5. Intimate portraiture

Here, I'm attempting to document the people who support me on a day to day basis. That said, there are notable absences photographically, because of geographical distance. For example, many of my friends and family members live in the United States, and I am simply unable to photograph them in person. For this reason, I have decided to omit their images from this gallery, but it should be noted that this does not mean that they don't support me. I also am fortunate enough to receive vital support from some very capable professionals in terms of my education and personal growth (for example, tutors and my therapist), but due to the professional nature of their support I have also decided to omit any images of them. 
 
Below are the English friends and family who support me currently. I have listed them in order of importance to me in terms of physical, emotional, artistic and personal support and growth. Some of them have no idea that they support me, and I prefer it this way as it relieves them of the burden of feeling responsibility when perhaps they are not able to carry that.
This is my partner, Dale. 
 
Dale and I have been together for just over two years, and he has seamlessly segued into the role of stepfather to my son Tom. Both Dale and I each have ten years' worth of therapeutic spiritual practice behind us, which means that we are able to tackle any challenges that come our way with equanimity, love and mutual support. Together, we have weathered both of us graduating from our undergraduate degrees, him embarking on his career as an artist, me embarking on my Masters degree, and the daily grind of living a life together and co-parenting a 7 year old boy (who adores Dale, thankfully). In amongst this, we have tackled (and are still tackling) the finer points of emotional maturity in the way that we relate to each other and the outside world. 
 
Without Dale, I would actually be homeless and destitute, as all my savings are going on my education, and we need his salary to survive. I also would not be able to study, as I would not have time to do 100% of the childcare and study at the same time. I fear what would happen if we were to split for any reason, but I am also accepting of where that would take us both - I trust that whatever happened would be for our highest growth. That said, this level of trust fluctuates when my fear swamps me.
This is my ex mother-in-law, Susan, pictured here with my son Tom.
 
When I became pregnant with Tom, despite the fact that I was not married to their son, Susan and her husband were delighted and accepting of our situation (which was unconventional and continues to be so). I had known their son, and therefore the whole family, since I was 16 years old, as he was my first love. We fell in and out of touch over the years and finally reconnected when I was 30, and Tom came along soon after. Unfortunately, the relationship did not work out, but thanks to the steadfast support and love of Susan in particular, we've managed to maintain a cordial relationship which allows Tom to have unfettered access to his father. She has also absolutely and unquestioningly been there for me whenever I've needed anything, including food, clothing, childcare, emotional support and other bits of practical support. I honestly would not have survived the first few years of Tom's life without her help. Gratitude doesn't even begin to cover what I feel for this woman.
This is my son, Tom. In this picture, he is watching one of his beloved Minecraft videos on YouTube. 
 
My son is my greatest teacher. He has totally changed how I see myself, and he is doing his job of poking holes in my being with absolute precision. He shows me my clay feet on a daily basis, and gives me the loving space to work these things through without judgement. All he requires from me is love and honesty, and it is astonishing just how difficult it is to stay in integrity at all times when it's required at this level. I am in awe of his ability to cut through all of my bullshit and not hold a grudge. 
 
Of course, he doesn't know this. But he will, when he is old enough to understand.
This is my best friend and collaborator, Ollie.
 
Ollie and I span an entire generation in terms of age, and yet he is the person I feel most at home with. We share similar taste, working methods and media, cultural influences and sense of humour. He is my soul twin. We make films, take photographs, teach, watch movies, read books and cook together. He's an integral part of my daily life and allows me to relax and enjoy being myself. I feel like I can breathe again, all tension draining away. We hold space for each other to be safe and work through any and all of our issues, completely non-judgmentally, and most importantly, with a dash of humour and irreverence. I would miss him horribly if he passed out of my life. It would be like losing a limb. We have a very frank dialogue, and he knows his importance to me, and I'm aware I represent the same space of love and safety for him.
This is demonstrably not my mother. It is instead a picture of her living room. I chose this picture to represent her because it is her safety. She lives in the armchair at the bottom right, and this is her view. She is not in the photograph because she loathes being photographed - this is a legacy of her father constantly waving a camera in her face when she was growing up.
 
On the surface, it is I who supports my mother rather than she supporting me, as she needs help to move and cannot shop or visit the doctor or dentist without me. However, she supports me by being herself and allowing me to move past issues from childhood. She continually shows me where I need to be vigilant in terms of my attitude to life and the gratitude I feel for all of the blessings I've had bestowed on me throughout my life. She does not know this, as to explain it to her would be to take her back to a time when we all suffered terribly.  
Notes:
 
Doing this exercise felt like a chance to articulate my feelings about the people I interact with daily. While I talk to Dale, Ollie and Tom about how grateful I am all the time, it's nice to have the opportunity to reiterate. I haven't had much of a chance to explicitly speak of this to Susan because of recent family events, but I am hoping that my continual offers of support and daily chats on the phone are conveying my gratitude to her. Sadly, my mother is not in a space to be able to hear what I may have to say to her, and I must respect this rather than force a conversation that would cause her difficulty.
 
I am fortunate enough to have had some amazingly stretching experiences in my life, and I've surrounded myself with people who contribute to my growth in a very conscious way. As a tantric practitioner, I have an acute awareness of the importance and role of the people around me in terms of my development and theirs. Perhaps less clear to me is where they end and I begin, and this is interrogated in my moving image work and ongoing Jungian analytical psychology.
 
Over the years, in my own practice, I've looked at the work of Sally Mann and Larry Sultan, as well as Nan Goldin and Tina Barney. I espcially like the stiffness and disconnect written in the work of Tina Barney - her intention is to illustrate the difficulty her family has in relating to each other. See 2: Research Reports for further information.
https://sarahwalden.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/tina-barney/ 
https://sarahwalden.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/photographer-nan-goldins-best-shots-art-and-design-the-guardian/
https://sarahwalden.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/sally-mann/
https://sarahwalden.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/bbc-photography-genius-of-photography-gallery-larry-sultan/
 

sarah walden