Suddenly she was living alone in isolation, left in a digital-only society. A precious year lost or at least utterly useless, a big gathering of uncertainties filled her existence. Climate, Brexit, Trump, China, Pandemic, a rapidly vaporising nature, her nature, her climate. If she opposed all these threats, she was a left activist, is deliberately destroying the world, not activistic? We are still torturing, killing and consuming trillions of animals as if it is dead normal. She could not eat meat anymore, not for the animals’ sake, not for her health, not for the environment and massive claim on the land, causing poverty, lack of housing, refugees and hunger, water shortage and extinction.
Not many understood or wanted to; don’t be so complicated, so extreme. Soon twenty-twenty was over; everything would be better, all would be back to normal, the normal that was so destructive, the normal that caused all this, let me drink.
New years eve, alone inside, alone outside, just for a while. A lockdown, trapped in the present, alone in the big city where everybody is trapped in the present. Gazing over the water, its freezing, watery cold. Let’s celebrate this moment into the new morning alone, alone with my lost life and unwished future—a new year.
This assignment had to touch the subjects that influenced me this strange year 2020. A year full of doubt and contemplation. I often thought about Francesca Woodman, her tragic death and how intense she converted thoughts into work and how my awareness about her early death enhanced the engagement with her work (van den Berg, 2020), as death seems to do more often. If this course taught me one thing, maybe not intentionally, it is to find a sense of purpose, unsure though where this can be referenced.
The above text is the cause for this image, or vice-versa. It is intended as relaying (Barthes and Heath, 2009, p.38) text to the image. It is not intended to identify connotation (Barrett, 2000:51) but as an extension without further explanation. There is plenty of space between not having a scenario as Wall declares (Seymour and Wall, 2019) and trying to force a connotation (Barret, 2000) onto the viewer.
Nevertheless, the idea attempts to combine several parts and concepts withing this course-unit into this final assignment. From the journalism and its mostly clinical depiction of events, the emotional and purposeful side through journalism, the function of text to the image, the narrative. Alongside self(-absented) portraiture where the image represents my thoughts and opinion, ending into the final one, making things up through staging, ‘mise en scene’ or tableau. I still try to avoid digital compositional manipulation.
This submission is a second attempt. Initially, the strict COVID lockdown limited my physical movements, my thoughts and ideas. I began writing and reading on a series about my own hands and the resemblance with those of my grandfather, but it never became staged or engaging enough, nor did it express my thoughts sufficiently. A few days before the initial submission deadline, I stumbled upon some images of the old Amsterdam Harbourhead. The grey, early evening sky, the cold, the water, the edge of the city, for many, the edge of their world. Instantly the drama unfolded in my head, the parties that used to be held here, during normal summers it is transformed into an illegal place to swim, a stunning décor with its decayed concrete and quay wall, sandy shore, the dirt and rubbish, an implicit contrast between livelihood and destruction.
We are destroying the world and hurting every living creature along the way, not in the last place our children. How economics rule over life and death so clearly, how power can be bought so easily and how lies can acquire so many followers it splits and changes complete countries quickly. The visual idea of the innocent, vivid youth for me was a girl in a red coat, some romantic idea, a reference perhaps to the little girl in red in ‘Schindlers list’ or the Death of the Virgin by Caravaggio, the contradiction between lively, innocent youth and the devastating destruction by system and power, either deliberate or by neglect. My daughter is the model, her favourite red a coincidence. Initially, I wanted to use glass and bottle, ended up using only the bottle, a glass seemed mentally out of place. The image needed to have an open-end, despite the somewhat directive text and idea. The viewer can kill the author a little, but the purpose should remain in this case, a reality-effect of staging; “…simply the organisation of raw material into photographic codes, a rhetorical form to create a reality-effect.” (Bate, 2016), sufficient for its purpose.
Besides gloves, hats and other warm clothes in this watery cold winter weather, main props just a red coat, a bottle of wine, red lipstick, black shoes and shawl, some cigarette butts. It had been foggy for two days, unfortunately not on this day of the final shoot; it was sufficiently grey. Using hard, direct flash would provide plenty of options to create more nightly visuals in reducing exposure in post. Because it is a directed shot more than it is a tableau scene, I maintained my flexibility on the location using a standard 24-120mm zoom-lens, using autofocus and on-camera flash—this flash position to harshen the photograph, create a straight (Bull, 2010) almost forensic, journalistic style image. Highest flash-sync shutter speed of 1/250, lowest ISO, mostly maximises focal depth and maintains sharpness while moving around. A romantic, pictorialist image (van den Berg, 2020a) seemed so misplaced. Positioning, movements and most gestures are directed, as Wall puts it correctly: “I reject the idea I’m doing “staged photography”. Every kind of behaviour is equally real.” (Pulver, 2010)
This shoot was surprisingly close to what I visualised upfront. The raw files almost good to go, nothing out of focus, noting unsharp, some under-exposed, but plenty of workable images. As if Francesca Woodman speaks: “I did not need to translate the notes; they went directly to my hands.” (Tellgren et al., 2015:7)
As mentioned, finally Francesca Woodman got to me (van den Berg, 2020), especially with her On Being an Angel (Woodman et al., 2015), together with the intense raw but honest reality of Briony Campbell and meaningful openness of Elina Brotherus. It is that combination of harsh reality, vivid young life and their constant threats and anxieties, how to cope, how to change or escape, that inspired here, honestly hoping and contributing where I can, for a better, friendlier environment. The work of Martin Parr (Parr and Badger, 2018) and Alex Prager (Prager, 2018) inspired and were an example for the use of flash and the latter for her magnificent scene directives and creating intriguing situations.
Alan Riding (1998) on Woodman: “..she pushes herself to the limit seemingly unaware of the dangers involved, like a moth flying ever closer to a candle flame.”
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