The brief for this assignment, Image and Text, is to ‘create a series of work (7–10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place looked at so far in this course, using the written word to play a part in its creation.’ (OCA IAP, p89)
One of the ideas I’ve worked with is how text can provide a creative access point to inspire a photographic work. I experimented with this in an exercise using a poignant letter from my grandfather to his future wife, describing his escape from HMS Ark Royal, which was torpedoed with the loss of 800 lives (see exercise here). My intention was to create images that symbolised the mood in the letter, photographing an oak tree to the point of abstraction, but nonetheless remaining symbolically connected. For this assignment, I wanted to work to a similar process.
The idea for this work is to create a visual response to a piece of creative writing, but to stretch the meaning of both the text and the images, leaving space for the viewer to engage their own imagination. It is only this concept that acts as the direction for the upcoming work; I will see where it takes me and analyse later.
I wanted to collaborate with a writer on this work and luckily an old friend, James Wall, agreed to work on the project.
James’s work has been published in the Best British Short Stories 2013 anthology, Tears in the Fence, Unthology 6, Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, The Nottingham Review, Prole, The View From Here, Long Story, Short Journal, Fictive Dream, and in Matter Magazine. He has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and has an MA in Creative Writing from Sheffield Hallam University. I am fortunate indeed to have such a friend!
I explained the concept to James and asked him to send over a couple of text extracts, without explaining the context or full story, so I might choose one and create a visual response. I’ve also requested that James shares his views on the images during the editing process – so I’m looking forward to good coffee and a long natter as the work progresses.
The extract I have chosen to work with is reproduced in full below. As a next step, I’ll absorb these words and let some creative ideas surface.
I stood and moved to the window, gazing out into the evening. The darkness was winning against the light, and the streetlights were already on. Cars were parked up now that most had returned home from work. I couldn’t see anyone walking by. The park was shrouded in black, with the occasional light from the old-fashioned streetlights dotted about the pathways. Then a light appeared from the right. It was moving, veering one way and then the other. As it crossed by one of the streetlights I could see it was a young boy on a bike. He was travelling along the paths, up the hill, then round and back again by the small roundabout there that had a flower display in the middle of the grass. I followed his route further, watching his light illuminate the park before it passed again back into darkness, with just the faint red of his rear light. Then it shone onto the lake. More objects were jutting out of it. White from a fridge reflected in the light briefly. What looked like marks were scattered about it but they looked too uniform to be dirt from the lake. They were in blocks, and reminded him of the fridge magnets he used to have at home. The light shifted a little and I switched my gaze to see the boy light up a cigarette. Wasn’t he too young to be smoking? I caught a brief glimpse of his face in the flame, at once familiar, and I inhaled sharply. I peered in closer, desperately trying to get a clear view but he was too far away and it was too dark. No, I must have been wrong. Not familiar. I couldn’t see properly from this distance. The boy remained, in the half light one leg straight and on the ground, sitting on the saddle. I couldn’t see but I imagined his other knee was raised, his foot resting on the pedal.
The orange glow from the boy’s cigarette sped to the ground and then disappeared. The bike’s light moved from left to right, as if scanning the lake, revealing more objects sticking out of the water: the top of what looked like the Eiffel Tower, half of an old black and white TV set that had a programme showing, an old record player, with a red lid that we had kept in a corner in the living room, and a sofa with a cream throw over it. The sofa had been a mucky brown underneath. It was meant to be temporary until we could afford something nicer but it was years before we bought another.
The light swept across the lake now and then up towards the trees at the top of the park, where it and the red rear light diminished until finally disappeared altogether. I grabbed my coat and made my way downstairs. The evening’s chill chided me as soon as I was outside. I passed the two stone pillars marked the entrance to the park. I wondered whether there’d once been wrought iron gates here fixed to the stone. My footsteps echoed as I followed the path towards the lake, and the light changed to monochrome. (James Wall ©2017)