HeadOn Photo Festival
The past couple of weekends has seen me clocking up some serious miles across town in a bid to see as much as possible of Head On Photo Festival . This is an annual festival that showcases the best of Australian & international photography and I bloody love it. It's so inspiring to see so many talented people's work. There are some cracking venues too - I love that its an excuse to potter around some new places while drinking in the the inspiration.
First stop: Gaffa Gallery, in the CBD. This is housed in a beautiful old heritage building, which I think used to be a police station. It's a tall skinny building and the gallery is spread over several floors. It reminds me of the old buildings in Buenos Aires - tiny, unassuming entrances from outside but vast on the inside. It even has a studio in the roof garden! Sadly I didn't get a picture of it, but it was fun to imagine an artist at work, a canvas surrounded by greenery, in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city...
There were some beautiful images by Silvi Glattauer which explored "a personal narrative of identity that pendulates between Australia and Argentina". Her landscapes are so calming and the colours are just dreamy. I also really enjoyed the graphic, black and white candids by Antonio Privitera - such clever composition and proof that everything looks better in monochrome.
Onwards to Paddington Reservoir, where I lingered for a good hour because, well, just look at this place! It was a working reservoir in the 1800s that was transformed into an "urban park" in 2009. I got carried away taking photographs of my own, but after I had exhausted all possible angles I put my camera away to concentrate on the exhibitions. There was quite an international flavour, with artists from the States, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. I loved the series Of Caravans and Canvas (below).
A short but sweet stop next at the Botanic Gardens to see Leah Kennedy's Progress? which was very cool - sparse aerial landscapes which took on a surreal edge when seen as a collection. Can we also take a moment to appreciate this outdoor gallery? I hope that there's more outdoor venues like this next year.
Another beautiful venue, this time the State Library to see some photojournalism. Here they have a collection of photographs of John F. Kennedy, from his early years in the army, through the advent of televised political debates, and ending with a photo of Jackie, alone, her face like stone, on the day of his funeral. I wasn't expecting to be as touched by these images as I was - I left the library feeling really sombre at seeing such a singular man's life told in just a few carefully curated images.
Juniper Hall is in Paddington, just across from the Town Hall, and its one of those places I've walked past hundreds of times and thought that I should go in and look around. Finally, last weekend I did, and what a wonderful space it is. It feels like an old house that you've been left to roam around in; I was taken with the details surrounding the marble fireplaces.
Here they were showing the entrants for the Moran Contemporary Prize which is focused on 'contemporary life in Australia'. As I've vowed to myself countless times to learn more about Australian culture and history, I fell like I learnt a lot from this exhibition - in fact I went back the following week, it was that good.
Finally, to the festival hub at Paddington Town Hall. There was heaps to see here and I spent along time going back and forth between different exhibitions (I'm not one of those people who goes round an exhibition in an orderly sequence; I dart between things that catch my eye). Of all of the incredible work here, the exhibition that had the biggest impact on me was Paula Bronstein's Afghanistan: Between Hope and Fear. I felt such a range of emotions as I moved along the wall of photos. One image in particular, of a girl begging outside a restaurant stayed with me for a long time - it was so devastating, yet so beautiful at the same time.
I left the Town Hall feeling inspired; to take more photographs, to take better photographs, to work at learning the craft but also to be more creative with my techniques and compositions. Above all I want to be more fearless. I want to stop telling myself that I can't do something, that it isn't "me", that I shouldn't bother trying because it's probably too hard. I want to be courageous. Now I need to do the work to get me there.
I got a new camera recently, a Nikon 35Ti, from the early 1990s (so technically not new). Its my first film camera and I'm in love. Want to have a look?
It's been really fun shooting with a film camera for a change. I love the look off film photographs and the anticipation of getting a roll developed. I'm going to continue to use my Nikon D3200 (film is expensive!) but switch it up regularly as I get used to using my new toy. I also think it's going to make me a better photographer, as now I've got my first roll of film back, and sifted through some duds, I can see the mistakes I've made, either with rushing taking the picture or not thinking properly about what the light is doing at that moment.
