Posted on March 14, 2015
© Robert Frank, Mabou 1997 – image reproduced at Mutual Art
Stories are necessary, enchanting, evocative things; but they can also be the means by which our dreams are traduced or defused, defiled or filed away. We learn to read sideways. We learn to read by the light of secret planets and signs.
Excerpt taken from From one state to the next by Ian Penman (included in the forward to Robert Frank, Storylines)
One of the things I love most about blogging is the opportunity it provides to make connections with so many other creative and inspiring people. I remember vividly the excitement of starting this blog four years ago; gaining followers, having people comment on my pictures for the first time, discovering other like-minded bloggers. I posted a series of pictures my husband and I had taken in a house in Italy, and a fellow blogger (writer) asked if he could pen some words to them as a writing prompt, and so an artistic collaboration evolved with Nathan from The Whole Hurly Burly. I was curious to see what he would come up with, and it was indeed a fascinating process seeing your own pictures take on new meaning through somebody else’s eyes. It was good, from my part, to know that a collection of pictures which I had put together had the possibility of narrative, and that they could not only tell a story, but provoke an emotional response, and one which had resonance.
Sometime later I found the courage to instigate another artistic collaboration on a larger scale when I imagined the journey of a photograph project. A humble forgotten photograph has taken on new life, weaving words, stories and memories in its flight around the globe.
I remember the exact moment when I realised that exploring narrative in photography was something not only important but necessary, and that combining words with images was what I wanted to aspire to do in my own photography. It was when I went to see the Storylines exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2004.
Frank is a storyteller; he attempts to convey narrative and sequence in his work employing not just photography but text – sometimes just single words and images, sometimes scratching the words into the surface of the negative – as well as video and film to create a dialogue (although more recently he has focussed exclusively on still photography). His later more experimental autobiographical work (and especially his polaroids and Mabou series from his home in Nova Scotia) for me is extremely powerful; saturated with emotion and complex layers of meaning. Photographs are grouped together haphazardly, peppered with random words sometimes scratched angrily or smudged. Fragments of writing, like diary entries, sometimes typed or handwritten are cut and pasted onto sets of images, creating crude collages which further add to an impression of fear, confusion, but also of profound sadness. There is so much to look at and explore in this work which reads like an expulsion, an exorcism even, of inner torment.
Although his later work never received the critical acclaim of the earlier projects such as The Americans (perhaps because it is less accessible?) I found it very moving. It speaks (to me) and tells the story of a deeply disturbed state of mind. Of a man who is broken.
© words and images Emily Hughes, 2015
Posted on June 29, 2014
Being is the most universal concept… but it is the darkest of all
© images and content Emily Hughes, 2014
Posted on January 9, 2013
Once upon a time the photographer was thought of as something of an alchemist. A shadowy, enigmatic figure who spent far too much time frequenting small, dark, windowless spaces, wearing a faint aroma of ammonia and something like salt and vinegar crisps. He* would produce beautiful images, which would appear before your very eyes – as if by magic – from blank sheets of paper. He would spend hours squirreled away, honing his craft, proliferating prints. Working away tirelessly under the dim, seedy glow of a single red light bulb.
Perhaps it is because I am currently reading a book about magic, or perhaps it is because I am looking at a lot of magical winter photographs in blogs: skeleton trees towering eerily in winter mists; bright, crisp snowy scenes and macro shots of perfectly formed snowflakes glistening like frosted jewels against a backdrop of a perfect cerulean sky. In any case, I am occupied by thoughts of magic and fantasy. January is such a dull, frugal month. I am yearning. I need to believe. I need to find some magic – some wonder – to make it sparkle for me.
I discovered these charming images by French photographer Alain Laboile whilst browsing through the blog emorfes. When I looked at them I felt that little flicker of something I can’t explain…. you know that feeling you get when something connects with you in a positive way. It’s like a little jolt of excitement which progresses into a surge of recognition, with all of your senses immediately heightened in anticipation…
… and then, afterwards, you feel a little bit more content than before and even a little bit changed. At the same time, you have understood something new about yourself. The magic has taken effect.
Perhaps it is something in the dreamlike world he creates, or the way he fuses childlike wonder with gentle humour and surreal elements. Or perhaps it is the quirky perspective; the water which casts a wobbly dreamlike haze, but which also threatens an element of danger to the happy family album: hidden depths, murky waters, a sense of foreboding…. Maybe it’s the big wide sky – more than just background it is centre stage in many images. Children while away so many hours looking up. Daydreaming. Spotting birds, aeroplanes; flying kites; climbing trees to get closer to the clouds, gazing at the moon and the stars and imagining other worlds and whether one day they might visit them. The wonder of the vast, unfathomable sky. It has the power to put us in our places on earth.
I have looked at these photographs a lot recently. I am not really sure why that is. They seem to me to re-capture a bit of that old photographic alchemy. They are not polished, or sophisticated. They are quite low-key, like snapshots, yet obviously considered. They are a constructed dreamworld. Eccentric, you could say. They have something of the air of the slightly mad, nerdy inventor about them – the one who cooks up crazier and crazier scenes whilst his excited wild children froth around him, egging him on. A kind of professor Potts of the photographic world. (I am sure I am completely wrong, by the way and this part is entirely my fabrication, but I do believe Laboile is also a sculptor, which would account for the sculptural elements featured in the photographs.)
Each picture, each little burst of magic speaks to me of its own story, weaving a narrative of a strange, fantastical fairy tale, in which dreams and imagination have leaked into our conscious world and taken hold. And the children – wild and free – are the kings and queens.
Oh, the fun they would have with our dreams.
© images Alain Laboile
© content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013
* of course, photographers can be females too 🙂