Category: Solitude

To be alone, we’ll go to the big cities and to space, roam rural Spain and Russian forests. We’ll go to the fortresses of solitude.

Street View’s Strange Solitude

Exploring the world through Google Maps, the Agorophobic Traveler carves out haunting impressions from a parallel universe.

A couple of years ago, cycling through a sleepy Dutch city, my friends and I came across one of Google’s signature Street View cars. It was an unusual sight: A white sedan, adorned with a small Google logo on the side, and that roof-mounted camera peering down like an insect eye. We waved.
When the images became available on Google Maps many months later, there was no visible trace of our waving selves; just an empty intersection in that sleepy Dutch city.

Strangely Devoid of Life

In fact, most images you see on Google Street View seem strangely devoid of life. This is particularly obvious in the work of Jacqui Kenny, an artist who goes by the name of The Agoraphobic Traveler.
Held back by anxieties and a fear of crowded spaces—the dictionary definition of agoraphobia—, Kenny has chosen to see the world in an unusual fashion: By exploring the image database of Google Street View. She writes: “I found remote towns and dusty landscapes, vibrant architectural gems, and anonymous people, all frozen in time. I was intrigued by the strange and expansive parallel universe of Street View, and took screen shots to capture and preserve its hidden, magical realms.”
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
On her site and Instagram account, she shares her “Street View Portraits”, and I can’t help but agree with the impression they depict a world unlike our own. They are very ordinary things; but in such an unusual way and so devoid of life that they seem somehow removed from the reality we experience every day.
That is because they are, in a way, removed: In its attempt to photograph most of the planet, Google has effectively turned our surroundings into an enormous photographic tapestry. Their massive picture, free for anyone to roam around in, is entirely devoid of “decisive moments” or carefully chosen frames. Browsing the imagery, the Agoraphobic Traveler breaks the picture back down, she selects what catches her eye.

A Sight Worth Recording

Does that make her a curator? A new type of photographer? In his book ‘Understanding a Photograph’, John Berger wrote that any photograph contains a simple encoded message: “I have decided that seeing this is worth recording.” The Agoraphobic Traveler may not be behind the camera, but I would argue that she nevertheless engages in photography: Her pictures tells us that a particular sight is worth recording—even if it has previously been recorded by Google.
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny

The Strangest Kind of Travel Photography

What makes the shots so memorable is how they present the world. As Google shoots during daytime, all pictures are naturally filled with light, and since the insect-eye cameras have a unique vantage point, all photos are wide-angle shots taken from the same height. The genius in these pictures therefore doesn’t stem from technical skill, but from what photographer Sergio Larraín has described as the game of “organizing the rectangle”.
The Agoraphobic Traveler has selected empty streets and white walls, free-standing buildings and wide plains. Perhaps there’s a correlation between her fear of crowded spaces and the tendency to select such open spaces. Google obscures the faces of anyone they capture, so none of the people we see can be identified, giving the images an uncanny sense of isolation.
When I contrast these shots with the way I see the world, I feel like they depict a dystopia. A strange land where an unforgiving sun always beats down and people perpetually turn away. If I hadn’t encountered that car myself, I would have trouble believing that the pictures are taken in our world. But this way, I can’t stop looking.
Interested in seeing more Street View Portraits? Check out the site of The Agoraphobic Traveler for an extended gallery and the opportunity to buy prints of her work—with all proceeds going towards charity.

"Nature is probably best for solitude"

For his series “Escape”, the Russian photographer Danila Tkachenko has portrayed people who choose to live away from civilization and opt for the woods instead.


You placed a quote by the Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky at the start of the book. (“Man does not need society at all, it’s the society that needs man. Society is a forced measure of protection and survival. Unlike a gregarious animal, man must live alone – in nature among animals, plants and in contact with them.”) Do you feel that the outsiders you photographed believe in that?
I didn’t really talk to them about such topics, but I would suggest that they would agree with this statement.


Daniel Tkachenko (1989) is a Russian visual artist working with documentary photography. For Escape, the series shown here, he has won first prize in the World Press Photo “Staged Portraits” contest. It came out as a book you can buy here. Find more of his work on his website.

Do you think that the outsiders feel lonely? Can loneliness be a conscious choice? It seems it is something that happens to you rather than something you choose.
I think it’s easiest to be lonely in a big city. Probably a person can feel even more lonely in the city than a hermit who doesn’t communicate with any people at all.


