Words & Pictures pt.1
Firstly, I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. Here’s to 2011!
This is the first of several posts discussing the ways in which photography can be linked to other branches of the arts, and especially to creative writing.
Night Mail: Readers from this part of the world (England’s West Midlands) might know of Wolverhampton Low Level Railway Station which stands next to the newer, upper level station which superceded it. The Victorian Low Level station hasn’t seen any use for many decades and has finally been incorporated into a major redevelopment of the area where only parts of the original structure will remain (work is still ongoing).
I photographed the station (as most Wolverhampton photography students have at some point) a few years ago in a state of near dereliction – but with abundant photo opportunities there for the taking.
When presenting the resulting prints, I interspersed them with lines from W.H.Auden‘s poem, “Night Mail” which some of you may know from the short film that was made of it in (I think) the 1950’s. It goes…
This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.
Remember it? Well, this was my first foray into connecting photographic images with the written word.
A Circle Drawn at Random: A year or two later, as an MA Fine Art student, we were each given a street map of Wolverhampton upon which my lecturer drew a circle at random, using a coffee cup to draw around. The idea was that we would produce a piece of work based on this geographical part of the city.
I began by trudging this area – or more precisely, the circumference of this area – taking photographic “notes” as I went. I initially decided to make a slideshow of these photographic stills but eventually opted instead to re-shoot the stills as short bursts of video taken from a very static (tripod-mounted) position but often showing the tiniest hint of movement.
The problem with slideshows is what do you do with the sound? Keep the ambient street sounds? Mmm, maybe. Add music? Possibly – but what would suit a virtual walk around a Black Country town?
I began to google historical Wolverhampton poets and quickly drew a blank: the city has certainly produced some notable poetry but none of it seemingly about the city itself. I even found a recently-written poem about the city which had won a national competition but soon realised it had been written by someone who’d clearly never set foot in the place and was in fact based in the North West!
So I shifted my search towards contemporary local poets and came across a small group who had previously produced video interpretations/collaborations of their work. Among these, one stood out – Emma Purshouse – and she happened to come from Wolverhampton.
I contacted Emma and asked if she’d be interested in collaborating and she promptly agreed saying she had the germ of a poem about Wolverhampton ready to build on when the right excuse came along. That’d be me then.
I sent Emma some of the photos I’d taken plus a detailed description of the route and she fleshed this out into a fantastic poem called “Two For One“. As a local performance poet, who better to perform the poem for the film? We recorded her reading of the poem in my musician friend, Stuart Harper’s front room. I then edited the film to fit the “route” of Emma’s poem, which began and ended at Asda.
Here’s the finished item…
Emma eventually turned this film and poem into a live performance at a Wolverhampton theatre, inhabited by characters she’s created and ending with a live reading of the poem in front a large projection of my film. One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been involved in and the reason I continue to encourage collaboration between visual and written art forms.
You’ll hear more about Emma as the story continues…