The Study of Aloneness
by Amanda Gorence
Austin-based photographer Suzanne Koett’s personal work often stems from a fear or conflict that she is attempting to demystify or settle through the artistic process. The Study of Aloneness, shot between 2010 and 2012, came about in this way when a life occurrence sparked a desire to look inside. Koett braved unknown territory and set out on a personal journey to explore aloneness and a deeper relationship with the self—and she did so with camera in tow.
The work reads like a visual diary, a journey combining color and black-and-white. Intriguing, mystical, and otherworldly, the imagery summons a myriad of moods that seem to have transportive qualities. There is movement throughout with shifts and transformations you can feel, but there is also a sense of stillness and contemplation. The series is divided into small vignettes of three photos that work together to create what Koett calls a mini-narrative. Created in line with the stages of Koett’s personal process, these mini- narratives convey what aloneness might look and feel like—the ups and downs of the journey, the wax and wane of states of consciousness. The trio shown above is the second of eight vignettes in the series. The imagery here is simple and minimal and the faces are identity- less, intentionally tucked away by hands and hair.
The two subjects seem one and the same, but by being two they represent the internal and external struggle or perhaps a reflection of the self.
Koett let us in on what each of these represented for her. You Fly Straight Into My Heart refers to self-acceptance and the freedom that it offers. “When experiencing aloneness, you constantly face your true self, it has nowhere to hide; you free yourself of identity and operate from consciousness,” says Koett. This moment is undoubtedly empowering—even blissful— and that feeling is reflected in the image.
But Koett says it can also be fleeting. I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me illustrates the other side of the empowerment—the struggle, the moments when we choose not to face our fears and let our false identities sink back into place. These Things Take Time is about forgiveness and non-judgement of those moments. The three work together to depict the balance between freedom and struggle. For Koett, learning how to accept and embrace both were crucial.
At a certain point, Koett says, there is a moment when aloneness is accomplished, you renounce your identity and reach a state of nothingness.
As the series moves forward, the subject gets closer to losing itself, becoming no one in a sense; “the deeper into aloneness one goes ultimately paves the way of losing and unraveling the false identity created over a lifetime,” she says. “It’s about erasing the stories that you make about who you are and how you operate. You have to be willing to shed all of that stuff in order to get to the core of the self.” Willing being the operative word here. Self- exploration and introspection require courage—we are often resistant to self-analysis mainly because of the workload it presents should we take it seriously.
Koett depicts the stages of her effort throughout the series, showing us elation, struggle, freedom, discomfort and relief. At a certain point, Koett says, there is a moment when aloneness is accomplished, you renounce your identity and reach a state of nothingness. She relates it to a meditative state—a state of de-attachment. “For me the most relieving part was being nothing and just sitting there. I found throughout the process that I’m not attached to things or identity, and that I actually really love aloneness.”
An evocative journey, The Study of Aloneness goes beyond just pleasing the eye with its mystical qualities, and operates on a personal and universal level. Koett has managed to create a visual language that simultaneously connects viewer and artist through the intimate reveal of her own transformation. The thematic stripping down of identity that runs throughout allows for that universality to take place—and it is powerful.