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Artist Blog by Oliver Martin

Whilst making this project, I looked at the work of photographers working with similar themes: Sam Contis’s Deep Springs, (2017), Raymond Meeks Halfstory Halflife, (2017) Gregory Halpern, Omaha Sketchbook, (2019), Collier Schorr, Americans #3 & #1, (2012) and Catherine Opie, High School Football 2007 – 2009. I want to talk a little about vulnerability and the work of photographer Catherine Opie and theorist Judith Butler. Opie said that when she started making High School Football that she wasn’t particularly interested in masculinity; what moved her profoundly was the boy’s vulnerability (Opie, 2021b). Opie talks about our need as a species to belong (Opie 2021a); her work allows us to observe that vulnerability is an important aspect of this. I have studied Opie’s photographs that show vulnerability in facial expressions and situations on the football field in a community environment. That this notion is present within a football community with an ethos based on strength and toughness reveals the commonality of vulnerability within society. Judith Butler unpicks vulnerability in Precarious Life (2004), a collection of essays written after the events of September 11, 2001. Butler responds to the heightened conditions of vulnerability and aggression at the time; she questions the cycles of violence that preceded the tragedy (Butler, 2004, xi). In Violence, Mourning, Politics, she looks at a psychoanalytic approach to try to understand loss and the subsequent emotions of fear, anxiety, and rage; she questions why acts of aggression can easily follow a loss. She’s investigating the problem of primary vulnerability to others and asserts that one cannot “will [it] away without ceasing to be human” (Butler, 2004, xiv). She’s asking us to attend to this vulnerability, to accept it, to work with it (Butler, 2004, p29). Studying the work of Opie and Butler has aided in the realisation of my project, specifically in showing vulnerability through photography.

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