PSYCH OUT: Bryony Ball
Psych Out is an ongoing series on the topic of fear & creativity.
In response to many of our readers expressing that fear often blocked their creative flow, Seymour asked a variety of entrepreneurs and artists to share their experience in their own words. Discover how they get over anxiety and self-doubt and find the strength to move forward with their projects.
BRYONY BALL is a photojournalist and interdisciplinary designer from Bristol. Her work focuses on social issues, human rights and people. She recently has started working for The Bristol Cable Newspaper (Independent People’s Media) and volunteers teaching photography in a recovery college with the charity St Mungos. In her personal work she enjoys experimenting with mixing traditional Photography with more modern technology and creating interactive art installation. Here she discusses her experiences working with the Basti Ram charity in India.
I was going to India to teach a Photography course in a destitute boys’ home in Udaipur. I had been selected to go and work on the project by the charity Basti Ram. The course itself was two weeks with lessons every day, culminating with an exhibition of their work in the home. This project was important to me because as well as teaching something I am passionate about I believe that photography itself can be a powerful tool for building self-esteem and confidence. I also feel strongly that everyone deserves to have the chance and skill set to be able to create photographic work as it has the ability to comment on issues such as politics, inequality and poverty in ways that language and other media could not express and is one of the few mediums that can cut across racial, cultural, social, educational and economic barriers.
Basti Ram wanted to introduce creativity into their education, as they didn’t currently have any creative subjects being taught. The photography they took would then be shown at an exhibition in London and on multiple online platforms giving them the opportunity to represent themselves and have their own view of their lives seen by thousands of westerners. While I was there I had also planned to work on my own photography project too.
The trip scared me for many reasons. I suffer greatly from panic disorder, which varies between mild anxiety attacks and insomnia to extreme panic attacks and depression. I was very afraid of doing the teaching aspect, having no previous experience of this and I was afraid of my own project too; I struggle to be able to do any of the projects I actually plan, as they are often overly-ambitious. I then get too stressed about this, over-think everything and then have a melt down. I had never flown alone before and was terrified of flying (this alone had definitely been holding me back). I was also concerned about travelling alone as a woman.
To be able to keep as calm as I could in the run-up to leaving I kept myself extremely busy planning the project and researching similar work and ideas. I was working in a very fast paced and hectic way in order to distract myself. This was nothing new – I thought I worked best when I was stressed anyway.
Finally the day came around to actually leaving. Filled with anxiety and fear (and a little excitement) I made the journey to India. After arriving it took me a few days to properly settle in. Once I had, I began to notice something about the way many people behaved in the area (and maybe all over India). They had a certain pace about them: slow, steady and patient. There was never any feeling of ‘rushing’ to do anything, particularly in the house where I was staying and also in the boys home I was teaching in.
It was not relaxed (we had long days of hard work that were very structured) but it was a steady and solid environment. Certain fears I had had about India and the projects disappeared rapidly and I noticed I was sleeping well for the first time in ages.
At some point towards the end of my first week there the internet cut out, not just in our area but also in the whole of Udaipur. I had already got used to daily power cuts and limited technology (as well as electric shocks when using the computer without any shoes on) but suddenly, without the internet, I felt quite lost. I was used to being able to do lots research around my work and posting work I’d done online instantly.
The people in India were in no rush or panic about the matter – in fact they were quite calm and content without it. Nobody seemed to know, or even care when (or if) it might come back on (it actually stayed down for my entire trip).
I had to learn to work a lot slower and a lot less, in a more peaceful and organic way. It made me realise how much I had been relying on modern technology for my work the past few years, which was odd as in my head I had seen myself as someone who was very anti-technology and who worked primarily in traditional practice. I was completely wrong. The internet and technology had been controlling the way I had worked for a while and I just hadn’t noticed to what extent.
When I began teaching the course in the boy’s home I also discovered that we had more limitations involving technology there too.
I had to change how I had planned to teach completely. The equipment was incredibly basic. Some of the cameras were 9 years old and some had such little memory on their SDcards that often they could only take 12 images at a time. We had to work a lot slower and more like you would on an analog camera. I had to teach them to be more selective about what they chose to photograph. We also had no computer so we didn’t spend ages selecting or editing work, instead we discussed the work and looked deeper at why they had chosen to shoot what they had and how it had worked (or hadn’t).
