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CURIOSITY FIRST

Life’s problems almost never offer ‘either/or’. Nothing is truly clear, little is completely understood and even less is fully right or wrong.

Making photographs begins with curiosity and with an itch. Without curiosity you have no need nor desire to enter what is often a time consuming exercise. Without the itch – an inexplicable desire to regard the light reflecting from the ever moving, ever changing and unpredictable three-dimensional flesh and blood world, and to coax it through a lens. This transforms life into a frozen two-dimensional artefact that becomes a representation rather than actual life. Without that itch, this task is too arduous.

It’s the curiosity of a child when she asks, “what is this” and “what is that?” It’s not ‘childish’ but filled with the innocence of ‘child-like’ curiosity, of making sense of her world.

For me, I keep asking ‘why’ until there is no ‘why’ left. At that moment – given the limitations of my knowledge and personality – I’ve reached as far down into the essence of the thing as I can. It’s like cooking ingredients of a sauce until only the essential syrup is left.

There are the curiosities of the external world with its wild, unknown but tantalizing hills and valleys beyond our horizons. Then there are the curiosities of one’s inner life of the psyche, often surrounded by restricted freedom and social immobility. But there we can discover unlimited dreams and desires. These two worlds describe a fusion between the inner and outer dimensions of our lives. Both are real and valid, both hold adventures for the soul and the mind. Both can be investigated through ones work.

When I am more concerned with my ‘self’ rather than the world around my ‘self’, my work becomes narrower, less generous and too preoccupied with a private dialogue. It’s particularly difficult for those under the age of 35 in the European and Anglo-American worlds to realise that the individual, without community, is of less interest and less value in this period when a unity of the well-meaning is so vital and when now, we must use our intellectual and creative tools to show in detail, what this world is. 

When we think otherwise, we enter the ideologues or worse, the fundamentalist’s world of fixed ideas and exclusivity which condemns all who dare to imagine or to disagree as ‘heretics’, ‘the damned’, ‘the other’ and as such, not worthy of life.

This child, wrapped in netting, rushing through an allotment, is a curious picture – an image about innocence, a delight with one’s own imaginings and phantoms. photo: Robert Golden

Art deals with the ambiguities of life. Fundamentalists, like bureaucrats, politicians and the security services only comprehend ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Bureaucracy, for instance, is characterized by its box-ticking methodology. That is because it only functions in black and white, in the tidy world of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to maintain their version of order.

Creativity by necessity of its processes let alone its inclination to embrace the unknowable,
is the enemy of order, the bête noir of defined options and of closed totalities demanded by those who control bureaucracies, rule politics and make war.

This is why, before anything else, we need to know that we can and must ask questions, that we must be endlessly curious. It is this curiosity through which creativity and freedom is discovered.

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