Research literary style, brief summary (more extensive research accompanying):

Can’t see the woods for the trees’ was heavily inspired by Harper Lee’s, ‘To kill a mockingbird’ (see fig.1); a highly acclaimed novel that, ‘explores the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep south of the 1930’s’ (Penguin, s.d). Complex and delicate social issues that Lee tackles judiciously. Drawing on the unsullied canvas of childhood and the innocence of its observations to highlight the irrationality of prejudice to race and class through injustices committed by the jurisdictional systems of the time. This aperture allows Lee to tackle these complex and delicate issues successfully, through satire, irony and parody, and avoid much insensibility.

In the space afforded to me, it was simply an impossibility that I would be able to tackle or communicate any such issues with any sort of success, so I instead looked to Lee’s style of writing and focused on replicating her deeply rich and visual story-telling. It is ostensibly true that our richest memories are attached to our childhoods – and not necessarily to distinct moments, but a vague remembrance of our perceptions of the everyday and of time. I therefore sought to build a narrative that drew on this and aided me in my quest of constructing a rich visual story – whilst also communicating a message of some sort. ‘Can’t see the woods for the trees’ message was an admonition of sorts, to myself. It warns of the futility and spiralling dangers of withdrawing from pain in the pursuit of beauty (or happiness) and advocates not only the acceptance of pain as an inherent quality of life, but ultimately as a necessary precursor to beauty. It is therefore the case, that a lot of the message from, ‘Can’t see the woods for the trees’, derived from personal experience. It is a piece that ties in with my visual project, The moon that torments, which explores the beginnings of such a fall brought about by the death of my grandfather.

Ultimately, ‘Can’t see the woods for the trees’ was an exercise in eliciting rich, vivid imaginations of the world it depicted. For this, it was very much informed by Lee, but also James Agee – specifically his work, ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’ (see fig.2). A body of work carried out in collaboration with photographer, Walker Evans, with intention of documenting the life of American sharecropper families during the “Dust bowl”. Agee, convicted by an unwavering belief in Blake’s famous proclamation, ‘Everything that lives is holy’ (Blake, s.d), the idea that as David Denby writing for The Newyorker put it, ‘…a person or a thing is itself and nothing else, and is therefore worthy of notice and celebration’ (The New Yorker, 2006), an ideology Agee took literally and acted upon accordingly. It was an ideology that, ‘…imposed devastating, almost comically savage responsibilities on this inordinately ambitious young man…’ (The New Yorker, 2006) and an ideology that is ultimately responsible for Agee’s intensely exuberant dissemination’s of the world around him, a reality he believed should be given its due. This is something that I certainly sought to replicate to an extent within, ‘Can’t see the woods for the trees’, though a somewhat lesser. For the sheer extent of Agee’s dissemination of reality, frequently and rather ironically, occluded what was being described – It becomes difficult to piece together a scene, when we consistently find ourselves taken on far-fledged tangents, away from the object (or scene) by (albeit beautiful and ingenious) conceits. Agee’s exuberant dissemination’s were a lesson in the importance of not forgetting the little details when looking to evoke a scene.  But also, in not falling into the pot-hole that is exhausting every little detail, for it quickly becomes overwhelming and occluding by virtue of shear quantity. Provide the groundwork and allow imagination to fill in the rest.

Bibliography:

Penguin. (s.d) At: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1088132/to-kill-a-mockingbird/ (Accessed on 16 March 2017)

Blake, W (s.d) The Poetical Works Of William Blake. London, New York: Oxford University Press.

The New Yorker. (2006) At: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/01/09/a-famous-man (Accessed on 18 March 2017)

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Fig. 1. Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird (2010)

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 Fig. 2. Let us now Praise Famous Men (s.d)

List of illustrations:

Fig. 1. To Kill a Mockingbird (2010) [Photograph] At: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kill-Mockingbird-50th-Anniversary/dp/0099549484 (Accessed on 16.03.2017)

Fig. 2. Let us now Praise Famous Men (s.d) [Photograph] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let_Us_Now_Praise_Famous_Men (Accessed on 18.03.2017)

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Storytelling unit: Essay research – Pain is beauty

The paradoxical interrelationship present between pain and beauty is one that should be understood by us all, but the truth is rather the opposite. Pain’s omission seems to adhere both rationally and logically, and too seem necessary and ultimately permissive to the existence of beauty. The pertinence of our desire to eradicate it is therefore (and unsurprisingly) evidenced throughout human history; from the ancient earthly utopia of the Garden of Eden, to the many otherworldly heavens of our religions and even up to present day with the hopes and goals of the transhumanist movement(s). The abolition of pain is one of humankind’s greatest and oldest yearnings.

