T, my lover and the father of my son, died of a stroke on 5 April 2010. He collapsed in front of us on a beach by the North Sea. The violence of his death wrapped me in a vast emptiness . . . a silence resounded in me like the echo of some intensely blue sky, devoid of planes, but devoid only because they were escaping the ashes of a volcano’s anger, my anger.
In order to cope, I plunged myself into the daily routine of writing the journal I’ve been keeping for over ten years, a channel for both my suffering and the excess energy and life I found boiling over within me.
Intimate as my experience had been, I began to recognise it in the words of those who started seeking me out, hoping to share their own experiences of death and mourning. These wounds, so difficult to express, only rarely find a empathetic listener, even though it’s only through shared words that the deceased can take on a little more life.
Self-portraits imposed themselves on me, mostly because I needed to be looked at – either by myself or by a camera imitating the gaze of the one I loved – and because they proved I was still alive. I think of the self-portrait as a mirror of all the violence that befalls us. But my work also deals with the new relationship that developed between me and my son, a rapport that was at once compassionate and confrontational, gentle and violent.
My work allowed me to release the powerful desire and anger that was crackling in the hollows of my despair. Mourning is an experience of both life and love, and I tried to include all its contradictory aspects: the suffering, the transformation of family life, the sudden solitude, the anger, the people left behind, along with the banality of the day-to-day, the loss of a loved one’s physical presence, exhaustion, brief moments of clarity, the constant change, the ongoing struggle.
This all came as part of a therapeutic process, an attempt to overcome my personal suffering, a kind of convalescence. My work has always focused on everyday aspects of simple but upsetting events – this project is both the continuation of that and its violent end. And yet, when I started to share my work, I realised it had moved beyond my own little tale of suffering; it was able to touch other people, it even widened, a little, the meaning of mourning itself.
Photographs © Anne De Gelas and Neutral Grey