I had intended to publish our 2016 Grand Flickr Group Showcase of Mobile Photography and Art on Christmas Day this year. I had prepared most of it ahead of time and was relatively well organised to go live on 25 December. However, events took a turn for the worse and as I awoke after a thoroughly turbulent night on the morning of 24 December, I picked up my phone and saw a Facebook message coming through from a friend expressing how sorry she was for the loss of Carolyn Hall Young a few hours before. For a few moments, I thought I was still in the midst of the wretched nightmare I had been having, my husband then walked into the room with fresh coffee and was telling me that just a few moments before he had got up, he had witnessed the most incredible sunrise in our bedroom. We never see the sunrise in our bedroom but this morning, he said, it had set our complete room alight. He placed the coffee down next to me and asked why I was crying, I could hardly get the words out, that Carolyn had died but I did and then the grief took over. I sat up and stared out of our bedroom window, looking at the sky, deep into the sky, I said in my mind to Carolyn, “Was that you, in our bedroom this morning, were you trying to tell me what had happened”? I believe it was, and had she and I not been so connected, perhaps I would not have had that wretched night and not finally fallen asleep, just as she was trying to communicate with me. I am sure this sounds bizarre to you reading this, but to understand more fully, you need to comprehend the nature of our relationship.
It started several years ago and has been completely conducted online, in one form or another. We have spoken on our mobile devices, we have FaceTimed on them too and most of all, we communicated via the Viber app, messaging back and forth. The one part of our relationship we could not bring together was our physical selves but we did not let that inhibit us in any shape or form. Carolyn and I shared a very deep and all encompassing connection. Both of us had experienced deeply serious medical interventions and survived, both of us had been hurt in past relationships and we still dared to love. She would say to me, “you’re very brave to be my friend”, knowing she had a terminal illness. To my mind there was nothing brave about it, she was the most beautiful person I had ever known. Early on in our relationship we made a pact, we would always be completely honest with one another, having both been hurt and fearing loving another person and also being aware of how very easy it is to misinterpret text messages, we said that if we were ever unsure what the other meant, we would ask and say “we don’t understand”. We would not allow ourselves to read between the lines, to possibly not fully grasp the others intention. And it was having that grounding from the very beginning that, I feel, allowed our relationship to develop so powerfully. One time she said to me “you have completely dispelled everything I thought about how English people live”. I laughed and said “I hate to burst your bubble but we don’t all live as if we are in Downton Abbey”, she laughed too.
Many have written that I am a “private” person. Part of the problem when you have a relatively public profile, is that people try to understand you and sometimes jump to the wrong conclusion. It is natural, as humans our survival instinct is based on descerning friend from foe, it’s our very nature. I am no more private than any of you reading this very personal account. What I am perhaps is cautious, fearful of loving and giving love. Carolyn helped to fix this. Having retraced my steps with a therapist a few years ago, I had a legitimate reason for this angst. It appears it stems originally from the complete and permanent rejection from my natural father when I was five years old and consequently being ripped from the family nest of my siblings and therefore all of my extended family, grandparents, aunts and uncles, school friends, school and so forth and being placed in a new family and later, with my mother and a step parent and step siblings and the very violent rows, aggression and stress thereafter. There were some highs but there were also some terrible lows and as a child we are so dependent on adults to make the world a safer place. Carolyn was always a white knight, a shining gift of pure dependable, good love. She gave me back my strength with her love.
