I noticed I was faltering on writing about my illness. I took yesterday off from writing. In the morning, Jared and I saw financial professionals - friends - who were willing to talk shop with us. Afterwards, we picked up our son and celebrated a family member’s birthday well into the night. We returned to a chilly house, tired and stuffed with food. Bed called, not writing.
I sensed another day off from writing looming. Looming. And, like exercise, another day off might follow that one. I want to take this topic to the end, and see where it goes. I decided to look back at my writing from that time as a prompt.
The writing is twenty years old. Before looking at the documents, I wondered, What did I say? How did I say it? Did it sound stupid and naive? I read the introductory material from my thesis draft submitted in November of 1998 and my final draft from May 1999. Once complete, my thesis project included a written paper and exhibit of my artwork, as was required of all BFA candidates.
My initial draft begins:
In September 1998, using a “straightforward documentary style,” I began photographing close family members and friends. Commonly, my work was criticized as distant, cold, and objective-seeming. Since I am quite close with my immediate family, it seemed that I should move closer to make my intimate relationship to the subject more apparent. I attempted this by using a wide-angle lens and fast film and then, a point and shoot camera. Despite increased technical ease, the images were not only aloof, but also boring. I felt the work was incomplete and adhered to a conventional documentary look. The static image negates interpersonal dynamics, but I wanted to continue working in black and white photography rather than film or video.
Art Speak, that November draft.
I would have never finished this thesis. I only briefly broke the distance barrier I describe above with one human subject, my now husband. I met him more than a year after completing my thesis. Making photographs of people, other than myself, has never been easy for me. [Being photographed by others is also not easy for me.]
A couple months later, my life completely changed. I was in the hospital as I have begun to describe in previous essays on this blog. In fact, my life had already begun to radically shift between November and early January before I became ill. I will write on that later.
In the final draft of my BFA thesis, I write:
“I have realized that the written part of my thesis will be completed only if I approach it as I did my photographic process: as therapy. Academicism alone is irrelevant to my physical and spiritual survival. I am in a space between despair and euphoria, which demands both intellectualism and poeticism. Since here, in this writing, I cannot escape from the reality of illness, I will discuss my photographic process as both a diversion from the conscious self and an assertion of the individual. I risk revealing my unconscious strategies of coping so that they become too obvious to myself and therefore useless. In “Performativity and Difference: The Politics of Illness and Collaboration”, Tina Takemoto writes, “As unrealizable as it is irreversible and inescapable, the specter of illness insinuates itself until one can no longer determine whether all other thoughts and actions serve merely as a form of distraction or relief” (9). This is why I simultaneously dread and embrace this part of the process. This writing, like my photographs, exist within dichotomies of displeasure and pleasure, confrontation and diversion.“
More Art Speak, that’s the language I knew. From feminist theory and art, I also knew the language of memoir, firsthand account, and personal documentary. And, within this mix I continued this journey, and here I am today.
Dear Parents, if your progeny wants to go to art school, I say, “Yes”.
Takemoto, Tina. “Performativity and Difference: The Politics of Illness and Collaboration.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society 27.1 (1997): 7-22.