the act.

Writing is a solitary function, requiring a level of solitude, both physically and mentally, to allow that process to take place. Writing forces your eye downwards, obscuring the world with your preoccupation. More than that, when you are out and about, you will no doubt find yourself cataloguing conversations and situations, wondering how you will best use them when you come once again to keyboard or pen. Both are forms of disassociative observation, one more immediate than the other.

Do we lose something in this? Perhaps we lose that spontaneity of experience, without ulterior motive. Perhaps we become to considered, too intellectual, too bound by our art. This is the nature of humanity and specialisation, that we consider the world in light of our endeavours.

We, publicly or privately, practise our art, removed and yet part of the collective whole. We become more aware, and by that awareness become less involved; we become more observational, more judgmental and more critical. The world around is is weighed, and that which is worthy is photographed or written about. That which isn't... isn't.

Yet there is a prize for this disassociation. Like the shaman we place ourselves at a crossroads, we take on the burden of being the medium between worlds and interpret them accordingly. Becoming a writer or photographer, like any artistic endeavour, is a choice that we alone can make. It defines us and our world, just as we define ourselves and the world with it.

Cross-published at www.josekilbride.com


in the garden