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Isolation by Ella Morton
Heading into my senior year of college, I decided I wanted to add an English major on to my useless Accounting and Marketing majors. Because of this I ended up in a class on William Shakespeare. During this class we read the play ‘Twelfth Night,’ and this is how I got introduced to the most important fictional character I have ever read about. Malvolio. The TLDR on Malvolio is he’s a steward of a wealthy lady named Olivia. He is both puritanical and sanctimonious. He takes himself too seriously. When other characters in the play trick him into thinking Olivia has fallen in love with him, his latent desires are revealed. The possibility of marrying Olivia and thus moving up in social status excites him. He has an inflated view of himself and raising in status is in line with this view. Directed by the chicanery of the other characters, Malvolio dresses and acts like an arrant fool in an ultimately futile attempt to court Olivia. The play ends with the other characters experiencing a joyous moment of schadenfreude as they see Malvolio in prison for his out of line behavior in pursuing Olivia. Malvolio made an impression on me for two reasons. One, he is a walking contradiction. He is self serious and uppity, but the minute he sees the possibility of gaining status, he is willing to break from his former self and act like a fool to get what he supposedly wants. All of these latent desires are veiled behind this self-serious and pompous front. And while his contradictory behavior can be seen negatively, I saw it as making his character more human. I’ve always found human behavior to be an inherent contradiction. The second reason I identified with Malvolio is because in many ways I felt like I was reading about myself. His contradictory and ultimately false puritanical nature is where I saw a lot of myself. Growing up I lived life by way of an austere moral code. I believed so strongly in the idea that the way I lived was ‘right,’ and had no patience for others who lived in any way other than the ‘right’ way. As the years went on, I was introduced to the harsh reality that my way of living was distancing me from others and ultimately leading to me to being alone. It was also almost impossible to uphold the puritanical standards I set for myself and I saw that so much in how the minute Malvolio saw an opportunity, he left his old ways behind him. The play ends with Malvolio alone and being laughed at. I remain optimistic that eventually he turns things around.
Okay this is going to be hard. This is one of the most profound images I have ever laid eyes on and I’d like to try to do it justice through written language. Please keep in mind this photo is not photoshopped. A bed was placed in a body of water and an arial photo was taken. Let’s take a look below:
Before placing a bid on this image, I jotted down why I ultimately wanted it. This is what I wrote: ‘Minimalism and Surrealism combined in the same work of art executed perfectly. Also an overarching theme of loneliness. Such is life for most.’
Minimalism: a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity
Surrealism: a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.
This photo takes surrealism to an extreme. It is perhaps the most simple and literal representation of surrealism that I have ever seen. At the same time it is ingenious and creative. When I give an example of surrealism, I conjure up in my head an image of people playing chess on the ice while an ice hockey game is going on around them. This is a situation that one would not expect. I have never conjured in my head the image of a perfectly made bed with no one on it in the middle of a body of water. This is partially why I am left speechless when looking at this photo.
The photo is called ‘Isolation’ and Ella included a short write-up to provide context around the image:
‘Over the lockdowns, I had a lot of time to ponder on my creative visions. As someone who didn't mind the lack of socialization, but instead experienced deep withdrawals from nature, had me dreaming of my ideal isolation location. An ironic play around the privilege we had been called to sit at home and not war.’
When I look back on my life, the place I have spent the most time alone is in my room and in my bed. I have spent countless hours alone in my bed. So much so that when I think of bed, I often associate it with being alone in my thoughts. I imagine the reader has experienced the same. Growing up as children, I imagine we all laid alone in our beds to escape our parents or to escape every day life. Some of my deepest introspection has occurred alone and in bed. That a bed and a vast, empty body of water were chosen to represent ‘Isolation’ is logical. That the bed is alone in a body of water is where the illogical comes into play. The tension and resulting contradictory nature of this photo is palpable. It makes sense but at the same time it does not make sense. Quite surreal.
