“We tell ourselves stories in order to live” - Joan Didion
When I sequence carefully chosen photos, I wonder whose story the viewer is seeing. Can a series of images convey a personal story, and yet invite onlookers to author their own meaning? If these stories entangle and combine, whose story is it?
“The Elastic Forest” doubles down on these ambiguous questions. The only people in the series are my wife and her elderly father, so while the imagery is personal the subjects could be anyone, the settings anywhere, the underlying narrative familiar to many people.
The story is of our journey through a hard winter and the return of spring. The photos were taken on Bowen Island (our home on Canada’s west coast), Vancouver, and at my father-in-law’s home further inland. The series uses a simple central metaphor: loss conveyed by images of felled trees, their dissolution, and finding the means for tending to new growth.
I wonder how my narrative echos through the viewer’s experience of the work. Are my images simply a framework, a focus for projected psyche to flesh out as needed, or does the viewer make something completely new? My hope is that the imagery holds open a space that allows the audience’s created meaning to undergo a kind of alchemy, mixing with the residue of my intended story. The result can be a layered, ambiguous fable that floats in that third space, owned by neither the photographer nor the viewer.
The title is a suggestion that the world we photograph is malleable, each of us using it to create meaning moment by moment, as needed…” in order to live.” So, beyond William Eggleston’s proposal that the world is a “Democratic Forest,” that everything is photographable, perhaps we attach our own layers of meaning to the imagery we engage.