What do a candle, binoculars, a piece of string, tree bark, a gold spandex outfit and a knife have in common?
Well, they were all some of the objects chosen for my New Years New Desires photography project. A photo-shoot where participants brought along an object or piece of clothing to represent their new year's intentions which would then be incorporated into a portrait.
This idea popped into my head in December 2014 as I was planning a trip to Devon. There were a group of us heading to Dartmoor for a big walk on new years day and I thought it would be fun to ask everyone to bring an object that represented their desires for the coming year. I would then do individual and group pictures. We had an axe, a selfie stick, painted shapes on skin, and photos of loved ones. There was also gale force wind and fog. After about 40 minutes of walking into the wind and many wonky photos later, we discussed it over lunch in a pub. It turned out that each individual had put a lot of thought into the shoot and the preparation had been a big process in itself.
As these were my friends, I had the opportunity to reflect on the years they had experienced and how they related to the photos from that day. There were threads and lines of enquiry that had continued and unravelled - just as they would have been if there were no photo shoot, but the existence of a photo meant there was something to anchor the desire visually and something to look back on.
I repeated the shoot with friends in January, this time up a mountain in Austria. It was great to see each person choosing their unique setting amongst the trees of an orderly forest; making use of the ferns, frozen ponds and slender trunks.
I'd also offered the experience to others throughout winter 2015/16 and I was able to experiment with a range of people, places and types of intention. I had been experimenting with different meditation methods to help people drop into an intuitive space and reflect on their vision; this helped people reconnect with their intention. I discovered that the shoots that flowed best held an intention that lay somewhere between a precise goal and an "open to all outcomes" approach. Below are a selection of photographs from this series.
This article that I found in connection to an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection by Emma Newlyn has really helped me to clarify my understanding of an intention:
"Setting an intention is very different to setting a goal: goals are concerned with the future and encourage us to work towards something which may happen later; an intention is something which - once set - affects our every thought, word and action from that moment on."
Taking images of people holding an intention has been a privilege, often a humbling one and requires skilful holding and caretaking - something I am learning more about as I go on. There is the delicate art of when and how I intervene and how I steer the shoot. It isn't only about what I want to see; it's about what wants to be seen. It is also about what that person is willing to show and then how they see themselves afterwards. There's a lot of seeing and I do my best to see with care.
I'll be offering these shoots each winter from now on, but I'm also open to anyone wanting to set an intention through a photo shoot for other reasons, not just the arrival of a new calendar year. New partnerships, business ventures, weddings and other phases of life all create opportunities for pausing, setting intentions and being witnessed. For more information contact me through my website here.
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