Salt Of The Earth
The Salt Of The Earth series grew from a plaguing curiosity about what binds and separates us. I initially sought to document the myriad of ways that individuals go about their daily lives. I quickly realised the impossibility of such an epic task. I therefore resigned myself to simply observing and listening to the ones who were willing to share their time with me.

The result is a series of photographs and accompanying stories. Please know that whilst several stories are fiction, the large majority are factual. Many pieces could easily be extended into whole essays. However, studying a single subject in depth was never the aim. Rather, I wanted to create a snapshot of human life in a kaleidoscope form. Each bead of colour contrasting with the light or darkness of the next. I completed the series during December 2015, and it contains stories from the following countries: Pakistan, India, Laos, Morocco, Vietnam, Cambodia, USA, Australia, and England.

The phrase “salt of the earth” is from verse 5:13 of the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew. In my humility, I’ve chosen to reject the traditional interpretation of the idiom, as decreed by the theologians. For me, the phrase refers to any person who holds some light or radiance within them. Any soul that fires and burns and rages and refuses to acquiesce to the gentle violence summoned by the dark quiet night. I’ll admit that the hardness of reality has tempered the utopian ideals that I once held. However, I still believe that every man and woman has a story to tell. No matter the grand or humble place that each is given in the great cosmic drama of human life. To hear this story, I just had to listen with patience and warmth. From suicide bombings and heroin addiction, to newlywed couples and ballerinas on stage. Some baptised by tragedy, others dancing in comedy. I found each encounter fascinating and rewarding. I hope you do too.
I have bipolar disorder, which is a mood disorder that affects your emotions and thoughts. There's no cure, so now I'm trying to stabilise myself with medication. I was only properly diagnosed three years ago, but it has affected me for a long time. Much longer than three years. Bipolar has impacted every area of my life. Family, money, friends, lovers, work. I have a tattoo on my hip. Nine strikes with a coffin at the end. I've attempted suicide four times, so I have five lives left. Suicide seems the only option when I’m suffering a low. The one thing that saves me is my children. What keeps me alive is the thought of my kids looking over into my coffin. I don't want to put them through that pain. I miss my wife. She's my ex-wife now. I miss my children. They will always be my what if. I am not my mental illness, I just don't know how to control it so I can be me. The real me. I really am a good guy.
We want to grow old together. I never believed in the Hollywood meaning of love. Together one month, apart come the next. It was my grandparents who showed me how to make it work. Mostly simple things.
I've lived in the same area of London since I was a boy, and I’ve delivered milk here for twenty-five years. I don't like the train ride into the city for some reason. It frightens me, I don't trust it. I'm quite comfortable near home anyway. I sometimes go for a pint with the gentleman up the hall. Alan Buckwell is his name. Alan’s polite and doesn't mind having a chat. We don't talk much when we go out, I just enjoy the company.
This world and my existence sometimes feels like an illusion. As if reality were one big joke, and I've been fooled into playing along.
The world around me is complicated and I want to understand it. My surroundings and fellow human beings. I want to break it all down into smaller pieces and understand. With this knowledge, I can know myself more. I've wondered what I'm searching for in all this. It's not happiness or joy, it's something that I can't explain with words just yet. Perhaps contentment when ye shall know thyself. Don't know, still looking.
I met him at a costume party. I went as Robin Hood and he dressed as Mr Potato Head from Toy Story. He was already with a girl, so I kissed another boy that night. Within a week, I’d kissed him too. Now we take the bus to work together each day which, don't tell him this, I still think is really cute. He still looks adorable in a suit. Even if he's rushing, or I'm in a hurry myself, we never miss that daily kiss. I'm not sure if he notices, but I certainly do.
