Mock Installation

Over the past few days, my walls have been subject to numerous nail holes and pencil marks (I’m hoping my landlord doesn’t notice) with the intention of setting up a mock installation of the Berwick photo series. I’d never considered ‘exhibiting’ works in my own home before, but was encouraged after reading Exhibiting Photography, which suggests that the photographer should ‘devise a hanging system in their home or studio, which will mean that they live with the work for as long as it takes’ (Read, 2014: 54).

Armed with hammer and pre-prepared cork boards, I got to work. I’d like to note here that this exercise was, for the most part, experimental. I printed off some reference images and roughly attached them to the boards (which I have, after much deliberation, decided to incorporate) and started to construct a layout, taking inspiration from works discussed in a previous post. Much to my initial hesitation, I refrained from a neat, linear approach and combined alternating orientations to create a more diverse experience. Instead of looking at the piece as a whole, which is far easier to do when orientation and framing is structured and identical throughout, each board, and thus each photograph, demands attention.

The empty cork board on the bottom right is intentional at this point. I’d been conflicted as to whether to spray paint all the boards, whether to paint the frames for a more stereotypical look, or whether to just give up and donate the collection to a nearby charity stop. I questioned time and again why I’d made more work for myself. I was reassured, however, by another of Read’s meditations:

‘An artist has to feel free to trust his or her instinct and follow where it leads, even if it takes them away from the original idea which motivated the work’ (2014: 53)

So I’ve decided to embrace it. The cork boards themselves have numerous metaphorical justifications; firstly, they may be said to resemble notice boards which are often found outside of churches, whereby members of the community can post notices and so on; secondly, the temporality of this kind of presentation, attached with some modest Poundland drawing pins, aims to evoke something of impermanence, aligning with the murals within Berwick themselves. Visually, I decided to leave two of the cork boards as they come originally (the final one is pending payday) to create a more contrasted and aesthetic look overall; when adding a photograph, it looks quite striking (final images are subject to change).

As shown in the image below, which differs in structure, one more board will be added to the top left of the installation to meet the assignment criteria of 8-10 images. Evidently, I’ve still not quite nailed down (pardon the pun) the final selection of images and placement, but this exercise has been instrumental in helping me reach those important final decisions. Creating a coherent series of works is much more difficult than it seems, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.

My task now, then, is to finalise my series based upon the valuable information that was yielded through this exercise, through some last changes to editing and print layouts which I may have otherwise overlooked. Once everything is complete, I will reproduce this installation and photograph it so it can be viewed in situ, as the murals are.

Sources Used:

Read, S. 2014. Exhibiting Photography – A Practical Guide to Displaying Your Work (2nd ed). Focal Press: London & New York

Photography and Collaboration

Palmer’s Photography and Collaboration (2017) has provided food for thought as deadline day approaches and I look ahead to the future of my practice. This includes my dissertation project, which employs photography as a means of narrative research.

Community and Berwick

At St. Michael’s & All Angels, Berwick, there was an overwhelming sense of community. Despite the church only being inhabited by myself, my peers, and tutors, and the occasional couple on their morning visit of whom seemed surprised to see the place so full, I felt a sense of belonging. This got me thinking about the nature of community; the imagined connections we make with others. It was not, however, the pull of religion, the practitioners around me, or even the immensity of the artworks, that encouraged this feeling in me. Upon reflection, it was the role I had been granted as a preservationist, through photographic means, whose task was simply to capture the works of Vanessa Bell, Quentin Bell, and Duncan Grant, that I held with such importance. Through my lens, I could essentially immortalise these pieces of history; I suddenly felt part of the communities who were intertwined with this legacy.

I feel a remarkable sense of nostalgia looking back over the images I captured as I prepare them for submission. Of course, as is reasserted in Photography and Collaboration, community is ‘a confusingly fluctuating and ambiguous term’ (Braden, in Palmer, 2017: 97). Through my images, however, this is halted for a moment; the history of the Bloomsbury Group, the geographies of the surrounding plains, and the magnetic pull of the divine, are all tied up within these photographs.

Beyond Berwick

Of course, I apologise if I’m being a little sensationalist. However, I really did enjoy working and navigating a space which I would normally have considered as a place of indoctrination and exclusivity. This, evidently, was not the case, and has made me think differently about my own presuppositions and prejudices. Overall, I feel reassured in the knowledge that, as long as we are human, we can find some acceptance which, in essence, is what ‘community’ really means to me.

