Personal work is my way of making work exactly as I wish to make it.
Mike Sutton is a teacher and artist who lives and works in St Petersburg. For the last 10 years he’s been engaging in a number of long term personal projects that explore catharsis and identity, with a series of autobiographical images.
“I want the work to be available to be enjoyed for its beauty, or at least things I find beautiful, and there are the themes present in the works that can also be engaged with, things I think are relatable in all individual experiences.”
WHY IS PERSONAL WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Photography is very much a big part of me, I’ve used photography as a means of catharsis for many years, but also in the spirit of Rene Magritte, “Life obliges me to do something”, I find it hard not to go out and take pictures and lockdown sucked for that.
Because I only produce personal work, a lot of joy comes really from the act of making itself: it’s about the dance itself and not just arriving at Point B from Point A.
It’s also the experience of exploring new ideas and trying to discover something new: I’m driven to find things that have never been found before, I like that about life, whether it’s a new idea or seeing something I’ve never seen before.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL PROJECT – HOW DID IT COME ABOUT AND WHY DID YOU SHOOT IT?
I’m working on ‘Phantoms’, which naturally began sometime after I’d known I had taken my last photograph for ‘Octopus’, which was an autobiographical 8-year descent into trying to understand what forms identity and make a person who they are.
This project is significantly more directly personal than I had intended it to be, the work follows my personal journey dealing with clinical depression, and the journey of recovery that I have worked through, and continue to work through.
The images are the photos I happened to take during this process, and I feel sincerely that they do hold an atmosphere that somehow captures whatever personal feelings or perspective there was at the time, and as a result documents the changes I experienced in this process. Reflecting John Szarkowski’s adage that photography is both a window and a mirror, this is intended to be felt in this project.
WHAT DID YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE WITH IT?
This year there has been a massive increase in depression and other issues internationally, a lot now caused by the current pandemic in some way, and for a lot of people this is the first time they’re experiencing these feelings, and different countries handle mental health with varying degrees of success or incompetence.
The main thing I wanted to focus on with this book, is the idea of recovery, not coping with, not feeling like there’s no positive outcome. That’s all I want to express, that it can be resolved, and I encourage anyone going through such things to not delay, and pursue help as soon as possible, delaying it doesn’t help.
WHAT’S THE OUTCOME OF THE PROJECT?
It is still ongoing very indefinitely (but I definitely plan not to spend 8 years on this one), and it will eventually be published as a book, this has been the natural outcome for all my projects and the intended means of viewing the work when it isn’t shown in a gallery space.
In the past I have always experimented with contrasting images alongside text, because this lent itself to the projects, whether it was transcribed conversations with people or my own thoughts, but this time I would really like to strip back the project and focus entirely on the images.
All my previous books have been designed by myself and self-published and I would really like to consider working with a publisher on this occasion to produce a more lasting work.
WHAT’S YOUR NEXT PERSONAL PROJECT?
I have two side projects, ‘Upsidedown Rainbow’ is an experimental piece made entirely in collaboration with a Python based artificial intelligence, in particular I enjoy the surreal creativity of the poems which the code produces by itself.
I’m also working on a short novel, titled ‘The Language of Animals and the Big Bang but Backwards’, which centres around a protagonist with a fictional degenerative illness called ‘dreams’, the book constantly sits on the line between reality and the imaginary, I’ve always loved the idea of the ‘unreliable narrator’ and that is what I’m exploring in this story.