A few years ago I started adding my art photos to the end of my newsletters, and this has mushroomed into a new side career for me. I take around 100,000 pictures a year, and publish under 10% of them on social media, with well under 1% going on sale as prints.
No matter what the subject of each composition, all of my photo art is “wartime art”, as it knowingly and purposefully relates to this context. Most of what I produce is the result of going for a daily walk, a routine which I have done for over a decade anyhow. I then share the photos I would take anyway for my own amusement. I never go out with the primary purpose of creating commercial photography. Occasionally I do portraits, photojournalism, or attend demos with my camera.
I have zero budget to go to spectacular locations, so no capturing the aurora over Greenland (or whatever I might have done in headier times); wherever I am is the right place, and the timing is by definition perfect, so whatever the light is — that’s the ideal light; and whatever kit I have brought (or accidentally left at home) is precisely the kit I need (or creative constraint to work around).
Here are some reflections on my experience as an “accidental artist” during a bio-information war.
The Defiant Art of Wartime
There are times when I am full of energy and have high motivation. There are other times when I can barely scrape myself out of bed. That’s ordinary; but the aim of the enemy is to demoralise and demotivate us so that we no long function as an effective opposition. No matter how I feel I get out and make art. Indeed, the worse I feel, the more important it is that I stay engaged with the search for beauty.
I see this creativity as an act of defiance against tyranny. I may not always have some pithy insight to share as an essay. But I always have an environment around me to use as creative inspiration, and an inner emotional landscape to express. Rather than being dragged down and expressing rage, or retreating into depressed impotence, I can instead deliver a paradoxical and public “F**K YOU!” via expressing beauty.
The Authentic Art of Wartime
The world is full of shills and charlatans. You can never quite be sure of who it is you are following and whether to trust their word. A significant number of commenters on social media are (allegedly) just bots sucking our time. By mixing pretty pictures in with my pointed polemic, I have managed to differentiate myself and convey more “essence of Martin”. I bypass the frauds by “just being me” with ever more vigour.
You cannot fake the seeing of beauty, nor the mischievous creative impulse. No “deep fake” AI technology could produce my photos, as there is no training data set in the world. They are uniquely my own persona and perception — reflected via the camera lens,. Art lets me display the content of my heart and intuitive intelligence in world pre-tuned to intellectual contests. It cements my personal “global microbrand” as being an authentically benevolent one.
The Humanising Art of Wartime
I won’t name names, but a well known “journalist” (i.e. propagandist) who works for the enemy, and who has said many defamatory things about me, commented on how he liked my pictures. It was a singular moment that broke through the division and separation, and re-humanised him for me. Here is a man with an aesthetic I share, and therefore likely other aspects of life on which we might connect.
The “debate space” is mercilessly contested, spitefully spoken, and intrinsically domineering. Pretty pictures of puddles are not, and allow for us to transcend the need to “win” and “defeat” the other. The “WWG1WGA” universalising ethos can be expressed via art in ways that would sound manipulative and laborious if done via literary means.
Those in conflict can still have a shared appreciation for natural order, colour, contrast, movement, structure, and joyful discoveries. This bridges us, and opposes fraternal violence. Ultimately we are engaged in a shared celebration of “creation” in every sense — “that which lives” and the process of nurture. One glance at the ugly “art” of the paedophiles shows we do not share the same base values.
The Connecting Art of Wartime
I have made new friendships as a result of my “war art”, and it has connected me into people and situations that I otherwise would never have encountered. When I am asked what I do, I have a choice over how to respond. “Computer scientist turned activist and dissident” is one harsher framing; “I make pretty pictures and cause as much mischief as I can” is another, softer, one.
On social media I tend to follow back those who make suitably kind comments on my artistic efforts. (They don’t have to be appreciative, but it helps!) To me it is a sign of having the right outlook and attitude, and filters out the bots and trolls. A constant supply of “found beauty” in the world attracts those who are likeminded and “likehearted”, and I am buoyed by their presence in my feeds of curated content.
The Subversive Art of Wartime
We are engaged in a revolt against the ugliness of pervasive propaganda and social engineering. Our society has been artificially divided using tools of mind control, which range from TV to social media to nanotech. Our families are split apart, and many of you reading this on this holiday date will be apart from your usual loved ones, who have succumbed to the fear agenda of the death cult.
I have found that I can subvert the enemy’s methods using art. I may offer a “controversial” perspective via my writing, but by tailing it with a piece of pretty photography I leave behind a sweeter taste as my parting gift. Art speaks to the subconscious, and the kind of man I am is expressed in my art. “How can he be the awful character the media says and yet simultaneously offer me this attractive view of the world?” is the unspoken impact I aim for.
Memes are one notorious way of subverting the brainwashing machine. Art gives us a wider palette of self-expression and means of bypassing the programming. We can emit “loving vibes” that oppose the “divide and conquer” agenda. Art routes around the mental blockades that the enemy has installed in the psyches of those we care about (but are temporarily alienated from).
