Josh Hight’s New Photography Book Is A Haunting Voyage Through Loss And Grief

“Although loss/grief can be universal, as an emotional state it is very lonely and private,” says photographer and 10 Magazine collaborator Josh Hight who navigates this desolate sort of suffering in his new photobook. Entitled, One For Sorrow, it’s a haunting visual voyage through the grieving process and a trip down the road to recovery in the thick of the aftershocks of a hollowing loss. “This body of work is about catharsis and cleansing – looking into the darkness and addressing pain through symbols and figures,” he explains. 

Hight’s father passed away in 2019, just a few years following his brother’s suicide. “I spent a large part of my life feeling angry and let down after my brother took his own life,” he says. Hight was just 12 at the time; his brother, only 19; and with the harrowing loss of a parent piled on, he could feel himself beginning to unravel. “I was in a very emotionally dark place,” he admits. At the time, lockdown was looming and Hight’s need for a new creative channel to funnel his emotions into, became crucial. He felt it was easier to manifest a fictional fairytale version of reality from his tumultuous emotional state than to “deal with the reality of someone no longer existing as a physical being on this plane”. Because while memories may be all that we, as humans, truly have in the aftermath of a deplorable death, they’re not tangible nor palpable. Memories have no physicality, and that’s the hard truth that Hight admits to struggling with especially. 

One For Sorrow, is an acknowledgment of the feelings that flowed through Hight during this period of loss, not as something to be weighed in as good or bad, but as something that simply was. It refers to the idea that “the complicated emotional state of grief adds as much as it takes” to one’s life – “for better or worse”, allowing him to see and to embrace the little bit of light in the dark, without erasing the cache of what once was. 

Describing the resulting volume as “100 percent unedited me”, at once easy for viewing and thematically convoluted, the book is an esoteric opus, rife with severe, soul-stirring imagery. The initial inspiration for the images within, Hight says, arose out of his subconscious. “While I was caring for dad in Arizona I had a series of dreams about a figure walking through the woods gathering burnt rubble and placing it into bags,” he recalls. “This was one of the primary narratives that I started with: a central character of grief as a human lost in the woods, moving from site to site, building and collapsing structures only to move on, leaving remnants behind.”

Flicking through One For Sorrow, that figure takes shape as a tin man. “He shines and reflects the light, all the while inside he suffers, suffocating in his own costume of reflection,” Hight explains. On a fallen tree the tin man stands, his alloyed exterior gleaming against the panoramic UVs, instigating an intimacy that is both tender and alienating. It evokes uncertainty, conjuring the uncanny and unleashes an ocean of emotions upon the onlooker. Hight constructs an apocalyptic, post-reality universe, placing the viewer in the midst of the chaotic compositions alongside the tin man, so that they cannot be certain of what it is they are seeing, where they even are, or what might happen next.

Developing an early interest in horror movies, skateboarding and punk rock while growing up in Metro Detroit, Hight would go on to tour as a musician in a slew of punk and indie rock bands in his 20s, honing his creativity while studying filmmaking and graphic design in Chicago. Now, based out of London, these subcultural coalitions continue to inspire his work today, often returning to themes of isolation and voyeurism, nature and the occult too. Hight adds, “A lot of the images in the book are referencing cancer and the breakup of the traditional family dynamic.”  

Published by Hight and Irons, with design by Studio Small, One For Sorrow is 52 pages of black and white monochrome magic, chemically altered and obscured by layers of organic matter, bound to parchment and fitted with a hardcover encased in cloth and a black metal embossed logo. Commissioned by Christophe Szpajdel, the logo refers to Hight’s youth and the obsession that he shared with his brother for hardcore music and the empowerment it provides. It also featured an encapsulating forward by British photographer, and longtime friend of Hight’s, Brian Griffin. “I hope people take away a sense of beauty within the darkness,” Hight professes. 

Photography by Josh Hight. ‘One For Sorrow’ is available for pre-order here, to be shipped out during December. A selection of images from the book are exhibited at 15 Bateman St, London, W1D 3AQ until Saturday, November 26.

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