When I was 24 years old, I underwent life threatening surgery to my liver. Large and profuse liver tumours had wrecked havoc with my life. Before I had a diagnosis the symptoms were similar to hypoglycaemia and consequently saw me thrown out of more London pubs and clubs than I can count on two hands. As soon as I entered a hot, smoky, crowded environment, I would become very sick and more often than not pass out. Bouncers in those days, perhaps they are still the same, were not sympathetic and had no qualms with throwing a young woman out into the street, if it meant keeping their establishment ‘reputable’. Following surgery, post recovery was extremely difficult and trying and I had to work very hard to learn to walk again an issue that Carolyn endured over three times post-surgery. We often communicated about the will to survive and not just for our own sakes, for others whom we loved and who loved us. Almost two and a half years ago, I was scheduled for a total hysterectomy, Carolyn was there, pre-surgery, helping me to select personal items that I would need post-surgery, she was there on the day, right up to the last moment before I was led to theatre, she I believe was with me throughout surgery and she most definitely was there post-surgery. Sometimes, during a blissful morphine induced sleep, Carolyn would contact my husband Kevin, to ask if I was ok, as she had not heard from me for a while. He would call the hospital and a nurse would tell him I was resting and he would convey the message to Carolyn. To anyone having had a total hysterectomy, you will know that not only are you dealing with the usual post-surgical issues, but it sends your hormones into complete havoc. Menopausal symptoms can hit you out of nowhere as you try to regain some control over your bodily functions. All the time Carolyn would say to me, “take a selfie so I can paint you”. It was honestly the last thing I felt like. I am quite self-conscious with regards selfies anyway but Carolyn had asked me and whatever Carolyn asked of me, she got. Always. So, I obliged from my hospital bed and she painted the most carefully detailed image of me and not only did she gift me the full resolution file to print and to keep but she also sent me a hard copy too. She did this by utilising some wonderful iOS software. She was bed-bound most of the time, with this software she could upload the digital file and the developer send out the printed image directly to the recipient, wherever they are in the world.
I am not standing before you reciting a TED talk on the importance and deepness of an online relationship, although I am fantasying that I am. As our relationship was online and we were restricted by health issues we had to use whatever means we could and we became incredibly creative in this way. Carolyn would often say, “you never know what you will be grateful for”. In respect to social media, I am eternally grateful to it. We would convey, that if it wasn’t for technology we would not have met, our love of mobile photography and art brought us together and that same technology allowed us to communicate and deepen our relationship. Many of you reading this will think, it’s not possible to know real love with an online relationship, having never met the person physically. I can assure you, that it is. I have met many other friends and artists I have known online, physically in London and it is not very different. It’s like a confirmation of what you already knew. You knew what they looked like, what they sounded like, you’d seen their mannerisms and you knew their humour. Physically meeting them, just ticks another box. More often than not, we only meet people physically, we don’t have that online side and in many ways, it can be more difficult to understand that person. With an online relationship, you have to explain explicitly what you mean, to avoid misinterpretation, with a physical relationship sometimes it is assumed that you will know what the other person is thinking. It is possible to be in the deepest most intimate physical relationship and still not be present. It is possible to make love and not be present but I wouldn’t recommend it, being present whilst making love is definitely much better.
Last year, I was invited to lecture on the topic of course, of mobile photography and art in Seoul, South Korea. It will come as no surprise to you to learn that Carolyn came with me. I think it was the 12.5 hour flight that represented our first long term gap in communicating but as soon as I touched down, there she was again, as I searched for my suitcase. One morning whilst in Seoul I was having breakfast with an artist who was also presenting at the museum of art and he asked me, how could I or why would I represent and promote all of these mobile artists at a show, instead of talking about myself, many of whom I had never physically met. I explained to him that I didn’t necessarily need to meet them all to understand their work and their passion and for me to be in such a privileged position where I could direct my 2.5 hr lecture anyway that I wanted, was a huge honour for me, to show their work and to encourage new artists to do the same, to create with their mobile devices and to fully express themselves.
Carolyn as many of you will know, originally painted with her iPad, that her dear Uncle Dan had gifted her, when she could no longer paint physically, with her beautiful real paints and canvases. The iPad which she rejected at first became a new found form of expression, to embrace her art and she did just that. Painting almost 1600 portraits for friends and family birthdays, many friends from the online community that she had not met. It didn’t matter, she would glean enough from their communications online to understand them, well enough, to present them with the most incredible and personal gift. I know that she would spend hours and hours on these portraits but not only was she spending hours on the painting itself, she was spending hours with that person being present with that person. Noticing every line on their face, every stray hair, and she would add details, that she felt she had understood about them, to the portraits. Many of them humorous as her glorious sense of humour knew no bounds. Some of her most honest work she would tell me, was that of her self portraits. Here she felt she could be completely radical and free to fully express herself. The later ones, from earlier this year, particularly demonstrate her fears, her vulnerabilities and her sheer courage.
