An Individual State

Photographs by Maria Sainsbury


MARIA SAINSBURY Drawing on the sand with my vehicle 2019
Digital photograph

Pain ― the final frontier. I imagine a Venn diagram: of the mind, of the body, and an intersecting zone where the, at times, unspeakable lives. For anyone who has experienced pain, and particularly chronic pain, what is produced can be likened to a new subjective experience. This zone is also a rich field for philosophy. Writers such as Elaine Scarry (The Body in Pain) and Susan Sontag (Regarding the Pain of Others) have investigated the conditions and outcomes of pain in terms of how it shapes our identity. Scarry acknowledges the way in which pain ‘unmakes’ the world and the self, situating the individual in question beyond their identity, beyond language. Image-making has been known to produce new ways of depicting the world (telescopes; microscopes). Could it be then, that photography could offer a method through which to ‘hang’ the embodied experiences of pain?

Artist Maria Sainsbury uses this form to do so. The former photographic advertising professional found her world undone after an accident: a seemingly innocuous misstep, at the time, on a plastic chair, which resulted in a complete transformation of her world. A multitude of operations on her spine, her hip, her shoulder, her knee followed. Unbearable pain followed. Intrusion into her body via operations followed, and her physical form was medicalised. Embarking on a MFA through Massey University, Sainsbury used the photographic and research process to create narratives of pain, visualising them, seeking to invoke acts of healing. Photography (and, more broadly, art-making) is thus regenerative and a balm, and communicates her experience, which is ultimately individually embodied. Sainsbury likens pain to an internal, individual state that cannot be shared. Indeed, it can be said that we are born alone, we die alone, and we encounter and live in pain alone. As the photographer acknowledged in her Master’s exegesis, the ‘lack of an external referent makes it difficult to comprehend pain’.

After completing her MFA, Sainsbury consolidated her practice to focus on photography, sculpture and video. Instead of pursuing the limiting and exhausting trajectory of gallery exhibitions, which are not conducive to her disability, the artist instead draws on the flexibility and weightlessness that social media affords. A cell phone for image-making is not physically taxing.

Her photographs draw extensively on the natural world, which is also replete with beginnings and endings, pain and metamorphosis. There is beauty in her images, as is her presence in some. Using a 4WD vehicle enables Sainsbury to more fully traverse the environment. In one image, 4WD tyre tracks mark the sand. At university she wrote, ‘My body has been damaged and wounded but it is still the way I experience the joys of living.’ Spinifex keeps company with the hazy setting sun, vibrant sea grass contrasts to skulls. The cycle continues.

MARIA SAINSBURY Returning things to their rightful place 2019
Digital photograph

MARIA SAINSBURY The dunes climb and creep over the forest canopy 2019
Digital photograph

MARIA SAINSBURY Internal landscapes 2013
Digital photograph

MARIA SAINSBURY The wind sets in motion a stampede 2019
Digital photograph