I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time, and then I watched Interstellar. The film has the words of Dylan Thomas at it’s core, from his poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight’. Matthew Mcconaughey gives a brilliant performance, but it was Thomas’ words that grabbed me and pulled me wholeheartedly into the film. In my photography, other people’s words have become part of my way of working. Often, other people – writers, can better articulate what I – a picture maker, am trying to say. Their words give me a better understanding of a subject, reinforce my original ideas and expand on that idea. I use them to get to the bottom of what I want to say, which is not always easy to figure out.
In my book project – ‘My Favourite Colour Was Yellow’ I found the words of two people especially useful. I read Jo B Paoletti’s book ‘Pink and Blue – Telling the Boys from the Girls in America’. The book traces the history of the colours pink and blue in children’s clothing. Jo’s research reinforced some of the hunches I had and helped me to understand how this phenomenon had come about. A greater understanding of a subject is going to lead to better pictures. Jo has since written an essay for my book, and she ends it on a posssitive note, hinting that a change is in the air. A sentiment that I share and have echoed in the photographs towards the end of my edit.
There is also a quote that helped in the making of the portraits. It’s from W M Hunt (if you don’t know him, look him up) “Insist on engagement. Wrestle with what is difficult. Pretty is boring. Seek intensity.” This was ringing in my ears when I was making photographs. It helped me to get away from making pleasing pictures, that the girls parents would approve of. I was guided towards making more interesting photographs of each girl, that was more true to each of them. I was dealing with what could be a saccharine subject matter, and these words steered me through.
At his talk in Bristol last year David Goldblatt spoke about the influence of South African literature in his practice. I was reminded recently (via Colin Pantall’s blog) of Ken Grant’s mantra to ‘rush slowly’ the borrowed words from Josef Sudek.
We can’t do it all ourselves. All work is collaborative. When we find someone else that can articulate our feelings for us, whether its through a song lyric, a quote, novel or poem – we love them for it. The people who help us to feel and to understand. Whether its Dylan Thomas, John Martyn or Nabokov.
Don’t forget about the words when making pictures.