I like the sun but not too much. Just enough so it's warm without being hot. Clouds in the sky remind me of home. Tibet is home. I left as a refugee when I was a young girl. The journey took a month. We walked during the dark winter nights so the guards wouldn't see us and shoot. I crossed the border with a group of around twenty people. Men, women, children, both young and old. Two people died during the trek because of the starvation and exhaustion and cold. During winter, snow buries the mountains and the land becomes brutal. I planned and talked and wondered about the decision for years. When the day to leave finally came, I awoke knowing that I’d never see my family again. I haven't spoken to my parents in eight years, so I don't know if they're still alive. I now live in a small Tibetan community with my sister. When we sit down to eat together, memories of home come vividly into my mind. Then I wonder how everyone is doing. If you met me and talked to me, you’d probably think that I’m contented. The truth is that I'm anxious about the future. I believe in reincarnation. I believe that I'll come back to earth as another animal after I die. I'm afraid of this. I don't want to live again. One life is enough for me.
I used to dance with a close friend whose name was Hailey. It was impossible to dislike her. Maybe some did out of jealousy. She was beautiful and gentle and confident and kind. The poor girl was also bulimic. Hailey had been hiding the illness for five years. We all had our suspicions, and she finally confessed soon before it happened. The argument lasted ten hours, but Hailey eventually admitted her bulimia to her parents. After this, Hailey promised to get healthy. She didn’t and two weeks later she died. Her heart stopped beating in her sleep because her body was lacking essential chemicals. After going through the death of my closest friend, I started to hate the industry and what it does to people. Especially the dancers. Many of my friends who danced had eating disorders. Quitting was difficult because I’d wanted to be a ballerina since I was three years old. I still love the feeling of freedom that comes with moving my body. One day I’ll visit the college where I trained and talk to the students. Ballet looks glamorous from the outside, and some of it is, but there's more to life than being a ballerina. I’ll tell them that.
We've been together for over sixty years. I met him at the Royal Show. He somehow managed to steal me away from the boy that I went with, and we married within several years. He was a Morse code operator during the war, World War II, and then stayed with the post office until retirement. After our three daughters moved away from home, we travelled to Europe and Japan. My grandson still has the engraved wooden chest that we brought home from Singapore. Arthur is sick now though. It started years ago, and he had surgery years ago, but his body has slowly deteriorated. I regularly visit him where he’s staying. I’d much rather look after him myself at home, but that just can’t happen. He appreciates it when others visit. I bought him a stuffed dog toy dressed in a yellow raincoat that plays Singing In The Rain by Gene Kelly. This made his life easier for a moment. He loved music until the end.
I left home to join the monastery as a novice monk two years ago, and I haven't seen my family for nearly twelve months. It’s tradition in my country that young males join the sangha, the Buddhist monastic order, for a period of time. Some stay on as fully ordained monks, whilst others leave and resume life as a layperson. My days have a steady rhythm here. I’m up at four in the morning every day, in bed with lights out by nine. There are morning prayers, daily meditation, and I also take part in alms. However, a lot of my time is spent at school or in study. At the monastery, I share a room with two friends who are also novices. There are two pictures on the wall above my bed. I have a poster of my favourite band, and a photograph of an elderly monk who I admire. Eventually I'd like to leave the monastery and study to be a lawyer.
I find it difficult to show anyone my lyrics or songs. It’s not stage fright, it's just that I'm scared of what the audience may think. I'm scared because when I write a song, I feel like I'm being completely honest and showing the world who I really am inside. As if I’m stripping bare on a stage and telling people all my secrets. I write at a cafe that’s seven blocks away from my house. I walk there. Each time, I'm secretly hoping that I don't see anybody I know because I'm quite happy in my own world.
I grew up in a country town where I didn't ever fit in. My reality was created from books and pictures and music. I lived amongst stories and the characters became my friends. I've since moved to the city. It’s different here. In my hometown, the morning light bounces off the trees and covers everything with a faint golden tinge. Light made of purple mixed with red bathes the open fields come evening. I now live in a port city, hardly a metropolis, but even the stars are blocked out at night. I don’t know what to make of that. I still escape to the comfort of my imagination sometimes, but I’m surrounded by caring and gentle souls here. I’ll stay for a while.