But it is rather a case of correlation doesn’t imply causation and its abolition, a misguided endeavour. In his major writing on aesthetics, John Dewey notes that our yearning for such existences, are only pleasurable because they are projected unto a world of pain and conflict, “We envisage with pleasure Nirvana and a uniform heavenly bliss only because they are projected upon the background of our present world of stress and conflict’ (Dewey, 1934:17). Further noting, ‘Because the actual world…is a combination of…breaks and reunions, the experience of a living creature is capable of esthetic quality’ (Dewey, 1934:17), Dewey can be seen to voice the importance of such a relationship with pain, one that is comprised of, ‘breaks and reunions’, and one that subsequently permits the existence of beauty. In endeavouring for an eternal ‘break’ from pain, without reunion, we are ignorantly and foolishly disregarding this imperative relationship.

We value beauty when it is compared and contrasted to pain, a process without which beauty cannot hold value. Pain is an inherent quality of life, and despite its innate unpleasantness, it should be seen as a necessary precursor to the existence of beauty, not its destruction.

Bibliography:

Dewey, John (1934) Art as Experience. New York: Perigee.

Storytelling unit: Alex Currie – Project research

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Muffled claps precede rumbling fizzles and tingling skin, the lightest of rains carried by the wind that dances with the bees”.

Thick viscous air, laden with water, rushes up through my nose and cascades down into my lungs. It is heavy, sweet as honey and its bees are whipping at my feet, swirling in dance with the wind, they rattle and hiss to the summer’s sunshine. Muffled claps precede rumbling fizzles and tingling skin, the lightest of rains carried by the wind that dances with the bees. Its presence is tangible, all-consuming, almost rhapsodic – I speak metaphorically of the sea, its tangibility is one that I most drew an affinity too with the work of Alex Currie.

Work that is undeniably tangible; mysterious worlds that consume before they are themselves consumed. Worlds I feel I can almost enter and worlds that elicit vivid imaginations, continuations. Currie’s work formed the groundwork for the entirety of my project’s aesthetic, for there exists no greater visual storyteller than that of cinema and Currie’s aesthetic is distinctly cinematic. I feel my work has seen a gradual shift to the cinematic, a shift that is far from conclusion, but a shift that is marked nonetheless.

I have been following Currie’s work for a while, my visual style’s shift mirrors that of whom I follow, and I find myself increasingly shifting my interest to cinematic photographers. Currie was one of the first, before I began my studies, before I was introduced to others; the likes of Crewdson, DiCorcia, Eggleston, Wall etc. And despite the introduction of all these greats, Currie’s work has remained insistent in its sculpting of my work and visual development. After some deliberation, I believe this to be almost certainly a derivative of my increasing interest and practice within two photographic areas (for lack of a better word); self-portraiture and the aforementioned cinematic.

As my project again shifted back to the cinematic, back to self-portraiture, Currie’s work played a vital informative role; both aesthetically and conceptually. Speaking in an interview with My Modern Met, Currie comments on his work’s style, ‘[I want them to convey] a hint of a story–not enough information to compose a beginning and end, but just a peek at the middle, like a still frame from halfway through a movie. That’s what I hope my photos feel like, at least.’

Now, due to the nature of my project, my images do not intend to function as singular movie frames; more occluded representations of my inner-workings immediately post my grandfather’s death. They are also very metaphorical, with a lot of hidden and personal meaning and purposely ambiguous. An ambiguity that reflects my level of understanding of the changes that preceded a very dark period of my life.

I felt the tangibility of Currie’s cinematic style was perfectly apt for the nature of my work. Work that, as aforementioned, tackles an occluded period of my life that I do not quite understand, a period of my life that is very much tangible in its occlusion; a period of my life I’ve tried to distance myself from and ultimately mythologised. And thus, a period of my life that almost feels cinematic.

