I have a friend who boldly declared, in early 2019, that come summer, we would be in an ecstatic frenzy. It would be a summer of touch; Eros would rein, people would party long into the nights, we would be joyous. Shortly afterwards, the pandemic fell upon us, and we were, of course, far from any touch. All split into cells we spent the next year-and-a-half separated.
I’ve had a fascination with trend forecasting websites since 2008, when shortly after I finished my MA, I was contacted by a forecasting agency not only telling me but requesting that I go along with what they were saying. I was in my early 20s, and they told me that my work was about to become very popular, or at least the type of photography that I typified. Shortly afterwards, my work was featured on one of their websites, and five UK High St names contacted me asking to see my ‘book’. I stayed in touch with a couple of them, and I ended up working with some of them too. Since then, I’ve wondered about this type of prophesying. I wonder which came; first, the trends coming from the ground, or did the trend forecasting sites pull them up? During the pandemic, I found myself frequenting these sites more than ever because I’d always felt connected to ideas that came up from the ground, but of late, I was slowly becoming out of sync. It could be because I’m not as young as I used to be or perhaps because I didn’t have the frisson of daily life to help me predict where things were going. One site declared images of touch would come back into focus. Their forecast was so similar to my friend’s prediction that the visuals I had evoked when she spoke were the same type of image that illustrated their articles. What are these sites, if not strange capital-soothsayers, a hybrid of intel, academia and observations of working-class style to predict the market? They are a perverse and thoroughly western, modern oracle.
During the summer, I finally got a chance to see my friend Janelle again. Every year since around 2012, when we first met, we go on a road trip around the UK. These trips are usually so packed that we barely rest, and we see so many strange places and so many weird things happen to us. The last time we saw each other the pandemic broke out and those who did not permanently live in the UK were told to go back immediately; Janelle had to go back to America. When things finally lifted, naturally, we picked up where we had left off. I had so wanted to see a friend so dear to me who I spoke to so often, a friend who loves the UK. But the country seemed to be falling apart; petrol was running out, food shortages and a general sense of depression filled the air. We carried on with our trip, and strange things did happen to us. We kept meeting people who taught us things we needed to learn. I spoke to Janelle about the visuals I had seen, ideas that I’d also seen on these trend forecasting sites, and old predictions from friends, which all started to converge. These belated prophecies kept cropping up, images of women plaiting each other’s hair. These images seemed to be everywhere, women helping one another.
I showed the set of images to Milka, my long-term friend and collaborator. She said they looked like old Mediterranean photographs, where the ground was soo dry you could feel the texture, and indeed, women helped one another. In reality, these photographs were taken in Brighton. The models are Janelle and Francesca, and it was the last few days of the autumn sun. I felt a strange reassurance that England could look like mainland Europe, a place I so wish we were still connected to politically. Perhaps our late summer of friendship, compassion and touch was cut short, in the UK at least, but it’s a glimpse of something that will come, I hope.