Rural Isolation...The unseen Demon
My background in photojournalism naturally draws me to subjects that aren’t necessarily in the forefront of people’s minds. Issues connected to sub-cultures, diverse ethnic communities, the so-called underclasses, and communities which have been marginalised or on some occasions completely ignored.
I used my neighbour as a bit of a dry run, honing my questions, but also gaining a little more about what it was really like to live on one’s own for a prolonged period. He had a great story to tell, and he also made for great pictures. But, he insists that he is not lonely and never has been, which is good to know, even though he's lived alone for over 50 years in the same house.
This particular project started mainly out of curiosity; my interest stemmed from getting to know my next door neighbour and his seemingly lonely existence ever since I arrived in Suffolk, nearly ten years now. My neighbour moved into his home in 1964, the year I was born. He has lived there, on his own ever since. He is perfectly happy with his situation, as he tells me, “I have all I need". Although his eye sight is beginning to fail, but at 92 he’s very articulate and razor sharp with his views and opinions. He was a local magistrate before retiring in the late 1980’s.
I wanted to know more about the feelings of loneliness; I had read some interesting articles on the farming industry and how acute the problem with rural isolation was for certain farmers, a subject one really thinks about outside of the farming industry. The general public’s awareness on issues such as rural isolation and loneliness in the agricultural community, is probably zero. The welfare of the farmers livestock would more likely come first before even considering the farmers wellbeing.
After a little research into the industry I found a long history of issues around the subject of mental health and wellbeing in the farming community. There are numerous cases of stress and a high degree of depression and even suicide amongst farmers has a result of rural isolation and other pressures connected with the agricultural industry. Initially I intended to concentrate purely on the farming industry, as this seemed to be one of the more interesting subjects, and one that also lacks from much recognition outside of this community.
But I found it quite difficult to find people in the farming industry who would actually admit to being lonely, even though the evidence was there. I found individuals quite happy to talk about loneliness and the problems of others, but where very reluctant to admit they could ever fit into this category. Even though some were plainly in this situation. To them, it felt like a badge of shame, their stoicism was plain to see, they didn’t want the connection, association or any labels with mental illness connected to themselves.
I love the long form of documentary photography, but with ever decreasing paid outlets for this kind of work, photographers have to think of new or different ways to project their work or find stories that will engage with the public, or fits in with particular groups, charities or organisations. This also comes into consideration when working on similar projects; where can I place my work? Which magazines or websites would be happy to use my stories? In some respects, the internet has opened up a much wider audience, and a much larger platform for photographers work to be seen, but this very really translates into sound financial or remunerative rewards.
I hope to carry on with this project; I'm still actively looking for more participants to interview and photograph.
If there's one thing that I've learned from my project; It’s the importance of strong family cohesion. Children, grandparents, close ties to siblings as one get's older, or excellent close friendships with others, can really make a big difference to the way we transgress into later life.
But as we all know, this isn't always possible. Life is never perfect, and maybe loneliness is just another byproduct of one's life.
Not many of us choose to live or be alone, but sometimes we have no choice, it's just one of these things that we have to live and deal with.