As I am currently in the soul-crushing process of searching for a new job, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the nature of work and how what we do for a living is inextricably entangled with our sense of self. To see my life reduced to a few impersonal pages, describing how I function as a productive-flesh-machine, is a harrowing prospect and perhaps one that I should not dwell upon too long. (I am certain there must be a precise word of this particular type of malaise, no doubt in a language from a culture less morbidly fearful of solipsism than English.)
This crisis of self confidence has led me to think about my happiest memories of employment, maybe in hopes of figuring out what I want, ideally, from a job. It was summer and I had recently discovered the joys of ocean swimming. I had also just recently paid off my student loan so whatever money I earned was my own. I had youth, I had a little money and time to spare, I was the healthiest I had ever been: Life was good. I had suddenly found myself rapidly transitioned from more-than-full-time to a 24 hour-a-week schedule, making more money per hour than I ever had in my life (which, really, is quite a modest statement). The nature of the work wasn’t exactly the sort you could lose yourself in, but it was pleasant enough and something you never took home with you, figuratively or literally.
I think this feeling of elation was enhanced by the fact that the previous three work years had been so gut-wrenchingly stressful. Although working at the same company, the tone of the work was completely different. The hours were long with plenty of forced overtime, I was constantly under strict time constraints and high expectations. The job was physically punishing and many of my co-workers suffered from work-related injuries. Whats more, as I was a casual relief worker I was frequently bumped from one location to another, uncertain where I would end up at the end of any given day. I frequently had anxiety nightmares about work and my partner at the time told me the only time I ever seemed relaxed was after a couple of beers (self-medicating for stress was extremely common among my peers). But what really pushed my anxiety needle into the red was that I had no job security at all. The entire three years I was considered a temporary employee (the slightly derogatory term used for us among supervisors and our co-workers was “terms”, as in “short-term”) and thus could be fired at any time without cause. This rarely happened, but some supervisors held the possibility over our heads like the Sword of Damocles in order to push us to work a little harder or faster or under unsafe conditions.
It was during this time that I discovered photo-montage. I was first exposed to the anti-Nazi posters of John Heartfield and then the amazing, other worldly images of Hannah Hoch and Max Ernst. The simplicity of the materials and the possibility of deeply surrealistic compositions really drew me in. I began collecting huge folders of images from books and magazines, sorted by what must have seemed like slightly eccentric categorization: Patterns; Heads; Body Parts. Soon my favourite way of spending a Friday evening was with a stack of clipped photos, a pair of sharp scissors and a bottle of micro-brew.
It’s hard to judge the end results objectively so many years later, but I am certain that the process of constructing these little pieces gave me the sense of order and purpose and control of at least one aspect of my life that allowed me to cope with the challenges that I was facing elsewhere.
Find below a few of my favourite pieces and if you’d like to see more, click on the link at the bottom this page.