I think that's a good metaphor for me to slow down and take a step back before reacting to situations. I've had a few bad days lately, where my anxiety has bubbled up and I've found myself spiralling into negative thought patterns. The inner critic has been very gobby of late! But I'm trying to remember to pause, notice my thoughts, and take a few deep breaths before reacting. It's easier said than done, particularly in a moment of conflict, but every time I make myself do this, it becomes a little easier the next time.
Anyway. Slight detour in what was supposed to be a post about my pretty new camera! Want to see some photographs?
I wanted to share some quotes from the book I'm currently reading, Immortality by Milan Kundera. I was going to attempt to write a little after each one to explain why I picked it out; but honestly, trying to write anything after quoting Milan Kundera just feels like a waste of words. He's such an incredible writer and I love every one of his books that I've read so far. His writing connects with me in such a deep way, and I wanted to share just a few of my favourite passages from this book. If you haven't read some Kundera yet, you need to do so. Immediately.
She said to herself: when once the onslaught of ugliness became completely unbearable, she would go to a florist and buy a forget-me-not, a slender stalk with miniature blue flowers. She would go out into the street holding the flower before her eyes, staring at it tenaciously so as to see only that single beautiful blue point, to see it as the last thing she wanted to preserve for herself from a world she had ceased to love.
A person is nothing but his image. Philosophers can tell us that it doesn't matter what the world thinks of us, that nothing matters but what we really are. But philosophers don't understand anything. As long as we live with other people, we are only what other people consider us to be [...] our self is a mere illusion, ungraspable, indescribably, misty, while the only reality, al too easily graspable and describable, is our image in the eyes of others.
I think, therefore I am is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothache. I feel, therefore I am is a truth much more universally valid, and it applies to everything that's alive. My self does not differ substanitally from yours in terms of its thought. Many people, few ideas: we all think more of less the same, and we exchange, borrow, steal thoughts from one another. However, when someone steps on my foot, only I feel the pain. The basis of the self is not thought but suffering, which is the most fundamental of all feelings [...] in intense suffering the world disappears and each of us is alone with his self.
The word 'heart' is seldom used in a literal anatomic sense ('my heart pounded'), more often it is used as a synecdoche designating the breast ('I would like to press you to my heart'), but in the vast majority of cases it means the same as the word 'soul': the feeling self.
It is so difficult to be indifferent to one's image. Such indifference is beyond human strength. One becomes capable of it only after death [...] just shortly before I died I declared that I felt such creative power within me, it was impossible for it to disappear without a trace. And of course I believed that I would live in the image I left behind me. Yes, I was just like you. Even after death it was hard for me to accept the idea that I no longer existed. You know, it's really very peculiar. To be mortal is the most basic human experience, and yet man has never been able to accept it, grasp it, and behave accordingly. Man doesn't know how to be mortal.
Let's talk about confidence, shall we?
At the beginning of every year I like to sit down and do a bit of a 'year in review' - reflecting on the year just gone, and looking ahead to the coming 12 months. Setting goals, writing lists, that kind of thing. This year, after a ton of reflection (3 days' worth, in fact, talk about navel-gazing!) I decided that in 2018, my number one goal was to increase my confidence.
Fellow goal-setters will know that this is not a good achievement to strive for - "increase confidence" is such an ambiguous concept, there are no specific outcomes, no data you can measure, its not specific or time-bound or any of those other words that business gurus use when talking about SMART goals.
Yet, once I started thinking about it, I realised that a lack of confidence was at the root of a lot of the issues that I felt I had been struggling with in 2017. Once I drilled down further, I saw that there were in fact specific, tangible actions I could take, that were small enough to not feel terrifying, but when added all together, would hopefully result in my feeling just that little bit braver, and standing that little bit taller.