It has taken me quite a while to face writing something about dear Carolyn because it has shocked me. I knew exactly how unwell she was. I was with her in many medical appointments, I was there when her carers were helping her, I was there when her dear husband, Warren was aiding her. But I have still been shocked to my core. Earlier on in our relationship she perhaps “softened with love” as her dear friend Aimee Liu expressed it to me, her medical difficulties, she never complained, she was always grateful for not only each new day but each new moment. Everything was delicious to her. The sunlight, the snow, the beautiful hummingbird nesting in her apricot tree outside her bedroom. Later her messages were, as I have looked back, more telling of her difficulties. Remembering our honesty pact, she told me exactly how she felt but because of that, I tried to convince her as she had done with me in the past that these were side effects from the treatment, that they will pass and “you will get better”. Every time she tried or told me “this is too hard”. I would reassure her, with “I know, I am right here, it’s going to pass, breathe”. She would say “I have to keep believing that” and I would agree, eagerly.
One of the many wonderful things we would do, is pretend we were writing a film (movie) script, it helped to add humour to difficult circumstances. So when something unexpected happened, such as the time I was recovering in bed following my hysterectomy and my mother was here, helping with my children and she said, “oh Joanne, do you have any Sherry? That’s what you need to make you feel better”. Bearing in mind my painkillers prohibited alcohol and I wasn’t feeling too much like it anyway, Carolyn would say, “that’s a great line, add it to the script” and we would laugh, once more. Even just a few weeks ago, when I was waiting in A&E (ER), with the most painful bone infection in my head behind my ear and two ‘ladies of the night’ (it was early afternoon, actually), were escorted into the unit with security guards wearing white plastic aprons over their uniforms. I said to Carolyn who was there with me of course, “it’s really not warm enough here to be wearing micro skirts and thigh high stiletto boots, at the moment”. She replied with “Oh my! I always hate it when I don’t know the dress code” – how we laughed! Most recently during Carolyn’s last few months, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, it’s incurable but with the immunosuppressants I am taking, the disease progression will he slowed. It’s nothing, I can function and do more things than I can’t. Carolyn has helped to put my life into perspective, she has helped me to appreciate every tiny thing that’s good and the things that aren’t so good, to accept with grace. Most of all Carolyn has taught me to be so strong, because as dear Aimee expressed, intuitively sensing my frustration as to why this happened, “It could not go on unless she truly was immortal. And we all hoped and prayed that she was in body, as she was in spirit. But her tiny body had limits, which her soul does not. She will never leave those of us who love her. She will always be present.” . Warren says I should talk aloud to her, “she will hear you” he told me. I will do that and the first thing I am going to say is “Carolyn, this was not part of the script!”.
I have dedicated this 2016 Grand Flickr Showcase to Carolyn, it is the very least I could do. There are over 250 images in this showcase, I hope you will all be as engrossed and absorbed in it as I have been, creating it. Please do note that it is not possible for me to include every single artist in this showcase, this is a representative sample of the very best mobile photography and art that has been submitted to our Flickr group over the year.
