I’ve been so encouraged by all the positive responses I’ve had to #TheHug Project this week and it’s been great to come across lots of folk keen to tackle the current state of polarisation:
The Depolarisation Project https://www.depolarizationproject.com/ aims to give people better skills for opening up and changing their minds. Their founder, Alison Goldsworthy, told me that she finds it “almost entirely impossible to find pictures of people being reasonable or civil to each other from different political backgrounds”. Always great to hear there may be a demand for my work!
@poppynoor wrote a great personal piece in the Guardian about how it is possible, if challenging, to have friends across the current political divides. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/oct/12/why-i-can-still-be-best-friends-with-someone-whose-politics-i-despise
Pro European activist Femi Oluwole and Pro Brexit Conservative activist Ellie Varley showed an appetite for better political discourse with their warm and tolerant conversation on Twitter. https://twitter.com/OFOCBrexit/status/1184491303729545216
I’m still working on getting volunteers - who disagree - to actually hug! But, this week, I’ve also come to understand some of the challenges I’m facing more deeply:
Robin Dunbar, a professor in evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, helped with a scientific explanation for why #TheHug can be difficult. He wrote an article about some of his research findings here http://www.ox.ac.uk/research/hugabrit-science-hugs-and-why-they-mostly-feel-so-good . To quote him: “The extent to which the experience of hugging gives us pleasure and helps bond relationships has a deep psychological component. Somewhere in the brain’s frontal lobes is a mechanism that can switch touch from being pleasurable to being unpleasant if the wrong person does it.”
I had a fascinating chat with someone from Thames Valley Restorative Justice, which facilitates communication between victims of crime and offenders. She explained the long and complex process they go through in order to prepare for a meeting and how it does, on rare occasion, lead to a surprising hug. She was appalled at how Donald Trump tried to orchestrate the encounter between the parents of Harry Dunn and the woman who is accused of killing their son in a car crash. No such meeting should happen without proper preparation. It’s not possible to go straight to the hug in such complex situations.
My aims for #TheHug this week:
1. Hug someone who I disagree with
While listening to a podcast “Only Artists” https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00094hg I was struck by Tracy Chevalier’s story of learning how to embroider so that she could fully understand the embroiderers in her new novel “A Single Thread”. It made me realise that if I’m going to ask people to hug those they disagree with, I need to do it myself. So, I set about trying to find a Brexit supporter among my friendship group in Oxford. Not easy! So far, I haven’t found anyone -but I think via friends of friends, I will manage to hug a Brexiter this week.
2. Connect with interfaith groups
People with strongly held religious views have lots of experience of working together despite their differences. I am planning to approach some existing interfaith groups this week and see if I can get some hugs that way.
3. A taxonomy of hugs
While trying to bring people together across divides, I’ve also been photographing people who are more than happy to hug. That’s been fun too, but it’s reminded me of the time needed to get an image that I’m happy with. This could be even more challenging if people are not actually comfortable hugging. At the end of the week when I tried to photograph a 2-year-old, I got a taster of what I will need to do to capture the moment. That situation certainly required me to act quickly and spontaneously and to leave my perfectionist self at the door.
On other photography related matters this week:
I had a few frustrating battles over not being properly credited for my work. Sadly, this is an on-going issue for many photographers. I found images published uncredited and some which were credited to Frank Monks or Fran K Monks. But undoubtedly the most alarming issue arose when someone writing about my exhibition at Keble College, Oxford, referred to me as the wife of a well known economist - without even mentioning my name! Why is this still happening in 2019?