Calm after the storm
Lisa Katsiaris’s images are characterised by their serene, contemplative mood, but their origin is anything but calm. She explains how photography helped her through personal tragedy and to redefine her life.
”When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.Haruki Murakami ‘Kafka on the Shore’
I feel calm when I look at your images.” It makes me smile when I hear comments like that about my images. It means they’re connecting with the viewer and conveying my vision of the world. But it’s also a bitter-sweet smile, because my serene, contemplative images were borne out of heartbreak and turmoil.
I started doing photography in 2013 when I was looking for an activity-based holiday. I enjoyed the experience but my images were little more than a step up from the snaps I’d enjoyed taking in the past. And then in October that year my world changed. I witnessed my Mum die in a tragic accident while we were on holiday in Greece. Mountain rescue. Police interviews. Terrible phone calls home. Repatriation. Coroner’s inquest. They’re things you read about in the news and see on the TV. You never think they’ll happen to you.
There’s no roadmap to navigate the path through despair. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. We each stumble through as best we can, trying to make sense of the finality of losing a loved one. For me, the hobby that had started primarily as a reason to travel became a fundamental part of my healing process.
I began by photographing many of Mum’s possessions. I wanted to hold on to the memories that were attached to her things, but not necessarily the objects themselves. From those images, I created a book recording Mum’s life.
Shaping my thoughts and feelings through images and words way was very cathartic. It helped me deal with my loss and work through the grief. It affirmed things about myself that I had only half known, such as the deep well of strength within me. It helped me refocus my priorities and reassess my goals. Converting my grief into creative expression empowered me and gave me strength. It also felt like a fitting way to honour Mum’s memory and her character – independent, optimistic, enthusiastic, strong.
From that book, photography became the impetus for me to explore, to travel and to seek new experiences, including going to Japan, a country I’d wanted to visit since I was a child. Then, as now, being out with my camera gave me time to be alone with my thoughts or, if I chose, to switch off and think of nothing but what was in front of my eyes. That quiet contemplation seeped into my images; I started to simplify my compositions, discarding anything that I felt was a distraction, including colour. My images, like the very act of photography, became a pause for breath in an otherwise chaotic, unpredictable world; a pause in space and time – the essence of the Japanese concept of ma that now defines my work.
Five years on and photography has become an integral part of my life – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually; in many ways, it has redefined my life.
“I feel calm when I look at your images.” I smile also because I know that the worst of the storm has past and I am standing in the sun.
all images © Lisa Katsiaris