Although it was a struggle, and even at the end I was not entirely confident about the outcome of this assignment, it seems the effort was worthwhile as my tutor has given some very positive and supportive feedback. As ever though there are some challenging questions that I now need to reflect upon.
Despite my own misgivings it seems there might still be potential in the images that I took as the first attempt at this assignment, that they have some narrative potential, and that this might be enhanced by taking a lead from Christopher Doyle and experimenting with different coloured lights. This is something that I am going to have to think about as it is not immediately clear to me what that narrative might be or where it might go. I had not approached this shoot with any sense of narrative as such in mind, although I was interested in atmosphere and ideas of concealment and only partial exposure of each scene, so I am going to have to completely change my mindset when looking again at these images. Because I have enough else on my plate at the moment this is not going to be very high on my list of priorities but maybe once I have got the next assignment out of the way, and worked out the practicalities of producing different coloured light, I will have another go and see what comes out.
A major issue that needs to be addressed is the framing of the final images and why I have presented them in this way, with irregular dark borders. I have had to go back to the original, pre-processing pictures to work out what has gone on here and must now admit that it is the result of little more than carelessness on my part. I was clearly in such a hurry to get this finished and posted before I went away on holiday – I would have struggled to finalise the assignment in time for the date I had agreed with my tutor if I had waited until my return – that I simply did not pay enough attention to such details. Indeed, looking back, it is not clear that I actually processed them at all. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!
This is annoying as it does relate to an issue that was very important to me when approaching this final set. Clearly I had got myself into quite a state about it as although I had thought a lot about approaches to presentation of the final images, and spent a good deal of time composing explanations in my head, it is now clear that I did not in fact write anything down! The blog post for the final submission went through so many changes and tweaks that I obviously lost sight of the ball and did not realise that I had not actually addressed what for me is a very important question.
When I embarked on this final set I felt that there were three possible ways of presenting the images that would relate to and have an impact on what I was trying to achieve. One approach would have been to do what Sugimoto did and include not just the screen but also the wider context of the movie theatres and drive-ins. This approach I rejected because Sugimoto was shooting different locations and those locations were as much the subjects as the films that were showing. I on the other hand was shooting in the same place for each film so the context and surroundings would have been the same in each picture. That would not have been very interesting in its own right and would also not have added anything to what I was trying to say about light.
Another approach, which is the one that I ended up with by default of not having done anything different, was to keep some element of framing. The intention while actually making the pictures was to give an element of context and to acknowledge, if that is the right word, that these images are made from moving pictures shown on a screen. It seemed important to me at the time to recognise the artificiality of the light, of the images, and their presentation, by including at least hints of the fact that they were being shot while displayed on a TV screen. In a way I think I wanted to make it explicit that whilst making something new with my photos my raw material was the work of others. What I failed to do though was to ensure that in the final set this element was consistent throughout. As a result this initial intention has not been properly fulfilled.
The appearance in some shots of a control menu on screen is also part of this approach. It is also partly serendipitous as for some reason the menu showed up only on some of the films but not all and was difficult, if not impossible, to turn off so that it did not appear. This is something else that needs to be consistent to work properly and unfortunately it does not and as such those that remain should probably be cropped out.
The third approach, which I was not keen on at the time, would have been to crop out everything that was extraneous to the main part of each image. At the time I was perhaps more influenced by something like Sugimoto’s approach and felt that some limited element of context and framing was desirable. Now I am not so sure, not least because of the need to make the final set more consistent. Also, I can now see that what is more important to me than all else in this set is the light rather than any sense of physical context. I have therefore now cropped the pictures properly to create a more coherent, not to mention neater, set below:
This not only looks neater and more coherent but I think also works better at getting towards what I was trying to achieve. In retrospect I can now see that the elements in the original set that hinted at the physical medium of the television were actually a distraction (if only because of the lack of consistency).
Another question relates to the appearance of subtitles in some of the pictures. Again I ummed and aahed about these, whether to keep them, their possible significance and what they bring, if anything, to the final set. This is a tricky one but I decided to keep them despite the fact that they do not appear in all of the shots – not all of the films were subtitled and not all of the sequences that I photographed had subtitles. The primary focus and point of interest in the assignment was of course light. The subtitles appear quite by chance. I had no idea that they would show up as clearly as they do and I was more interested in the particular sequences in which the appear from a purely visual point of view. They do though reflect the fact that these film sequences also included sound, specifically speech. (I was struck by how important music was in the Wong Kar Wai films in particular – it was a while since I had seen any of them and I had forgotten what a significant role music plays in each of those that I chose for this assignment. Apocalypse Now also of course starts with a sequence where the music, “The End” by The Doors, is every bit as important as the visual imagery. Music is famously central to 2001. Oddly though, apart from The Sacrifice (and even then not a great deal), music plays much less of a role in the Tarkovsky films.) At one level that fact is not relevant when viewed strictly from the point of view of light. However it might also be said that the subtitles are also a product of light and are simply part of the image and as such are also worthy of consideration and inclusion.
In truth I am not sure what the subtitles really add to this specific set in so far as it deals with light. Nevertheless I decided to include them as they offer a hint of a potential alternative set of images – it would be possible to put together a different set where the text is the more important element and construct a new narrative across scenes from the various films, though that would need a lot more thought to identify chunks of appropriate dialogue.
More than that though I feel that the first two captions, “Call me what you decide” and “I have a secret to tell you” add an extra layer of mystery to what are already quite enigmatic images. They emphasise that the images are open to interpretation, and are not easy to decipher. They are an invitation to find in the pictures whatever you can. The third one, “Just love me”, might be said to work in a similar way, though inviting acceptance of what you see without having to interpret too much.
Or is it a cry from my own unconscious reflecting my struggles with this assignment and an anxiety that the outcome be found to be acceptable? No, let us not go there!
Could the subtitles themselves act a captions of the images? Yes, but I do not think that really works here when not all of the pictures include text. Otherwise I am not sure the set really needs captions at all. The names of the films appear throughout the final set more to simply identify where the image has come from rather than for any other purpose.
I explained in the last post why I chose the order in which the final set appears. In so far as the focus is on light I remain happy with this sequence and do not feel any strong urge to revise it. I can though see that other arrangements could also work. One would be to order the images by reference to where they appear in each film. I think this is an interesting possibility that opens up the chance to create a new, different dialogue or narrative across the sequence as a whole. I do not feel this really fits where the brief is concerned with light but would certainly be valid if the temporal elements were more important. Just for the sake of argument though I have had a go at reordering them on this basis to see what such a set might look like.
The effect is very different. I do not immediately get a sense of a new narrative nor a visual logic to this sequence. Thinking about the events in the individual films at these points does not help me much either. On balance therefore I think I prefer the straightforward chromatic approach that I chose originally.