On Tuesday night this week speaker Stuart Griffiths [ www.stuartgriffiths.net/ ]presented to us a very different evening to our usual offerings. Stuart served in our Armed Forces in Northern Ireland. He was a keen artist and photographer which he carried on after joining up. After a while he applied for a post as photographer in his unit and was appointed. This evening was about two things. His life as a photographer in and out of the army.
After leaving the army Stuart fell on hard times, as apparently do many soldiers when they come out. He eventually became homeless. Most of his post army experience was about the love of his life, photography, his photographic development and most of all his struggle to come to terms with himself and the difficulties he suffered.
Throughout the evening his photography showed a keen insight. Clearly his technique and vision developed as he became a more experienced photographer and following some training in the army and later a degree at Brighton University. However, the central core of our evening was dedicated to the grave difficulties that the ordinary ex-soldier suffers. This was especially so in the film we saw in the second part of the evening. It was a very edgy, but insightful review of hostels and people and the environment of homeless ex-service people. Stuart wanted people to see what most of us miss in everyday life – the hopeless and sometimes numbing isolation that some ex-soldiers feel and the difficult times they suffer. A disproportionately high level of ex-soldiers get involved in drugs and there are many suicides. Often they don’t have friends or family. A downward spiral follows. It was this plight, devastating as it is, that the film and photographs illustrated.
Aside from some interesting stylistic photography we gained a small insight into a world that few of us have experienced. Being down and out is difficult to comprehend from a position of a privileged lifestyle and settled family life. So for me at least, the evening was an ‘uncomfortable’ experience and insightful because of that.
This was an evening that perhaps many of us would have chosen to stay away from if we had known more about it. The fact that we were all there at the end of the evening is testimony to the fact that Stuart had an important point to make and had illustrated it well through his project. I for one feel more able to understand this problem – although I don’t feel I know much about it even now. I think you have to feel and experience devastating circumstances like that before you really know it.
An interesting evening. I feel a wiser and more informed person for having been there. In a curious way I enjoyed the spectacle but felt upset that so many people go through this cycle of hopelessness. Stuart used his personal experiences to bring to us a world which we rarely glimpse. His work showed his compassion for those he interviewed and his passion for photography. Thank you Stuart for sharing some difficult material with us.