Naomi Woddis

This is a guest post from artist Naomi Woddis on how the power of photography has transformed her experience of living with Lyme Disease. Her current project Whoever Was Using This Bed is an exploration of the relationship to our beds through photographs and text.

Light. Shade. Colour. Line. Shape. And love.

Some years ago I was at a pub celebrating a stranger’s birthday. Afterwards we ended up at a mews house in Camden that was small but sparsely decorated with a magnificent altar in the corner adorned with brightly coloured cloth flowers, half burned candles, incense and a large golden Buddha. I forged a temporary friendship with the woman who owned the property and we chatted most of the night. I was impressed by her candour, warmth and the seeming ease of her relationship with her new husband, and how this small house was beautiful in its own carefully chosen way. There were no superfluous objects and like the life she lived appeared entirely tat free.

Although I had spent a great deal of my later teenage years writing and taking photographs, here I was in my early thirties working my way through a handful of working to live jobs, hungering for both intimacy and purpose and here was a woman who seemed to have it all. Outside daylight was yawning in to view. She told me about all about Feng Shui. By the time I left I had a plan and that plan was going to change my life. I knew it sounded crazy, but if it worked for her perhaps it could work for me. I would no longer be the whirling dervish at the centre of my own existence.

The next day, with a roll of black bin bags I set about getting rid of everything I didn’t need. Clothes, chipped crockery, stained teaspoons, paperbacks, vinyl from my days at Virgin megastore that had come with me from flat to flat to flat, and finally the folders of negatives and contact sheets, the lovingly printed ten by eight portraits were all put in to the bin bag, along with rotten food and cigarette ends and teabags, then taken away with that week’s rubbish collection.

It happened again. This time with a charismatic self-appointed therapist. I never knew exactly what his qualifications were. He also ran a therapy group whose members I mistook for cool, well-adjusted types with perfect unstained cutlery and clothes that never ran in the wash. There was a lot of pillow punching and guttural vocalising. We would go away for long weekends and it was, at times, exhilarating to share our mutual madness. After a pretty detailed guided visualisation he told me that the ‘guidance’ was for me to burn all my work and I leapt at the chance.

The next day, under the bemused eye of my then flatmate, I dragged the wonky three-legged barbecue to the centre of the patio and began to burn my work, my juvenile poems and diaries, teenage anxieties captured with urgent scrawling pen, my later work after taking creative writing courses, short stories from my early twenties, the last year’s work – my writing, myself – the sugary smell of burnt paper and charred flakes of black and grey carried away by the breeze.

After a period of unremitting depression I crashed in to writing again, much the same way I crashed in to photography. I had no desire to garner status or a career. It was a breakdown that enabled me to pick up a pen again. I even had my own radio show and was part of a community, at last. I was a writer. From the rooftops – I WAS A WRITER. My gluey depression was finally becoming less sticky. I was also taking portraits again and had an exhibition.

Then something happened – the Gods of getting rid of things stepped in. I contracted Lyme Disease, which has left me feeling exhausted and in pain for long periods, sometimes housebound for months at a time. Along with the Lyme came short-term memory loss and word finding difficulties. At first it was near impossible to either read or write. Remarkably my ability for visual language and composition has increased. I don’t know if this is because I had to find a home for my creative expression or whether the Lyme bacteria has just ignored a part of my brain. Either way I am very grateful – photography has saved me from falling off the cliff and drowning in a sea of despair.

I’m still working, less on a recovery, more on an extended remission. In my worst moments of ill-health I have been bedbound for months at a time and at last I am able to venture a little further than my immediate environment. Pure stubbornness has kept me going, that and the prevailing idea that everything is worthy of the camera lens.

Most of the photographs here are from a project called The View from Here, which initially began as a result of being too ill to even sit up in bed. I started by taking photographs on my phone, playing around with various apps in order to edit them. The project now has expanded to include the tiny flat I share with my 88-year-old mother and is as much about our relationship in our differing states of physical frailty as it is about my illness.