Berwick Church. 2018. © Chanelle Manton





Presenting Berwick

As submission day approaches, I’ve been giving thought to how I will present my final portfolio of work. Opting for a photo book in my previous project, From The Bottom Up, was a valuable experience, but didn’t allow much time to engage with the process of editing images for print. This time around, I’ve decided to do just this, preparing my images to be printed professionally.

Initially, I’d anticipated producing A2/3 prints to be framed. Simple and aesthetically pleasing, this seemed like an appropriate way to present my images. This is demonstrated with seeming ease in Bojorquez’s work (below). No distractions; we are left with just photographs, and the feelings they evoke. Also, as a commissioned project, this approach seemed to facilitate an even greater focus on the images and, consequently, the exhibition of the church’s assets.

Frame Life. 2017.

Upon reflection, though, this choice seems too obvious. I often gravitate towards this sort of presentation; clean, structured, methodical. These characteristics, however, are not embodied in St Michaels & All Angels Church, Berwick. The church itself is modest, housing the breathtaking creative works of Vanessa Bell, Quentin Bell, and Duncan Grant. The murals themselves are varied, spreading across the interior in no evidently linear fashion. It seems antithetical, then, to present my images of the church in the way initially planned.

A Matter of Framing

The Bloomsbury Group themselves represent something of deviancy and sexual dissidence, but also freedom and expression. This, I feel, should be embodied somehow in the presentation of the photographs. I have outline some of my ideas and justifications below.

Although perhaps not incredibly adventurous in terms of presentation, Bloom’s Framing Wall resonates in regards to this project. The mismatched nature of the layout and frame sizes are interesting to the eye, exacerbated by the use of the entire space filled with photograph. The lack of mounting or margin, the removal of delineated sections or borders, is emblematic of her vision; to explore the connections between the images, ‘leaving the viewer to string together or fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle’ (MoMA, 2015). By creating a space of inclusion through non-isolated images, Bloom invites us to activate by looking closer, and to construct our own connections.

MoMA, 2015. 

A problem with adapting Bloom’s method, however, is the requirement for a place to exhibit the frames as a collective. Other considerations include the cost of frames and large-scale quality prints.

Embracing the church

Although I’m not religiously inclined, I think it’s important to allude to the church in some way in the final presentation of photographs. St Michael’s and All Angels prides itself on community ideals and combining faith with the arts. The former encouraged some reflection on how I could communicate notions of belonging and inclusion that is promoted in the space. Churches often have notice boards outside, whereby ads and messages can be posted by people in local proximity. I thought I could, in some way, recreate this, using a cork board to mount the images after print, imitating a frame but replicating a sort of community feel.

There is something to be said for the temporality of this method. By pinning images to a cork board, it is immediately obvious that these photographs may be removed, damaged, or destroyed with ease. In this way, the purpose of the project is emphasised: the preservation of the murals is mirrored in the fragility of their representation.

My initial vision is demonstrated above in a mock up. The board imitates a frame nicely, but the overall composition doesn’t excite me at present. I’m going to purchase a board and spray paint it to emphasise the images themselves more effectively and to imitate a frame further. I’ll be rather limited in how many photos I can place per board, which may result in having multiple boards (£££), but if it looks professional, it will be worth it.

Sources Used:

Frame Life (2017) [Exhibition]. Galerie Bene Taschen, Cologne. 7 June – 27 July 2017.

Barbara Bloom: Framing Wall (2015). The Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan. 20 November – 20 December 2015.

Understanding Aspect Ratios

In preparation for the submission of my second assignment forAV Professional Practice, responding to a brief photographing St Michaels and All Angels Church, I want to reflect on aspect ratios and how practitioners use these to construct narratives and control how the viewer encounters their images. 

Jef Bonifacino’s Western Horizons (2018)

I often feel a slight discomfort when looking at photos with a 1:1 aspect ratio – perhaps my aversion to the limitations of Instagram is to blame for this. However, when I came across Bonifacino’s Western Horizons (2018), I admired his images in a way I hadn’t allowed myself to before. Of course, viewing images online is an entirely different experience to seeing them in a photobook or in print. With this, I think the ‘scrolling down’ of the webpage is an interesting way to view images with a 1:1 aspect ratio. Firstly, in some subconscious way, I think that the viewers expect to see an image that is 3:2 or 16:9 when away from Instagram. To be met with 1:1 in this context, then, is abrupt – the borders of the photo appear sooner than normal and our attention is jolted somewhat.