This was different to what I had expected but much more interesting. Stripping everything back and just working with ideas and inspiration rather than technicalities was much more enjoyable.I had expected to be teaching this course but I felt more like I had been learning myself.I discovered a lot about myself and my practice, about developing different ways of working and about a different pace of working.
I had expected to be teaching this course but I felt more like I had been learning myself.
I discovered a lot about myself and my practice, about developing different ways of working and about a different pace of working.
What I found most interesting was noticing the way that, in the past, I had felt I had to be deeply unhappy or angry to be able to make good art – not only the subject needed to be emotionally driven in this way, but in the process too.
I noticed how panic and anxiety had been holding me back in different ways than I had thought; previously, I had assumed that these mentalities were a part of my work and that I could only create when I was distressed. I had not even considered that one could make work without these emotions.
The boys didn’t want to photograph what I would have wanted to about their lives. Most of them didn’t focus so much on a story or mood but simply a flower or a wrapper on the floor that looked pretty – things that I would not have first thought of photographing myself. When we discussed why they had chosen certain objects often the answers were ‘because it looks good’ or ‘because it makes me happy’.
It was refreshing. Their practice was very peaceful and simplistic but it seemed to make them really happy.
When I visited the city I noticed how some of the artists in the area worked too. Lots of them were living in poverty and had interesting and challenging lives (which I would have found incredibly interesting to photograph) but their work was concerned with things that were beautiful too. Some painted pictures of gods they worshiped or animals they loved. Often there was work that was just abstract colour or paintings of street scenes but focusing only on the bright colours of the buildings on the street.
I had not previously taken much of an interest in purely aesthetic art. I had always wanted to see and make work with lots of meaning or a complex story behind it.
But I started to become really interested in the work and it started to affect my own practice.
The project I had originally planned to do wasn’t interesting to me any more.
I had tried to make it work but I kept feeling like my story was too forced and had no real point.
The boys I had been teaching had influenced me and it had changed my attitude.
When we went out into the countryside, to the tribal communities, I started photographing the people just as they were – not looking for stories or reason.
I looked at them being happy – their laughter, the colours and the beauty of what I was seeing – as it brought me great pleasure.
It was strange because somehow I was making work that was exactly the kind of work I wanted to avoid making when planning my trip. But I noticed that working in this new way, I felt happy and content. Usually I would feel very stressed and anxious mid-project.
In the end my photographs from India were just a series of pictures with no real story or specific focus. They simply studied people, joy, and colours. They were, to my amusement, everything I had wanted to avoid doing; they were lots of images of beautiful Indian children, street scenes and portraits.
I am not saying this is how will continue to work because I want to pursue photojournalism and my drive is people and discovering their stories, but the experience of seeing how other people approach creating work and truly trying it out myself had inspired me and had made me slow down. This ultimately affected me as a person too and now I feel less stressed and panicky when trying to create.
I spend less time with technology too and more time just ‘being’ with the subject before trying to capture it.
I noticed when I came back to the UK how different the pace is. It took me a while to get used to the rush and panicked energy of everyone. Being away from western society, even for that short time, had made me notice a lot that I hadn’t before; the over-whelming need for instant satisfaction and instant communication; the impatience people have because of this; advertising constantly telling you what you need and don’t have and who you should be (something I had always known but not felt the full weight of until stepping back from it).
People around me noticed a change and calmness in me when I returned. I was able to work more freely and had taken down blocks and barriers that I hadn’t even known that I had had before.
I think there is something to be said for the way many creatives seem to work in the UK (probably largely influenced my mainstream media.) There is a discontentment and almost self-torturing attitude to our practice. I have noticed it in people I have worked with and in famous artists whom I admire. Their work might be incredible but I wonder how content they are in life. If you are paying more attention to negative emotions and revolving your art around your distress in situations and yourself, how happy can you ever be?
I can see now that there are other ways of producing work that can work as effectively but reduce stress levels significantly.
Making simple changes to my practice and shifting focus during the production of work has made a huge impact on what I do and what I can actually achieve too.
Published: February 19th, 2015