Love in translation with Jonjo Borill

This article contains image descriptions in the captions to help those with visual impairments.

ID: Woman wearing a face mask in front of a some bushes and a building.

After embarking on a new relationship with his girlfriend, Jonjo Borill picked up his camera to explore the feelings of early love. Focusing on the tiny moments which make up a relationship and exploring what this new relationship meant to him, we spoke with Jonjo about his approach to photography and how this work naturally grew into a personal testament to his affection and love.

What first drew you to wanting to communicate with a camera?

Having moved around and travelled a lot, I usually arrive at a place surrounded by strangers, just me, with a bag of clothes and a camera. In these times, photography feels like a social interaction to stay attached with the rest of the world. With my camera becoming like a confidant and companion, it carries the burden of becoming my outlet for my feelings. I have had difficulty understanding my emotions throughout my childhood and adult life and quickly lost control of them. With this being my first real relationship, there were feelings alien to me, and at times hard to comprehend; a clash of putting up boundaries and taking them down, and the learning to co-exist. It felt natural to use photography to lay everything out and piece everything back together. 

ID: (left image): Smoke and fireworks (Right image): Two hands holding on a train.

Photography plays an important part in your life, to the point you're documenting your new relationship. What were your initial gut feelings about wanting to preserve these moments?I am not really sentimental with materialistic objects, but photographs are my weakness. I can't help but want to cling on to time. There is a Korean word I love called 썸타다  (Sseom-ta-da). It is used for the ambiguous stage of dating. During that time, I remember feeling apprehensive and shy to take photos. Mirroring our behaviour, those early few weeks were just spent feeling everything out, what works and what doesn't, knowing when to act. Some early memories would have made incredible photos, but it was not the time. I think there are times photographers need to learn when not to take pictures and be in the moment. A later image taken in retrospect can say as much about a past event as one taken at the time would have. With photography being a key part of my identity, it was always going to naturally find its way into our life. A boyfriend's sincere action holding onto memories has somehow involved a body of work we want to share.

You live in Korea, is there a different dynamic to couples compared to a westernised version of what love and romance is? 
Definitely! I guess it is the same as anywhere, but when you adapt to a different culture, the norms change.
From speaking to my Korean friends, t sounds so much more complex and straining than what we know in England. With the importance on family, every relationship has pressure on it to be something long-term. A knock-on from this is couples are more afraid to be public about their relationship and hire 'private rooms' like motels and DVD rooms just so they can hang out.  I count myself lucky in one way that in Western culture, we have a much more 'throwaway society'. Nothing is built to, or rather expected to last, even relationships. Although that sounds negative, I think we're much more relaxed about dating back in England. There is more room for mistakes and realistic about the uncertainty of relationships.

On a lighter note, there are the cutesy aspects to, for instance, it is so common for couples to wear matching outfits, which goes for people of all ages. I couldn't imagine doing this in England without being ridiculed. The flipside of the previously mentioned secretive nature is that couples here have the freedom to be as silly and fun as they want even in public. The old British stiff-upper-lip feels a long way away.

Your work shows a sensitivity and sweet naivety when it comes to images of you and your partner. How do you go about almost forgetting about the camera and using it as a tool to convey young love?
I was pretty quick to ditch my DSLR. The photographs are meant to be raw and candid; whether Aeji or I take the photos, there is no room to get caught up in f/stops and shutter speeds. We mix between phones and point and shoot film cameras, which makes it feel less of a tool and more of an extension of our eyes.   I don't think it is only valid of Korean culture, but modern-day couples everywhere that cameras play a pivotal role in glueing them together. Social media has become a platform to make a statement of romance and love, let the world know you have someone. Photography has become so normalised in this way that it bears a similarity to a PDA. Nobody bats an eyelid when a couple kisses in the middle of the street or stops to take a selfie with their cheeks smushed together.

Of course, we have these kinds of photos, cuddled up and silly selfies pulling faces, but it is not the comment I want to add to the conversation about photographing love. I hope this work is much more than the facade we see on social media; the story and narrative of this work are about our time apart and together. Both a physical and metaphorical distance; a divide.

What does your girlfriend think about you and the third wheeling camera?
I count myself how lucky I am that she embraces me and my fixation to document everything. She is so supportive and understands what it does for me and how it enables the relationship. Because we live in separate cities and go weeks apart, the periods in between are filled with sending photos back and forth. The pictures serve as a mechanism to keep us together even when we cannot be physically side-by-side. I think it has really tied us together and helped us grow; the third wheel has allowed us to create artefacts, communicate, and make something together.

ID: Left image: A tree with pink blossoms. Right image: Train window shot from the inside of a train with a red curtain.

You can find more of Borrill's work here