From the series I Hold My Hand
In the space of five years, I was sexually assaulted at knifepoint, then physically assaulted by my lover, who then stopped me seeing the child we had brought into the world. The world has felt unsafe.
It’s only in the last year, some thirty or so years later, that I am joining up the dots as to why I am always compelled to keep my distance from people, no matter how far in they reach towards me. What triggered this awakening was noticing my habit of holding my hand to help me sleep, as well as noticing an increase in an internal dialogue, “What’s wrong with me?”
This project is my way of communicating the impact these events have had on me, and how photography is helping me process. It is a selfish self-serving act of art, and whether any audience connects with this will be a bonus. I hope they do—this work is how I am healing, perhaps others will too.
My practice has centred on emotion, and I put heart and soul into my work. In this work, my guts are also exposed. Photography is my therapeutic tool, it’s my self-care practice, and it’s how I capture the exposure of emotion. Trauma informs this project: how life events shape who we become and what happens when we do nothing to disrupt the chaos that follows and amplifies behaviour and emotion.
Nature has been significant in the process of recovery. At first, I thought that it was a clichéd response, but, increasingly, I am valuing that I feel better when surrounded by trees than by people, and this is not weird, this is vital to me….
The lighting in the work replicates the post-trauma dim, dusk tones of how things feel, but I am walking towards dawn.
"When I got back to the house, they listened then went straight out to find him. Of course, he was long gone. Sometime later they took me to Wales- the beach, soothed and cared for. Anarchists, feminists, they reached in. But the rhythm of panic, my reptilian response, had now set in, so I pulled away from those beautiful people."
Beautiful times, we were beautiful women.
Your hand on my face, stroking the contours, kissing my lashes.
Licking the salt of the sea, the salt of sex.
Wrapped on love.
I gave all I could, emotions rushed out with my confidence. You gave emotion back, but withheld the lifeline of my self, a lifesaving ring became vandalised.
Each time we argued I became more out of my depth, like froth, white horses.
Tossed, distant, forever aiming towards the shore.
Close up I was disintegrating, becoming froth as she pushed and stirred and lashed out.
I never knew where I was.
She would snap.
One night there was a storm, one night she scattered what was left of this white horse.
A little drunk, sleepy, I went to bed.
She kicked open my door, jumped on my bed and sat astride me.
Bound by bedding and her I could not move.
For every word came a fist to underline it, around my jawline (where the bruises would show least).
I couldn’t move, couldn’t believe this was not a nightmare.
Your hands around my throat
I was so scared. Could not believe I was not waking up from this.
You reached for a perfect round rock, a holiday find, just a bit smaller than a football.
You reached for it and held it aloft.
I really thought you’d do it; I thought I’d die.
“No, not that” I managed to release from my mouth.
You let it fall away, and noticed blood from my lip.
You paused- tried to gather me in your arms, rocking me.
I was numb. I think I drowned.
Chandler gained a BA Photographic Arts at the Polytechnic of Central London in the 80’s (now University of Westminster). As a young working class woman, she found the experience alienating, and I did not pursue photography as a career, instead having worked in the homeless sector for over 20 years and as a mother.
Her work explores the difficult parts of self and family. As she works full time and is a single Mum this may be why, using what is at hand, reflecting on family relationships, and seeking representation of the unseen self.
Chandler is very interested in exploring photographic methods that do no harm to the environment and believes we are at a time when this should matter to all of us.
Alternatively, you can view more in SEAS' January exhibition, 'Gaslighting'.