Images:

Storytelling unit: Essay/Prose research – James Agee

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Image of a sharecropper family – By Walker Evans

As I sat and stared inattentively at this once blank screen I am now blemishing and prepped my mind for the positively laborious undertaking that is writing a research piece on the works of James Agee, I couldn’t help but be consumed by the world Agee had persuaded upon me.

I wonder what Agee would write if he were I and I listen, listen and look, with a perception foreign to my ears and eyes. I hear the incessant ticking of my clock, see the faint darkness of its taunting hands with every lick of my candle’s flame in its direction, I hear the muffled and gently oscillating hum of a ceiling fan in the room beside my own, allowed just to exist by the mercy of my own. In the faint light, the photographs that hang on the wall, morph by the hand of a starved visual cortex. I notice my breathing, and as I attempt to focus more, my ears begin to ring. It is rather taxing, uncanny even, no definitely.

It is in this expansion, that I contrarily feel myself withdraw back behind my eyes. It is a hyperawareness all too familiar for me, a reality often thrust upon me in the midst of a panic attack. A real far too real; a level of realism that seems so real that is, ironically, rendered unrealistic. Agee’s deeply descriptive prose disseminates the physical world to nauseating extents, subsequently achieving exactly such heights; it is taxing but in equal measures captivating and beautiful.

Agee’s most famous work, ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’, is a body of work that Agee undertook on assignment with Fortune Magazine and in collaboration with photographer, Walker Evans. Their assignment, to document the living conditions of sharecropper farmers during the “dust bowl”, was only ever intended to take the form of a magazine article, but Agee’s insatiable appetite for documenting every detail of the world around him, lead to it morphing into a fully-fledged publication. A derivative of Agee’s belief that as David Denby, writing for the New Yorker notes, ‘…a person or a thing is itself and nothing else, and is therefore worthy of notice and celebration’ (The New Yorker, 2006). Denby further notes, ‘He (Agee) loved, and took literally, (William) Blake’s proclamation “Everything that lives is holy”… It’s an idea that, as a practical mat-ter, most of us would find hard to sustain. But it imposed devastating, almost comically savage responsibilities on this inordinately ambitious young man (he was twenty-six at the time). Agee wanted to make a connection with the families, and to be liked by them in return, but he didn’t want to swamp the farmers with sympathy—their pride wouldn’t endure it. Try as he might, he could not resolve the disparity between the sullenness of his subjects and his own ravenous and unending sensibility. All that he could do was record’ (The New Yorker, 2006). It is precisely this conviction, of giving reality its due, that ultimately abolishes it. For seemingly every moment, Agee is taken off on a tangent and what he is actually documenting becomes occluded by conceits.

Ultimately, with thanks to my inaptness of replicating Agee’s wondrous talent for conceits on any level, ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’, was a valuable lesson in remembering the smaller details when looking to evoke an image, a scene, the larger whole. But also, in not falling into the pot-hole that is exhausting every little detail, for it quickly becomes overwhelming and occluding by virtue of sheer quantity. Provide the groundwork and allow imagination to fill in the rest.

 

Reflective journal notes:

 

Bibliography:

The New Yorker. (2006) At: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/01/09/a-famous-man (Accessed on 18 March 2017)

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let_Us_Now_Praise_Famous_Men

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/01/09/a-famous-man

http://www.travel-studies.com/blogs/walker-evans-and-let-us-now-praise-famous-men

Storytelling unit: Project research – Alec Soth’s ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’

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“…the opening image of Alec Soth’s, ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ provides a superbly accurate presage of what is to come

Hung to dry amidst a scene devoid of colour, in stubborn protest, are the cartoonish-ly bright colours of an unseen resident’s garments. Frozen rather than dried. ‘Peter’s boathouse’, the opening image of Alec Soth’s, ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ provides a superbly accurate presage of what is to come as we follow Soth’s wandering of the Mississippi and ‘America’s iconic yet oft-neglected third coast’.

