Bye bye The Emotional Body blog!!!

Today is the last official day of my fellowship, and I wanted to look back. What was the intention of The Emotional Body blog, and what has it become?

This blog was born in February 2014 with my Wellcome Trust research project “The Emotional Body”. It was intended to be the space where I put bits of my research on photographic practices and emotions in French medical sciences during the nineteenth century. In these two years, I wrote, for instance, a series of posts on Photographing Expressions, focusing on Duchenne de Bloulogne, Charles Darwin, the Salpêtrière and Albert Londe.

But this space also went beyond my particular research project.

I have written about topics that suddenly caught my attention and had to do with photography and emotions or science. One year ago, I talked about the photograph of the  refugee child who washed up in a European beach. The photograph had been so massively circulated, and provoked so many reactions, that I wanted to think about how  photography can mobilise emotions -and how to even start to discuss this issue. Other posts, such as the one on criminal photography and the credits of Orange is the New Black, or ballet photography, were intended to apply historical concepts to popular culture. In this line, I particularly enjoyed writing on the (in)famous photograph of the V-Day  kiss. How could an image of street harassment become an icon for romantic gestures?

Feminism has been a growing concern in my blog. As I reflected on this post, I (try to) live a feminist life, but I don’t know how to materialise my feminism in my scholarship. Related to this, I wrote about how feminism, emotions and material culture are intertwined in my post on the Slashed Venus.

More broadly, I have wanted to use this page to think about photographic history. I wrote a first post on the differences between the history of photography and photographic history: the history (of anything) through photographic material. More recently, I published why I think photographic history matters. This is a long read, but it could be my manifesto.

In the last months, however, I started to get personal and publish about my feelings about academia and being an ECR. The rollercoaster of the job hunt materialised in posts where I thanked my academic friends for being amazing and their constant support, reflected on personal stories and privilege (or lack thereof) and set up my resolutions for 2016.

If I had to chose my three favorite posts, I would select: My intellectual home -my love letter to the PHRC-, Academic Randomness (where I celebrate the serendipity of academic paths and decisions) and my most personal text, the one I’ve dedicated to my grandparents (which has nothing to do with the academia, but with life).

I’ve enjoyed writing this blog, a lot -but not in the way I expected. At first, I thought it would be a great way to disseminate my research findings. Two years later, I realise that writing this blog had nothing to do with that. It has provided me a space to think and write outside the rigid framework of academic texts, to try new ways to write in English and find my voice in a foreign language.

This is the last post of The Emotional Body blog -but not the last of this blog! In the coming days, I’ll rearrange sections and find a new name and a new image.

Thank you all for reading, commenting, sharing, liking. You’re the best.

Exciting times ahead!

 

My grandparents

These are my grandparents.

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He, Santiago, was a jazz musician from Barcelona. He mainly played the double bass, but his education was the violin -he could just play any instrument whatsoever. He really had a gift for music.

In 1954, he spent three months in Helsinki, playing with an orchestra. I believe he had to dress with extravagant shirts as if he was Caribbean. His skin was not very dark and he was rather not hairy, but up north he was actually playing the Latin lover.

One of those nights, in a club near the sea or the port (or the river), she met two sisters, Raija and Anna. Raija didn’t speak a word of Spanish, and Santiago didn’t speak Finnish. They communicated in English. They communicated so much, that at the end of the three months, Raija left Finland and came to Barcelona with Santiago. Some months later, my mom was born.

This story has always fascinated me. They were both quite a character, so, as strange as it sounds, the story always made sense to me. Yes, it was a crazy thing to do, but I can totally see them doing it.

My grandma (la mumu, in our adaptation of the Finnish word into Spanish) was this amazingly beautiful, intelligent, strong, independent woman. She left everything behind, and never came back. She spoke from time to time to her sister Anna, but international conferences were expensive -I wish she had known Skype.

She had this funny accent. She used to confuse feminine and masculine pronouns -no matter how many times we said that it is ‘el crucigrama’, not ‘la crucigrama’. She wore leopard print swimsuits, and red sandals that looked like coming directly from the fifties. She was tough with us, she was funny, and I never heard her complaining -until very late.

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My grandpa (el bari, as we called him) was this grumpy, politically incorrect man that loved buying me and my sister records and changed the name of our favourite bands. He had had an accident when he was a kid (he fell off a tramway when he jumped to catch it) and since then he had had one side of the upper lip lifted. I always thought it was so cool that he looked like Elvis Presley.

I remember I was keeping a diary when he died. I didn’t know how to continue writing after that and I just stopped.

