Other Human

BW+L1040765

A response to the photographic series Other Human, a work by Suze Eyles, 2015, which can be seen here. The text can also be downloaded as a PDF here Other Human – A Response

Other Human

 “I’m so very tired of being all alone here.”[1] Alone amongst the shadows. Caught between the faded floral bloom and folds of dirty net. Lost within the spiralling swirls of papered walls, whirling like a Waltzer.

Photographer Suze Eyles’ poignant photographic essay, Other Human, is presented as both a series of individually framed and aluminium-mounted prints, and, as an accompanying monochromatic and multi-layered publication.

Eyles’ intimate series enters the world of Andy, a friend diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder – a condition that we are only made aware of through the accompanying text.[2] Quasi-portraits are shot on a small digital handheld Leica, domestic in size like the interiors upon which the work reflects. The series documents the ‘rhythm and routine’ of Andy’s daily life at home, creating an added layer of voyeuristic vulnerability to that which comes from being ‘looked at’.

The suggestion here is that we have been invited in: into a life, in amongst the domestic debris of soiled sinks and the fraying edges of an armchair’s woven throw. Into an-other’s world.

In one image a trailing wire traverses the wall – an electrical vine held in place by the aging tackiness of mottled tape. Perhaps what it is really holding in place are the vestiges of normality, maintaining communication with a world beyond these walls. In another, a key hangs starkly on a lone hook as a clock steadily tick-tocks in the corner counting time – in the stillness of these images we wonder just how much time has passed.

It is these faded edges of a life that Eyles’ latches onto. Traces and shadows that simultaneously intimate and eviscerate. In a number of images the focus falls on brightly lit hands, yet we never clearly see Andy’s face. It was Eyles’ decision to add this layer of anonymity, which also provides a subtle acknowledgement of the day-to-day difficulty autism presents in reading facial expressions.

Instead images are defined by shape and shade. Andy’s identity can only be glimpsed at through the fabric folds of a sleeve, a bent head, or the protective posture of hunched shoulders. We search for clues amongst the plastic paraphernalia of canine companions, the saccharine decoration on a china mug or the imprint of a body in the sunken seat of an armchair – creases waiting to be shaken out.

“I’m so very tired of being all alone here.” We too are alone. Alone and lost within each image, feeling amongst the grainy filters. As photographs they are hard to read: softly focused and colonized by darkness and shadow. In the accompanying book the matt-paper soaks and submerges the light so that it is hard to see beyond the emptiness and dated drudgery of domesticity. Texture too is important. The wall’s papery sheen, the dense shag underfoot, even the grit-ridden tidemarks and dirty rings that mark the stainless steel sink absorb and engross, enveloping and enfolding our gaze, pulling us inwards amongst the gloom.

Yet they are images only half-known. They pull us in and then turn us away, deliberately holding us at arm’s length. It is often upon the fringes of each image that our attention is focused: a dog-gazing outward past the photographic frame or the contents of a room that lies beyond a half-crooked door. They create a feeling of separation, a liminal gulley that lies between, impossible to cross. We cannot see in, yet neither can Andy see out. As if a grubby sleeve has been smeared across a windowpane, leaving a smudgy film. “I am inside my world. A world like no other.”[3]

This lack of ‘focus’, both formally and technically, makes the viewer work harder. There is empathy to be found amongst the emptiness, and the lingering ‘lack’ of subject helps to reinforce this. The suggestion being that as we struggle to ‘read’ each image we are physically re-enacting Andy’s struggle in daily life to communicate beyond this world.

The anonymity of Eyles’ subject also suggests a broader aim to the project. It is not just Andy’s world that we are peering into, but that of others or ‘other’: “So although it is put forward as a portrait it is not the portrait of one, but in essence a portrait of many persons.”[4] Andy’s ‘absence’ leaves room for others to occupy the space. So too do the gaps within and between each image. The resulting intrigue of Other Human is perhaps a result of this space.

Eyles’ approach to photography remains strongly wedded to the notion of a collaborative space in which photographer, subject and viewer play equal parts. It is a method as intimate as Other Humans theme. And here, presented as two parts of a whole – book and print – this co-dependent relationship is reinforced. Containing both word and image it is tactile, textural and inter-textual.

Within the book words appear as fragments intimately interwoven between each image. These ‘borrowed words’ are selected almost entirely from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carrolls’ classic tale of misadventure. The ‘wonderland’ for Alice is both magical and chaotic, a place where language often fails to communicate. The fact that these words are neither Andy’s nor Eyles’ is in this instance particularly apt, allowing each text to standalone, signposting neither east nor west.

If the combination of word and image brings multiplicitous meaning to our experience of Other Human then the physical intimacy of the book itself is also relevant. It can be touched, held and enveloped. The act of cradling it between our own hands draws us back to Andy’s hands. We/he is still alone, but perhaps now not quite so other.

 

[1] Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, first published 1865, quoted by Eyles, Suze, Other Human, 2015.

[2] Here we also learn that Andy’s mental and physical health, and subsequently environment, has suffered neglect and deterioration over a number of years.

[3] Sebert, Connie Rae, Autism, 2009

[4] Eyles, Suze, Other Human: Empathy Creation Through Collaboration, 2015

Image credit: Other Human series, Suze Eyles, photograph. Photo © Suze Eyles.

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