What is the main reason for these “escapers” to go live on their own?
These people all have different reasons to live alone. Some of them lost the beloved ones and didn’t find support from anyone else or from social system, some lost property or got fed up with urban life, some have their own personal struggles… I think, what unites them is the disillusionment about the contemporary society and I would quite agree with them in this.
You spent a long time in the woods for “Escape”. How did the solitude of those surroundings influence the way you worked?
I guess I am now less afraid of darkness and of spaces without people around.


The pictures invoke a very romantic and idyllic feeling of closeness with nature or a return to our roots. Is that something you wanted to show?
Possibly it was part of my intention, the simplicity of life is charming for me, as well as denial of capitalism and technical progress, but on the other side, I realize that it is also just another kind of utopia. For me it was interesting to see the struggle of human against nature, one on one, and his existence in these conditions – because the nature is something not invented by humans, unlike most of the things that surround us nowadays.
Do you think that nature is the best place for human solitude?
Probably it is the best place, but of course I believe that for every individual story, there is individual way and approach to life.


"Isolation isn't the biggest problem"

It’s hard to imagine a more solitary place than space. How do astronauts prepare for it? We spoke with researcher Jack Stuster, who has helped NASA develop a training.

You research and counsel astronauts in outer space. Judging from your experience: is space a lonely place?
Let me go back one step before answering: I study conditions on earth analogous to those on a spacecraft – Antarctic research stations or expeditions for example – and I study the behavior of astronauts working in isolation and confinement on board the International Space Station (ISS). That research was conducted in two phases. Between 2003 and 2009, members of two-or three-members crews participated in the study and from 2011 up to this year, members of six-person-crews participated in the study. Neither the first nor the second phase revealed that loneliness is a problem for the astronauts.

Jack Stuster is President and Principal Scientist at Anacapa Sciences. For NASA, he has contributed to the development of training of astronauts concerning the behavioral issues associated with isolation and confinement.

Jack Stuster is President and Principal Scientist at Anacapa Sciences. For NASA, he has contributed to the development of training of astronauts concerning the behavioral issues associated with isolation and confinement.

How come?
Even with small crews, as phase one has revealed, astronauts do not get very lonely. They might be alone all day but they are busy working and meet the others over dinner later. Every minute in space is programmed in advance so that there is relatively little free-time and when there is some, the astronauts tend to spend it together with their crew-mates. I ask astronauts to write a sort of diary to see how they feel and I have only very rarely read about loneliness or lack of personal space. Between phase one and phase two, private sleep quarters were added and so the astronauts always have the possibility to interact with others but they can also withdraw to their own sleeping chamber. I think the main reason why astronauts don’t get lonely is because they are too busy. However, there have been occasions where a supply spacecraft was severely delayed and the astronauts would have to wait for the material it was supposed to bring them. Then all of a sudden, astronauts have relatively little to do and that can become a problem.
Because they have the time to allow for loneliness?
From their journals, I learned that during such incidents, the astronauts felt under-challenged, bored and useless. But even here, loneliness is not the biggest problem. Let’s also not forget that the astronauts have e-mail and a phone with which they can call their friends and family. This helps a lot with the negative effects that separation from the loved ones can entail. Now on an expedition to Mars, this will not be possible. Astronauts will have e-mail but there will be no possibility for phone calls when the time delays increase beyond a few minutes.
Allegedly, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen did not take a pocket knife with him on his polar expeditions but only the parts required to build one because he said that boredom is the greatest enemy of the explorer. Your findings seem to confirm that.
Boredom was the number one enemy of the polar explorers and when Amundsen traversed the North-West passage, he only took with him the raw materials to make trade items with the Eskimos rather than pre-manufactured items because he knew that he had to keep himself and his crew busy. When Fridtjof Nansen attempted to reach the North Pole, he had on board a library of a thousand volumes, music and wonderful food to fill the free time. The engineers even disassembledand re-assembled the engines on board twice to keep busy when the ship was locked in the ice., Nansen reported in his journal that the saddest day of the expedition was the day they ran out of beer.

“Being behind schedule is stressful, but having nothing to do would be worse.”