Inspired by the genre establishing/defining greats that preceded him; Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Jeff Wall, Joel Sternfeld, Walker Evans to name a few – it was in fact an image of Sternfeld’s van that he used on his journeys, ‘that first made Soth fall in love with “the process of taking pictures, with wandering about finding things.” Whispers of those who wandered before can be evidenced throughout ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’, most notably in the similarities found between Soth’s, ‘Jimmie’s apartment’ (see image 1) and Evan’s, ‘Negro barber shop interior’ (see image 2) as noted by Geoff Dyer in his critical essay, ‘Riverrun’:

‘Maybe Soth didn’t have Evans or Frank in mind when he photographed Jimmie’s apartment (with a hat propped on the edge of a chair) or the Reverend and Margaret’s bedroom in Vicksburg, Mississippi (ditto), but the fact of the matter is that in Evan’s picture of a barber shop, a hat is there, waiting for someone to pick up on it. When Frank photographs a hat on the desk of a bank in Houston, Texas, he is doing just that, tacitly nodding towards Evans – tipping his hat to him, if you will… these hats indicate both that someone has been here before and show a possible way ahead. Perhaps these hats even served as unconscious triggers, subtly suggesting to Soth that pictures were there for the taking. It is, in other words, not just a place that Soth is photographing; it’s also, unavoidably, a tradition that extends up to the present (and continues to extended as Soth himself-already-becomes an influence.’

Also between Soth’s ‘Hickman, Kentucky’ (see image 3) and Jeff Wall’s, ‘The crooked path’ (see image 4). Both artists again, subtly move us along, maintaining a narrative flow without being too brazen about it (in this case features of the landscape rather than an object; a crooked path leading us through the landscape in Wall’s image, the Mississippi in the background of Soth’s – both providing a way out/onwards, Soth then follows this image with that of an interior shot; a wall with a picture of the Mississippi hung on it.

Subtle is a key adjective in describing Soth’s work, from the aforementioned ways in which he maintains a narrative flow, to the way in which he photographs his subject, whether that’ll be landscape, person, interior or otherwise – an almost sympathetic subtly is upheld. ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ is a gentle and sentimental passage of locations (and their people) that are evidently dear to the artist. Optimistic, but concurrently realistic.

Soth’s affection towards the area doesn’t consummate in misrepresentation. We are presented to the weird and wonderful, ugliness and beauty, the good and bad… It isn’t a completely one-sided account. And despite a definite focus on the adverse of those opposites, ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ only ever reaches the heights of melancholy, never sadness. Soth isn’t looking to expose or exaggerate, shame or ridicule – Rather he has taken to, ‘America’s oft-neglected third coast’, and sought to do quite the opposite.

This is no better evidenced than in his portraits, which are often of the more, “exotic”, variety; evangelists, erotic masseurs, prostitutes, murderers, transvestites etc. but as Aaron Schuman notes in an interview with Soth, ‘somehow you’ve managed to convey their normalcy, their dignity, their general sense of humanity.  Instead of exploiting their quirks, turning them into specimens of weirdness or extremity, you’ve provided a much more respectful and independent viewpoint; the viewer is encouraged to empathize with the subjects, rather than stare at them like freaks in a sideshow.’

This empathic, optimistic view persists throughout the work and as noted by Schuman, encourages the viewer to empathise too, to look past any prejudices and/or stereotyping – to see that these locations maybe frozen, but not dried-up, quiet but not dull, and that that’s their charm. Their foreclosure, ignorance.

‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ Minimalist Book layout:

Unfortunately, I was unable to locate a physical copy of the original book, for this body of work. I instead used, ‘From here to there: Alec Soth’s America’ for the writing of this piece of research. I have, however, managed to locate a few scans of the original publishment (inserted below), and these will be used to inform this section of the research.

Unlike my previous research subject, Paul Graham, and his work, ‘A shimmer of possibility’, Alec Soth’s, ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’, adopts a far more traditionalist format. The subject’s name (if applicable) and the location in which the image was taken, take up a unobtrusive (very small font size, relative to the page) and solitary central position (on an otherwise blank page), on the left-hand side of the double-page spread, whilst the image sits beside on the right (also centred). A format that perpetuates for the entirety of the book and consequences in a steadfast and controlled viewing speed – a slow one, I should note. This minimalist, unobtrusive and slow viewing experience is crucial in the consumption of Soth’s type of imagery; i.e. rich, large format images that are opulent in detail and immersive to an almost, hypnotic level. Allowing any detraction from their immersive detail would to be perpetrating a great injustice to the work, and I cannot imagine the images (or the work as a whole), working well in any other format. Soth’s images consume us, rather than us consuming them.

