Blog post

A Jar Brimming Over

Or why starting a new project can at times appear difficult.

Just of late I’ve been drawing a blank on writing and photographing anything with any real meaning. I do have two meaningful projects on the go, the thing is one of them is progressing very slowly due to matters that are beyond my control. While with the other one I can’t really start it in earnest until I can count on some brighter weather for clear photographs, so really we are talking about spring 2022.

Meanwhile these two projects seem to be blocking me from getting on with any other projects of any meaning, if not practically, then at least from a mental point of view. I did try recently to garner some interest (see previous post) in a socially engaged photographic co-operative, unfortunately it didn’t seem to strike a chord with many other people, so I wasn’t able to progress that idea in any case. I did wonder to myself if that proposal was in some way a kind of outward plea for help. Rather than digging deep to try and drag something up from my inner self as a subject to work on, I was instead trying to defer that job to others, to share the responsibility on deciding what to work on.

The things that I have been able to work on successfully of late have been more technical type projects, like experimenting with caffenol, trying out ISO 800 colour negative films as well as developing E6 slides for the first time. In addition I have also purchased the chemicals to try argyrotypes as well as homemade Barry Thornton 2 bath B&W developer. So I have no problem finding technical projects to work on at all. These are all in fact interesting things to work on, but at the end of the day, to me at least, they leave me feeling kind of empty, like I’m saying to myself, OK I’ve done that, so what’s next ?

These type of projects though, they just don’t seem to match the sort of feeling I get when I’ve something of real meaning to write about and take photos of. The kind of self expression that these sort of projects allow me to make, they kind of feed my soul, even if they are of only passing interest to others, if they light my fire so to speak, then for me at least, it’s worth while doing.

You know that old adage that men are not very good at multi-tasking, I was thinking maybe I suffer from that a little, maybe I like to throw myself into a project whole heartedly, with no thought to do anything else. These two projects I have kind of hanging over my head, waiting to be completed, they do seem to be blocking me from finding another meaningful project to work on. It could just be that I am incapable of juggling that many balls at once. Given my work history though, I didn’t really think I was like that, in the work setting I could skip from project to project as required, but then again, maybe work was just work, just one great big project that took all day, 5 days a week.

I then got thinking about the jar analogy for illustrating mental health. I first came across this idea on TV, it was talked about by Alastair Campbell, the Director of Communications and Strategy for Tony Blair. He was know to suffer from alcoholism and depression, and featured in a BBC documentary talking about his recovery, in the documentary he talked about an aspect of the therapy he received, where he was asked to think of his mental health in terms of a jar. The jar first gets filled with our own genetic vulnerabilities and then on top of that environmental factors are piled on, one on top of another. A person with good mental health has sufficient capacity in their jar such that the environmental factors never mount up such that they cause the jar to spill over. However should the environmental factors get so great that the jar does spill over, then this is when we enter periods of mental ill-health.

Since giving up the stresses of work, and so reducing those environmental factors, I no longer feel the need to self medicate with alcohol.

So you might ask, what’s this jar business got to do with photographic projects then ? Well, I was thinking, as I’ve been known do sometimes, there is a definite simile to be drawn here. I am trying to pile on more projects on top of the ones I already have on the go, it’s just causing my jar to brim over. I know there’s not a lot I can do physically with them at the moment, but still they are still playing on my mind, and there’s no getting away from that. My photographic jar is full.

So what to do ? It’s time to get mindful I think, to accept things for what they are, live in the moment and wait patiently until one of the projects completes. I will then have some room in that jar to take on something else, at least enough to start on that new project.

I don’t normally like writing about myself so directly, using ‘I’ so much in the narrative, but doing so on this occasion has helped me sort through my thoughts and find a way forward less fraught with angst.

Many thanks for sticking with this kind of mind dump if you have made it this far, it’s much appreciated

Back soon with more thoughts and photos !

All photographs taken and processed by myself using analogue equipment, prior to digital conversion for publication purposes.

© Copyright owner Steve Starr. First publication 7th November 2021