So work is the best remedy against negative feelings on such expeditions?
As I said, the only time that astronauts report negative feelings is when they have nothing to do. So NASA puts them on a very tight schedule so that there is always something to do. Astronauts are constantly running behind schedule which is an awful feeling for a person with high achievement goals which all astronauts are. Being behind schedule is probably the most stressful thing for astronauts but having nothing at all to do would be even worse.
How do the astronauts schedule their day in an environment that is not regulated by sunrise and sunset?
The ground crew schedules the day for the astronauts and trains their body clocks. They go by Greenwich Mean Time and wake up at the same time every morning except on weekends. Even though they have many sunrises and sunsets throughout the day – every 90 minutes basically – because they circle the globe, they do have a day schedule because of their work schedule. But some astronauts have problems adjusting to this because of the excitement. I mean it is a unique experience to look down at Earth! It is something that almost nobody will ever experience and it is so exciting that they sometimes forget to go to sleep at the set time. If they have problems sleeping, there are also sleeping aids on board that can be taken in special cases when sleep schedules change. So there are a lot of things that help them adjust to a regular day and night schedule.
Obviously there are many things you can do to prepare astronauts for issues like sleeping disorders but are there things you can do to prepare them for the distress of solitude?
The astronauts are almost never in complete solitude, unless they wish so. I am not aware that there is formal training but there are or have been simulations. In Russia, six test subjects were locked in a small module for 520 days to study the effect isolation has on their mental state and body. NASA is currently conducting 30 day simulations with four member crews. But these simulations cannot train the crew members for the special conditions on board of the ISS, they can only prepare them to a certain extent. Just knowing that you will experience certain conditions like isolation and confinement can help you a lot to deal with them later on. Because these conditions can cause some severe problems.
Like what?
Because of the pressure of isolation, trivial issues can become very serious issues and this can lead to arguments and fights between the crew members which must be avoided at all cost. Knowing about this helps you to cope with it.
So there is no way to predict how astronauts will react to certain conditions?
No, they are humans and we humans are too complex to be predictable. Especially in environments like outer space. But behavioral psychology teaches us that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So if you plan a long and difficult exploration, you should of course pick crew members who have demonstrated that they are capable of living and working in isolation and confinement.

“Going to Mars would be a challenge to even the most experience astronaut.”

That is where the simulations overlook a crucial question: can you simulate solitude here on Earth and predict future behavior in space when the conditions of these environments are so different? Solitude on Earth surely is different than solitude in space.
I believe that solitude on the ISS is easier to deal with than solitude or isolation at a small Antarctic station, because work is performed at a high tempo and the scenery is beautiful and constantly changing. One astronaut wrote in his journal that no matter how bad things are going on board or how stressed one might be, the view fixes everything. On an expedition to Mars, where your destination is just a little dot in the sky and ultimately your home becomes just a little dot in the sky, that will make things very different. The solitude that interplanetary explorers will experience will be qualitatively different from what ISS astronauts experience.
How so?
A few years back, I gave a lecture about expeditions to Mars and a distinguished and experienced astronaut walked up to me afterwards and told me that he has always been comfortable being in the Earth-moon-shuttle system, but that he might not be the correct person to leave low Earth orbit and head to Mars. That, to me, revealed a self-awareness that astronauts have and that goes both ways: they know how capable they are but they also know their limitations. Going to Mars and having Earth so far away for two or three years would be a challenge to even the most experienced astronaut.
In his essay “On Solitude”, French philosopher Michel de Montaigne writes that we should have family, friends and property but that we should never make them the masters of our well-being, that we should be able to be happy on our own. Following his reasoning, the perfect astronaut would be a loner.
Not a loner, because interpersonal skills are essential to getting along in isolation and confinement. However, I have recommended that astronauts on an expedition to Mars should not have small children because they would probably regret the separation. I am an advocate of selecting husband-and-wife-teams, but this definitely is a minority opinion.
Would that not be a possible source of conflict?
Yes and no. There could be conflict between married people, but if they have been married a long time it demonstrates their compatibility and fidelity to a cause, two essential personal qualities. Also, people who have been married for 25 years probably know how to deal with conflict situations. There would, of course, be other advantages.
Are there astronauts who value the solitude in space because they enjoy having that time on their own?
Yes, absolutely! The astronauts are there to work and they often consider too much personal contact to be a burden. Sometimes, when the crew of the ISS gets visitors or when new crew members arrive, they feel happy at first but it can quickly turn into an annoyance because it disrupts the rhythm and work flow.
You have said that in the extreme conditions that astronauts find themselves, food becomes extremely important. Can you tell us why?
Food assumes added importance when usual sources of gratification such as family, friends, or hobbies are denied,. So the astronauts learn to cherish what they have up there. Their exercise machines become extremely important and so does food. Unfortunately, food has become kind of a disappointment to them in the sense that the options are very limited. But ground control is very busy making the food experience as pleasant as possible. Often, the people packing the food include small hidden messages, wishing the crew a good mission. Something like that can really cheer a person up after a long day of work. This has tradition: even during the early Polar expeditions, explorers would find little notes in their food to console and cheer them up.

