Lynn Saville

Informing Contexts: What's the Narrative 2

I have continued to ruminate about the theme of narrative and how this is created photographically throughout this module, as well as trying to find answers in the work of other practitioners. Aside, from the challenges that have presented themselves over the last three months away from the course, this subject has been the most difficult for me to grasp and then relate to my own work. 

I have found myself increasingly uninterested in the work I’ve been making, at least in the way that I’ve previously produced it. I realised that I’d become frustrated with a sense of repetition and of being in a visual rut. Towards the end of the previous module I started to realise that it would not be possible to elevate my work without a closer focus on the intention behind the work and the way this was then translated into the image itself.

I think I have a clearer idea of what visual narrative is now, particularly having reflected on how other practitioners manage to capture your attention and challenge your imagination with their work. 

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the work of Gregory Crewdson recently, the Twilight and Cathedral of the Pines projects in particular. 

The work of Gregory Crewdson, from    Twilight

The work of Gregory Crewdson, from Twilight

Aside from the beauty and elaborate complexity of his images, the thing that strikes me most about his work is the fact that each image provokes a question (often many). What happened here? Where are her clothes? How could that have gotten there? There is always a sense of transience, being invited into the space between events that have just occurred and those that are about to take place.

These questions oblige you to stay with the image, searching for the answer. When, as is almost always the case, the answer isn’t immediately apparent in the photograph you are transported to your imagination or to speculation to look for it. Either way the image has captivated you and taken you beyond the immediate fact of looking at a two-dimensional representation on a screen or in a book. These unanswered questions are everywhere in Crewdson’s work, often provoked by the simplest of small details. When I saw his work at The Photographer’s Gallery last year I was intrigued by how almost all his interior shots included a half empty glass of water somewhere in the frame. It’s a motif that is too consistent to be a coincidence, and it fascinates me even now…

The half empty glass of water on the bedside table...an intriguing element of many of Crewdson's images. This, from    Cathedral of the Pines

The half empty glass of water on the bedside table...an intriguing element of many of Crewdson's images. This, from Cathedral of the Pines

Why are they there? What do they mean? 

The ability to provoke these questions in the viewer is key to creating narrative I think.

The ability to provoke questions is also seen in the work of Lynne Cohen, who achieves this despite almost exclusively shooting empty interior spaces. Her work asks you to consider the actions of people on their environment and surroundings, to consider their activities and behaviours and how they connect to our own, in spaces that we all inhabit. 

The work of   Lynne Cohen

The work of Lynne Cohen

Similarly, the work of Lynn Saville in the US (primarily New York City) and Rut Blees Luxemburg (most notably in London) asks us to consider how we respond to our urban spaces and how these environments reflect our behaviours and our concerns. The fact that they both use the night as a key part of their visual toolbox is of course particularly interesting to me. Again, without including people in much of their work, they invite questions about the world we inhabit and thus require the viewer to engage with their work and with themselves.

Aplomb St Pauls by Rut Blees Luxemburg,

Aplomb St Pauls by Rut Blees Luxemburg,

A further lesson about narrative has occurred to me following a recent visit to the Gursky exhibition currently showing at the Hayward Gallery. I was not very familiar with Andreas Gursky’s work prior to visiting this show, but seeing his work you can’t help but be confronted by his vision and the consistency of that vision throughout his career. His work, to me at least, seems to repeatedly explore the behaviour of humans, their interaction with space, and the way we see. It struck me that he has adhered to a set of technical and conceptual ideas throughout his career, and in doing so the underlying motivation of the work becomes clearer. 

The Gursky exhibition at Hayward Gallery

The Gursky exhibition at Hayward Gallery

By this I mean that one who devotes their career to exploring a particular subject compiles a body of work that in total communicates much more clearly than someone who makes a small project on the same topic. This consistency of thought is one way that narrative is created I think, by the repetitive consideration of an idea from various angles and perspectives, showing it in different forms and contexts…this ultimately builds into an eloquent story. 

Again, relating this back to my own work, I feel that my interest in solitude and urban life is not exhausted by any means. There are so many facets of this issue that remain to be explored and this allows me to envisage how my work will develop beyond the MA. The consistency of vision is not something to be underestimated or devalued, but will hopefully become a key pillar in my work that ultimately results in a more articulate whole, regardless of what other work I also go on to produce. Along with the idea of trying to create questions with my work and leaving enough space for imagination to expand the scope of the image, I think I have enough to be moving forward with.

References:

THIS IS LOCAL LONDON. 2015. ‘London Dust exhibition featuring Rut Blees Luxemburg photos opens at Museum of London’. This is Local London [online]. Available at: http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/news/12927124.7_arresting_images_showing_London_s_changing_financial_district/[accessed 19 April 2018].

Sustainable Prospects: What’s It All About?