I thought of all the things that, if I did them, would make me feel that I was a more confident person - from small things like cooking something new, trying a reformer pilates class, or eating in a restaurant on my own, to bigger things that I felt carried more 'risk' for me like driving solo, presenting at work, or suggesting a meet-up with someone (does anyone else find this so difficult? The fear of rejection is real!!).
Tackling the small things first, and realising that any discomfort or humiliation I felt was all in my mind, made it easier to move on to the bigger tasks. The thing above all I wanted to do this year was to write more, write online (not just in a journal) and tell people about it.
It has been somewhat cringe-inducing (but also wonderful) to see my friends and family sharing my blog on social media and telling people about it; writing is such a personal thing for me that putting it online for anyone to read is still a terrifying prospect if I think about it too much. Nevertheless writing that first post and hitting "publish" has also been one of the best things I've done this year so far.
The ironic thing is that I feel so much more confident already, but that feeling has come about only from recognising that my low self-esteem is my biggest weakness and has, I feel, held me back in many ways in the past. It's only since I have started acknowledging my shit-talking "inner critic", and referring to it almost as a separate part of myself, that I'm becoming better at shutting the door on it when the negative self-talk starts. Professional counselling has been a life-saver in that regard - something I'll discuss more in a future post perhaps.
I know that building up my confidence is a lifelong skill and that yes, I'm never going to be the the person in the middle of the party with a circle of people hanging onto my every word - but thats ok, and in the meantime I can continue to deploy these little actions that push me out of my comfort zone and in some big or small way, make me feel more confident.
I'd love to know if anybody else out there struggles with confidence / low self-esteem. If you do, what things do you find particularly challenging? Are there any strategies that help to overcome those feelings of inadequacy? Or do we all just "fake it 'til we make it"?
the round up #1
A bit of light relief after the last deep 'n' meaningful post - here's all the things my eyes & ears have been enjoying recently. If you have any recommendations for podcasts / books / music etc let me know in the comments!
We the People Live - Current affairs / politics debate show hosted by Josh Zepps; its one of the few podcasts in this vein that doesn't wind me up, as the conversation is usually respectful, balanced and non-hysterical.
Adam Buxton - Funny chatter with interesting people; I do at least one audible snort per episode. Plus Adam makes the best jingles hands-down.
The Comedian's Comedian - Not only for stand-up comedy nerds, the presenter (Stuart Goldsmith) has a knack for getting people to open up and there have been some cracker episodes (Reginald D Hunter was fascinating).
One Girl Band - New discovery, and one I'm really enjoying. It's geared towards female creative entrepreneurs, but has really useful tips on productivity, organisation and confidence in the workplace.
Philosophize This! - The host does a brilliant job of making philosophy accessible to non-academics.
Currently reading: Immortality by Milan Kundera - I'm loving this so much. Funny, sad, and so many "that's so true!" moments. Love it.
Recently finished: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (devastating), Stephen King's On Writing (loved - sparked my passion for writing again)
On my bedside table: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton. Will report back.
Shot from the Street - Fashion blog from a fellow northerner. I love how creative her posts are, and her "week on 35mm" is an idea I'm blatantly going to pilfer.
Brain Pickings - The world is a better place with this website in it. Writers, thinkers, artists and their greatest works are explored in detail, it's easy to get lost in this site once you start reading.
Absintheminded Magazine - My go-to for visual inspiration. The photographs are beautiful.
Where's my Bubble? - Painfully relatable comics for fellow introverts / INFJ-types.
The Uterus Monologues - Jennie is one of my dearest friends and her writing about recurrent miscarriage and trying for a baby is so thoughtful and affecting, she is a huge inspiration. I highly encourage you to read some of her stuff because it's brilliant.
talk to strangers
I was sat in the waiting room of a hospital in Randwick. I was feeling nervous about the procedure I was about to have. The corridor where I was waiting stretched for miles, and at the other end I could see a woman slowly making her way towards me. She came and sat down next to me and I instinctively did what so many of us do these days - I reached for my phone and avoided eye contact as if my life depended on it. After a few minutes had passed she asked where the receptionist was, and that seemed to break the seal - we started talking, and after a few minutes more, I put away my phone and asked her name.