The Empowering Art of Wartime
We have had many of our “taken for granted” freedoms stolen or eroded during the past two years. Free association, the right to travel, free expression, public commerce, bodily autonomy. I don’t need permission to create art, and I refuse to “muzzle myself” and my self-expression. Even if I was locked in solitary confinement, and only had my saliva to draw in the floor dust, I can still make art anywhere.
War at its essence has someone else trying to control you — either to absorb you into their collective, or to kill you. The antidote to this is to empower and individuate yourself. My experience of wartime art is that there is no “bad art”, because the purpose is never to please critics or make sales. The creative spark is divine in nature, and everything it produces is of infinite worth.
Every artistic act of self-motivation and self-expression is a rebellion against being controlled and confined. Furthermore, it is not possible to remove this creative capability, short of physically shackling you into immobility. The “ammunition” is everywhere and in unlimited quantities; all you have to do is pick up the “weaponry” and fire up the artistic spirit.
The Inspiring Art of Wartime
I have had many people write to me saying that my photo art has inspired them to see the world differently, and either resume old creative and craft activities, or start new fresh ones. This feedback in turn invigorates me to create yet more art. There is a tangible impact in the world, and it is multiplicative: their efforts will in turn inspire others.
It is the ordinariness of my story that I think is the inspiring part. I have absolutely no training in art whatsoever, and I abandoned it at school because I had a self-image of being a nerdy scientist rather than a cool artist. I still can barely write my own name with a pen, so forget drawing (I did briefly try, it’s a big challenge). I started off with only a ten year old consumer superzoom camera. If I can do it, anyone can!
The Healthy Art of Wartime
I am an “autist”, which is not a medical diagnosis, but a cultural description of how I do (not) fit with the way most people process “reality”. Like many others, I have a single-mindedly literal way of seeing the world around me, in which the underlying structure “shimmers” with clarity, and misalignments “buzz” with obviousness. This is both a gift of “hyperperception”, and a curse of being a misunderstood misfit.
It has been a pleasure to apply this gift to write essays, but even more fun to discover I have “the eye” for composition in a way that “tickles the mind” of others. This has given me a chance to engage with the world in a way beyond the cerebral, and rebalance my own intuitive and intellectual sides. Being able to find where I “fit”, combined with the “moving meditation” of going for a walk, has been a health-giving uplift for me.
The Sustaining Art of Wartime
There is a stereotype of the starving artist living in a small rooftop city loft, and I have lived up to that image! Abandoning my tech and telecoms career was not easy, and I have only managed to keep going with the charitable support of many people who value my work. Art has allowed me to spread beyond that, by having products that make me a living while I sleep.
Furthermore, by separating my art from my writing I have managed to carve out a space that is relatively free from the risks of censorship and deplatforming. Yes, the loss of social media reach has significantly affected my income earning ability. But I can still (slowly and with a headwind) build up a small art sales business that sustains me as an independent adult.
Given that the enemy wants us all dependent on government handouts, or to submit to fascist corporations, I see this as a big wartime win. I am responsible for being viable in the world, and art gives me an honest means of voluntary exchange with the dignity of real work. Money may be a byproduct of what I do, and not its goal, but it is an essential part of sustaining both me as a human, and keeping me equipped as an artist.
The Unforgettable Art of Wartime
I was once known for my work on the future of voice telephony, vertical integration of telecoms, network performance engineering, and quality regulation. It has been quite a turnaround to instead be a “conspiracy theorist” and public renegade against a ruling “supermafia”. Yet what I notice is that people remember me most for the fun and pretty pictures I have put out.
During the dark days of 2018, 2019, and 2020 I have offered people literal “light relief” from the weightiness of events. People remember how you make them feel, not what you made them think. Some have my art up on their walls, but many have my images permanently in their heads. Art is the “heart hook” or “mental signature” by which we remain connected. My photography as “citizen art” likely has more lasting significance than my writing as “citizen journalism”, since it is harder to forget.
The Grateful Artist of Wartime
I used to live in Edinburgh, and abandoned a life and home there years ago in somewhat painful circumstances. A wise friend told me to take a tour of the city, and give thanks to all the places, people, and events that had sustained me there. It changed my relationship to the place from one of resentment and sadness (for the loss of departing) to one of gratitude and plenty (for the gain of having been).
My photo walks often capture the most mundane moments, such as a leaf on the sidewalk with an interesting light upon it. By entering the world with the presumption that it is full of visual amusement, I get to see that wonder on every single outing. I have never ever once come home feeling bored and resigned to there being “nothing to photograph”.
Art is fundamentally abundant — there is no limit on the creative possibilities. In contrast, wartime inevitably has unsought destruction and painful loss. Art offers us a path to being filled up with thankfulness for whatever life gives us, even if it is only to process the grief of separation and the distress of upheaval.
For me, “art as a lifestyle” has been a life-changing act, and a lifesaving one during violent conflict. So let us celebrate the art of wartime this Thanksgiving!