“Solitude binds astronauts together.”

Is there a food that astronauts crave in particular?
Tortillas – by far. Astronauts never get enough tortillas. They train in Texas so they get used to eating Mexican food. But the other thing is that food starts to float away in space. So you need something that keeps the food together. What better than a tortilla?
Popular culture often paints the picture of the lonely astronaut such as David Bowie’s Major Tom, Elton John’s Rocket Man or Matt Damon in the movie The Martian. How accurate are these portrayals or descriptions?
It’s not very accurate because astronauts are always in groups, but it would be a completely accurate description if an astronaut were to be stranded somewhere, which is not very likely but possible. The Martian depicts a solitude that is not completely unrealistic in that sense. When a person is all by him- or herself, the things around start to change. You no longer perceive your environment the same. We know for example from prisoners in solitary confinement that all they need is the assurance that somebody is close to them. Even the noises coming from other people are enough to feel like you are not completely alone.
Is there one concluding observation that you can share from your research?
I have found that solitude and the extreme conditions in space have had a very positive effect on how the crew members deal with each other. There is sometimes a bit of friction among the American crew members or among the Russian crew members, but there has never been conflict between the Americans and Russians, the Americans and Europeans, or the Russians and Europeans – or with the Japanese. There have been several crews composed of former American and Russian fighter pilots. They had trained for years to kill each other but there they were, 230 miles above the Earth, working together in complete harmony under arduous conditions. The solitude and their common goals bind them together. If they are able to do that in space, we should also be able to do so here on Earth.

Margin Walker

Photographer Xavier Aragonès takes haunting pictures in the deserted outskirts of a Catalan city. We asked him to describe his process – and how escaping solitude enabled him to take better pictures.


On the edges of the city I live in, there’s a place that has become my personal fantasy playground. It’s quite a large space and I have been exploring it relentlessly for the last two years, mostly on foot, usually in the early morning hours and always, always on my own.
I have to say that when I started this project, I did not expect what it ended up turning into. Since I first got into photography, the landscape (both natural and man-made) has been my primary area of interest, and they way I approach it basically consists of three actions: wandering, staring and shooting.

Xavier Aragonès (b. 1979) is a wanderer with a camera. You can see more of his work at his website and his blog

Xavier Aragonès (b. 1979) is a wanderer with a camera. You can see more of his work at his website and his blog

In my previous work, the outcome of this process has been a collection of pretty straightforward, sometimes gritty, depictions of everyday landscapes and mostly banal subjects, following the teachings of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston. In the end, I was often left with a bittersweet feeling: although I enjoyed the experience of exploration, solitude and contemplation, I felt the results were more an exercise in style than a means of honest personal expression. In other words: I was being just a copycat and not much of a creator.
This time around, though, I was smart enough to show my work in progress to some people, mostly fellow photographers, who finally helped me push myself out of my creative boundaries and forced me to confront my true motivations: What was the main reason behind it all? What the hell was that thing that made get up before sunrise and roam all alone through the nooks and crannies of deserted, sometimes inhospitable places in the outskirts of the city?


It took me quite long, but in the end I realized that what I was actually doing was appropriating that place (figuratively, of course) by just going and being there on my own over and over again. I was taking over that artificial lake, those pine woods, that abandoned barn, those remains of a quarry… to give all of them a whole new meaning in my imagination and turn them into several fictitious places according to my tastes and influences from film, literature and photography. This time, thankfully, I found the way to handle these sources of inspiration to create work that I really felt as my own.
The title of the project, “Pas del Nord-oest” (Northwest Passage in Catalan), is a reference to the legendary sea route connecting the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean, as well as the working title for the pilot episode of the TV series Twin Peaks. Interestingly enough, my main access to the area I explore in the project was through an old pedestrian tunnel under the railway in the Northwest edge of the city.


Copyright of all the pictures: Xavier Aragonès

Party of One

Perhaps Paris is best enjoyed without company.

