Thursday, June 14, 2012

Catching what doesn't exist

Well, folks. One last push. Tomorrow is the date of my final assessment, so naturally I'm scrabbling like an idiot to get everything done in time. Because, you know, I didn't burn out from my last two assessments or anything.

(That was a lie. I've been pretty useless the last 18 hours.)

So I guess that this is the final comment on acutal uni work on the blog for this semester. Shall we do it?

This is the concept for my other Photography subject, Light. My other, 3000-level, third-year elective. (Brooke is an idiot.)

The theme for this project was Fabrication.

Because Light was all about using light (in its many forms) to fabricate a composition. Funny that. Anyway. I really can't remember where exactly this started to crystallise into something solid.

I guess it was when I started breaking down the concept of Fabrication by writing things and sticking them to my wardrobe doors. I love this wardrobe. Not just because it's a giant IKEA monstrosity that I built when I was sixteen, but because it's really good for spatial thinking, and for taking photos against.

That aside. Somehow I arrived at an interesting conclusion. Depict and create a recurring character on film.

The character in question I refer to as the Girl in the Blue Dress. She doesn't have a name. I don't want to give her one either - I've named too many separate pieces of personality, anyway.

But this one; she is odd. She doesn't exist properly; always outside of the action and the noise. Unable to speak or touch. Removed from reality but for one thin point of contact, and she's always wanted in, but can't. She's made out of the wrong stuff.

Admittedly, that 'wrong stuff' allows her to float around, and blend, and interact with the world like a whisper. Busy looking cool and slightly frustrated by the alienation.

I draw her a lot. That's how I know her. And she's probably my most successful fabrication. Moreso than Beech, or Rowan or Joey or Kara or Aeon or Caspian or Xander (who are all characters in stories I've written over the last ten years or so). I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I didn't give her a name. It's allowed her to keep growing because she's not defined by it.

And then I was going to try and take photos of something that didn't exist, with a device that is designed to pin down reality. The indexical qualities that we give the photograph means that even when we know it was 'shopped, there was something that this was taken from that existed first.

It's an odd concept, but it's also something that's almost exclusive to the realm of photo and video. It's much more difficult to alter a photo than a picture or a painting. Not in a technical sense, but there's a bit in your head that still goes 'this is a part of that person'.


So, camera dictates that the photo has to have stemmed from life, somewhere. Photo also dictates that something has to be there to create the subject matter.

Because explaining Girl in the Blue Dress to people was a bit difficult while I was working in the classroom, I had to simplify it a bit.

"It's about the things you invent in the back of your head that don't exist properly"

Well, sort of. The manifestation that we got to see through my project was just her.

There were two parts to how the project was executed.

The first was in camera (and I work with film because I enjoy a nice simple life).
Because I wanted to take photos of something that didn't exist, or at least didn't exist properly, the project got pushed in the way of ghost photography and long exposures. I would leave the shutter open for a while and let light and the girl walk across the film before closing it and advancing the film. The results always varied from horribly overexposed to difficult compositions. Good photos were few and far between. It wasn't until I was almost finished that I had another tutor talk to me about how the photos were taken.

"So you're taking all of these in camera?"


"On 35mm film?"


"That's actually really difficult,"

"I know."

Oh. For those who aren't familiar and have not gotten info from context. In Camera means that the composition or special effect was applied when the photo was taken. There was no post-production work done to get the effect.

(Which is still possible in a film camera. If you don't believe me check out Jerry Uelsmann. The guy is a nut and a genius.)

Manual Photoshop.

Having the subject move around in camera was good, because I got these blurry half-defined images of something which definitely didn't exist on the same plane as everything else.

And then, in Silver, we learned how to tone images by dunking them in more chemicals. Some of which were very smelly. But that was how I got introduced to the sepia bleach, and after seeing what it did to the images, decided that it was needed for the project.

This is a little bit funny. Because it was Bleach and it was working, because of the other Bleach with the swords and the ghost people and such.

This is a tiny bit deeper, I promise.

I haven't read much of the early manga, as I watched the anime and then started reading when I ran out of it. But the early anime had some interesting lighting effects, and they may have gotten incorporated a bit in the process.

