In our fast moving, success orientated world it may seem that vulnerability is a weakness. Having worked in the vibrant hospitality industry and the results orientated education industry I am familiar with that perception.
My travels through the hierarchical world of management, from trainee to senior manager, certainly reinforced that view. Managers who reacted in ‘inappropriately emotional’ ways or had a ‘health crisis’ were often encouraged to follow different paths. Our learnt behaviour, through observation, was to be logical, determined and resilient.
My own health crisis occurred in the middle of my aspirational College career. I believed that I was on track to even higher levels of responsibility and was (almost) completely signed up to the accepted model of management style.
When I first became ill, I carried on. I worked for another 3 months, through a major inspection before succumbing to increasingly more challenging health. Whilst I was well supported by the College for over a year, once it became clear that I was unlikely to be able to return to my job I was encouraged to take a redundancy package.
Some eight years beyond that final departure, I began to see another side to vulnerability. I had finally begun to understand and accept my own choices that had led to acute health changes in my chronic condition. I made the conscious decision to be open about my situation; to write about it here and to share my own vulnerability.
This allowing and admittance of a natural feeling has had two positive effects. Firstly, it has given me freedom to change my path. I have let things go. I have chosen to develop more supportive practices. Whilst this is still early days, by celebrating my authentic position I feel more myself, more rooted in core beliefs I am comfortable with. I can see that this change will provide the best opportunity to be healthy (as distinct from cured).
The second positive effect is that by sharing my own vulnerability I have given others permission to be vulnerable. I have received messages from others who have offered supportive words and related their own challenges. My friendships with other men have changed, deepened because a platform for discussion about difficulty has slowly developed. This has in turn further encouraged me that I am on the right path.
I am now two years on from that point and much has changed in my life and is continuing to change. The simple act of beginning to be open about my feelings has allowed more to surface. This opening in turn has changed my choices and decisions. My life has taken a new direction, and is still developing. It is like a stone thrown into the pond of life, the ripples spread out and out and continue to come. Eventually all will be calm, but perhaps the pond will never be quite the same again.
Vulnerability means facing up to my fears. Working towards understanding them. Working towards understanding why I make certain choices, why I behave in a certain way in particular circumstances. It is a doorway to greater self knowledge, and helps the development of fearlessness. You could say it is a superpower!
Vulnerability is an opportunity. By connecting to our own vulnerability, feeling it in our body and knowing it in our mind, we are one short step away from changing it from a perceived weakness to a strength.
Photographing feelings and other invisible matters requires a few tricks. First up, you gotta have your imagination fired up. For me, that generally means before lunch and maybe just after a large steaming mug of tea! Then you need to consider your preferred working style. If you’re a planner, who needs to consider all props and conditions, then get out a notepad and start brainstorming. If you’re more intuitive and responsive, then take a look around. What is before you and how can you use it?
I think it was Walker Evans who believed that the photographer’s greatest tools were metaphor, paradox and oxymoron. Me, I do favour a visual metaphor and in terms of my style I lean more towards the intuitive, with a touch of planning.
I created the photo below at a community photography workshop a couple of years ago. Having spotted our box of lego mini figures my first thought was to represent myself (the photographer) as one of the figures by using the lego camera prop. After I had decided against any of the hair additions (there not being a thinning grey haired one available) I had the inspired idea to use the T Rex as a metaphorical ‘threat/fear’, creating a vulnerable position for the lego photographer. Then it was just a question of an interesting location, use of the available light and choosing the appropriate exposure. Voilà!