4, 6, 8 … 10 avenue des Champs-Elysées. A century old greenhouse hidden away on one of Paris’s loudest, most hurried streets. White wood paneling, sunlight streaming in, in summertime the terrace looks onto the Grand Palais.
From the kitchen’s innocently open windows, aromas of herbs and slowly cooking wine waft out, stopping a wandering passant. A gentleman d’un certain âge, a definite flâneur, in a navy blue coat, well cut, collar up. About him lingers a hint of Eau Sauvage, and the quiet refinement of one who has well read, traveled, seen, and done. On his left hand, a gold wedding band and a fine brown leather watch. He consults the latter, and one more time inhales. Then, seduced, he walks in.
Through the neatly trimmed garden, up the white marble steps. By the door, a wine list, and desserts on a golden cart. The visual temptation amplifies the olfactory; intricate and delicate, crafted like art.
The maître d’hôtel, however, apologetically says:
Désolé, Monsieur. Nous sommes complets. ((I apologize, Monsieur. We are full.))
Not a table available, not even for one.
But as he watches the gentleman leave, the host has a thought.
Attendez Monsieur! Upon reflection, I believe we do have one.
At the Pavillon Lenôtre, there is a table, with white linen, white roses, fine china and silverware. And a single, perfectly positioned, proud Louis XV chair. Silver salt shakers de chez Christofle, crystal glasses from Baccarat. And the most beautiful view in all of Paris, from across the baie vitrée.
The table cannot be requested, and is always reserved. It is the perfect setting for a party of one.
Its guests are assigned at the maître’s discretion; historically eclectic and few. Old, young, ladies, gentlemen, wealthy, and poor. Frenchmen, foreigners, literate, or not. With nothing in common, save for a quiet way of walking in and inquiring about lunch, tea, dessert – for one.
The gentleman is deemed worthy. He is escorted to his seat. Coat taken, napkin unfolded. The wine is poured in silence, the first plate quietly placed. The guest is left alone, with silence, Paris, and a feast.
En entrée:
Ravioles de langoustines et bouillon de crustacés, ((To begin, scampi ravioli in a light shellfish broth)) accompanied by sips of crisp, young Bandol blanc.
A warm piece of baguette shamelessly sops the light shellfish broth. One lingering sip of white wine.
Remise en bouche: a fresh lemon sorbet.
A few, unhurried minutes later, le plat principal:
Filet de bœuf façon Rossini aux cèpes et gratin dauphinois, ((Beef fillet Rossini with porcini mushrooms and potato gratin)) with a fine wine sauce poured at the table, and a glass of merlot de Pomerol.
The flavors are intense and wholesome. The last bite is deliberately slow.
A fleeting sadness, but consolation soon comes:
The sun setting over Paris, a slice of vieux Comté, more Pomerol.
From the golden cart, a moelleux is served à la chartreuse. The spoon cuts through the soft and crunchy entremets. The warm chocolate oozes out and blends into the liqueur.
Each bite is savored leisurely, in silence and with care. Lenôtre is one of those rare places where dessert and solitude are still considered art.
Short and black, the coffee arrives promptly. The bill never does; another honor bestowed only to the finest table in the house.
To dine alone in Paris is to dine alone with Paris. With the stories it inspired, and those that inspired it. Eiffel’s eccentric tower, Haussmann’s avenues, Hugo’s chimneys, Pagnol’s boulangeries. Sisley’s barges along the Seine, Monet’s mist over Notre Dame. The rivaling cafés des Deux Magots and Flore, the Bec-de-Gaz bar. Picasso’s studio, Renoir’s hôtel particulier. The covered galleries, the rooftop gardens, the secret alleyways.
Street musicians and artists, hidden lovers around corners, chain smokers in the sun. In this city, there is no such thing as a party of one.
The gentleman finishes his coffee. A perfect ending to a perfect meal. The food was exquisite, the view was sublime. He folds his napkin and places it on the tablecloth, beside a few bills. He pulls up the collar of his navy blue coat, ready to leave. But waits for the last ray to set, out of respect.

Alone among each other

The work of Spanish photographer Verónica Losantos is influenced by absence. Her pictures show people and places between solitude and intimacy and capture the interplay of these two conditions.