I watched the needle go through my flesh and pierce the vein. Red blood filled the glass barrel of the syringe as I injected the liquid. Then the heroin rushed through my body. Everything in my mind drifted away. The anger, fear, impatience, anxiety, pain. All disappeared as I was bathed in a pure sense of serene calmness and tranquility. That didn't last long. I started shooting heroin during high school when I was sixteen. At first, I just joined in with my friends. It quickly became an escape from the stress in my life. I didn't achieve anything exceptional and I often considered myself a failure. Now I want to be clean, but it’s not easy. A close friend once relapsed and overdosed. He was a veteran junky. Young though. Twenty-seven when he died. I wanted to be a mechanic when I was a boy, and I was working towards this goal with my father. A man whom I love and respect. Dad gave me a job in his business. I could help because I'm good at understanding how machines work. I like figuring out how the parts interact and then fixing the problem. I get afraid that I’ll be an addict forever, no matter what, and my life will be a constant struggle. Suicide has entered my mind. I do exercise when I have cravings. Running mainly, sometimes football. It helps.
I worked at the airport for twenty-two years. My current job is to greet visitors on arrival and drive them around. There were bombings in my city five months ago, and the situation has deteriorated since then. My business has suffered, and friends have admitted to staying home because of fear. The truth is that most in my country want nothing to do with the violence. We're just trying to carry on with our lives. I've had three calls from my wife today and it's not even lunchtime yet. My son has probably had ten calls. She's just worried about us.
My favourite film has a quirky character who collects passport photos. In homage, I've become focused on searching for portraits. I don't take the pictures, I find them on the streets of each city I visit. Then I can imagine who the subject really is. Could we be friends or lovers? What secrets are they hiding? Do the clothes and hat change my perception of them? It's all a complete mystery that I can create. I was working in the circus as a costume designer before I left home. When I return home, because I will return, I want to buy a horse and carriage. I'll be a wandering gypsy. I’ve settled on a name for the horse, now I just need to find the right animal for the journey. It's important that we understand each other.
I come to the Sahara on camelback to peddle in my trade. The desert never changes, that's what I like about it. Time just doesn’t exist here. Since forever, the darkness has been stabbed with an infinite multitude of white dots that cut across the night sky. Forged from ice and fire, ravaged by wind and storm. All the men of all times could not count the dots if all the eons of all times were given to this one task. Such stillness amidst such chaos and immensity. I find this comforting.
I manage a school for orphaned children. I was going to join a convent, train as a nun, then work in the fields as a missionary. You need a real calling for such a vocation though. It’s difficult to describe my relationship with God. Days have passed where I’ve struggled to even explain it to myself. It needs to be experienced. Yet nothing has ever given me hope and warmth like the Church has. Sometimes after I go for prayer or service, I take one step outside, back onto the streets, and I can feel the burden of sin, an immense lack of purity, dripping everywhere I walk. Everything feels different beyond those stone walls, even the air feels altered inside the church. As if it be made from a distant earth alien to that glimpsed with human eyes. I'll live and die with a peaceful heart, and my faith is the cornerstone of my peace.
I plant seedlings at home so I can grow my own fruit and vegetables. It would be easier to just buy the food, but I'm trying to change the world. In my own way. Takes time.
I go walking in the park near my city home when I can’t get to the forest. I used to wait for people to pass before I put my arms around a tree. I don’t hesitate anymore. I’ll step close to a eucalyptus or paperbark, any tree, wrap my arms around, and put my ear to the trunk. For me, this is to experience my childhood again. The rough bark, curve of their branches, and smell of the leaves covered by fresh rain. The local trees were my friends, just like Anne and Mary were. Even if those leafy friends didn’t go home to dinner at dusk. They were with me as a girl, just as they are now. A kindly listening ear for my joys and perplexities, fears and anxieties. I always come away feeling reassured with a fresh perspective on things. People talk about trees being important because they give us oxygen. I reckon they make jolly good companions as well.
When we're driving somewhere and Xavier starts to cry, I turn off the car, go over to him, and try to stop the tears however I can. To everyone else it's just a baby crying because he's hungry or tired, but I'm his mother and he's my little boy. I'll do anything I can for him.