Moreover, as Bonifacino notes himself, the composition and subsequent narrative of the images are implicated by the chosen ratio:

The long horizons cut the square frame in two, providing a very strong structure that highlights the dualities of the moments I captured. Many times, these horizons represented a front between human and natural activity, often with bad consequences.

Bonifacino, 2018
Bonifacino, 2018. Western Horizons [series]

I think Bonifacino does something incredible with his series in this simply dimensional way. It’s quite easy to imagine the photos having a 3:2 ratio, that is, the standard for 35mm lenses, but the seemingly confined nature of the ‘square’ appears to encapsulate the image with strict boundaries. There is also an element of nostalgia, perhaps due to the historical prominence of the 1:1 ratio in medium format film cameras. Moreover, there is something to be said for ‘thinking outside of the box’ in this way – we see a square and we can imagine, for ourselves, what’s outside. In this way, Bonifacino’s images produce a feeling of affect in me – it feels as though I’m along for the ride.

Bonifacino, 2018. Western Horizons [series]

Michal Solarski’s Cut It Short 

Solarski’s Cut It Short works with an aspect ratio towards 2:1 – I determined this by dividing the dimensional width by height as instructed by a handy online guide (Squarespace, 2018) Not 1:1 and not quite the expected 3:2, the photographs are in-between; this, in some way, supports the narrative which Solarski is creating through his images – that is, to demonstrate the process of his own ‘coming of age’ (Solarski, 2018), with a focus on the boys’ loss of virginity.

Untitled #98 – After First Sexual Encounter. Goleszow, Poland, July 2013. Michal Solarski / Tomasz Liboska

To me, the exploration of sexuality in this series is reflected by the aspect ratio, which does not conform to the pre-established norms. By using 2:1, we see a set of images which look a little different, unusual. This is mirrored by the exploration of sexuality in the series, which is worthy of note – we see a potential threesome, one of the brother’s masturbating on a rooftop, and the cutting of hair which may be interpreted as an intimate act between siblings. This hair cutting in particular, as Solarski himself claims, is important to the series, aptly named Cut It Short. In Polish society, the cutting of hair (Postrzyzyny) means the entering of society or ‘coming of age’: 

One day we decided to make the world a better place – then and there, just like in the musical about hair, before we reached 30 and lost all faith in ourselves. We cut our hair short and became vegetarians in an act of defiance against mainstream society’ 

Solarski, 2018.
Untitled #11. Masturbation. Poland, 2013. Michal Solarski/Tomasz Liboska

Such defiance, one might argue, is replicated simply by the use of a 2:1 aspect ratio. Although it’s likely that this was not the intention, I think it’s so important in demonstrating the importance of such seemingly uninteresting and mundane decisions that we make about our photographs and how we present them to our viewers. I will definitely consider this more carefully when producing and presenting my own works. 

Untitled #310. Cutting Hair. Poland. August 2014. Michal Solarski/Tomaz Liboska

Sources Used

Bonifacino, F. 2018. Western Horizons. [online] https://www.lensculture.com/articles/jef-bonifacino-western-horizons [Last accessed 14 December 2018] 

Solarski, S. 2018. Cut It Short. [online] Available at: http://www.michalsolarski.com/gallery/cut-it-short/ [Last accessed 14 December 2018]

Squarespace. 2018. ‘Understanding Aspect Ratios’ Squarespace [online] Available at: https://support.squarespace.com/hc/en-us/articles/115008538927-Understanding-aspect-ratios [Last accessed 14 December 2018]

Reflections: Looking Beyond The Bell Jar

Deadline day looms, and I wanted to take some time to reflect on my experience filming The Bell Jar (Book Trailer), both personally and professionally. 

