Discovering A Theme

One of the things I do with my students when I go to the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Television in Cuba to teach, is that I ask them to work on a little creativity exercise involving them playing with imagery from two unrelated habits in their lives. What is amazing is how, when you help them free up their minds about playing freely with imagery, strong themes start to emerge which they feel an immediate personal affinity to. Evocative themes and stories emerge out of what seem like unrelated imagery and with focused attention and loose minds, where we throw out as much conscious thinking as possible, meaningful and sublime projects emerge. Importantly, they are projects with themes that the students feel a necessary connection to. Actually, one could take random events from one’s life and once one does what Kipling says – ‘drift, wait, obey’ – the muse takes over and what is revealed is that everything one notices and everything one is interested in is connected by the person and in this connection lies the themes that probably will be with that person all their life. Each of us probably tells the same story over and over again, but we circumnavigate these recurring themes that we were probably born with, or at the very least developed in our childhood. In the circumvention, we explore different narrative forms in differing contexts and, hopefully, we become better and better at telling that deep seated story.

Man Smokes A Cigarette With Birds in Halifax UK

As I have rediscovered an old passion of mine, photography, I have been going around seemingly randomly taking photographs. (Nothing is random, just like there is no such thing as a coincidence – a discussion for another time.) Sometimes when I look at other photographers’ works, I see that they often pull everything together in themes that usually are related to a physical place, a specific culture, or an identifiable person or group of people. The theme in question often comes out of a specificity that has some socio-economic or cultural parameters that is generally well understood.  Not always. However, as I go around taking photographs, seemingly randomly and often in circumstances that have been brought about because I am somewhere for other reasons, I could find no obvious ‘project’. I love just going somewhere and taking photographs. There is no ‘assignment’, no ‘project’, no ‘statement’ and no specific ‘exploration’. I work myself into a state of mind where I’m not thinking, into the zone, as Beckham said about taking free kicks, and in that state I just see and press the shutter.

Destitute Crosses Street in Hong Kong

However, as I start to reflect on what I’m doing, I realise that there are themes that emerge from these apparently random shots; themes I was not aware of when I first started shooting them. I realise that my themes are not bound by a place, a particular culture or a particular socio-economic context. I am drawn to feelings, specific feelings that transcend any particular culture or particular context. These are feelings that permeate all my work and no matter what I do, they will seep into everything I create. Having said all of this, photography is, by its very nature, about the specific physical surfaces of the world in which we live, including place, space and people. However, the beauty of what can be done is to take your viewer to a timeless, space-less place where feelings and thoughts have no form: they just are.

Woman On Doorstep in Havana Cuba

I am now starting to collect and curate my photographs into narrative collections which hopefully will start to reveal these themes and work for other people. In the photographic section of the One Day Films website, you can see examples of how I am starting to put together themed collections from what were originally – seemingly – random shots. First my collection around my regular trips to Cuba, which is now starting to take shape as Cuba In Waiting and, more recently, my exploration of feelings of spiritual doubt in a series tentatively entitled, Doubt. Enjoy.