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