Whilst undertaking contextual and/or conceptual research for many, if not all, of my past projects, I would oftentimes happen upon quotes that greatly resonated with my work. Of course, this would be expected in ones research and so I’m not drawing attention to their mere discovery, that isn’t of interest. What is of interest, was the frequency in which one particular individual was accredited to these quotes – the late Anthropologist, Ernest Becker.
My work’s themes; typically associated with existentialism, anxiety, angst, depression, mortality and a jolly few not-so-jolly others, frequently exposed me to the work’s of Becker, particularly that of his 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, ‘The Denial of death’. A culmination of Becker’s life’s work that, and I quote from the blurb of the book that currently sits upon my lap, ‘Ernest Becker passionately seeks to understand the basis of human existence. Addressing the fundamental fact of existence as man’s refusal to acknowledge his own mortality… Becker views human civilisation as an attempt to transcend a sense of mortality as mankind seeks heroic acts (a sense of heroism is the central fact of human nature) to become part of something eternal’.
Now, I have only just taken receipt of the book itself, so shan’t pretend to be familiar with it’s innards – but upon flicking through, I stumbled upon a comment on man’s (and woman’s) dualism that particularly interested me, ‘Man has a symbolic identity that brings him sharply out of nature. He is a symbolic self, a creature with a name, a life history. He is a creator with a mind that soars out to speculate about atoms and infinity, who can place himself imaginatively at a point in space and contemplate bemusedly his own planet. This immense expansion, this dexterity, this ethereality, this self-consciousness gives to man literally the status of a small god in nature… Yet, at the same time… man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox; he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and stills carries the gill marks to prove it’. To quote Becker one last time, ‘Man is literally split into two; he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever’.
I have a point to make here somewhere, so I will try. As I have spoken about in many past project evaluations and as is visibly evident, my work has steadily become more and more cinematic. This is of stark contrast to the work I produced pre-studies and can be wholly sourced and, still largely but not quite wholly, accredited to the works of Gregory Crewdson (example of his work below). Crewdson’s work resonated with me immediately, as for why eluded me for nearly two years, but I think I have finally worked it out, through drawing affinity with Becker’s words and Crewdson’s visuals. Crewdson’s work for me then, illustrates the tensions of man; tensions between beauty and despair, love and anguish, hope and hopelessness, but ultimately between the ‘symbolic self’ and the ‘heart pumping, breath-gasping body’ – life then as an agitated flux in which we are forever trying to suppress, sugar-coat and ultimately transcend the reality of our absurd situation.
Untitled (The father) – Beneath the roses by Gregory Crewdson
It is precisely this agitation, these tensions, that I look to explore in my major project. The project’s main theme of investigation will be the duality of man, man as at once being the ‘symbolic self’, the small god, and the ‘heart-pumping, breath-gasping’ worm. I must note that Crewdson has repeatedly stated in interview that he does not know what his images mean and that in creating them, he is searching for that meaning. His work is open to conjecture and therefore, the meaning for which I have extracted and that shall subsequently form the basis of my project, is one that I have concluded myself and not merely copied.
I intend for the project to be a combination of self-portraiture and portraiture, but can envision the inclusion of landscape, still life and perhaps even documentary photography, too. I am very interested in the psychological nature and subsequent effect of my images, and so hope for my images to evoke a sense of the aforementioned tensions and the longing to transcend – to be part of something eternal. I guess in summary, the project is a meditation on the human experience; one of dualism, longing, escapism and denial.
My contextual research for the project will focus on man’s dualism, the human condition, psychology, escapism, the mythologised everyday (patterns, repetitions, distractions, denial), heroism, the insatiability of humankind, mysticism etc. Visually I will look to artists such as Gregory Crewdson, Philip Lorca DiCorcia, Sophie Calle, Edward Hopper etc. I feel my research for past projects, particularly its scope into other mediums (poetry, painting, sculpture, installation, literature, music, religion and mythology etc.), has been very limited. I find the sheer quantity of it all rather intimidating, but have long regret not probing and sourcing different areas and mediums of research. This is something I really want to change in my approach to research for my final, major project – but something I undeniably need help in getting started with, in finding a structure, routine and method that works for me.
Library literary search:
Rough plan and time-frame for my major project:
September – November
Extensive research into the project’s themes and interests, namely:
- The Human Experience
November – December
Refining concept and begin visual research:
- Decide final key areas of interest for the project and work
- Visual research – Artists, aesthetic style, mood, symbolism, meaning etc.
December – January
Begin planning images:
- Location scout – Check sites for viability
- Sketch out ideas
- Clothing, lighting, equipment etc.
- Test shots
January – May
Long production stage:
- Consider final outcome (Publication, large/small prints, installation etc.)
- Critiquing (personal and peer)
- Allow time for the images to develop organically and for adjustment and amendments