I looked at your „you are (not) alone“ photo series and wondered: Why is solitude such an interesting concept for photographers?
It is very essential to the creative process. When I am alone, I have the time to think. I have better ideas and feel more creative overall. You don’t get distracted from what you actually want to do. It takes time to decide what you want to do with an idea and how you are going to do it and usually you find that time when you are alone. For four years, I took pictures that symbolize solitude and love – usually on the road, alone – and at the end, I had a massive archive of pictures. It took some time to figure out how I could use these pictures to represent what I wanted to tell with them.
Veronica_Losantos_You_are_(not)_alone_4bThat’s the creative process side but then there is also the importance of solitude as the photographer’s subject. 
The pictures from this series were all taken on the street so nothing is staged. I think that is the best way to capture solitude because I don’t know if it can be staged at all. I normally tend to isolate the person or object I am photographing but this was different because I didn’t know if I would be able to transport the mood or feeling by isolating the subject. What was difficult with this project was finding the subject
What is interesting about your series is that you also included a lot of pictures of buildings or streets but usually we associate only humans with feelings like loneliness or love.
True, but these are our surroundings so they do have an effect on us. I wanted to portray objects to show this and to complement the pictures I took of people. That’s why very often, you see two pictures that I have put next to each other to make that connection. I also put pictures of different people next to each other to show the dependency we humans have vis-à-vis other people and that causes the feelings of solitude we sometimes feel. Also: just showing people, standing alone somewhere, looking sad, that would have been too easy.
In the explanatory notes of “you are (not) alone”, you quote Erich Fromm who said that the intensity with which we love, often mirrors the intensity of the solitude we felt before. Why did you choose that quote?
I think it is something we all experience. You are with other people and you might love other people but you know that, ultimately, you are alone in this world. We all depend on relating to others. The human being is the only living being that has this dependency. Of course, we can be alone and survive but loneliness is something intrinsically human. We can’t be alone forever but we need to be alone sometimes – this dichotomy really fascinates me.


Verónica Losantos, born 1984 in Logroño, Spain, lives and works in Berlin. Her work focuses mainly on introspective topics, and uses photography as an explorative process, often examining personal experience, family history and photography’s layered relationship to time and memory. She is the winner of the “Kunstpreis Fotografie Berlin Brandenburg 2016” and the “Talents”2014 photography contest by C/O Berlin with the series “Screen Memories“.

Coming back to the abandoned places and objects you portray: Why do you think that we have developed such a deep interest in this subject?
I think it has a lot to do with nostalgia for bygone eras and we wonder about the history of these places and objects. We can experience the past through them and these places invoke feelings that we don’t get just everywhere.
Like solitude or loneliness?
It depends; I mean you can also feel very lonely in a huge city, surrounded by millions of people. I think abandoned places invoke nostalgia or melancholia and these feelings might lead you to feel lonely or solitary but I don’t think that necessarily has to happen.
There is one picture from “you are (not) alone” that caught my interest in particular. It depicts a big public square and small groups of individuals standing around. You see that the individuals are not alone but the picture nevertheless invokes a feeling of solitude.
It shows people that are alone among each other. The picture was taken in Rome and the square is usually heavily populated but yet there is no real feeling of being together in this moment. People are just there – together alone.
The other photo series “screen memories” shows glimpses of your own past. You portray your childhood and the lack of the father figure. There are two protagonists – you and your father – but one of them is portrayed by his absence.
This project is about the relationship between memory and photography. I researched a lot and decided to use my own memories for it, the ones from my childhood and from the time with my father. I also tried to tell about his absence during a long period of my life, so this is why the man representing him is never wholly recognizable in the pictures. He is present but not there.
What is fascinating about these pictures is that some of them depict very banal objects or memories it seems …
Yes, there are pictures showing important events or special occasions but then many just show something very random that comes to my mind when I think about my father. These memories are what Sigmund Freud called “screen memories”. The pictures of that series can be divided in three categories …
Some of the pictures show actual memories that I still have, some show memories I only got through pictures of that time and then there are invented memories. When I started working on this project, I started out with a few memories and then every memory would trigger another one. I also started to concern myself a lot with the way memory works. Memory is selective and usually, the memories that we have are linked to some other sense experience like a noise or a smell. I wanted to also give these impressions some room in this project.
For more pictures, check Verónica’s website and Facebook page.
“screen memories” will be on exhibition at the C/O Gallery Berlin until the 24th of April.
Copyright of all the pictures: Veronica Losantos

"We are surrounded by the lonely all the time"

Her experience of being alone in New York City inspired writer and artist Olivia Laing to explore the notion of loneliness and its intersection with art. In her book “The Lonely City”, she unravels the past of several artists and the impact isolation had on their work.

Reading your book “The Lonely City”, I couldn’t help but think that loneliness is hard to pin down in a specific place…
Loneliness is not bound to a specific place, that’s true. And it isn’t at all the same thing as solitude. Solitude means you are physically alone while loneliness is a longing for more intimacy than you have. That’s why it can happen just as easily in a crowd, among friends, or even in a relationship.
You have described loneliness as something that emerges in all kinds of conditions: Being an outcast, being stigmatized – or even someone unable to overcome a language barrier. Is the city just a canvas for loneliness, then?
You can be lonely anywhere and under any kind of circumstance. But urban environments can intensify loneliness. When you are in a city, you are surrounded by other people. But you also have an experience of being physically separated from them while seeing them all around you. That is especially true in cities like New York, where the population is so dense and so many people live in apartments.

