My Island Home | Karl Hurst

Island Songs (flags)

From ‘My Island Home’ by Karl Hurst

I don’t know what I mean, except that meaning is created through things. Even then, I’m not sure I prefer one thing over another. Perhaps it is unique to photography, the desire to single out things in this way, to make quick decisions based on simple criteria. Part of island thinking is to feel isolation at the very core of what you do, to know that each thing remains in a substratum of its own existence, that each thing commits to its own universe by design. The exotic is quickly absorbed into the main, if there is a main.

All a photographer can do is to present a version of these particularities. The opaque nature of the photograph hardly allows for any transparency other than this. One reality should never be dominant over the other. And yet, it often is; the desire to set down something other than the presented truth is insurmountable for the photographer, ever present. Whether it’s Don McCullin or Diane Arbus, the idea of the world being an unobtainable surprise is ever present. For an island thinker it isn’t about how many times you can photograph the disasters of war nor how many gratuities or deformities you can add to the oeuvre, but what the thing feels like when you’re inside the thing. What the sarcophagus feels like from the inside; what being buried alive feels like.

So my bit of the world is no better or worse than anyone else’s. I watched a band play, a child that people tried to raise money for, went to a sad birthday, caught a bush that had been dormant all year then suddenly erupted in a cerise that I barely understood, if such a thing can be understood. I turned my camera on to an isotope of gesture that revealed an open channel to somewhere or something I have no idea how to access but deeply felt and understood.

Today, the camera is everywhere, but for me, when I switch it on and the shutter makes to close its sound on a thing, I know that it is still a precious instrument, one that we as an island nation have not yet seen or taken to our hearts, that can record things that we do not yet understand. The camera itself is an island. I think of it in this way, just now, just for today, as earlier I was watching a thing about the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll. I wasn’t really that interested to be honest and then suddenly Jerry Lee bursts the keys of the piano like it had never deserved to be played before. Like the instrument itself was new born. Just an experiment in the colour and texture of where he’d dragged the instrument from. Whose barn? What barn? My barn. That’s what island thinking is like, not to be innovative or crass but to see the energy and fear in your neighbourhood eyes and then to harness that as if it would run the piano or the camera for a thousand years.

Karl Hurst‘s photoset My Island Home / Island Songs can be viewed here. This essay first appeared on his Ipernity site; click here to view his other essays and photography. Details of his publications with Longbarrow Press (as Andrew Hirst) are available here.

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