“When a person picks up a camera and starts to feel photography is for them, it is usually for reasons so complex that simple biography will not do. If you suddenly find that a camera really is your means of expression, it is not so much because it gives you the chance of a brave new start, but because it’s a way of drawing on the unspoken experience of your life lived so far. Making photographs is so often an act of recognition, conscious or otherwise, that what is before you resonates with things that came before. Those things might be direct experiences. They might be movies, picture books, music or novels. We can never know for sure.”

David Campany, Intimate Distance, 2016

I wanted to write a little about something I’d briefly mentioned in an earlier post, which is the change of direction in my project that has occurred during this module in response to advice and feedback received from my tutor and peers.

As I’ve outlined elsewhere, I’m really interested in the idea of urban solitude and how we experience this state and how we articulate and contextualise this experience. I’m also really interested in commonalities amongst us, in the idea that there’s this unspoken network of loneliness where people are closely packed yet living in silent isolation and I believe that if we can stimulate an open debate about this issue then we’d be on the way to being able to challenge taboos, while also accessing and offering support.

My project had increasingly sought to invite contributions from others around this issue, in various methods that felt right for them. I’ve found this aspect of the project really rewarding, providing as it has an insight into the emotional world of some people that I know well and people whom I hardly know at all. These insights have been incredibly privileged, as well as confirming my initial supposition that there’s a rich seam to be explored. The topic is so big, with direct and indirect links to issues as varied as mental health, social mobility, the link between music and memory…there are so many threads that can be explored.

Of course, the potential breadth of this topic had caused some difficulties. It’s a challenge to be able to provide structure to a project when the topic is so vast and the potential responses from people are limitless. I also found that I was increasingly being thwarted by practical and attitudinal obstacles. For example, many people had agreed to contribute to the project and then, despite gentle but persistent prompting on my part, failed to follow through.

In an attempt to gain some momentum and in an effort to further broaden my appeal to potential contributors/collaborators I contacted Georgina Lawton, a journalist who had written a piece for The Guardian earlier this year about her experiences with loneliness.

Georgina Lawton in The Guardian, 19/8/17

Georgina Lawton in The Guardian, 19/8/17

I asked if she would be willing to contribute to the project in some way but she was unfortunately unwilling to do so.

Overall this failure to engage people with the project was increasingly disheartening.

At the same time, I was feeling a growing disconnect between the story I was trying to tell through others and the origin of the inspiration behind this project which undoubtedly had come from within, and which I had gradually drifted away from without even noticing. I’m unsure whether this was due to an implicit unwillingness to confront the issues that a deeper examination of my own feelings might unearth, but I had certainly become a little emotionally detached from the work and this was affecting the quality of the work and my motivation to produce it.

A comment from Krishna (our module tutor) a few weeks ago really pierced the fog, as she challenged the direction I’d been taking with the project. She felt that the work produced and inspired by others would be better as a standalone project and that the focus should be on my own perspective and vision at this stage. This view seemed to be shared by my class mates who were present in the webinar and I left the session feeling quite shaken. I wasn’t sure at first why this advice was so discomfiting, but on reflection it was due to all the reasons I’ve outlined above – the imperceptible drift that had occurred from the original heart of the project, the fact that this advice challenged a possible reluctance to truly examine my own motivations for pursuing this project in the first place and I realised that I’d thus gotten a bit lost and had needed an outside view to ‘bring me back to my senses’.

I reflected on this and the pitfalls I had fallen into in the project to date. I’d certainly suffered due to a lack of structure. Listening to various practitioners describe how they approach project work, one of the key themes was the idea of a narrative impulse that infuses the work with life and allows the photographer to know when the project reaches its natural end – when the story has been told the end has been reached. Of course, if the narrative structure isn’t clear and if themes haven’t been clearly defined, it’s difficult to know how to proceed and it’s impossible to know when you’re off track. I had certainly suffered in this regard.

So I went back to the beginning.

As David Campany writes above, the reasons we shoot are often complex but are almost always connected to our own experience. I have tried to examine this much more closely, seeking to understand what solitude and loneliness mean for me and why I am drawn to articulate this visually. I think I have a clearer idea about this now and as this clarity has been restored it’s been interesting to note how my motivation and passion have returned.

#1726 as displayed on Todd Hido's website

#1726 as displayed on Todd Hido's website

I’ve been considering the work of others that's inspired me and still resonates with me, people like Todd Hido and Lynn Saville (to name just a couple) and examining why I shoot at night, why the issue of solitude is important to me and what my own feelings and memories are of loneliness, how it resonates with my emotional world.

Alongside this, I’ve been re-examining the aims of my project – how I hope to tell the story, who I hope to reach with the work and why would they care.

I’m confident that this change of direction and period of self-examination will result in a stronger project and a more coherent practice moving forward and I’m excited about moving forward.

Reference:

·      HIDO, Todd., CAMPANY, David. and TYLEVICH, Katya. 2016. Intimate Distance: Twenty-five Years of Photographs, A Chronological Album. New York: Aperture.