Some years ago when I was a yoga devotee my teacher explained the purpose of a regular practice, whether it be meditation, going for a run or walking the dog. The practice remains the same whenever we engage in it but it is us who changes. The fluctuations reveal our own seasonality as human beings, the good days and the bad days. This project has meant that I have had to re-visit the same subject repeatedly. It’s taught me about seeing the new in the familiar.

Lyme Disease has stripped down my life and my creative practice to the bare bones. Instead of throwing away many of belongings in the hope of living an exalted life, or burning my work in an attempt to curry favour from a heavyweight patriarch, this pared down life has been gifted to me by fate. It is entirely out of my control. Winter reveals the skeletal beauty of a tree without leaves. This stripping down has allowed me to see the essence of my work. And that has been invaluable. Light. Shade. Colour. Line. Shape. And love.

@NaomiWoddis (Instagram)

Dianne Yudelson

Dianne Yudelson is an award winning photographic artist from San Francisco. In her project Lost Yudelson documents the mementos of the children she lost, breaking down the social stigma of miscarriage.

Above: Lost: Bryce

Miscarriage is still very much a taboo subject. What brought you to create Lost?

Last July, after helping a friend through a painful loss I reflected on my own personal experience. These thoughts propelled me to take down the big white box in my closet which safeguards the mementos of my lost babies. It had been quite a while since I last took each item out and as I laid them on my bed I felt their story needed to be documented. I have read the assertion that meaningful art occurs when you share yourself and create from the depths of your soul. So I shared. Hopefully, in sharing the images I can touch the lives of numerous women who have experienced or are in the midst of experiencing the painful loss of a baby. They are not alone in their journey.

Lost: Charlie

What role did your photography play in providing closure or resolution (if any) to these experiences?

When you share a deeply personal experience from your heart and soul, you will find that you touch the viewer of your image on a more profound level. They will identify with the human truth within the message of your piece. It is said that in giving you receive. I have found this to be true, especially when you give from the heart. In helping to heal others emotional pain from pregnancy loss, I have lessened my own.

Lost: Gwendolyn
Lost: Jane

I'm curious about your thoughts as you were making the work. Was it important to emotionally detach or was each session devoted to the individual loss when shooting?

When gathering the mementos for each individual image, I began with a real sense of devotion to that baby. When I stepped behind the camera I worked to maintain a balance of my emotional connections to the mementos and the technical and artistic eye necessary to capture the image.

What was it like to work with and handle such personal and emotionally invested items?

Working with my most private and precious items was humbling. I arranged these items in a manner I felt told the narrative in a humble and pristine fashion in direct correlation to their short and pure lives. When dedicating myself to creating something humble and pristine I decided to produce the images in black and white (white is the color of purity and innocence) using natural late afternoon light– those last bright moments of light before evening begins.

Lost: Jeff
Lost: Mary and Vivian

What personal barriers did you overcome in order to share it?

Personally I found that overcoming the pressures to stay silent about this type of loss is beneficial to a great majority. I believe everyone knows someone who has miscarried, be it mother, wife, sister, friend or coworker they simply have never spoken of it. When experiencing this type of loss other people can, in the hopes of being helpful, make insensitive comments inferring your grief is unreasonable-- so you keep it private and locked away. Never hearing a conversation about miscarriage sets up a social, culture taboo.

Lost: Violet

What do you hope viewers take away from Lost?

I have received emails and messages from around the world from both women and men who have reached out to tell me their experience. What I hope evolves from the creation of my images is a broadening in the conversation and understanding of miscarriage, both physically and emotionally.

I would like to add that just last week there was a woman who spoke to me announcing that although she never suffered a miscarriage she was touched by my images. She said she thought my Lost series was important as it allowed me to document what might have been. I asked her to consider that it allowed me to document what was.