Olivia Laing is the author of "To the River", "Echo Spring" and, most recently, "The Lonely City". She lives in the U.K. (Photo by Mike Sim)

Olivia Laing is the author of “To the River”, “Echo Spring” and, most recently, “The Lonely City”. She lives in the U.K. (Photo by Mike Sim)

They are close but out of grasp.
At the same time, you are subject to a lot of peoples’ gazes, you are visible to them. I think that really intensifies the experience of loneliness: feeling hyper-exposed, and feeling shame around the social taboo that is loneliness. Urban environments intensify loneliness in quite a particular and interesting way.
Is that what you mean when you write: “The possibilities of connection are defeated by the dehumanizing apparatus of urban life”?
Yes, but I’m also referring to the internet and social media. Just because there’s a density of people, doesn’t mean it necessarily facilitates connections between them.
Because everyone on the internet posts the best things that happen to them, making everyone else feel like they are missing out?
I feel like there is a sort of pressure to perform these perfect lives, to show very tightly curated images – “my wonderful brunch with my friends” or “the great thing I went to last night”. Social media becomes a highly pressured, highly competitive space. And if you are feeling like you are failing socially, that can be very intimidating and make you feel worse.
In your book, you describe how Andy Warhol, who was socially awkward around people, discovered that he could use machines as an intermediary. Especially his tape recorder, with which he filled the space between him and others. Do you recognize that logic in our online behavior?
Absolutely. Warhol was such a precursor of the internet age: in many ways the avatar of the 21st century. I began reading about him, and how he was using tape recorders and Polaroid cameras to both draw people to him and to keep them away. And then I looked up from my research, looked around me, and everybody was holding on to their charismatic little machines. Today, people sit on the subway, swiping through Tinder without talking, or looking at the people around them.
I wonder, then, if the behavior we all elicit is something that came about in the 21st century or whether those machines are just pandering to the neuroses we all have anyway.
I don’t know! But I wonder whether the reason that this aspect of Warhol’s behavior hasn’t been written about so much is because it has only really become clear to us in the 21st century what he was doing – because now we are doing it too, and so it is recognizable to us.
He had a particular kind of loneliness: He was famous and at the same time, people didn’t quite get him…
He made a wonderfully rich life around himself – working and social life – but he always seemed removed from it. And he talked about himself as one removed from it. Even though he clearly had friends, clearly had people he was close to. But there was an emotional space around him that felt familiar. I think a lot of people experience that kind of alienation without really knowing quite how to fulfill it.

“Isolation is often political rather than habitual.”