Jana has lesions on her spine, acute migraines, blurred vision and tingling in her hands and feet. She said she spent most of last year in bed. She was at the hospital that day to have a lumbar puncture. It sounded painful. She seemed calm and quite cheerful about the whole thing, even joking with the nurse who was taking her blood pressure. As she had been so open with me about her background, I started telling her a little about my medical history and why I was having the test. As I was talking, she put her hand on my arm, looked me in the eye and said "you can't have children, can you?". I was surprised that she could guess this - I hadn't mentioned anything about it. "No" I said. "But you never wanted them in the first place" she said. Not a question, a statement. "No" I said. "And your partner doesn't want them either." Again, no question mark. She knew. "No."
"So why," she said, looking at me more intently still "are you still feeling guilty? Why are you letting other people mould you into something you don't want to become?" At this point I had to laugh. "Jana, are you a fucking....guru or something?". I couldn't get over how she was able to read my situation so clearly. She continued: "you feel guilty a lot of the time. You think deeply, but you also worry a lot. What you need to remember is this: you are enough. You don't need to try and be anything else. Why can't you accept that?" Before I could answer, the nurse called me into the next room.
I thought a lot about my conversation with Jana, even after I left the hospital. It seemed significant. I don't believe in psychics or mind-readers or anything like that. But I do think that there are people, like Jana, who are more attuned to human nature, and can see and feel things more clearly than others, and have the wisdom to get to the heart of things straight away; no bullshit, no concern whether something is 'polite' to say or not. Just say what is true.
The kindness of Jana, her willingness to open up to me straight away, and her wanting to help me, got me thinking about all of the other people who have helped me over the past few months. My doctor, Kerry, who is compassionate, so smart and so determined to get to the bottom of my health issues. My counsellor, Mary, who listens with empathy and good humour, even though she's probably heard problems like mine a billion times before. The countless nurses, doctors and hospital staff who have put me at ease when they have seen that I'm nervous about a procedure and have gone out of their way to make it as painless as possible. I'm lucky to have experienced not just the kindness of my nearest and dearest, but so many good-hearted people that don't know me from Adam.
If there's anything I learnt from this experience, its this: Be open, help people, and look them in the eye. Set 'kindness' as your default position. Most importantly, put away your phone and talk to the person sat next to you in the waiting room. They might teach you something about yourself.
Some shots from the past week, taken with a cheap disposable black and white camera. I'm quite pleased with how most of them turned out and it makes me want to invest in a film camera. There's something so satisfying about seeing how your shots have come out when you get a roll of film developed. It's way more exciting than looking at a little screen and ditching bad shots on the spot. Prepare to see a lot more film photographs on this blog!
It was a fun experiment to shoot Sydney in black and white. I think of it as being such a saturated, glossy blue-and-yellow place that it was a challenge to photograph in monochrome. It made me concentrate more on the form and shape of things, and I think the best results are the city scenes and the simpler, more graphic shots.
Some of my favourite photographers like Anders Petersen, Robert Mapplethorpe and Henri Cartier-Bresson shot largely using black and white film. They're a huge influence and I would love to one day develop a style like theirs - black and white film just looks so bloody cool - but I don't know if I can forgo the blue skies and yellow sands of this beautiful city just yet...
a good life
I went to the beach yesterday. It was a beautiful late-summer day and the sun felt incredible on my back as I walked on the sand. I walked the entire length of the beach, then sat on some rocks at the southern end. There was a family nearby - mum, dad and their two children. The boy was around 3 or 4 years old, and he was digging a hole in the wet sand. His mum was helping him, and seemed to be enjoying herself just as much as her son. The father was playing with the little girl in the surf. She was just able to toddle and she was absolutely gorgeous. Her chubby little legs were kicking the water and she had a huge smile underneath her pink sunhat. She was so unsteady on her feet that her dad had to keep scooping her up out of the way of the breaking waves. Every time a wave crashed around her she would shriek with laughter.
