One of the ironies of our increasingly interconnected world is that many of us are living solitary lives. Solitude can be viewed as an active choice, a move to carve out space and time to reflect, to plan and to recharge. Solitude also provides time to reconnect with oneself or to commit to a higher moral purpose, evidenced for example by its central role in Buddhist practice. The unhappy converse of this however is loneliness, the experience of enforced solitude, of being involuntarily isolated.
Many silently yearn to reach out and connect with others and this lack of connection can harm our physical and emotional wellbeing. This is further exacerbated by the difficulty some feel in acknowledging or addressing the issue, and so the harm caused by loneliness is often insidious and largely unrecognised.
This issue affects a significant proportion of the population, across all ages. In Britain, 7.7 million people live alone, while 27% of people live alone in the United States of America.
This issue affects every social group and is more prevalent with increasing age. Here in the UK the numbers of those aged 45 to 64 living alone is increasing year on year, with 59% of people aged 85 and over living alone and more than 1 million older people feeling lonely all or most of the time. This can be associated with increased vulnerability, social isolation and poorer health outcomes in the elderly population.
Despite its prevalence, feeling lonely is not something that’s readily discussed, regarded as it can sometimes be as a social failing, an admission that something must be fundamentally wrong with you. So this state is endured, denied and avoided but rarely faced honestly, which perpetuates the problem.
It could also be argued that our modern urban lives have unwittingly evolved to entail a degree of intrinsic isolation that is difficult to recognise, joined as we are by social networks that promise constant connection across distances and boundaries that would have been previously insurmountable, yet these ‘social networks’ often now act as surrogates for more tangible, and more nurturing, face to face connections that previous generations would have taken for granted.
Latterly the tide may however be turning, with an appreciation of the deleterious effects of loneliness becoming more widespread as these issues gradually gain mainstream exposure. It’s not uncommon now to see articles discussing loneliness in the newspapers, and the UK Government has recently published a loneliness strategy in which Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledges that:
“Loneliness is a reality for too many people in our society today… it can affect anyone of any age and background…”
“Across our communities there are people who can go for days, weeks or even a month without seeing a friend or family member.”
This project then aims to explore this issue, looking hopefully at the whole continuum of experience between a restorative solitude and destructive loneliness. Key themes of this work include the sense of being on the margins, feeling disenfranchised and adrift amongst a tide of nameless faces in the urban environment, and acknowledging that it’s incredibly easy to find oneself living an unseen, almost invisible life in a large city.
“The people that I photographed allowed me to photograph them because they didn’t want to be alone, and the truth is I didn’t want to be alone making the pictures, I wanted the company of the filmmakers. Nobody really wants to be alone. People need people.”
Another key theme of this project is the night time and how this relates to the experiences discussed. The night has long been used as a metaphor for darker emotions (e.g. ‘the long dark night of the soul’). In my case, the night represents the time when I can most easily access my own visual memories and connect to an emotionality that I want to bring to this work.
Emotionality is thus the third theme of this project. The issue of solitude and loneliness is an emotive one that strikes close to home and, as mentioned earlier, it can be difficult to openly discuss. I aim to be as candid as possible in exploring my own experiences and hope that in doing so others might be emboldened to do the same.
The final central theme in this project is that of the urban milieu itself. This work would be incomplete if it didn’t seek to understand how urban settings influence how we can often feel disconnected and detached, despite the fact we’re so closely packed together and handily placed to access other people. My aim is to synthesise these themes in this project, and in so doing produce work that contributes to an ongoing discussion about how we address these challenges in the modern world.
There’s of course a great deal more to say about this subject. If you are interested in finding out more you’ll find some recommendations for further reading over in the sidebar on the right, as well as the project playlist.
On the ‘Links’ page you will find details of agencies and organisations who are actively engaged with this issue or its sequelae. I’d be delighted to hear from, or about, other organisations that aren’t listed and will update this list accordingly.
This project is ongoing and I’m keen to hear from anyone who has been affected by these issues. Whether you want to contribute to the project in some way, wish to offer feedback or comment, or simply want to connect, please don’t hesitate to do so via the ‘Reach Out’ page.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for engaging with this work.
Reaching Out Into The Dark
Final Major Project for the flexible MA in Photography at Falmouth University
FMP Exhibition held at studio1.1 London on November 27 - 28, 2018.
The subjects of solitude and loneliness have been addressed by a number of authors, writing from varying standpoints. The following titles would be a good starting point from which to explore more deeply:
The Lonely City, Olivia Laing
Alone Together, Sherry Turkle
Solitude, Michael Harris
How To Be Alone, Sara Maitland
Love Of My Own – Eric Benét
Retrograde – James Blake
Le Tourbillon – Jeanne Moreau
Big Eyes – Matt Corby
Always – James Blake
Angel – Sarah McLachlan
F.O.R.E.V.E.R. – James Blake
You Could Be Here – Deborah Jordan
Nocturne In F Major, Op. 15, No. 1 - Frédéric Chopin
Belong – Izzi Dunn
Version Of Me – Kimbra
Demons - Imagine Dragons
Lonely World – Moses Sumney
Numb – Linkin Park
I Hope My Life (1-800 Mix) – James Blake
Because Of You – Kelly Clarkson
Bring Me To Life – Evanescence
I Believe In You - Il Divo & Céline Dion
Doomed – Moses Sumney
Autumn – Paolo Nutini
Untitled – Matt Corby
Cranes In The Sky – Solange
You Keep Me Hangin’ On – Vanilla Fudge
The Love You’re Given – Jack Garratt
Five Variants Of “Dives And Lazarus” - Vaughan Williams
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 2018. A connected society: A strategy for tackling loneliness. London: Stationery Office. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/750909/6.4882_DCMS_Loneliness_Strategy_web_Update.pdf [accessed 4 November 2018].
FERGUSSON, Maggie. 2018. ‘In Solitude What Happiness?’. 1843 Magazine February/March 2018 [online]. Available at: https://www.1843magazine.com/features/in-solitude-what-happiness [accessed 27 June 2018].
GILLIES, Craille Maguire. 2016. ‘What's the world's loneliest city?’. The Guardian 7 April 2016 [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/apr/07/loneliest-city-in-world [accessed 27 June 2018].
INTERVIEW MAGAZINE. 2012. ‘Run Away With Alec Soth’. Interview Magazine [online]. Available at: https://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/alec-soth-broken-manual-sean-kelly [accessed 25 June 2018].
Office for National Statistics. 2013. 2011 Census Analysis: Do the Demographic and Socio-Economic Characteristics of those Living Alone in England and Wales Differ from the General Population? London: The National Archives. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_387694.pdf [Accessed 27 June 2018].
OLIEN, Jessica. 2013. ‘Loneliness Is Deadly’. Slate.com [online]. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/08/dangers_of_loneliness_social_isolation_is_deadlier_than_obesity.html?via=gdpr-consent [accessed 27 June 2018].
SARVANANDA. 2012. Solitude and Loneliness: A Buddhist View. Cambridge: Windhorse Publications.