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Monday, 5 February 2018

The emotional narratives. of All Quiet on the Home Front

When people talk or write about All Quiet on The Home Front, it is fascinating to see how the book touches different elements of people's experience of being a parent, being a child, of being outside.

All Quiet on the Home Front is about my experience of fatherhood and that loss of self I experienced when Isabel was born, and that recovery of self that happened as she grew up, as we got out of the house, as she established herself as a real person with real feelings, with a real life. And left me behind in the process. To me it's about the repeated cycle of birth and death as Isabel becomes who she is. My birth and my death. I'm the flip side to the images perhaps. It's about her, but it's about me. And the message is personal but it's also universal.

What is so unpredictable is the different parts the text and the images touch in people, and not just in predictable ways. I have talked about parental and maternal ambivalence before, the way in which you wish your child away, but I have found people approaching All Quiet from a different direction, from the inability to have children a kind of non-parental, non-ambivalence at the feeling of grief and loss this inability instils in a person - something that is not in the book at all, but somehow now is.

Or I have spoken to people who have beautifully talked about how motherhood was a coming into selfhood, not a loss of selfhood, a process compounded by earlier sacrifice and loss. And in terms of landscape, people have been both nostalgic about their childhoods, about the environments they found their life in, but there have also been stories of confinement and loss, of not being able to go outside, of a gradual locking away of the outside world, of watching while others are given free reign.

In Wired Japan, Kazuma Obara talks about the emotional tumult of fatherhood and the tears he shed on reading the book, in Photomonitor Jesse Alexander focusses on the escape from the domestic space, and the need to escape it, to get some relief from domestic claustrophobia.

What is also interesting about these responses and many more sent in by email, is how much they open up my interpretation of the book, how much I learn both about other people's experiences and my own.

In this extended piece in American Suburb X, Brad Feurhelm writes about how one's world view shifts when one has a child, and in particular how it shifts if you work in something creative. All Quiet on the Home Front is a kind of creative place holder then, something that consolidates a creative practice, that brings a parental ways of seeing and being into the work that I used to do. Which is not what I had in mind, but is completely the case. And now that I am working on other family material (my German Family Album - you can see some on Instagram) it seems to be a world in which I will be living for some while.

These are some snippets from Brad's piece, which is quite beautiful.

Nobody can tell you the effect of what having children does for or to you if you are in the creative arts....

When you are involved in making visual work, you have several different perimeters from which you construct images. Some people work in serial, some people work on one piece for a very long time, ruminating over its every detail and some people work completely automatically and simply produce. One thing that happens while becoming a parent in the first years is that within that strange world of fatigue and over-concern, you begin to appreciate the time that you can spend in your own head as it relates to creatively quite differently. Things open up and close down in equal measure... 

You grow to appreciate the time you have to yourself more often with all those strange hormones and anti-desires building up on your walk through the woods during the pram-pushing afternoon nap. At times, you find yourself trying desperately to imagine what life is like outside of the bountiful, but repetitive gestures of stacking those wooden blocks over and over or flipping through the same book 6,000 times to continue the ritual for stability that a child unknowingly forces on his or her parent. 

I think the great fear of becoming a parent when you are in the arts outside of the financial is the fear that you wont have time to create again or that when you return you might not be producing things at the same rate, speed or intensity of which you were before childbirth (the true B.C.)...

The most noticeable shift in becoming a parent in the arts is that the images or ideas that you thought was perhaps something of a grave nature or concern in your work, are found to be of less value than you thought...  The ideas that you had-a certain vigor or an urge or yes, very much a desire has slowed. What took me by surprise was that picking up a camera again had more to say about my newly developed circumstances than I had even considered and most of that lies within the intimate world around...

Colin Pantall’s “All Quiet on the Home Front” is a book I feel like I am living, but with a different protagonist in frame. I recognize his walks with Isabel, though I do not live in his country. I understand looking at his trees, the geological formations underneath their root structures and the places where fairly unthreatening water off the path collides with a child’s natural ability to notice it and demand inclusion within its swirling surface. I notice the last moments of summer and the oncoming spring when the energy that a child has to burn by process of growth is given ample green patch or dirt bike course to do so on as papa follows along with his broken camera never knowing if these images are his next book or simply “got some nice pics of Isabel today” totems... 

Colin’s work is about navigating this territory of new life alongside his daughter. It’s about creating fascination and also keeping the cogs of creativity oiled and running through watching his daughter grow up and himself grow older. Photography is many terrible things, but one thing it is great for is fascination. It harnesses the possibility for playing out in a different way giving the child a look into adult possibility, while also reminding the adult what it was like to look at the world with young and/or un-jaded eyes. 

Go here to read the whole article.

Because of the diverse nature of responses, and the stories that people want to tell, starting later this week I will be posting the stories and images people have been sending in as a response to All Quiet on the Front.

If you have a story and an image to show, do get in touch with me at colinpantall@yahoo.co.uk

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