In your book, you quote the psychologist Robert Weiss: “Loneliness cannot be overcome by willpower alone”. Maybe all these people are trying to do something about their loneliness, working against it as much as they can, but the real tragedy is that they cannot get out of it, no matter how hard they try.
It is also a question of what that gap around you provokes: how it stimulates creativity and the production of art. That the sort of sense of longing to communicate, and knowing that nobody understands you or speaks your language drives the production of art.
Because it is a way to pop the bubble?
Yes. It’s a way to make something like a communication device, especially if you worry that your own words, or your own body won’t be found attractive. You make new objects and put them into the world, objects that are attractive or desirable or that resolve things you are struggling with in your own emotional life.
You often talk about loneliness being a vicious circle, something that is hard to get out of. And while these artists didn’t break free from it, they still did manage to create something.
Absolutely. In the beginning of the book, I have another quote from Robert Weiss “Loneliness is a disease wholly without redeeming features.” I didn’t believe that a state that pretty much all humans can and most humans have experienced at some point in their lives can be without redeeming features. To me, one of the things that was redeeming is the way in which loneliness intersects with and drives creativity.
It lead you on the journey of researching artists and eventually writing this book. You fell into the rabbit hole…
As soon as I started to begin the research, I became so captivated by and interested in the topic. It unlocked the potential of loneliness. It was also very healing, starting to understand the different ways in which people become isolated and the way it is so often political rather than habitual. It was very connecting.
In the book, you talk a lot about the artist David Wojnarowicz. He and the gay community he was a part of used their sexuality as an outlet for loneliness, a shortcut to intimacy.
We’re often fed a story about monogamous romance, about how love is the cure for loneliness – which I think is bullshit. So I was interested in people who were having fairly anonymous, fairly adventurous sex in public places and how much that touched them, how much meeting a stranger could be a cure for loneliness. I wanted to open up as many possibilities as I could about different ways that loneliness can be meaningful, or can be handled.
You write “the dream of sex is to be liberated from the prison of the body by the body itself”. I recognize that by the behavior we see today, where a myriad of hook-up apps has enabled city dwellers to have fairly anonymous sex.
But it is different because today it is mediated by a machine. I don’t think I am that nostalgic in the book, but perhaps I do have some nostalgia for the idea of cruising, of being able to go to one of these places where people met to have sex… There, you are deep in the fabric of the city itself, rather than the city of the internet – which is not as satisfying a place.
Back then, men could go cruising in abandoned docks in New York City…
It was a remarkable space. But when AIDS appeared those places just closed down. The people who were writing in the 1970s about the possibilities of connections through anonymous sex were really silenced in the 1980s – for understandable reasons – but as David Wojnarowicz rightfully said: “It isn’t having sex with a lot of people that causes AIDS, it’s not having safe sex.”
In an article in the New Yorker, you have talked about a very different aspect of sexuality, namely that a woman can never be alone like a man, since she will always be objectified.
It’s really hard to be as anonymous in a city as Wojnarowicz was: prowling around and being the person who is doing the looking. As a woman, you are always aware of yourself being looked at, whether that’s as an appealing sexual object, or as a failed sexual object. That pressure is always there – and I found that very frustrating and difficult at the time.
Thinking it through to the end, men and women must have a very different experience of loneliness.
I think they do, and it was hard for me to wrestle with. I have complicated feelings about my own gender anyway, but the experience that woman characters have in the book, like Jo Hopper (the wife of artist Edward Hopper) or Valerie Solanas (the activist and writer, who is remembered as being the woman who attempted to assassinate Andy Warhol), the loneliness they are experiencing is that they are artists who never find audiences, never find anyone interested in their work. For me, as a woman artist, that is a very live terror.
Edward Hopper used his wife as the model for every female character in his paintings, but then changed them into something she wasn’t – long-legged blondes. She was enough to be his model but only if he transformed her in the painting.
…and at the same time stopping her from painting. She is trapped in the paint of his canvasses, and the more I think about it, the more disturbing it becomes.
Interestingly, in this musing on loneliness, you cite many characters who have gone through horrifying personal experiences. Is that something you picked out, or does abuse necessarily entail loneliness?
I think that people who come from a background of trauma often have that as a source of loneliness in their lives. That’s true of me and that’s probably why I am drawn to this kind of subject. And why Wojnarowicz is so central in the book. My childhood didn’t have the violence that he experienced, but there was a lot of emotional chaos that I recognized. It’s funny, you’re drawn to subjects without necessarily knowing all the details of their biographies. And as it emerges, you see why you’re so drawn to them.

“Loneliness teaches us solidarity.”

The more I think about it, the more I see that the experience of being lonely is a very general experience, even if we think the people in the building across from us are living perfect lives. But there are so many people who carry a great burden of loneliness because of their background or identity, because they are being stigmatized or excluded in some way.
In the book I focus on the stigma of AIDS as a source of loneliness, but of course stigma is something that happens to so many people. The homeless, for example, sitting on the sidewalk, watching people walk by evading their eyes, hour after hour, day after day. What must that experience be like? An enormous, paralyzing loneliness. That no one will acknowledge your humanity is incredibly isolating. So I think we are surrounded by the lonely all the time, and we are not aware of them. We put them to the peripheries of our vision and it is so important that we don’t.
Because we are exacerbating the loneliness they are feeling?
Loneliness isn’t something an individual person can resolve. It is something we are all responsible for and we all need to think about the ways we are causing the loneliness of others, as well as working on our own loneliness.
That being particularly the fact that we tend to cast the misfits out or stigmatize them?
We just casually stigmatize and dehumanize people, even by small things like a lack of willingness to make eye contact with people who we think are different, or less than us. It creates loneliness in our cities and it creates loneliness in our cultures.
What you are saying is that this being a subconscious activity, we need to consciously counteract it?
If loneliness teaches us anything, it teaches us that kindness and solidarity with others matters far more than trying to pursue individual happiness, which is transient anyway. We make a better world if we use our own loneliness to think about the many, many other lonely people around us.
You do mention that loneliness has an unexpected upside: A clarity of vision that comes with a heightened sense of self-awareness.
There is a kind of openness that comes when you strip away the shame, which is the most painful and damaging aspect of loneliness. Once that’s gone, you see that loneliness is a kind of longing , an intense but not necessarily a bad feeling. For me, once I became more comfortable with it, once I stopped being so ashamed, I found that loneliness made me very receptive. I became very open to art, very open to seeing the city life around me. That kind of acuity of vision was powerful.