Maybe only realising what had happened in hindsight, like a memory that surprised her by how much of it was built around things unnoticed at the time.
It is a rare and extraordinary opportunity to hold in your hands 30 years of one man’s life and the relationships and experience of love over that time. Exposure is just that, forty poems on the theme of Love by Jonathan Steffen written over his life – matched with forty photographs by different outstanding contemporary photographers from around the world.
The poet could have written a body of poems on Love in a good week, but he can’t go back and write them as a 20 year old, or in the consummating or break up of a marriage, or a weekend away in 1983, he wrote them at the time – over time.
Jonathan’s poems are deeply personal and intimate, and there is a real courage in laying them bare. Each frame of Photography is a window into who we are. A photograph captures a moment in the same way that Jonathan’s poems are what he thinks and feels in a brief flash in time.
It took nearly two years for me to find the right photograph for all the poems – and for Jonathan. I wasn’t just matching a photo to a poem but to the poet too.
There were times I found an image and Jonathan didn’t like it, or the photographer was not able to come up with a picture, or Jonathan found something he liked but the photographer did not respond. We just kept searching the world.
Eventually we had 39 photographs, and one poem left:
by Jonathan Steffen
Time was when you and I would lie at night
As in our graves – a stone-faced, silent pair
Of effigies, the lady and her knight
Grown thin with all the years of shared care.
I was entombed, a warrior no more,
Enchained by all the vows I once had made;
No more the lover or the troubadour,
I thirsted for the songs I once had played.
And so I left you, as in many a song,
And played the knight to many a damsel fair
And wooed them with my words, some false, some true –
Until the nights of love grew just as long
And just as cold and just as short of air
And in my sleep I reached for you. For you.
To complete Exposure as a project I had to find one more photographer for this one last poem, but every photograph I found didn’t come to fruition for one reason or another.
I suddenly realised the photographer was very close to home, it was my poem.
I knew exactly what the poem was about and how I saw it. I picked up my camera.
There are two people in the poem, the writer and the woman. There are two people involved in a photograph, the subject and the viewer. I took this as the reference point, found a set of stone, worn, claustrophobic steps, to carry him away, to keep inert emotions from breathing.
I imagined myself to be the woman watching this relationship unravelling, watching the man leave in unaccountable increments. Locked behind unconsciousness, habit or ambiguity of feelings. Maybe only realising what had happened in hindsight, like a memory that surprised her by how much of it was built around things unnoticed at the time.
In the poem though the man’s thoughts return to the woman, so at the furthest point the man turns to face me, the woman, full on and time freezes us both in that pattern forever.
This photograph is a part of Exposure, a haunting, 88-page coffee-table book of 40 modern love poems by Jonathan Steffen, with each poem illustrated by the work of an outstanding contemporary photographer.
Each of the poems stand on their own and each of the photographs stand on their own merit too, but together each pairing brings so much to their relationship.
As a collection it becomes a mosaic of views on love with the thread of one life running through 40 very different and separate people, from a vast range of ages and cultures, speaking from their life experience.
I think the integrity of the project shows, Jonathan has held the quality of the project as a priority and strived for that at every stage. It has been a real pleasure to work with someone who wanted to create something lasting with value, and I was always aware I had a man’s bared experience in my care.
My photograph illustrates the poem “For You, by Jonathan Steffen
Find more about Exposure @ www.jonathansteffen.com/exposure
With thanks to Jonathan for gifting this poem to me
With gratitude to Liam Barnes for giving me his time and his image, for whiling away one whole afternoon and forever making me think of Ragu now whenever I drink a Bloody Mary .
With appreciation to Tallulah Rendall for letting me put her haunting music, Ghost on the Water, on the video of the pairing because I love how it brings in the woman’s thoughts under Jonathan’s narration.
With recognition to Fred Aspel for helping me create the video.
And not to forget my two sons who support me, and truly enable me to pursue my visions.
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