"Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom."
My mother once sat me down when I was, oh, eight or nine—after spending money on developing what I’m sure is an excessive number of film rolls and disposable cameras I had used up—and told me kindly that if I was going to take pictures they would have to include people. In her own words, “No one wants to see pictures of trees in the back yard and it’s almost impossible to get a good one of the sunset. Stop wasting film.” Little me didn’t totally buy it, but I also didn’t have an argument against it because, to this day, it takes me a bit of time to construct one. I also had yet to discover Ansel Adams. After our chat, I began putting "subjects" in my pictures—namely my stuffed animals, friends, family dog, and little sister. * Even after adjusting my style according to her critique, I’m not sure she was any fonder of my photography. **
Silhouettes seem to be a reduction. They seem to be a thing condensed into flatness; into not only lack of dimension and facet, but lack of feature, of identity. Are those the branches of a tree against the cloudy, fuzzy, deep yet pale night sky or capillaries and veins stretching across some ashen canvas? Some just see branches. I see a dark, reaching delta spreading pointedly, inky across the dripping rainbow sunset. In ambiguity and shadow the imagination can run freest, wildest. Not a reduction, but an expansion.
Darkness reveals us to ourselves. And that’s what most of us are running from today—not from a wild predator creeping toward the soft, propped tent of our ancestors, but from the space for our minds to wander and run free, space and time to think, space and time for anxiety and being. Some see me as undefinable yet immediate and real, and they fear. I see me and I see you and I see the blandness of the-way-things-always-have-been and the limitlessness of both shadows and dimensional things and I think, why must I or you or the forest or the trees be any one thing? What if we can mean and be many things? What if it is for us to define and dream and create and perceive and not be so bound and tied down to history?
The past doesn’t decide who it is I get to be and experience and become and morph in and out of, and the same goes for you if you so choose. Are you what someone, in fear, has told you to be or are you of your own design? We hear messages, are told that to be human is to be anxious and fearful and that we need saving from these things, from ourselves. True humanity, though, resounds from and is found in the ways in which we interact with and use this fear and anxiety. There’s no way around the vacuous pressure of death and existence. There are pacifiers, sedatives, religions, politics, sure, but they treat only symptoms and fail to approach any sort of cure. Because you can’t cure the anxiety of existence and treat the symptoms (i.e. the ways in which we act out and misuse this anxiety) as if they were the main issue. And what if it doesn’t need curing? What if it is a thing to be rushed into with enthusiasm? What if anxiety is a source of energy and not necessarily a force of restraint?
If the fear of darkness, of ambiguity is at its core a fear of what we don’t know, then instead of defining, creating, and perpetuating vile, malicious, and false stereotypes of the darkness, of the things we can’t readily see, why don't we get to know them? The darkness has wonders to reveal to us and promises our anxiety, our humanness a place to expand and explore and define and change and transform and to be. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to do it anyway.
*I was a kid with only a few friends, intense and undiagnosed depression and anxiety, and an abundance of alone time. If you tell a child with these qualities to start including human subjects in their photos, this is what you get: selfies and strange photos of siblings. See if you can't spot all the fun things from the 90's and early 2000's in my childhood bedroom. Not sure what I was attempting with this series, but it's easy to be critical of our early works.
**I don't know if my mother ever actually believed this or if she was just trying to get me to take fewer pictures. She often "likes" my nature photography now. It's come a long way from the shrubs in the backyard. Everyone starts somewhere. Anyway, I assume she enjoys a good photograph of nature.
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© Alessandra Ragusin 2016-2020