In June of 2021, Ella (the artist of this photo) was hit in a car crash by a reckless driver at a speed of 80 KMPH (50 Miles per hour for my fellow Americans). She broke 6 bones and ended up spending 3 months in a wheel chair. As she explained to me, this image took on a whole new meaning to her as she was relegated to spending most of her time alone in bed while recovering. The world is strange, cruel, and totally random. Who knows why this happened to her. Recovering from an injury is strenuous, but is often an experience that we become grateful for once we are able to recover. While it pales in comparison to what Ella went through, 3 years ago I broke my elbow. During the two months of recovery, so much of what I loved to do in life was completely stripped from me. Upon fully recovering, I found myself feeling grateful to be able to do the things I loved again. It’s a very tricky aspect of life this. At times, we need things that we take for granted to be stripped from us in order to realize just how lucky we are to be able to do the things we love.
It seems this image was originally inspired by the lockdowns that occurred in early 2020. Everyone has their own version of how they spent their time during lockdown. I do too and figured this would be a good place to document my experiences. On March 13th, 2020 Manhattan essentially shut down. The exact date is subject to debate, but for me this was the first day I worked from home and thus the first day of lockdown. My mother wanted me to leave Manhattan and come back to my childhood home on Long Island. I did not want to do this. At this time, I was obsessed with working out. All gyms on Long Island and in Manhattan were shut down. I had built a home gym in my New York studio and so in order to be able to work out every day I could not leave. During my time spent alone in my studio, I discovered the app Tik Tok. I spent hours and hours every day scrolling through Tik Tok amazed by how talented so many people across the world were. With the popularity of YouTube and Instagram skyrocketing over the preceding years, I had always toyed with the idea of posting videos to one of these apps. What resulted was a 7 month period in which I would record myself working out and post videos to Tik Tok.
I have all of these videos stored on an external hard drive and figured it would be fun to compile a highlight video of this time in my life. For the background music, I decided to go with ‘Dear Society’ by Madison Beer. This song disguises itself as a love song, but is really about Madison’s complicated relationship with society. There were many songs that I could have chosen as the background music to this compilation video. Without context, this Madison Beer song does not make sense. I discovered this song on Thursday, February 27th 2020 while walking home from a first date. It was the best first date I have ever had in my life. I also never saw the girl I went on the date with ever again after that day. I played this song during my entire walk home and ultimately played it often over the succeeding weeks. Hearing this song reminds me of this time in my life. The other reason I chose this song is because of the message. If you listen closely to the lyrics, Madison is discussing the love/hate relationship she’s had over her life with society. I feel such a huge parallel with my relationship with working out. I’ve been lifting weights since 2011 and I still am unable to pinpoint an exact reason why I do it. I’m confident that it is not for health reasons. I’d argue working out has had a more deleterious impact on my overall heath than it has had in improving it. Lifting weights has left me with a strange strained right side of my neck which remains undiagnosed despite multiple visits to a doctor to understand what is awry. It’s left me with an elevated hip on one side of my body which feels weird. And after squatting admittedly too much weight during this time in my apartment, I’m left with a strained right side of my abdominal which I really should go to a doctor for to figure out what’s wrong. This is what makes working out so difficult for me. It’s the knowledge that I could be doing irreparable harm to my body. Knowing this gets in my head and deters me from working out. The only way to overcome this is to convince myself all is okay. The scary thing is that all actually might be okay. I don’t know. I can only feel what I feel and maybe what I feel is actually normal despite feeling off. I work out so much because I’m obsessed with standards of ‘beauty’ and my schema of a ‘beautiful’ male body is toned and muscular however ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ that view is. Watching all of these old clips while putting together this compilation gave me an acute feeling of nostalgia. Again, I find myself wanting that time in my life back while at the same time recognizing that it did not feel special while actually living through the period. Irrational, I guess.
The footage in the compilation video below was taken inside my New York studio during the time period of March 2020 - September 2020.
Ella Morton is a talented photographer based in New Zealand
She can be found on Twitter Here
While you’re here, I host a Twitter Space every Sunday at 2 PM EST with Guido Disalle and Max. If you’re interested in Photography, come join us! We typically feature a handful of speakers and open the floor to the audience to come up and ask questions.