Photographing the unseen – a diversion



Photographing guilt. It’s such a no-brainer for me that I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me until now. Single-use plastics, outgrown clothes (hers and mine), gifts that are no longer needed, broken toys, broken promises. Not being a working mum, not volunteering at school, not doing my daily yoga practice, not being up to date on my coursework, not cooking enough, drinking too much, sleeping too little…

Today is meant to be a study day. My den is so full of stuff that I can’t work in there, even if the desk was clear.  My daughter, 9, had cleared out her room and much of the stuff had ended up in my room awaiting processing. She said it was rubbish, I wasn’t sure. Indecision, there’s another invisible thing to photograph. The situation is similar in the garage and the nagging background voice to do a couple of tip runs became a yell. I still managed to make a brew and procrastinate motivate myself with a 90 minute Netflix documentary on minimalism however (those who know me are probably snorting out their coffee at this point). Anyway, wired, encouraged, guilty-feeling and only slightly cynical I loaded the car and set off.

The local tip has been refurbished. There is a place for everything. I photographed my way through two car-loads, much to the bemusement of the site monitors and other users. Guilt is unseen, and so is our waste, discreetly dropped into containers and we return home to our decluttered spaces with little thought as to the load that we’ve just handed the environment.

Confronting and owning my own waste. It’s rather easier to photograph other people’s litter on pavements and beaches to be honest. I’m interested in the tidal flow of stuff into and out of my home. I feel guilty about waste in so many ways. Should I be selling stuff on eBay, discreetly stressing that the car seat has barely been out of the garage let alone involved in any bumps? Should I have found the pedal that fell off the much-loved and outgrown trike and see if I could re-home it somewhere? The plastic, that despite hundreds of uses as cups, potties, etc will sit in landfill beyond Blythe’s own lifetime? Should I have had another child, to get another cycle of use from these plastics (clearly that’s not an argument that holds up to rational scrutiny). The steam generator, achingly expensive, that died two months past the expiry of its guarantee. Should I at least have tried to get it repaired? The internet said no. The clothes that I worry will end up on a huge mountain of waste in the Philippines with children Blythe’s age picking through it trying to make a living. The endless drawings that she doesn’t want to keep, stages in her own creative journey, yet I can’t bring myself to photograph and release them to another life.

Presenting these for review. They might replace the fairies. They are straight from the camera, unprocessed as yet.

14 thoughts on “Photographing the unseen – a diversion

  1. Catherine January 16, 2018 / 6:44 pm

    Such a weight of guilt. I identified with the images even before I read the post. I keep wondering if it’s a ‘female’ thing and, if so why would that be?

    • Kate January 16, 2018 / 7:43 pm

      Thanks Catherine, for looking and commenting so eloquently. A friend who was training to be a psychotherapist always told me that guilt was a wasted emotion. I’m not so sure – I think it can be very powerful if it provokes change. I’m certainly thinking harder about plastics in particular. I don’t know if it is a female thing, I’ve read some powerful stuff on sustainability by men, and it’s a problem for everyone after all. I have a horrible guilt-ridden relationship about stuff – I feel guilty about buying it and I feel massively guilty about disposing of stuff we no longer need and haven’t been able to give away/donate. The sentimental stuff is even worse. Then I think of my mother – every time I go home she gives me boxes of my sisters’ old schoolwork/university notes and asks if they’re mine and if I’d like to take them with me. She’s obviously not struggling with sentimental attachment 🙂

  2. photosociology January 16, 2018 / 7:11 pm

    Very powerful, especially with the text under each photo.

    • Kate January 16, 2018 / 7:34 pm

      Thank you very much. I’m glad the text worked too.

  3. hilaryfarrow January 16, 2018 / 9:14 pm

    ‘You should have had another one’ I can identify with this. I have stuff stowed away in the event that a child visits us. A potty, blankets, special clothes, toys (the duplo and the duplo trainset), a baby buggy (?!) My youngest is 25. They should have been recycled years ago.
    I also think this is a female thing. We feel guilt about so many things. Throwing away the drawing done with care. At least we brought them home from playschool – others dumped them in the bin on the way out. Is this why people hoard? because they cannot bear to part with outgrown clothes, memories.
    I think the images work well, they all have a vivid point to them. The only image I cannot read is the last one. Is it a tip container from a different angle?

    • Kate January 18, 2018 / 2:35 pm

      This really made me think Hilary, thank you. I feel so sad for the children who don’t get to bring their art home. I know I grumble sometimes about the amount of drawings/makings we have here, but I would always want to bring them home , no matter what. I wonder too if it’s something to do with the miscarriage I had before having B, maybe that is something to do with how hard it is to let these things go.
      Yes, the last one is a huge textile bunker, taken from the ground. You throw the clothes and shoes in through one of the slots, and that’s it, they’ve gone, completely out of sight.

  4. ivadyke January 17, 2018 / 10:58 am

    Hi Kate, I loved your images and comments attached to them. I totally agree with you, it must be a women thing, feeling guilty not only when we are throwing our outgrown and old stuff of our children.Keep it up. 🙂

    • Kate January 18, 2018 / 2:25 pm

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, I’m thrilled that you engaged with my work.

  5. Nicola Hallam January 17, 2018 / 11:57 am

    Nodding along to every word you wrote. It’s exhausting isn’t it. This piece of work will resonate with a large audience, like your Decisive Moment assignment. Looking forward to seeing more.

    • Kate January 18, 2018 / 2:26 pm

      Hi Nicola, thank you! I’m quite intrigued by the level of engagement that people are finding with this work, so glad it’s not just me! Thanks for reading and commenting, hope your work is going well for you x

  6. jonathan515050 January 17, 2018 / 1:40 pm

    Have sent you something on instagram re plastic waste. I like the idea and the pictures, but if you don’t mind me saying in terms of your brief I think housework fairies as unseen were more appropriate (and also a great idea).

    • Kate January 18, 2018 / 2:30 pm

      I don’t mind at all! I don’t think I’m done with the fairies, but I am really struggling with finding the right light for them. I’m not sure I’m finally decided on A2 yet so do value your thoughts, thank you! I think I will bring prints from both sets to TVG at the weekend.
      Thank you for the link to Andy Hughes’ work – that’s very compelling and I will definitely look and read in more detail.

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