Unfinished presentation, the original was lost after my computer refused to wake up from sleep mode and required a forced restart. I only had a maximum of 30 minutes to try and put together another before I had to leave, this is what I managed:
‘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)
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.
Dewey, John (1934) Art as Experience. New York: Perigee.
‘Promise’ is the title for my initial project idea; the constitutes of which were detailed and outlined earlier on this blog. As with my final project, ‘The moon that torments’, its subject was my Grandfather, though it looked at his death by means of a fictional story.
Without going into detail, for that is not the purpose of this post, the project was ultimately scrapped and replaced with, ‘The moon that torments’. For the project, I was putting together a fictional diary, one that belonged to the stories protagonist, the Grandfather’s Grandson, Matthew. It was heavily inspired by a photobook that I’ve sadly misplaced within my mind and can no longer recall its name or its artist, but one that I was introduced to within a photobook workshop.
Its quirk lied in it being designed to imitate a cheap notebook, complete with opaque-esque pages that gave the illusion the writing on each pages obverse was bleeding through (terrible description, but hopefully you can understand what I’m trying to describe). Having been impressed and inspired by the work of other students on past units, I rather had an appetite for the construction of a fictional project that was sold as fact – and so I experimented. Here is the result of that experimentation:
*Unfortunately, InDesign has inexplicably lost the font kits I originally used and replaced it with another, which has completely messed up the entirety of the text; which now sits in unreadable clumps, with half of it missing just for fun*
“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.
After the veritable nightmare that was the ‘Beyond photography’ unit (perhaps just for myself, though I like to tell myself it wasn’t just me), I stood feebly and sobbed quietly at the prospect of doing it all again, having had only three (!) days of rest between the last project and the new. Unquestionably, I told myself, I was going to do something easy for this unit, I’d earned it (right?).
So, my initial plans for the project all centred around playing to my strengths within the art. Having predominantly been a landscape/nature photographer before beginning my studies (and for several years), I sought to crawl back, battered and bruised and apologise I ever left. I again, found myself sizing up the documentary project I’ve found myself sizing up repeatedly, for each and every project I’ve faced… But once again (and to my slight dismay), I felt it would be a project better utilised elsewhere. My focus then shifted to archive, not that that once belonged to others, but my own personal archive of images. During research for past projects, I have found myself consistently encaptivated by bodies of coherent work, both aesthetically and conceptually, comprised of images that were never intended to be paired up together and in some examples, shot over the course of several decades.
I explicitly recall Philip Lorca DiCorcia’s, ‘A Storybook Life’, a body of seventy-six images drafted from three decades of DiCoria’s work (selection of images below). Seventy-six ostensibly disjointed images, that through careful editing, formed a functionally and aesthetically coherent body of work – arguably greater and more successful than most work that has undergone a careful and meticulous construction.
A storybook life – Philip Lorca DiCorcia
Although it was possible to construct a coherent body of work from my personal archive, I felt the distinct lack of portraiture was forcing a narrative that moved away from what I wished to tell. And thus, coupled with tutorial feedback, I moved away from any such plans (see ‘Promise’ project idea: https://whiteglare.wordpress.com/2017/02/05/storytelling-unit-promise-project-idea-quick-notes/).
It was through experimentation, that I finally found the projects direction. Experimentation, something that I seldom practice, for I have always struggled seeing experimentation as anything but failure. I put immense pressure on myself to get things right first try and shy away from experimentation, as it is innately tied to failure. I hadn’t anything to build a project from, but the knowledge that my Grandfather would in some way form a center-point. Inspired by the works of Alex Currie (whose work I have posted research on), I set out with my camera and tripod and a prop associated with my Grandfather. I knew where I was heading, the ruins of an old explosives factory; its desolate yet beautiful aesthetic seemed perfect for any project that would come of my subject matter – I had tried to draw out a few primitive shot ideas, but had little success, as I was struggling to recite the locations features. I was for all intents and purposes, going out for a shoot, blind. This is something I never do, I’m always very meticulous in my planning and typically know exactly what shot(s) I want to achieve, again to minimise the chance of failure (the chance of me hounding myself and doubting myself even more so).
