The Depth of Normalcy – Molly-anne Webb
‘The Depth of Normalcy’ is an ongoing project bringing together previous explorations of my relationship with those around me and my environment, to my journey with chronic pain of the cervical spine.
It’s about how isolation and the limitations of my pain affect the way in which I am able to interact with the world around me, especially during a pandemic which already provides change, isolation and a limitation on how we are able to connect with those around us.
I am a 2021 Documentary Photography graduate from the University of Plymouth. I specialise in the area of new movements of documentary image-making which portray poeticism and lyricism through image representations, combining the traditional documentary form and elements of symbolism and subjectivity.
I grew up in Surrey, moving to Devon when starting at the University of Plymouth. The one thing that struck me when moving to Devon is the overwhelming fascination I felt from being immersed in the beautiful landscapes around me, something which I had never experienced much of growing up in a town so close to the city.
This was such an influence on my relationship with photography. I now spend as much time as I can outside.
Along with photography and my job as a broadband tech, I am also a writer for The South West Collective working mainly on book reviews and interview articles, an incredible experience which allowed me to explore my other passion.
I didn’t have the easiest journey to photography. I didn’t feel adequate within my academic subjects throughout school. I never felt that I was smart enough to go to university because I didn’t get the top grades like some of my classmates, and I began photography academically as a GCSE in school which moved into an A-Level and a degree eventually.
I found it to be a creative escape from various events that happened in my teenage years. Being able to develop images and have an output which I could pour my time and emotions into was so vital to my emotional development in my younger years. When I found that I could study photography at university, I jumped at the chance to turn my passion into a career choice.
At university, I learnt the processes of analogue photography and how documentary photography could be moulded and shaped into my own definition and perception.
My work has continually been fixed on conveying experiences through experimental representations, using interchangeable techniques such as form and content. I aim to create a feeling or an emotional response rather than “straight” documentary-style images in the traditional form. I find it gives an instantaneous context and understanding.
I often find myself working with a loose narrative and no set direction. Recording thoughts and feelings in this way communicates the meaning behind the work I create in an almost abstract way.
This sometimes helps to both verbalise and manifest visually the way I understand the world around me. My practice is commonly built on an explorative style, recording familiar places, such as my home, and unfamiliar areas of interest to me. This leads to the common description of my work as “poetic documentary”.
Through years of speculation and medical mis-diagnosis, I was recently given a solid diagnosis of what had been causing my pain for so many years. Although I had been given a cause, I didn’t have a reason and I found myself experiencing feelings of grief for the time I had lost to trying to figure out what was “wrong” with me.
Many people would say, “but you know now, you can move on, your life can get better”… but I didn’t feel better knowing all of this.
Despite starting treatment for my spinal issues, I didn’t receive any closure for the time I lost and all the grief in which it caused me. In order to move on, I stumbled on photographing this pain in a literal and specific way – becoming closer to the people I photograph as a way of compensating the distance which my pain had put in place between everything.
If anything, this project was a way for me to digest everything that had happened during my medical process. I found I started benefitting from my treatment more once I took these steps of acceptance.
One particular stand out moment to me was when I decided to start making photographs of my spine. For a while, I photographed everything else around me; my home, outside, my friends and my boyfriend – everything to avoid photographing myself.
Once I started doing this, there was a period of over-analysing myself and intensely scrutinising what the photographs looked like. They looked too normal.
I found this part of the process triggering – I felt like I didn’t look ill enough, or that you couldn’t tell what was wrong with me easily enough. It took a while to be able to let myself include these images in the project to avoid judgement and to add the context needed.
Photography is my eyes, my ears, and my ability to understand what happens around me.