book and lamp on table

Entering Solitude, or helping myself publish with a #FullRollFriday post – By Theo Swinscow

I’ve realised recently that I don’t share my photos enough. I show pictures of my daughter to my family, but other than that, I have basically no audience. Almost all my spare time is related to photography: taking pictures, developing film, scanning film, editing, listening to podcasts, reading books & articles. But this all happens inside a vacuum, a bubble that I’ve created for myself. Though part of me agrees with Hamish’s idea that the process is as important as the results, that I could potentially take pictures without ever really seeing them, I’ve recently come to see the whole thing as being pointless if I don’t show them to people.

The main reason for all this is simple: I have no confidence in their value. Those photos of my family aside, I find it extremely difficult to be confident in any meaning, quality or interest that the photos could have to anyone. I’m simultaneously craving at least some kind of validation (internal and external) to give me confidence in my photos, but at the same time too scared to publish them. So what can I do? The answer seems pretty obvious: find ways to push through, find ways which make publishing easier.

This is where Hamish’s #FullRollFriday comes in. As soon as the first article was published back in April 2020, I saw the potential it had for someone like me. It allows someone to publish photos, without putting too much pressure on the individual images. We all know that a roll of film will never produce 100% keepers; some of the images will just be preparing for the next one, some will be duds, some out of focus. One could quite easily argue that this reduces the overall impact of the photos, and I’d tend to agree…

You often read arguments about whether the process around creating a piece of art should be made available to the public or not. Should we be seeing sketches an artist made for a painting? Photographer’s contact sheets have become widely available and are often fascinating, as they show the process, they give context to some of the most famous photos. The problem with showing the whole roll is precisely that, it puts more emphasis on the process than on the final image (this ties in perhaps with the fact that Hamish started the FullRollFriday, it chimes pretty well with the overarching themes on 35mmc). But for me, it’s definitely worth it if it means I feel able to publish some of my work.

Une entrée en solitude (Entering solitude)

Open book on table
The only photo I show here out of order in the roll. I found the book open like this with the weirdly appropriate title.

This all brings me to my own roll of film. We – like so many other deserters – had left Paris a few days before the initial nationwide lockdown was announced. The prospect of however many months stuck in our tiny flat with a small baby was beyond us. We were lucky in that we come from the countryside and were therefore able to go back to our families outside the city.

To have a space of our own, we decided to stay in my partner’s grandmother’s house, which has been pretty much empty for years. People will occasionally stay there for a few days over the summer, but other than that it is empty most of the year round. The day we arrived, I walked around the house opening shutters to let some light in. I was immediately struck by the material decay, the abundance of religious symbolism, and how the two fit quite well together in modern France. In a bedroom upstairs I found an open prayer book on a bedside table with the title “Une entrée en solitude” or “entering solitude”. Sometimes things just sort of fit. I decided straight away I was going to try to photograph a whole roll of Delta 3200 in my Mamiya RZ67 around the house.

Peeling wallpaper on the ceiling
I started downstairs. This is the first of quite a few pictures trying to get something from the peeling wallpaper. Remember wallpaper?
Handheld vacuum base
Handheld vacuum base. This is one of my favourites from the roll. I like how someone lifted the plug off the floor and balanced it.
Looking downstairs at a statue of Mary
I’ve scanned these images twice because the first scans showed signs of watermarks on the negatives. I’ve left it on this photo, as it looks a bit like a halo behind her head.
Shutters closed, spider's web
Upstairs, before opening the shutters. I wanted to get something of the spider webs between the shutters and the windows reflecting the light outside.
Closed window and radiator
This photo makes the room look like an abandoned caravan. It’s amazing how the elements always find a way in. Not sure about the framing…
Picture of a window and empty chair
Same window after opening the shutters. You can just make out the rolling hills outside the window. I quite like the photo, but I’m not sure it fits in overall.
peeling paint on ceiling of bathroom
The bathroom, peeling paint.
book and lamp on table
The only photo I moved something for. There was a toy coming into the frame.
ceiling with strange angles
Weird angles in the corridor upstairs. Again, I liked the peeling wallpaper, but it doesn’t come out as I imagined. I think it needs better lighting.

Final thoughts

So, what do I think of my photos? Well, it’s a decent start. I’m relatively happy with how they came out. I now really want to go back and try to flesh the whole idea out. Firstly, there’s quite a few more photos to take around the house, especially of some of the religious symbols. Secondly, I’d like to have a better go at some of these compositions. I’ve recently acquired a wider lens for my Mamiya (65mm) which I think will definitely help me get a better perspective in some of the tighter areas in the house.

The main objective though with this project was to help me get my photos out there, somewhere outside the confines of my home. In that sense, it’s a success, however good the photos ultimately are. It’s a step in the right direction.

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts, and especially hope you enjoyed some of my photos. I’ve recently started posting to my hitherto unused Instagram account. Feel free to check it out if you want to.
Stay safe.

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33 thoughts on “Entering Solitude, or helping myself publish with a #FullRollFriday post – By Theo Swinscow”

  1. I don’t often comment here. But since we all need encouragement, I wanted to reach out and say there are a couple of truly lovely and impressive photos here. The instinct to shoot the closed shutters was great – what an intriguing and enigmatic image!
    And the chair by the window evokes a real sense of nostalgia and place.
    So happy you took a chance and chose to post your roll. Well done!

    1. Denis, thanks so much for your comment, how kind.
      I’m hoping to go back at some point to take some more. Hopefully it won’t be too far down the road.