I arrived at the location and immediately realised that the only shot I had in mind, just wasn’t viable (see sketch below). So, instead of blindly panicking as I usually would, I tried my damnedest to stay composed and find new shots and locations on the whim. The extent of my success in refraining from panic was admittedly rather stunted; the sun had almost set by the time I’d arrived (I intended to shoot in the brief period between the sun setting and it becoming too dark to shoot) and I was now tasked with finding a new setting and coming up with totally new shots. I somehow managed it and produced three images that night (though two are very similar and purposely so), I must also note the strange invigoration that can be derived from running barefoot on a bed of stinging nettles, in near darkness, surrounded by the cold eyes of sheep and the ominous ruins of old – Try it sometime, it’s a niche experience.
Shot idea sketch
I rather abashedly (thanks to a thought process saturated with the noise of anxiety) and speedily composed my frame on the remnants of what looked to be building foundations, but also rather conveniently, caskets. I envisioned a shot that captured motion, the motion of me jumping between the foundations – but after failing to get the timing right and not being happy with the results after the first few attempts (with the night’s fore-coming darkness ever present in my mind), I scrapped the idea (see an example of these tests below). I must note, I had a list of what I intended my shots to represent, and was shooting to fulfil this – My choice of location, being barefoot, plainly dressed, composition, lighting, mood etc. were all informed by these fundamental goals. Goals that I have chosen to leave unknown, partly due to the sensitive nature of the project, but also partly due to the power and impact their ambiguity allows them to fully realise.
I instead opted for being stationary; stood barefoot looming over the dark pit beneath me (see final image, below).
I was pretty happy with the end result. The final two images I managed to achieve that night were even more rushed, it was very almost too dark to see (and indeed I had to use the light on my phone to see what I was doing and where I was going). The first image (colour image) was taken just before it’d gotten very dark, there on after the light dropped notably with every passing minute; this actually ended up working in my favour and gave the images a gritty aesthetic that I feel really works well. For these images, I had to bodge together a platform to set my camera on, as my tripod only retracted so far, a far that wasn’t far enough for the shot I had in mind. After a lot of struggling, I managed to prop and compose my shot on top of a pile that consisted of a coat and a bag. I set the self-timer and ran out repeatedly, capturing myself in various positions and locations within the frame. It was very much a case of trial and error for the latter part of the shoot, as I could no longer see where the camera was and where I were in relation to it. Here are the two final images I captured:
I knew this little inconspicuous structure was perfect for one of the goals I looked to achieve, as soon as I saw it. It provided the only escape, the only way out, in an otherwise indefinite world; it punched right through the uniform horizon – I reiterate, it was perfect. These two images are arguably my favourite from those that I produced. Again, I will not be divulging their full meaning.
Returning a couple of days later, I sought to finally feature the aforementioned prop within an image. I had planned this image more, though I was still struggling to fully visualise it and it required some initial trial and error. The prop, I will divulge some detail on. It is a fossil, one that sat in my grandfathers conservatory for years during my childhood. On one of my many sleepovers, I had asked my Grandfather what it was, he explained it to me and that was that. Later that evening, as I sat with him and my grandmother, in the dark living room seldom lit by the TV, my Grandfather left the room. He came back a minute or so later and stood beneath the archway that sat between the living and dining room. He was back-lit by the light bleeding out from the kitchen, and I couldn’t see his face. He was holding the fossil in his hand and asked me to take it, confused I asked him why and said that I didn’t want to take it as it was his. He told me that he wanted me to have it to remember him by, being young I didn’t understand what he meant, so I asked him. He explained that he wanted it to be something to remember him by when he was gone, had passed away – it really hit me, I’d never thought of him dying before then. I was hoping he couldn’t see my face just as I couldn’t see his, for I started crying and repeatedly refused it, feeling that if I accepted it, I was almost accepting his dying. I remember the confusion in his voice as he reiterated that he wanted me to have it, only for me to refuse it over and over. Despite my age and the fact I can still perfectly sympathise with my younger self’s action, it is still something that upsets me to this date, that I didn’t accept it. I collected it after his death, it never left my mind, despite more than a decade passing between that moment and his death. I wont divulge the full meaning of the image, for reasons already outlined – but that backstory should be more than enough to build an accurate interpretation from. So, here is that image:
I was again, very happy with the image both functionally and aesthetically. I feel the lighting is especially successful, if not my best use of in any image I have produced. As with all images within this project, I decided to omit my face; this is more an aesthetic choice than anything, although it is employed in further accentuating the work’s ambiguity.