See, this is what the environment looks like when the characters are interacting with the normal world:

Which is a fairly normal colour palette for an anime. And then a couple of seconds later Rukia literally knocks Ichigo's soul out of his body so she can take his Soul Reaper butt to the park to take out a Hollow.

Screencapping level: novice.
I like how all the highlights are blown out and everything seems more ethereal. Well, ethereal for an anime. It's like...the light is harder, and infiltrates even the darkest corner. The small details are lost to the eye and even the air has tactile qualities, like the edge on the breeze of an autumn evening...

Ah. Yes. I think that in the anime this might have had a twofold purpose; 1. It let the audience know when the characters were interacting with spirits and 2. There were less details. Easier to animate. I've heard it said that 'Bleach has no backgrounds.'

I'll pay that.

Have another gander. Ichigo's first encounter with Rukia. And she looks back at him...

And then walks away. Ichigo realises that she's not part of the material world as the noises of everyone else who did not see the chick in samurai gear dispose of a giant mantis filter into his perceptions.

Screencapping level: should not be screencapping.

See the difference in the background? The contrast is heightened and the highlights are so overblown it feels like when I walk out of the darkroom to check stuff in white light.

Blinks Owlishly.

And I love it.

So, applied Bleach to prints to make the compositions feel less real. Or, less tied to flesh and blood reality, anyway. Dawg.

Oh. The toning was the second part of making-the-images-feel-like-they-weren't-tied-to-reality.

And then:

we came full circle. Scurrying to think of how to present the story, the Girl in the Blue Dress invented someone else without a name. An Observer.

I found it disturbingly easy to write like a crazy person.

I wrote a series of letters from the perspective of someone who'd sighted the Girl and had been unsure of what they were seeing, but decided to document it anyway. Eventually, they convince themselves of her existence only to find that she was a projection of themselves all along. Which explains the fabricated evidence and drawings, but not necessarily the photos.

Because those photos have to come from somewhere.

The idea of the submitted project was to leave that one open to the reader. To have it not-completely-resolved because it allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions about who and what the Girl is. Because even though she was fabricated by me, I believe that it's not too much to a stretch to see others with the same small existence, scratching at the wall of reality, desiring to be let in but unable to interact with the world that does not see them, because it's warmer on the inside.

That's about as profound as I can get for now. Talk to you later.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

4th wall? Pfft.

I know, right. Two posts in a week? What, is the sky falling?
Maybe. It's been pretty wet and cold in Newcastle of late. I have to dress for snow weather in order to approach the Darkrooms at Uni, and required dunking in hot water to defrost when I got home. But still.

I guess that the upping has been a little to do with Uni. This is both work and procrastination for me; Work because I'm blogging about Uni, and procrastination because it is a more fun method than simply typing things out in Word and printing it off. What can I say? Tactile thinking is just more fun. Anyway. Here goes with the next concept I'm working with.

This is project #2 for Fibres. Being out of sequence is fun because it confuses everyone, and I feel that brings us all down to my level.

'Do you know what's going on? No? Ok. Me neither.'

The name of the module is called 'The Fabric of Myth' and relates directly to the role of fibres and textiles in myth. Golden fleeces, windbags, shrouds and string-operated GPS systems (wait. Did I just double-state something?) all relate heavily to myth and the use of textiles, and Greek myths, which are the basis for 'classical' mythology, are a bag of fun. I think I just lost my thought train.


I was originally going to create a spin on the story of Icarus and Daedalus, and make some wearable art that was wings. This got changed slightly a lot when I went to Ironfest in...wait. When was that? April. I think.
Ironfest is in Lithgow, and after trying to explain it to a few people who had no idea what I was babbling about, got simplified to 'something like a produce fair for Medieval enthusiasts'

Pictured: Sparta. Source

Ironfest is a bucketful of things more than that, because the medieval enthusiasts happen to usually be interested in things like Steampunk and Doctor Who. This fact is important. Save it for later. The fact that the festival is also held in Lithgow (which is somewhere in the Blue Mountains, in the freezing bit) means that they behave a bit different around pointy objects than the guys who run Anime conventions in the city. Go to Animania and your props need to be made from foam, cardboard or balsa wood. Go to Ironfest and people are walking around with legit swords and machetes and selling said swords and machetes and assorted pointy things.

