Claire Watt is a recent photography graduate based in Blackpool whose work aims to explore connection to contemporary society, how it copes with the inevitability of death and loss, positioned within a post-photographic era in an over saturated image market. Claire recycles images from personal archives and invites collaborators to send their own domestic imagery. Rooted in portraiture, it seeks to document moments which evoke memory and her own past. She chats to Jill Reidy.
Jill: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you became interested in photography?
Claire: My journey with photography began after the loss of my Mum six years ago. I was 22 at the time and struggled to talk about her or my feelings because I was afraid of making the other people feel uncomfortable. So, I started using a camera as my therapy and escape when I felt lost. I’ve been developing my photography skills ever since and, having recently graduated from Blackpool School of Arts, I used this course to research death, grief and this problem in society – the taboo of talking about loss. It sounds so simple to do but in practice is quite the opposite. Photography contains a magical power with its ability to freeze time and capture so many precious memories. There’s something so special but equally heart-breaking about archive images of lost loved ones, especially when we can no longer make new ones with someone, being able to look back becomes even more important to someone who is grieving.
Jill: We first met when you presented your work at an Altruism meeting for Blackpool creatives. Was that hard to do as it was such a personal project?
Claire: It was nerve-wracking, I’d never given any sort of talk outside of the classroom before but I’m happy to talk about my loss through my work now to try and encourage others to do the same. You may feel awkward, uncomfortable or simply not know what to say when the subject presents itself and there’s a good chance I’ll sound scary if I mention the word death but beyond that I’m simply trying to say I miss my mum. It was nice to be able to create that safe space for the evening where many of us shared and talked about our loss together. I feel by sharing my story and work it gave people a chance to have the conversations that they wouldn’t normally have and that was really special for me.
Jill: What is the theme of your latest project?
Claire: This is a project about loss and about ultimately saying “I miss this person”. There’s a void in our lives which can never be re filled or replaced and even when we do talk about our bereavement others won’t truly know or understand our loved one as we do. These images can be used however you wish, hopefully to engage in conversation about your loss where maybe you wouldn’t have been able to before. Images can be a powerful but gentle way to introduce a topic of conversation.
Jill: How did this project come about?
Claire: The idea for the Pyrographies Project started in 2019 when I produced a small handmade zine as part of my degree course. The book contained a collection of images of me and my Mum in which I am in direct contact with her by touch. The zine was also printed on tracing paper, making her outline transparent, metaphoric of her death and my grief combined. I began with my own personal images and then was asked by friends if they could have an image in the same style of their loved ones and the project has continued since.
Jill: How has it affected you?
Claire: The project so far has taught me the variety and individuality of what we feel when we grieve. Grief is not linear – it is not experienced in the same way by everyone. We all go on different journeys with our grief after a loss so, of course, there is no blanket “fix” for what we feel and although a lot of us are in the same boat, it can still feel lonely. There is no right or wrong journey with grief but, more can be done by us all to learn and support each other in what is an inevitable process we will all experience throughout our lives. Talking about loss, for me, is a great place to start.
Jill: Do you think your work has helped people deal with their own grief?
Claire: Beyond my original idea last year, the Pyrographies Project intends to be a safe space for reflection of our bereavement. The project aims to create a supportive space for those who are grieving I am inviting people to submit their own photos to the project to create a series which help us talk about our loss. The project also really visualises that feeling of emptiness when we’re facing life without a loved one.
Jill: How do you think this latest project will develop?
Claire: The project is currently open on my website for anyone to upload their images. There is also an online gallery and blog on the website to keep you up to date. In the coming months, I hope to begin a Kickstarter campaign to fundraise a book and exhibition of the work. The profits from the book will be donated to Let’s Talk About Loss, a community group which hosts 23 meet ups across the UK providing a space for 18-35 year olds who have been bereaved.
Jill: Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Claire: If anyone would like to be involved in the project there is a quick and easy form on my website where you can upload your photos. Once your images are ready, I’ll email them back to you and they’re yours to keep and use however you wish to support you on your grief journey.
More about the project: Let’s Talk About Loss / Instagram / [email protected]
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