Emotion has always driven my artwork; I’ve never made anything based on something that didn’t cause me to feel.When I was 5, my parents watched Titanic in front of me, occasionally sending me out of the room if a suspicious looking scene came on. I laugh looking back at all of this now, but I distinctively remember hearing Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On and crying really hard. My dad carried me to bed that night. And I remember being tiny and not knowing how to handle emotion, but recognising that I was feeling something, and it was strong.
So it’s no surprise that easily being affected by music or whatever from a young age that I grew up to write emotional poetry. And it permeates through to the emotional photos I take; I can’t envisage art without an emotional response. Everybody and everything I photograph, I resonate with on an emotional level.
Photography was kind of always there when I was growing up, but I just didn’t really notice it until I started to take photos. My mother was always really good at capturing images; she took beautiful photos of everything, particularly us as a family.
There was this lovely photo she snapped of me sat on my father’s chest in Kirby Lonsdale on a picnic one day when I was about 6 months old. She was, and is a radiographer. In those days they still developed the x-ray film in dark rooms. Her ex-husband was a graphic designer and he converted our attic into a dark room a long time ago until she remarried. But I suppose traditional photography, as in film photography, always kind of stuck around.
I started experimenting with the art form myself just after I modelled for Pierre Mohamed-Petit in the summer of 2016. And in the beginning I was just looking for headshots for my website, establishing myself solely as a writer, but I guess Pierre had a kind of passion for photography that rubbed off on me; it encouraged me to impulsively buy a Minolta X-700, (a 35mm camera), for about £70.
I watched videos on YouTube for hours at a time to figure out how to work it; the whole concept just threw me. I thought I’d end up having to ditch the camera and put it in a wardrobe like so many other people did with their old cameras.
But I cracked it and I learned how to load the film, how to take pictures with it. With the help of inductions in the photography department at university, I expanded on that knowledge and got myself up and running. I was always experimental from the get-go; I started working with kaleidoscope lenses and messing up images. I soaked black and white film in urine before hand-developing it.
Once you discover film and the way it seems to capture the soul of something a digital camera can’t, you kind of get addicted to the control you have. Digital cameras for me get the formalities right in a picture, but it doesn’t really grasp the spirit of it.
There’s a dreamier shade to film, and there’s a joy in buying it, loading it, shooting it, developing it and scanning it to what it is. I was there at every step of making an image. It fulfilled me and it gave me more purpose.
For me there’s magic in being able to physically touch an image and manipulate it in ways that a digital camera can’t. I couldn’t go back to digital after finding film because I didn’t understand their appeal or their machinery anymore. Before I knew it, I’d discovered this power of the image. And I was having the time of my life.
I wanted to take it to new places too, and the only way to do that in my mind was to embark on projects, to blend the personal and emotional things in my life with the lens of a camera.
I Swallowed a Rainbow featured images of friends and places I’d grown up in. Parrfold Park, not far from where I live in Manchester, was one of the main images that really resonated with me because I’d manipulated the look of a place I’d been going to all my life, even as I was growing in my mother’s womb, we visited this park everyday. And it looked unreal, magical. It reinforced the happiness of the memories I have of that place. But also embarking on these projects required me to develop a taste for influences, ones that would shape my own style and perspective.
Francesca Woodman became a central figure when I explored self-portraiture. Adi Putra on Instagram really influenced my capacity to experiment with different hues and tones in the development process of film, Kelia Anne MacCluskey taught me more about the female body. Antoine D’Agata gave me everything there was to know about documentary work abroad, in sex, in culture, in hot environments. Vivienne Maricevic was the woman I hail as my main influence when I took photos of men. Her She Shoots Men series left me empowered.
Armed with my own personal experiences and a bunch of archived messages on Facebook and iMessage, I made a series called His Words, Not Mine, and I took to shooting pictures of my male friends and superimposing their portraits with text messages from old lovers. Words that still ran through me, that I remembered, that hurt, that humbled me.
Instead of expressing my vulnerability, my miseries from the men that had hurt me over the years, I decided to expose where I had gone wrong. Coupled with the normality of public situation, I thought it’d be kinda cool to juxtapose the cool reserve of the man in a bar with his friends with the emotional rage of another man in love. The contrast scared me, and the process of rediscovering these old texts opened up old wounds, you could say. But I was kind of happy to be doing something different, something a little less self-absorbed.
So emotion still resonates in the photos I take, despite a lot of the time I’m not actually in them. Yet it has everything to do with what I love and care for, or think about.
Photography almost saved me in a way, as in not only do I save the emotions I have about a concept through a photograph, but it also lets me comprehend new depths to whatever I’m making. It enables me to think differently about art, to use another kind of methodology and embrace the demands of it in the same ways I have done with writing.
Marrying different kinds of art forms together kind of brings about new contrasts and directions to the sort of work I’m producing. I’ve always loved mixed media; because of the different layers and textures it can bring to the meaning of something I’m exploring.
I don’t think different art forms are meant to be separated or categorised, I think photography and poetry are supposed to be together, just as illustration and music can be made together, or ceramics and graphic design. I think even in paintings, if you can experiment with different mediums like oil pastel and acrylic, you’re bringing a new depth and texture to a concept.
That in itself boosts me to continue blending different art forms together and I think it’s a healthy thing to experiment with. I don’t think I could ever go back to just writing poetry alone because photography sustains the new work I produce. I also think that interdisciplinary art is more refreshing than a stand-alone genre. It redefines parameters and that’s something all artists I feel aim to do. It’s also something that helps me to continue to reconstruct art out of my emotions and interactions with people, and that’s something I don’t think I could ever stop doing.
Lydia Hounat is a British-Algerian poet from Manchester, England. She has been published with The Butcher’s Dog Magazine, The Cadaverine, HOAX, the OfiPress Magazine as well as other publications. An avid performance poet, she has worked with the Manchester Literature Festival showcasing slam pieces with authors and poets, and regularly performs in bars and cafés. She runs “lymhpoetry”, showcasing work from a fictitious alter-ego named Lymh inspired by her adolescent experiences.