They had things to look at and things to do, and my friends and I took great interest in Archery (that you could partake in), Horseback Archery (Which spectators could spectate but not try out (understandably)), Jousting (see above), Falconry (Also just a viewing) and the Gran Melee (guys in chainmail and half-plate armour hitting each other with swords. Do the mathematics on audience participation yourself).

All of these things were excellent, and most of them we took care to check out in detail on the Saturday rather than the Sunday.

See, for the last month, and in frightening concentration over the last three days, we had been constructing our own costumes for wearing at Ironfest. Dressing up was not mandatory but there were a lot of people at the event in varying degrees of anachronistic wear. And a gimp. And a lady with no pants.

Those last two bits are not important.

So, our group had been constructing costumes because there are only so many places where it is acceptable to wear something spun entirely from fiction.

This is where the story begins to track back to it's origin and away from tangents involving Brooke's first experience of Dutch Pancakes.

We'd made Weeping Angel costumes.

Weeping Angels are one of the monsters that grace the screen of Doctor Who. They are...wait. Mister Tennant? Care to explain?

This is going to be fun for my Tutor who actually gets to mark the work and finds just the video link.

Hi Brett!

The basic concept behind the Weeping Angels is that they can't move while you're looking at them. When you blink, they can move (frightfully quickly) and if they touch you, they send you back in time (if you're lucky) and consume the energy you would have expended in the present. If you're not so lucky they'll just kill you.

Also, we find another excellent easter egg later in the Canon of Doctor Who. Anything that takes the image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel. Photographs; videos. Don't look at one in the eyes or it'll plant a seed of one in your mind. Weeping Angels seem to in general possess the same 'screw the 4th wall' tendencies that Costumers and Cosplayers display when creating.

Oh. Cosplay?
I mentioned it a while ago in this post. I guess I'll keep adding to it over time.

Cosplay = Costume Play.

Recreating a character from fiction into the real world. There's usually some degree of role play involved in there too. But why do we do it?

I think there's a combination of factors.

Retelling the myth (story)
Becoming the protagonist/character
Enjoying some kind of escape through whimsy-
Taking part in an adventure beyond desks and paper and computers.

"Can't work. Busy fighting Angels."

There may also be some identifying factor between the individual and the character portrayed (which is why I pick my cosplays carefully) or maybe the character is just very good at wiping the floor with the faces of his enemies.

That aside, I think the adventure factor is fairly prominent. In the same way that you watch a Die Hard film for the amount of things John McClane can improbably explode, people interested in the realm of Costume and Character love a good suspension of disbelief.

Ran out of bullets? You just fired 20 shots from that one magazine!

This is especially relevant in our case, because when my mates and I rocked up at Ironfest decked from head to toe in grey paint and foam wings, we got to experience the other end of the stick. We were the characters spun from fiction. The walking myth. And it was a lot of fun.

See, a good cosplay is accurate.
A great cosplay is where the wearer is willing to behave like the character.
A brilliant cosplay is when the audience completes the myth and responds appropriately to the thing being portrayed.

We had people for a radius of ten metres staring at us, murmuring 'don't blink' and the like, staring us down. Small kids followed in our wake clamouring at how we weren't supposed to move because they were looking at us.

I may have been reading too much in the last week.

Far from it being that they thought we were legit; the people we met that day were willing to play along because we all knew the rules to this imaginary game, and it allowed us to spin fiction into reality with quite amusing results.

When we were finishing the costumes (on the vacant lot next to Jo's relative's house), panicking and trying to remember to eat before heading out, Jo stated that he would be happy if we had one person ask for a photo.

We left on Sunday evening as very happy people.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Silver in the City

I guess that this blog post, rather than be dedicated to the many many things I've got sitting on the backburner and have been eyeball-deep-in-uni-so-could-not-post might be a bit of a letdown. After all, it's really just more uni work. But it's also the core concept behind one of my photography subjects; specifically, Silver.

Silver is a third-year photography elective. Which means that next semester when I go to pick subjects, I won't give myself three ones that are a year up from my current level. Stupidhead. Anyway. Third year elective specific to film photography. Films and negatives and darkrooms and stuff. It's quite a bit of fun, and I enjoy the process and concept behind this type of photography more than others. I guess that's because there's a much smaller margin for error when creating photos. They're harder to fix when you get to developing the negs, and in general, you have to know what you're doing.

So. Concepts and stuff.