 

 

Reflective journal notes:

Images:

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Image one: ‘Jimmie’s apartment‘ – Alec Soth

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Image two: ‘Negro barber shop’ – Walker Evans

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Image three: ‘Hickman, Kentucky’ – Alec Soth

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Image four: ‘The crooked path’ – Jeff Wall

Sources:

‘From here to there: Alec Soth’s America’, [Book]

http://www.americansuburbx.com/2010/05/interview-conversation-with-alec-soth.html

http://www.aaronschuman.com/sothinterview.html

https://pro.magnumphotos.com/Package/2K7O3RJZOEDT

Storytelling unit: Project research – Paul Graham’s ‘A shimmer of possibility’

*To be finished*

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 “A decisive, dissected dissemination of a decisive moment, if you will.”

Paul Graham’s ‘A shimmer of possibility’, much like some unfortunate soul’s cherished cherries here, takes Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’, dissects it and strews it across suburban America. And in an act of metaphorical cherry picking (not literal, unless he abided to the five second fallen food rule) takes fragments of Cartier-Bresson’s cherries* and places them in sequence, in an act I have called, ‘Decisive dissection’. With each dissection forming a crucial part of a collective almostdecisive moment’, with great emphasis to be placed on almost. To quote this work’s synopsis, ‘These filmic haikus avoid the forceful summation we usually find in photography…’ and thus, the decision to omit some of the cherries/fragments, is a conscious one. The decisive moments dissection, ‘…gives the flow of life precedence over conclusiveness’ it is not a, ‘…packaging of the world into perfect images’ rather a perfect image unpackaged. A decisive, dissected dissemination of a decisive moment, if you will.

Graham’s fragments gently push us to continue from where we are left off, to interject our imaginations, to piece them together and extend their narratives. Inspired by Chekov’s short stories they, ‘deal with the simple, everyday things…’ Graham’s scenes are intentionally mundane. In an interview with ASX, Graham notes, ‘A lot of people have tried to understand why this writing works so well, since in the stories there’s not much happening… in one of them a woman is combing her hair for six pages, remembering that night at the theater; in another a school teacher is coming home in a cart dreaming of meeting the landowner, who does ride past and they exchange a few pleasantries, but nothing more. But there’s something magical about how perfectly described they are, the transparency of what’s happening, without guff or show, simply described, with nothing proscribed.’

His images are exactly that, they shimmer with possibility not only in their mundanity, not only in their inconclusiveness, but also in their descriptiveness. The ‘perfect image’, the ‘decisive moment’, broken down, cherry-picked, scrutinised and subsequently disseminated. A process that sees it lose its ‘guff and show’, its façade, its absoluteness and become transparent – transparent in its dissemination. Freed from its decisiveness, it flows and shimmers with possibility; its narrative strength lies as much, if not more, in these possibilities than that it does with what they visually depict and account.

Together the images only but allude to a grander picture, a ‘decisive moment‘, a conclusion – but it is left to us to imagine such.

*Decisive moments, I was in too deep by this point with the cherry analogy, my only option was to continue it.

Images from this body of work:

‘A shimmer of possibility’ multi-book format:

‘A shimmer of possibility’ was a body of work published across twelve individual books, with each volume hosting a photographic short story, a ‘filmic haikus‘ – as inspired by Chekov’s short stories. Within these volumes, Graham sculpts our viewing experience ardently; controlling pace, focus and subsequently, the way in which we read the stories told. Differing image scale and position are seemingly too purposeful to simply be an aesthetic decision, for they’re decisions that greatly effect the story told – regardless, these choices are never explained by Graham, though its effect on pace and emphasis is clear to see. A rather more brazen example of pace control (flow) can be evidenced in the use of blank space – Blank pages and spreads frequent these volumes and function as brief to moderate pauses between images, however, Graham takes this pace control to extremes within two particular volumes of the collection.

One of the volumes in reference contains a single image, the rest of the book comprised of blank pages (for the life of me I cannot currently find images of this volume or the image contained within, so I cannot divulge any information regarding its content). whilst another packs in sixty images of a bustling city street intersection – A mirroring of the locations bustle and chaos, its fast flow.

Volumes:

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The twelve volumes of ‘A shimmer of possibility’

Reflective journal notes:

Sources:

http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/29-a-shimmer-of-possibility.html

http://www.americansuburbx.com/2010/10/review-paul-graham-shimmer-of.html