As I watched this family playing together, I wondered if they were happy. Certainly they seemed to be, in that moment. Are they more fulfilled than I am? Do they have better lives, do their lives have more meaning? Would the parents have been this content, if they hadn't had children? Is my decision not to have children the wrong decision? Will I regret it? Will I get to the end of my life and feel it was wasted because I didn't have a family of my own?
As any sensible person knows, comparison is the death of happiness. Yes, maybe the fact that this family on the beach have children means they have a sense of fulfilment and value in their lives - but who's to say that can only be provided by children? Can't one find meaning through other avenues - be that community, creativity, relationships, work or in fact anything else one chooses to pursue in life?
I left the beach. On my walk home I passed another father and daughter. This time the girl was a bit older. She was balancing on a wall and her father hovered next to her, trying to hold her hands every time she wobbled. She wanted to walk alone, without his help and kept refusing his offered hand. It seemed a fitting metaphor in that moment. OK, so say I have a child. Being a parent brings value and meaning to my life in a way nothing else is capable of doing. But then...children grow up. They become independent beings in their own right, and suddenly they don't need to rely on you anymore. They leave, and meanwhile - you're still stuck with you.
This is a somewhat confused way of saying that yesterday, I came to the realisation that I need to be content with myself instead of relying on other things (be they money, a career, relationships or having a family of my own) to bring me happiness.
I was reminded of the quote by Epicurus that I've written at the start of this post. It's a favourite of mine. Friendship, freedom and time for contemplation. I feel I have those things in abundance, which might not have been the case if I had taken a different path and had children. Yes, I'm sure they would bring me happiness. But I'm doing OK as I am. I'm living a good life.
for blogging and for life
As I thought more about writing and what I wanted this blog to be, I found myself almost immediately talking myself out of it. That 'inner mean girl' started piping up about how nobody cares what I have to say, my writing is awful and self-indulgent, my photographs are boring etc....so I started furiously writing to try and drown out her voice. Below is the result - eight maxims that I can come back to any time I start to doubt myself and my writing.
It was only when I finished my frenzied scribbling that I realised the below advice could apply just as easily to life as to blogging. A personal manifesto if you will, for writing and for living.
Not cliche, not what you think you ought to write, and not apologising for yourself. Write with sincerity.
Tell her to can it when she starts trash-talking you. She does not rule you. Eliminate the word "should" from your vocabulary.
Look to improve your writing and photography wherever possible. Try new things, make mistakes, fail, try something different.
Not because you think you should. If it stops being fun, do something different.
If a topic is overwhelming to unpack. pick just one small aspect - a quote, a specific idea - and bring it back to the personal. Don't get overwhelmed by the breadth of the subject, delve into the specifics instead.
You will learn through making mistakes. Do not fear humiliation or vulnerability. Regret is worse than either of those things.
...probably never. And that's a good thing. Why do something if it's not going to challenge you in some way? Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.
Welcome, reader. And thanks for stopping by.
Flourishing is a project that I have been thinking about for some time. It was born out of frustration with a somewhat unfulfilling job and a wish to do something creative in my free time.
Lately I have been writing more, as well as pursuing an interest in philosophy through reading, watching lectures online (this is a great introduction) and listening to podcasts (Stephen West you da best). Rather than start yet another notebook to jot down my learnings and thoughts, I thought I'd try writing online instead. I also wanted to have somewhere to store the billions of photographs I take every month.
So I thought I'd combine it all. Hopefully, into a space that feels welcoming, inspiring, the kind of blog you'd like to settle down with on a Sunday morning and read while enjoying a cup of coffee.
I don't yet know how this blog will develop - maybe it will become more like a weekly diary, documenting the things I have been absorbing, whether thats books, podcasts, blogs etc., or maybe it will become more theoretical as I delve deeper into the world of Philosophy - but I hope its a place that you want to come back to time and time again.