On show: Dirk H. Wilms; ‘A Kind of Absence‘

A short introduction where we catch up with photographic artist, Dirk H. Wilms, to find out about his latests exhibition…

Please tell us a little about the exhibition and how it came about (any new pieces or retrospective, all self/auto portraits? any specific themes?)

The exhibition has been created by the German AIDS Service Organization in Weimar to showcase the major area of my work I’ve been concentrating on for the last 15 years – my self-portrait series “A Kind Of Absence”. It shows 40 pieces of my black and white works, including many images never shown before. The series is an artistic documentary about living with HIV and AIDS, which I began in 2001 shortly after my HIV diagnosis. With this I wanted to make my fears and nightmares visible to those who care to see.

Holding My Breath (2014) dirkhwilms.com
Holding My Breath (2014) – © Dirk H. Wilms

Please tell us in a little more detail about one or more pieces which deal specifically with gay/queer identity.

I think, my whole work is about queer identity, my identity. But also about sexuality and mortality. Everything is inseparably connected in my work.

When and where is the exhibition; does it include works for sale?

The show runs until December 9th 2015 in “Gallery Markt 21” in the center of beautiful German city of Weimar and all shown images are for sale.

Do you have any other news (or new works) you want to tell us about?

I will continue to work on my series – as I have given myself the order to be accompanied by the camera until the end. I imagine a few surprises in the next year, but it’s too early to talk about.

We’d like to wish Dirk all the best with his show (runs to Dec 9th at Gallery Markt 21, Weimar). Or you can view more of his work at his website or on Facebook


The secrets and lies of Paul Sargeant

I was asked if I was the singer from Haircut 100 on a trip to Paris in 1982. I said yes and signed their autograph book - Paul Sargeant

There’s an inborn fear we have about sharing our issues. A little secret of our own that eats us up from the inside and brings us to a point where we can no longer handle it. We long to tell someone but hold back all too often from doing so. What are we afraid of? Rejection? Looking like a fool? Being judged, perhaps? Or perhaps that sometimes we might lose the identity we have built for ourselves if we deal with it and no longer have it?

Sometimes I'm in the bathroom and you all think I had a dodgy meal. I'm crying my eyes out. I can't tell anyone - Paul Sargeant
Sometimes I’m in the bathroom and you all think I had a dodgy meal. I’m crying my eyes out. I can’t tell anyone.
© Paul Sargeant – all rights reserved.

With a kind of anonymity social media has made it much easier to say “I’m having a shit time of it right now.” A little mention of a problem on Facebook or Twitter posts or support groups and support comes in from those you love and quite frequently from those you have never even met. We use this forum effectively, almost unafraid – we can’t see the faces of the people who disapprove and mock us. We only see the ones who have chosen to give us a virtual hug – and that helps us.

I deal with my own brain all the time, a deep-rooted self-loathing for my personal appearance has troubled me and shouted me down for well over half my life. I don’t have a huge problem talking about it, I am however very picky about who I have the conversation with.

I don't speak English - Paul Sargeant
I don’t speak English
© Paul Sargeant – all rights reserved.

Secrets and Lies came about because I posted a photo of a man with a bag on his head that read “Beware: I’m Ugly” on it. The comments poured in about how I shouldn’t put myself down etcetera. It wasn’t my photo – or me under the bag – so I was able to brush off those comments. The sentiment, though, was exactly right for my frame of mind at the time.

It was the reaction that inspired me more than the photograph. The fact that people read a sentiment that rang true for me and it caused some kind of thought process that made them upset or angry that I should think this way. I wanted to give others a voice to share their secrets.

The lies really covers two aspects, one is about the lies we tell about ourselves – to protect us from others or cover up our secrets – but also about how easy it is to lie on social media. How easily we believe something written on a status by someone we’ve never met. We have no idea what is truth and what is reality sometimes, we have no choice but to take what we read at face value.

After my Mum died, found out she + my Dad were not my birth parents. Never told anyone I know. - Paul Sargeant
After my Mum died, found out she + my Dad were not my birth parents. Never told anyone I know.
© Paul Sargeant – all rights reserved.

So I put out a call on Facebook with my thoughts and ideas and asked people to volunteer their secrets and lies, one of each to be precise. One hundred brown paper bags were dispatched to fifty different people with the instruction to write a secret on one bag and a lie on the other, on the reverse side they were to write an ‘S’ and an ‘L’ – so I could tell them apart.

I was amazed how quickly I built up a list of people who volunteered to take part in the project, and was even more amazed when the bags started returning. Some of the comments could make a person weep. I asked for people to be honest with their secrets and they were. I am incredibly grateful for that. The lies were also well thought out – some amusing, others shocking. The people who volunteered certainly put some thought in to it.

I was abused by my babysitter at 13. I don't enjoy intimacy - Paul Sargeant
I was abused by my babysitter at 13. I don’t enjoy intimacy. © Paul Sargeant – all rights reserved.

I guess the point of it is that I want people to think about others in a different way. Not to judge someone who’s having a bad day, dealing with something from their past or with some kind of mental illness. These bags could be from anyone – that guy you stood next to at the train station this morning you thought was a bit of a cock, that woman smoking a fag whilst pushing a pram, that old man weeping into his cup of coffee. It could be any one of us and most of the time we will never know. We’ll never know because we don’t ask. Sometimes we don’t ask because we know there’s something and we don’t want to deal with what the answer might be. Sometimes we just don’t think about the fact that we don’t really know the people pass on the street, and sometimes we don’t really know the truth that some of our best friends keep hidden from us.

Thanks to Paul for the essay, which is also included in the first volume of ‘We Are Obscured’. You can see more of his work on his website or on Flickr.