I have always thought that there is a certain amount of ‘input’ placed by a photographer into their work – whether the photographer realises it or not. Like a subconscious fingerprint, it sits hidden in the work until something triggers the reasons, the thoughts and the final understandings of the what and the why. I had recently had a moment that suddenly made me see something, a glimmer of understanding. It was a story on the BBC webpage about a man in his 50s with HIV – and his fear of the future. His fear of death, his fear of poverty, the uncertainty that has been with him for over 25 years. This story made me realise, in a flash, that these fears are alive and well in my own mind too. And now I can see these uncomfortable feelings in my own work.
I have talked about this before, in an interview with Bill Steiger. I don’t think that I really understood what I was talking about then, but they seem strangely prophetic now.
BS Do you think that there is more to your work than meets the eye?
MJ I think that beauty is a strange thing. It can be so instantly compelling, and yet empty. It can be so exciting and still unsatisfying. I would hope that there is something more than beauty in my photographs.
BS Such as?
MJ Well, I think that beauty is the initial attraction for me. The beauty of a form, an abstract composition that makes you excited. But I think that there must be something else, another level, that your mind reaches into and somehow makes decisions without you realising it. I am pretty sure that there are reasons for me working the way that I do, that I do not know about yet. And to be honest, I’m not too sure that I want to know!
BS But surely, if you know about the reasons then you would understand your work more and be able to talk to people about it?
MJ Its kind of like a cave that I don’t want to go into. If I can make stuff without going in there then that is ok with me.
BS You don’t want to find the source of your creativity. I can understand that. Are you afraid of what you might find?
MJ (laughs) Yes! It all starts to sound a bit self centred doesn’t it? But maybe that is what you have to be? To be deep inside yourself?
BS I know of a lot of artists that are. They go on about their own mortality. Doesn’t that become a cliche?
MJ (laughs) Maybe all a cliche is, is a conclusion that a majority of people have come to? But I can understand why artists think about mortality and death and how it creeps into their work.
BS And they use it to feed their feelings and to get work done?
MJ I suppose so, but it seems like quite a dark bedfellow to have – to use your thoughts of death as a slave for your creativity!
BS Your work is quite dark isn’t it? Quiet empty of warmth?
MJ Not for me. It is full of excitement and wonder. I can sometimes sense sadness though. I have no idea where that comes from!
BS Maybe it is a hidden emotion, tucked away?
MJ I suppose there could be something hidden that made me make certain choices over the years? I don’t know.
Little discoveries like this, for me, make the journey so fascinating. It kind of like a train trip where you spend the whole time looking out of the window and start to learn about yourself from what you see along the way.
It can get quite self centred. Maybe that is what you have to do – to get deep inside of yourself?