The course, as always, gives us a theme to work to and start with and the theme for Silver was 'Investigating the Shadow'

This sounded quite dark and intimidating to begin with, and in the first couple of weeks, I continued with printing photos from negs I had taken last year, along with stuff I'd taken for 'getting my eye back in'.

The only other thing you probably need to know at this stage is how I operate in the darkroom. This is pretty similar to how I used to work in TAFE. Don't feel like chatting while working. Stick headphones in and go. And the waiting period that you have to have while waiting for test strips to develop and then fix allows you to think in between working on things. So while the music is going, I don't always pay full attention to it.

This particular afternoon, I was walking out of the darkroom with Switchfoot in my ears. It was this song.

"we are
crooked souls trying to stay up straight
dry eyes in the pouring rain,
the Shadow proves the Sunshine
the Shadow proves the Sunshine"

And like a bolt from the blue, there was the core idea. Sort of. I was going to talk about depression and hope in the brief. Shadow and Sunshine.

This initially was thought out as a series of constructed studio photographs, a bit like what I had done in the previous year with photography, where myself and some friends got to sit down and play with masks and stuff.

And stuff.

And then I went to Sydney three times during March. Each time I had a camera, and each time I took photos of the city. 

There were a lot of skyline photos, but there were some odd ones that cropped up too - tiny observations that kept crawling into my lens. I couldn't stop taking photos of them. 

And then I talked to the tutor about it. Very quickly, the project evolved into something else.

Depression and Hope in the City.

I have to admit, I liked where this was going; a take on the city which, while certainly investigated before, could have something added to it. Ack. Too many pronouns.

The city.

There was probably still stuff left over in Brooke's head from last year, where this clip got used for the Mask unit. Can't remember why it was relevant specifically. I think it got included because it's a beautiful clip.

But this got to pull the project more and more into that view of the city and the black and white and the soul in something so large and grey and paradoxical.

Add to that the fact that Anberlin, who have been mentioned earlier on this blog, are popular with me, and the album that the above song is called 'Cities'

Look at that album artwork. That is some beast work. It even looks like a city.

This album, which I've probably mentioned before, is my favourite out of all the work they've produced so far. It...ah.

It explores so many large themes and manages to do it with some kind of deep understanding that I love. And there's the music and the lyrics and the yes. It just feels like the city; at times peaceful or sunny, but also rushing along at the breakneck speed that comes with life and construct and all-of-the-things-I've-been-trying-to-express-this-afternoon.

Look. Just go and buy a copy of the CD. I was a muffinhead and bought the CD/DVD copy, so it was pretty expensive, but the standard twelve-track wasn't too pricy.

I guess that the song I explored more than the others in the making of this project (which is slowly turning into another 'Brooke really loves Anberlin' post) was actually the seventh track on the album, 'Hello Alone'.

From a lesser known, I'm here. And there's hope. There's hope.

I'm going to decide later whether making this was work or procrastination.

Hope is such a powerful thing. It keeps us going in the darkest of times. It gives us something to look forward to - My phone dictionary, as sad as it is, says '(any reason or encouragement for) the state of feeling that what one wants will or might happen.'
It's a pretty soggy definition, but it'll have to do for now. The point that the above definition is missing (I think) is that in order for there to be hope, there has to be some pretty unfun business going on first. We never hope when we're in a good patch. It's like a little candle, and it serves its greatest purpose at night, when we have little else to guide our steps.

Considering the emotions I have encountered in myself and others since moving to the metropolis of Newcastle, and the feel of the city in the first place, this seemed like a good place to start. Buildings and pavements and arriving here with the smell of London still on my shoes, used to the beat of a thousand floors - cobbles, gravel, pavement, bitumen - always hard and unforgiving.

(Pretty sure tears came to my eyes when I went for a walk through Hyde Park on the grass.)

Right about then.

But that's what the city is; it's rough and big and scary and it doesn't give a rats arse about you. It's grey and smelly and there's people everywhere but none of them see you. Not the real you, anyway. It sounds kind of unfun.

Through the project, I just really wanted to be able to show that; the simple play of dark and light in the city across all of it's artificiality. That as unforgiving and dark the city appeared, that there could also be something worth hoping in as well. Something outside of the grey stones and grey skies.

Something with promise. Because there's hope.