I lost my father recently. He was sick near the end, but I have wonderful memories from when he was healthy. He created his own name for me when I was a young girl. Everyone called me Judy or Judd or Judith, but for dad my name was always Skreeta. When it was time to go to school, he pumped up the bike tires, checked under the seats for spiders, and said whoooooshshsh as I rode off with my two sisters. We usually packed lunch, and buying lunch at school was a special treat. We went to a deli called Kings. In the morning, dad gave us a poem with the money:

Munch munch munch, going to Kings to get a king-size lunch

Every time, the same words. He thought it was hilarious. I still think of him as dad, and I still call him dad when he comes up in conversation. On his birthday, I visit his grave and sit there with tea and cakes and family. He’s gone for a wander elsewhere, but I know that he’ll never really leave. He’s dad for always.

The most terrifying thing for me is not knowing where I belong in this world. I've looked long and hard at myself, I've gone well beyond the surface, and I still can't find what I'm looking for. Growing up, I was surrounded by incredibly talented and smart people. I sometimes feel like a complete failure in comparison. Maybe expectations are the problem though, and it’s just naïve to wish for my own calling or destiny or fate. I put so much pressure on myself, but perhaps I’ll never find one thing I can commit my life to. The marrow of our lives found not in the realisation of grand visions, but in minor details and interactions that rush by unnoticed and unannounced with the passing of each day. It's partly just a desire to be accepted and loved. For who I am, not for who I could be.
My obsession with books comes from my grandfather. He had a study, and in that study were four walls, and three of those four walls were covered in all manner of books. All organised alphabetically. His dirty little secret was reading and rereading the novels of Jane Austen. I think that library was why he could never take anything too seriously. For him, everything and everyone was just a part of one great stage play.
I used to be homeless. I've got a scar near my rib cage from when I was stabbed several years ago. I was sleeping in the park, and a group of strangers approached me during the night. Things are different now though. I've recently met a girl too. I like her a lot.
I had a strict upbringing with little personal choice or freedom. Curfews were the norm in my family home. My parents gave me a strong sense of right and wrong, but they smothered me and were overprotective. This just makes me want to run away. Not love them as a daughter should. I want to be honest with my parents. I want to say how I feel without being judged or mocked. I can’t though. They just don't realise or accept that I'm different to them. These days, I get attached too easily. I’m sure that’s an outcome of my upbringing, and I would change this personality trait if I could. Sometimes I don't want to be attached. I crave the freedom and independence that I didn't have growing up. I say this, but the world is cold and lonely if I explore it alone, so it’s often frightening to say goodbye to people. I have a Mickey Mouse doll that I still sleep with at night. It's as big as my arm. It's embarrassing that I still have it, but it keeps me company when nobody else will. We all need some love.
It was a Sunday morning treat. Mum took me out with nanna. We went to the same café and sat at the same table every Sunday. They ordered coffee and I took mocha. Hot chocolate is too sweet. When the drinks came, I scooped the foam off the cappuccinos and ate all four pieces of shortbread. Grandma gave me her biscuits, but I had to steal them from mum. She’d never eat them! So I always did!
I was out with friends one night and we separated. I went off alone, met trouble somehow, and was attacked by a group on the street. I collapsed to the ground after becoming unconscious and awoke alone in an alleyway. Eyes black with bruise and face painted with blood. It happened several years ago, but the fear is still in my mind. I just can't forget about it. I rarely go out with my friends at night anymore. Not like I did. The rare time that I do, I’m just anxious and nervous. Then memories of that night, memories of having physical harm inflicted upon me for no reason, come flooding back. Not a fate I would wish upon anyone. My experiences have made me want to help others who have suffered from mental health difficulties. Soon after this experience, I entered university to study nursing so I can work in mental health. I might become a counsellor one day. I also have a black belt now. Those cowards won’t ever get me again.
I've sold my soul to the blues. Nothing else really matters, only the music.
I want to travel the world when I grow up. That's it, that's everything, just see it with my own two eyes. I want to know if the stories really are true.