Loneliness is an awkward feeling. One would normally associate it with people who live without company or introverts; but I have known many lively people who are always surrounded by others yet they feel just as lonely as if they knew nobody else. Loneliness is not necessarily a bad thing in itself. I have just recently finished reading I served the king of England by Czech writer Buhomil Hrabal (1), where the main character lives worried about being accepted and appreciated by others and was only able to make peace with himself towards the end of his life when he was almost completely alone, in the company of a few domestic animals, and had the time to reflect and write his memories. However, while we all need our moments of solitude and self-reflection, too much of it risks us becoming completely detached from life; with us losing interest in everything else, and everybody else giving up on us.
And on the latter point, one should not forget that life can sometimes be cruel and does not give many second chances. There are many that fall out of grace at some point and immediately become marginalised. Somehow these people become invisible: no one pays attention to them, no one misses them. If we maintain contact with them is usually brief. Some of them manage to get out of the hole they have fallen into, but the majority of them are not lucky enough. There are obviously visible examples of this in real life, like rough sleepers for instance, but many others are more difficult to spot, as they may appear to be economically well off and may give the impression of being emotionally fully functional, but are actually internalizing their feelings.
I have been thinking about how to approach loneliness from a photographic perspective. An obvious way of dealing with this would be to capture “invisible” people, their experience and / or their environment. This is not appealing to me personally for a number of reasons. One of them is that it would require a multi-disciplinary approach in order to identify and properly convey these people’s experience, a project that becomes something more complex than a photographic series and would undoubtedly require more time and preparation. More importantly, this approach is too removed from where I want to go with photography at present, which is not towards the exposé type of documentary work and more into introspection / personal reflection. Consequently, there has to be other ways in which I can reflect upon loneliness in a photographic way. One approach would be to focus on images that evoke the feeling of loneliness and other associated feelings, but another, and perhaps more interesting, approach would be to look into the false positives, those signs that may be incorrectly interpreted as indicating a sociable person. A typical example of this would be an introvert that never leaves home but has thousands of friends in social media, for example, but there are possibly many other examples which are more subtle.
(1) Hrabal, B., 2017. I Served the King of England. Vintage Books.