Many congratulations to the following artists on being featured including:
Roger Guetta, Sandra Becker, Hanni K, Montse Abad, Jun Yamaguchi, Matt Kayden, woltarise, Connie Gardner Rosenthal, Anthony Foster, Kevin Leong, Lanie Heller, Carolyn Hall Young, Lee Atwell, kCe7, Jormain Cady, Joseph Cyr, Lorenka Campos, mutablend, David Ingraham, Federica Corbelli, Pier Luigi Dodi, Maddy McCoy, Ade Santora, Heather McAlister, Gabriel F.W. Koch, Vanessa Vox, Rebecca Lawrence Weaver, Joseph Cyr, Ginger Lucero, Millo Salgado, Pericles Loucopoulos, Cedric Blanchon, Alex Paton, Luther Roseman Dease, Cathrine Halsor, Giancarlo Beltrame, Damian De Souza, Susan Maxwell Schmidt, David Hayes, Angie Lambert, Cecilia Sao Thiago, Nicolas Xanthos, Riel Noir, Hotel Midnight – Deborah McMillion, Candice Railton, Stephanie Roberts, Alegremartin, Ile Mont, mkosmowski, Alain Paris, Armineh Hovaneisan, Alan Kastner, Maria Georgiadou, Bonobo Stone, Eric Raddatz, columnsovsleep, Emma Amar, Hussam Eissa, TheiPhoneArtGirl – Meri Walker, Juta Jazz, Manuela Basaldella, Gizem Karayavuz, Myrna, Ralf Mauyog, Bob Eddings, soul_engine, Stefanie L.P., Elyktra, woltarise, Marianne Rieter, Ger van den Elzen, Beezzz_ – Bonny Breddels, Ioannis Sidiropoulos, Jeffrey Simpson, Francesco Sambati, Ricardas Jarmalavicius, Sheldon Serkin, Chouroro, Tessfra, Kathy Clay, Sara Tune, BlemishedEye David Booker, Roy Savoy, Robin Robertis, Clint Cline, Marcos Nieto, Donna Donato, Rob Pearson-Wright, Aylin Argun, Claude Panneton, Poetic Medium, be.mo.re, Jessica D, Mark Walton, Katie Texieira, Alan Julliard, Bobbi McMurry, Diana Nicholette Jeon, Jo Sullivan, Trish, Peter Gonera, Mimi Svanberg, Richard Smith, Tuba, Bruno Ribeiro, Alegremartin, carlein, Albion Harrison-Naish, Liz Traynor, Paolo Berni, karma o Christine o’ Sobczak, Gianluca Ricoveri, Jillian2 Jill Lian, Robi Gallardo, John Fullard, Giulia Baita, Marguerite Khoury, Chris Harland, Louse Whiting, Keisuke Takahashi, Izumi Horaguchi, Scott Woodward, Karen Divine, Esteban Lefebvre, Kate Zari Roberts, Ainul Islam, Em Kachouro, Davide Capponi, Jim Perdue, Karen Axelrad, Fran Taylor, Janet Reid, Allyson Marie, Patty Larson, Paul Yan, Catherine Caddigan, Vivi (Veevs), Ingrid_b21, Julia Nathanson, Brendan O Se, Brett Chenoweth, Rainer Hamburg, Natali Prosvetova, Wanphen sangkamee, Mandolina Moon, Alejandro Cendan Rodrig, Gillian Brodie, Nick Kenrick, Antti Tassberg, Rene Valencia, Jorris Martinez, Didier du Castel, Michael Trombley, zeeyan, Susan Rennie, before.1st.light Jane Schultz, Laura Peischl, Jenneke Tesselaar, borisbschulz2009, Susan Blasé, Gina Costa, Tim Bingham, Lola Mitchell, Amanda Parker, Pat Brown, Steve Vu, Cristina Rossi, Fiona Christian, Kristie Benoit, Susan Maxwell Schmidt, Cristian Margarita, Sara Augenbraun, Vladimir Dimitroff, Patricia Januszkiewicz, rorofot, Maurizio Zanetti, Andy Alexandre, Debout Clarisse, Waldemar Blazej Nowak, Yasuo Furue, Dominique Torrent, Elodie Hunting, Cindy Buske, Isabel Afonso, Trish G, Liliana Schwitter, Alain Paris, Thomas Toft, Sukru Mehmet Omur, Marco Lamberto, Dani Salvadori, Tomaso Belloni, Violet Martins, Robin Sacknoff, Luison Lrh, Cara Gallardo Weil, dinalfs, Joshua Sarinana, Luis Fernandez, Michaela Meerkatz, David DeNagel, Scott Terrill, Lawrence Lazare, Christine Mignon, Gergely Hando, Lindy Ginn, Wayman Stairs, Basak Aytek, Ryan Vaarsi, Tsvetan Ganev, Lou Liuzzi, Elsa Brenner, p.a.hamel, Chad Rankin Vadim Demjianov.