Images of loneliness: exhibiting Jade Varley’s photography

In one of our workshops with young people in the summer we asked participants to bring along an image they had identified or created themselves which somehow illustrated loneliness to them. We had some fantastic contributions, but one of them we were able to put forward to represent The Beat of Our Hearts in a new exhibition organised by Arts and Culture at the University of Exeter, showcasing innovative arts and humanities research.

Situated in the West Wing foyer just outside the Queen’s cafe, this space will provide a zone in which visual stories about university arts and culture projects can be told. Featuring collaborations between artists, academics and students, and highlighting the process of interdisciplinary working across the University, the space will also display curated images from the University.

Photo of Jade Varley's image next to the Queen's cafe door
Jade’s picture by the entrance to the Queen’s Cafe

We were delighted that Jade Varley’s photograph could represent our project for this exhibition.

Photograph depicting a hunched over figure on a park bench, with a dark green tree looming over. The image is saturated with colour, with some over-exposed white space.
Jade Varley’s photograph

When Jade shared her photograph in the workshop, there were some really interesting responses from the other participants. Adjectives used to describe this image of loneliness were:

‘scared’

‘closed-off’

‘sense of something looming’

‘disconnect’.

One participant wondered what the darkness related to: is the tree meant to be protective, or does it loom with a sense of foreboding?

Jade herself stated that the blur in the image was intentional: she wanted to emphasise the physical and emotional disconnect in the picture. The colours are saturated, heightening the intensity of the emotional state she is trying to capture. Jade described this as ‘over the top’ and ‘overwhelmed’. The brightness and the white space are also distorted somewhat. The colours are intense, and there’s an unsettling feeling to the picture.

I think it’s appropriate that the image is now placed next to the door. It hangs on a threshold, just as the white space in the image is suggestive of a world beyond the enclosed and looming environment of the tree and the bench. But thresholds can also be lonely places. They can be places of indecision, immobility, and marginalisation. The figure in the image has their back to the door and faces inward. The image raises many questions at the heart of thinking about loneliness.

This is Jade’s first exhibited photograph, and we think it’s fantastic. We’re really proud that it’s now representing The Beat of Our Hearts in this Arts and Culture exhibition.

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