‘It is indeed the characteristic of the sadist that he humiliates his object and then − or thereby − satisfies it.’
– Walter Benjamin
After decades of inconclusive theoretical polemics, discourses and countless failed attempts in reconstituting the medium’s specificity, photography today wholly exemplifies an object that has been satisfied by its humiliation. George Baker in his essay, ‘Photography’s expanded field’ paraphrases Rosalind Krauss noting, “[Photography] is no longer the privileged middle term between two things that it isn’t. [Photography] is rather only one term on the periphery of a field in which there are other, differently structured possibilities.” It is precisely these ‘differently structured possibilities’ that the Beyond Photography unit tasked us to explore, experiment and understand.
Through its humiliation, photography has been realised as a medium defined by its indefinability, defined by its lack of specificity and no longer is it placed in a stranglehold by the inadequate defines that sought to draw distinguishing lines between it and other visual mediums (such as film). I could write an essay on this subject, I know this because I have, so I shall stop before I find myself rewriting it here.
Speaking of which, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of. As with all previous projects, I set to getting the essay completed first and did so within the last few days of October and first few of November (taking advantage of the ‘free’ time so kindly handed to me by a bout of flu). It is a highly complex subject, with many courses of attack and many sources of text to bemuse myself with, from intellects of far greater ability than myself. And so I found myself on familiar ground, where freedom of choice teamed up with my indecisiveness and left me with what felt like no choice. I feel I am far better when given a clear and defined route of action, for otherwise I find myself to be consumed by panic and self-doubt, but I eventually found my footing.
My visual exploration of the unit’s interests found a home in film. A rather curious choice from someone who is typically able to count a year’s yield of film viewing on one hand and TV shows on the other. Despite this lack of interest in viewing film, I did have an interest in producing film (past-tense is key here). As I sit here and take a retrospective look back for the source of my interest in film, I joyfully reminisce on the plays I and my siblings performed for our parents every Christmas. Remembering the pages of script I wrote out, the costumes and stories I imagined, and how intensely proud I felt when it all came together. Though all this was a long time ago now, I still feel it was this primitive childhood exploration of performance, script writing and storytelling that was stored away in a dark, desolate area of my subconscious, impatiently tapping its fingers on a table, waiting for me to pay it attention again. And so I answered its calls (or taps) in Deadlock, an introspective look at my struggles with my anxiety disorder, depression and general angst.
‘Falling, falling, falling. Weightlessly, hopelessly, you cower, coil and brace awaiting impact, salvation. Deadlock is a veritable nightmare. A spiralling, helpless, dread-filled fall of a nightmare that follows the tragic events that lead a son to murder his beloved mother. Chaotic in construction, chaotic in narrative, Deadlock seeks to mislead, confound and disorientate its viewers. Functioning as a perplexing metaphorical manifestation of the very real and deeply oppressive anxiety that governed its creation. Ultimately, Deadlock in all its chaos and confusion, in all its misleading, hopes to evoke exactly that. To leave the viewer full of doubt, unsure of themselves, of what they’ve just seen, of where the true direction lies.’
Its key purpose is in eliciting a specific response, this is what I focused on with the film, after initial investments in filming and storytelling failed to reach the heights I had hoped. A huge source of inspiration for this focus was sourced from Anne Charlotte Robertson’s, ‘Five year diary’. Anne used film to document her life, specifically her struggles with mental illness, the camera acting as a filtered embrace from reality, a means of ‘distributing and extending’ her control (or will) of them via ‘machines and technologies’. To quote myself again from my piece on her work:
‘Film grants Robertson, not only the ability to establish control in the understanding of her experiences (upon review), but also establish it by means of disconnect from the present, at the very moment she documents them her camera acts as an aperture to a better future. Allowing her to view the present as if reviewing it in the future, as if it was a memory of something she’d already overcome.’
In my exploration of how and by which means I am able to accurately elicit the same sense of anxiety/angst/self-doubt and the confused mind that accompanies any of which, Deadlock acted as a means of introspection for myself. It forced me to take an extended look at my situation, something I otherwise actively try and do avoid, and form a deeper understanding of how it is I really feel and why. It seems that in trying to explain my situation to others, I have also explained it to myself, how cheesy.
Ultimately, filming was a very difficult, nerve-wracking and frustrating task. Ideally, the whole project would have been shot in one or two full day’s worth of shooting, instead it was shot in dribs and drabs over three months. This made the tasks of keeping track of what I’d done, scene continuity and maintaining idea clarity, a constant struggle – tasks that were also subjected to a greater deal of overthinking and worry, during dead-time. Ideas, storyboards, plans, notes, directions were all subject to incessant picking, changing, scrapping, reinstating etc. etc. ‘Free’ time is a worriers worst enemy. But, I guess the immense amount of stress and anxiety this ‘free’ time presented me with, is befitting of the film’s intentions and may even prove beneficial to my task of eliciting an accurate experience of my struggles with anxiety.
By chance, I happened upon Binaural audio a few weeks before the project began; an audio recording technique that perfectly lends itself to the creation of rich, impactful experiences. It was in knowledge of this that I constructed my film and everything from its story, to its meaning, to the way it played, was assembled around and informed by the audio. Watching examples of this audio technique online, you’ll quickly come to the realisation that it works best when the audio is the sole stimuli. Something I covered within my research:
‘Binaural audio is at its best without visual input, allowing the listener to fully envision themselves within its space of origin. Though the effect still persists when accompanied by visual stimulus, it is rather diminished and the intensity of the listeners experience is never fully realised. I’d like to liken it to trying to imagine the world described within a book as you read, only for it to be drowned out by a screaming child on the train.’
It is for this reason, that the key storytelling sections of binaural audio present within my film, are played to a black screen that continually interrupts the film throughout its course.
Lastly, my still images. I originally hadn’t planned to include any still images within my work and after speaking with lecturers on the matter, was aware that it was perfectly acceptable not to. However, with the films future on numerous occasions, questionable at very best, I sought a plan B in the combining of audio and still images. Searching for the fantastical edging on disquieting, I looked to artists such as Rosie Anne Prosser, whose work I have greatly admired and followed for some time. My images share the same dream-world present in my film, with some divulging further clues and others providing a ‘behind the scenes’ role. Three of the images feature subjects in myself. With great difficulty, I ran frantically and shot blindly in the 10 seconds afforded to me by the camera’s self-timer. One of the images, simply entitled ‘Guilt’ (below), was my first ever attempt at combining two images using Photoshop – the end result being far better than I expected myself to be capable of.
Conclusively, the Beyond Photography unit has widened the periphery of my work within the field. Never having expended much attention on the interweavement of photography and other mediums, this unit was a much needed nudge to do just so. The vast possibilities of binaural audio, especially as I sit here today in a world on the cusp of a virtual revolution, truly excites and awes me. It is a medium I will unequivocally be exploring, experimenting and creating with again and cannot wait to do so. I feel I have discovered something that will be of great significance in my future works, something to define myself by and distinguish my work with.