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 February 20, 2013
She worried at her memory, tugging gently at soft silken skeins tightly bound by neglect and smudged by time. She smoothed them apart, just as she smoothed out her lines every evening at the bathroom mirror with the pads of her fingertips. They always came back, those little rivers, carving out a pale etching of her life. Each laugh, each frown, each smile. The same every time. The tears when they come remember the tracks easily enough.
She smoothed the delicate threads apart, combed them carefully and set about the meticulous task of unraveling the tangled fictions of forgotten pasts. They were slippery, but surprisingly weighty, draping heavily through her long thin still nimble fingers like an expensive chiffon. But they lay limp and heavy in paper-frail arms. She laid them out flat, those strands, so fine like spaghetti, or perhaps the hair of an angel. Tricky not to let the straight, perfect lines snarl up. She stepped back to admire her work, but it all looked a little lost and flat, somehow still unfamiliar to her.
So she went back to the very beginning, lightly brushing her fingers, now warming to their task, down the length of each tiny fibre, like a blind person tracing braille dots, until she slowly found the thread. And then she was lost, on a journey, but this time to a place she had known; a place she had been to before, and she felt sure she would be able to find her way back. She didn’t stop until she finished, at the very end.
© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013