    2. I agree with l of these comments. I also don’t usually comment much, but you should receive encouragement for your bravery. The. Two mentioned are my favourites too. Plus the title shot.
      You may have encouraged me to have a go.

      1. Steve, thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed them. You should definitely try it yourself. Just the process of having an idea and setting it through, that’s what’s important!

      1. Really enjoyed this series Theo..

        Been years since I did this kind of study, so inspired to do something similar in the coming weeks.
        “Weird Angles” is a lovely frame I think..lovely job!

  2. These are quite nice. I enjoyed your story and particularly like the chair by the window, the book, the lamp and book and the looking down the stairs photos. If you are thinking about adding on to this photo essay, do you have a few of the outside of the house in the countryside you can share? Your description makes it sound very lovely and now I’m curious to see it in the environment. I’m glad you decided to share your story and your full roll of images!

  3. Some great images here, Theo. I find the pic of the statue on the pedestal the most striking, not from any religious perspective but as a dramatic image. Good stuff ???? thanks for sharing.

    1. Graham, I agree. Serendipity can of course play just an important role in digital photography, but with analogue you generally discover it later, and that makes it all the more sweeter. This one made me laugh.

  4. Really enjoyed this series Theo..

    Been years since I did this kind of study, so inspired to do something similar in the coming weeks.
    “Weird Angles” is a lovely frame I think..lovely job!

    1. Thanks Jordan! I’m really looking forward to going back and doing that one with a wider lens. There’s definitely more that can be made of that one (even more angles out of shot…)

  5. Hi Theo,
    When i saw your photos, I immediatly recognised the atmosphere of an old house in the French countryside.
    I could almost smell the old house in your pictures.
    It reminded me the house in the Charollais (Burgundy) from my mothers family.
    you nailed a slice of forgotten France.
    So, your photos moved me… isn’t it what good photos do to someone?
    Just to calm my curiosity: In what region is your house?

    1. Phil, I’m so glad you enjoyed them. The house is located in the Bordeaux region. If you have Instagram, and look at my feed, there are a couple of photos taken around there. You can see the house (or at least a different part of it) in the very first image on my feed of the stars. There’s also a pic of some vines, and of someone walking under old oak trees. They are all from the same place.

  6. Lovely images, you would enjoy shooting my grandparents house. I got the same feeling watching your images than when I visit that old house.

  7. A nice, interesting body of work Theo. I always view the images first and only then read the narrative. I’m a lover of ambiguity such as that which exists in ‘found’ photographs and so put my own interpretation on things. I see that you removed a toy from the one scene. In my opinion, to have left it there ‘as found’ would have been my approach. Hope to see more of your art. Well done

  8. Great set and a fascinating subject! In “full roll” articles I find it hard to sustain my attention over a 36-exposure roll, so I generally prefer the medium-format ones. Closed shutters is my favourite… and Une entrée en solitude – what a coincidence! Like the universe is speaking to you. I also enjoyed your thoughts about sharing publicly vs in private, and outcome vs process. Holly Gilman and I recently wrote a book review of Magnum Contact Sheets which talks about some similar issues, I find it really interesting…

    1. Sroyon, thanks.
      When I had the original idea, I definitely made the eays choice in going with a 10 frame roll rather than 36!
      I read with pleasure the Magnum article the other day, it’s great. I’ve heard quite a bit about the magnum contact sheet book, and definitely need to get my hands on it.

  9. A joy to read your article. It strikes a nerve in these times, both in regard to our self isolation, and in your case also to the coincidence with the heading on the particular book page that lay open. The Madonna in the staircase also ties nicely into the ‘gist’ of your story. I hope you the 65mm fulfils your expectations when you return to the house.

    1. Takk Torleif!
      A lens certainly doesn’t make a picture, but there were some places here where I was completely backup up against the wall with the 110mm.
      Seeing the book certainly was strange.

  10. This is very cool Theo. I think the fact that you are unsure of your images and their worth is a fine start. Now you can spend the rest of your life trying to work it out and never knowing. I am unsure to what extent an “eye” – or aesthetic sense – is innate or how much it can be learned but I currently think that the main prerequisite is is unending curiosity. I also think that it’s a good plan to have some idea of a project – like “the old house” or “the tiny flat.” Good discipline. And it’s good to put it out there and see how people react – even though online is dicey. I would not pay much attention to what people say (this comment included) but it is nice to engage, and the process is beneficial for one’s own work I think. I reckon the best I’ve ever thought of one of my own photos is “Hmm – that night be okay.” And I’m quite happy with that situation. I get the feeling with photographers that I admire that they are mostly experimenting, trying things out, always looking to try and make something better than last time. Cheers!

    1. David thanks for your thoughts, which I definitely agree with. I’ve always wondered what the 5* are for in Lightroom cos I’ve certainly never used it ;).
      It’s certainly nice to engage with others, especially at the moment when it’s so difficult to engage with a beer in a bar.

  11. I echo many others here – the leading lines in the stair photo (no.4) makes it a very striking composition. I also find it really interesting the difference between 6 and 7 of the same space but different framing. 7 is more to my taste but very interesting when viewed together! Thank you for sharing the story behind it too! I know Sroyon mentioned our article in another comment, throughout contact sheets is a theme of how exposing it is to share a full roll of film so it’s also fascinating to hear a different opinion in that you felt safer by sharing a full roll than trying to choose images to share.

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