• Neale Stratford

Who am I? What am I?

I have been thinking about what I am because as an art practitioner, simplistic labels do not fit comfortably with me. Artist, Visual Artist, Fine Artist, Fine Art Photographer, or even just Photographer all seem to have a tinge of pretentiousness (besides grating against my blue collar working class roots) that do not adequately defining exactly what I do, and why I do it.

Trying to describe my 'practice' to the layman or even someone with some knowledge in the arts fills me with dread for fear of sounding like a madman babbling nonsensically in a foreign language.

Stranger: Hi, I hear you are an artist. What is your medium?

Me: Er, um, photography - I am a photographer.

Stranger: Oh great, do you do weddings?

Me: No. I am not that kind of Photographer.

Stranger: Oh, ok, what do you photograph? Portraits? Landscapes? Still Lifes?

Me: No, no, nothing like that.

Stranger: (sensing impatience) Well, what then?

Me: (all confidence leaving my body) What do I Photograph? (hear goes, deep breath) Actually, I photograph personalise Jungian archetypes set within a post-Orwellian dystopia by utilising 1/6th scale lay figures as characters, some which are based in popular culture.

Stranger: (stony silence)


Stranger: Lay figures?

Me: Action Figures.

Stranger: Action Figures?

Me: Dolls (nodding).

Stranger: Dolls? You photograph dolls?

Me: Yep, Dolls (still nodding).

Stranger: (again, stony silence)



Me: I'm leaving now. Nice meeting you. (I quickly scurry out of the room and try to find the nearest cat to talk to)

So what am I? Photographer? Artist? Or nothing but a cat whisperer with delusions of an art practice having any artistic merit of significance at all.

Sometimes I float between all those labels offered...depending on my mood, my confidence...or the lack of both.

This is the problem with someone with my condition. Depression and anxiety does not allow me to settle on any particular label that defines my art practice, myself as an arts practitioner, nor, even as a functional human being . The 'highs' of wellness, some would call a manic period, where anything is possible. While with the lows, everything seems to be an insurmountable hurdle - practicing art, work, getting out of bed, breathing.

I try to work through these melancholy periods...even if nothing productive is accomplished. Just the shear act of 'doing' something to get through the dark times that could last for days, weeks even. The worst thing about these times is the lack of feeling, not physical feeling, but emotional, psychological feeling. It is hard to describe the nothingness, the abyss where nothing matters. I do not mean in a horrid way that I do not care, far from it. It is that any 'input', any stimulus, means nothing. Whatever happens, I am numb to it. 'Yeah, Whatever' becomes the mantra of the day. Even worse while this is happening, is that I am aware of it at the time. I know that I am not well, but it is also like I am an outsider witnessing the literal train wreck, watching as it happens but also powerless to do anything about it while as it occurs.

If there is any positive aspect of this depressive period, (rightly or wrongly) it informs my art practice. Yes, my art contains some dark imagery within...but as in my life, also has dark periods in which I experience and my art becomes a reaction to that reality I endure.

Having said that, I now believe there is a label I can identify with, I'm a 'Self Portraitist'. My art is a reflection of my soul...and I am comfortable with that.

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