One of the things I regret the most is not having asked them more questions about their lives. I know bits: I know that my grandpa was a communist when it was forbidden in Spain, and became rather right wing when the socialist party was in power . I know that he used to make jokes to new musicians in the band, and that once they all locked one guy in a double bass case made of hay and started to pee on him -as a joke. I know that my mom was almost born in Egypt. My grandparents settled down in Barcelona. Apparently, nobody told my grandma that what she was learning was Catalan instead of Spanish -there was a bit of confusion when she moved later to Madrid. I know that just by going to the market and talking to the neighbors, my grandma learned both Catalan and Spanish. I’m really impressed by that. I remember receiving books in Finnish when I was a kid and thinking how on earth that language could make sense. But la mumu managed to do it.

I went this summer to Barcelona, and visited the place where my mom and grandparents had lived. It was so moving walking down the streets they had walked. It was like seeing traces of their history.

As a teenager, I always fantasised about writing a novel about them. I pictured scenes in black and white, of jazz clubs filled with people smoking -they smoke so much. It would be a novel that intertwined music with the political events of the fifties and sixties in Europe.

I’m obviously not writing that. But who cares.

They never told much about their lives, but somehow they managed to be very present in our lives. My sister is married to a musician. They and my nieces have the same excellent ear for music, such a natural talent. For my part, I’m also communicating myself in English, and I’ve become a migrant too. Obviously not in the same conditions as my grandma. But I like to think that her funny accent resonates in mine.

Academic randomness

In less than a month, I will start a new job. It’s my dream job: a permanent position at the Photographic History Research Centre (PHRC), DMU. For those who know my academic activities of the last years, this won’t be very surprising. Photography is my thing.

But it hasn’t always been like this.

Academia is all about planning. You’re supposed to always know what you’re doing next. But sometimes, things get in your way. Sometimes you have a plan, but you come across something unexpected…and you have to follow your guts. Academia is as much about planning as it is about instincts.

In 2002, I started my undergraduate studies in philosophy. I spent my early twenties reading Plato, Nietzsche, Kant and Foucault –and god, I LOVED it. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed struggling to understand Kant –and how awesome it felt when suddenly the texts made sense. I was the kind of nerd that actually enjoyed doing essays and even exams. But when I was so high on Ancient philosophy (and Kant), I had courses on Logics and the History of Science. These modules were completely different to what I thought philosophy was. I didn’t like them –at first. One day I suddenly discovered the wonderful world of formal language, and the philosophical problems of science. And I totally fell in love!

In 2007, I was deciding the topic of my MA dissertation. I wanted to do genealogy of death at war, or something like that. I was going to focus on the First World War. And my supervisor (the first to teach me history of science, by the way) suggested me: Why don’t you look at photographs?

As I said, my philosophical background was mainly history/philosophy of sciences, and logics. I loved Foucault (I still do), but his epistemological texts rather than the postmodern ones. I had deliberately skipped all modules on aesthetics/philosophy of art. I wasn’t interested in images AT ALL. My mind didn’t reason the way philosophers of art and aesthetics did. What did I know about photography in 2007? I tell you: nothing. Still, I accepted my supervisor’s suggestion.

It could have been a very wrong decision. Almost ten years later, I realise it was a very reckless thing to do.

Fortunately, it turned out to be the best decision ever. I don’t exactly remember why I accepted (probably because I didn’t know anything about photography, and that was enough reason for me at the time). I guess something in my guts told me that photographs were good material. I didn’t know why, or how. I just knew there were things to say –my task was, then, to discover those things.

Since then, many things have happened that have led me to where I am right now.

In 2011, I emailed Elizabeth Edwards to do a short stay with her, just when she moved to the PHRC as Director (yes, my first thought was: ugh, Leicester?) She was kind enough to reply to my email without knowing me or my supervisor or any in my network at all. I couldn’t finally do the stay with her, but they invited me to give a seminar. I knew then Kelley Wilder, we spent the evening talking about history of science and my guts told me that that had to be my place.

In 2013, I was applying for postdocs everywhere in Europe. It was an awful year of unemployment and a huge crisis of self-confidence. I contacted Elizabeth and Kelley with a proposal, and they supported me. They accepted to sponsor me, and helped me with the application. Elizabeth even sent me comments on my draft during a conference we were both attending.

The rest is history.

If I look back, I see hard work but also many random things, moments and persons without which this wouldn’t have happened. What if my amazing history of science professor wouldn’t have liked my first essay on the guillotine? What if I had refused to look at photographs? What if my email had got lost in the mailbox of Elizabeth, one of the busiest persons I know? What if I had been too shy or scare to even contact her?

I guess that what I want to say is that in academia, as in life, not everything is under your control. You cannot control everything that happens to you –and that’s good. Sometimes it’s frustrating and overwhelming, but other times randomness is the actual source of hope. Trust your guts and allow yourself to follow your intuitions. If you think there’s something there, go for it! Same thing goes regarding jobs. You never know where’s the opportunity –the amazing place that will allow you to blossom and be your best. Places that seem fancy can turn out to be a nightmare (trust me). Places where you first think “ugh” might become your home.

Embrace the randomness.