There are two other images within, ‘The moon that torments’; images that tie together the prose that I have written to accompany all images. The image of the shipwreck (see below), formed the foundation from which the entirety of the text was written and as with all other images, it has a lot of metaphorical meaning, rather than literal. The meaning behind all of the images within the body of work can mostly be deciphered through their individual prose, but also their relation to one-another both textually and visually – the last image is especially reliant on these interrelationships.
The final image (see below), is arguably my most experimental. It wasn’t the shot I had planned, thanks to factors beyond my control (the mud being far too slippery and dangerous to navigate through). I had originally planned to be far closer and centre frame, walking through the mud that occupies the foreground. I had also planned to use props I purchased, two life-size crow models, but as I could no longer achieve the shot I had planned, I decided against their use. As aforementioned, the images meaning is reliant on past images and emerges from its interrelation with these – It also ties off the body of work, bringing it to a close.
As with all past projects, I started the essay early. This allows me ample time for tweaks and improvements after its completion and frees up some head-space. I jumped at the opportunity to write a creative essay; having written many short-stories growing up as an aspiring author, something I gradually lost touch with over many years, it provided the perfect opportunity to reconnect. The short story I have written, ‘Can’t see the woods for the trees’, is heavily inspired by Harper Lee’s, ‘To kill a mockingbird’, in terms of its literary style and James Agee’s, ‘Let us now praise famous men’, in terms of its descriptiveness. In regards to Agee’s influence, his works were largely a lesson in remembering the smaller details when looking to incite a larger scene – the prose that accompanies the images within, ‘The moon that torments’, was contrarily informed by Agee’s literary style, specifically his use of metaphors and conceits. Despite the very restrictive world limit, I still wished to voice and message, albeit rather more primitive than that voiced by Lee. Its message was a personal one and one that tied in with my visual project; an admonition about the dangers of withdrawing from pain and lesson in its acceptance as an inherent quality of life, but also a necessary precursor to beauty or happiness – the omission of pain, is the omission of beauty.
Due to the sensitive nature of my project, I decided to employ a more traditional (sophisticated, perhaps) design than that of my original intention and in comparison to previous zines I have created for past projects. The final design is very traditional and therefore not hugely influenced by any research into the photobook. The work that I would most accredit to having the most influence on my final design, would be that of Alec Soth and his publishment for, ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’. A body of work and photobook I have researched on this blog.
‘Alec Soth: Sleeping by the Mississippi’
As you can see, its construction is very minimalist; image one page and text the other, always centre page. Due to the dimensions of the books available to order through Blurb, having an image centre page was aesthetically displeasing, with two large borders top and bottom of the image, that proved to be hugely distracting. I therefore opted to place the images top of page, with a large border beneath (if landscape orientated). Accompanying text, however, was always placed centre page.
‘The moon that torments’ cover was where I faced the majority of my problems when designing the book. I wanted something minimal, something that shared the same visual language as its interior, whilst also being something that was unique and visually striking. My initial and favourite design was colourless, employing embossing to distinguish its features from its otherwise uniform whiteness. I accidentally stumbled across this idea when playing around with drop shadows on InDesign, before changing the colour of the moon in order to make it visible against the white of the paper. Rather than continuing to poorly explain what I mean, here is an example, a test print of this design:
Initial embossed design idea
Sadly, I was unable to locate any printing company that would emboss a single book (Blurb required a minimum order of 750 books before you were given this option), so I then tried experimenting with colour text and an embossed look on the moon (using the aforementioned drop shadow effect) – test prints, here:
Whilst I was fond of these designs, particularly the design seen on the left image, I was concerned that due to its faintness, the moon wouldn’t be visible in the final product, when printed by Blurb. Seeing that I couldn’t get a test print done, I reluctantly scrapped the design. My final design remains minimal, taking a lot of its visual ques from the left most design pictured above, but implemented block colour; a light purpl-ey blue colour (representing the night sky). I also decided to add a gradient and outer glow effect to the moon as well as part of the title, as I simply wasn’t fond of the completely minimalist design after the introduction of colour. Here is the final design:
Final cover art design
And here is the final book:
In summary, I feel the storytelling unit was my best yet for making inroads in handling my anxiety and opening up to experimentation. Everything about this unit was an experiment for me, which is rather ironic, given my original intentions.
Mostly experimental shots, though a few almost made it into the final edit (Disposed, Bare foot and Bloodstone). I took this unit as an opportunity to try and learn to stop hounding myself every time I don’t get it right first time. I tried my utmost to embrace failure, to see it as experimentation and experience.