For me, filming this trailer was a cathartic experience. As someone experienced in mental illness, I felt that I was in an privileged position to be able to create a piece of work portraying the feeling of being trapped inside a metaphorical bell jar – foggy, claustrophobic, suffocating. Using visual elements, I hoped to embody something of this experience. I was aware, however, to avoid clichés that are often associated with representations of mental health issues. As Elliot (2015) cites:

‘Eight in 10 people said “headclutchers” don’t show how it feels to have a mental health problem. One in three reported that images of suicide had triggered suicidal feelings. And many said that people with mental health problems don’t look depressed all the time.’


*’Headclutchers’ are stock photos used too often to illustrate stories about mental health*

With this in mind, I wanted to try and create a more representative visual narrative by using different sequences inspired from The Bell Jar, to present a more holistic experience featuring different aspects of one’s life. I was careful to avoid too much focus on stereotypical imagery, such as the pensive gaze through the window or watching the waves ebb and flow from the shoreline. As aforementioned, people with mental health problems don’t look depressed all the time. Plath succeeds in writing a protagonist who fluctuates, who lives in-between. I wanted to do this justice. Below I’ve listed some of the thought processes behind the ways I chose to film The Bell Jar (Book Trailer) as a result. 

Subject Matter

The protagonist is central to all shots. In my filming, there is no opportunity for escape or distraction, purposefully. Often, mental illnesses can cause feelings of isolation and the perception that one is the complete centre of their own universe, inside one’s own bell jar. 

Style

Overall, I was aiming for something between period-drama and a film noir-esque feel. The costume design evokes a 1950s feel whilst there is a certain presence of eroticism and violence (particularly the figs sequence) which might lend itself to a film noir aesthetic in some ways (Boeder, 2018). The filming itself is minimal for several reasons. Firstly, leading on from the point above – there are no complicated shots so as to keep the focus clear (as well as the fact that I’m new to film-making and was operating the cameras alone so was limited in what I could achieve). Moreover, I implore panning across and around the subject to give a kind of circular, cylindrical impression, as if living inside a bell jar. 

Spoilers

At times, I was fearful that I might be giving too much away in the trailer. Of course, book trailers are intended to employ ‘techniques similar to those of movie trailers to promote books and encourage readers. These trailers can also be referred to as “video-podcasts”, with higher quality trailers being called “cinematic book trailers”.’ (Wu, 2012). I think, however, reading is an entirely separate experience from watching, and hope to encourage both through my work.  

The ‘Western’ world seems to be getting increasingly sadder and struggling more to cope under the pressures of neoliberal capitalism and the associated expectations. I think we can learn much from Plath, and I hope my trailer can contribute something to her legacy. 

          

Sourced Used: 

Boeder, L. 2018. ‘A Guide to Classic Film Genres and Styles’ ThoughtCo[online] Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/guide-to-classic-movie-genres-728307 [Last accessed 15 November 2018]

Elliot, C. 2015. ‘How a visual cliché about mental health can slip through’ The Guardian [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/12/visual-cliche-mental-health-slip-through [Last accessed 15 November 2018]

Wu, L. P. 2012. ‘What key elements make an effective book trailer?’ 30DayBooks [online] Available at: https://www.30daybooks.com/what-key-elements-make-an-effective-book-trailer-plus-a-sneak-peek-of-the-new-book-trailer-by-30-day-books/ [Last accessed 15 November 2018]

Colour Correction

If there’s one hack I’ve learnt when colour correcting, it is that there is no hack.

I’ve been flailing somewhat over the past week to try and get my head around the process of colour correction. As a complete amateur (my experience lies in photography), the process is proving far more involved than I initially anticipated.

Despite several attempts at colour correcting my book trailer, based on Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, I’ve ended up getting in such a flustered state and just wiping all of my progress to start anew. Today was the fourth time I’ve sat down to a daunting Premiere Pro screen, with absolutely no more progress than I had week ago. I attended a video editing session which helped greatly, but my brain seemed to filter out everything useful by the time I got to work on my own project.

I decided to take a breath and take it slow. I have the tendency to jump ahead impatiently, but today I spent time really concentrating on the basics: white balance, exposure, saturation, and so on. The benefits of taking my time could be seen almost immediately. Using several online sources for guidance, I managed to create a consistent look throughout the different shots. This has provided a solid basis with which to build upon. I then applied the Ultra Key function, applying a Colour Matte across the sequence. At present, I’ve used grey, since ‘filmmakers use warm colours to convey positive emotions, while high contrast and dark tones emphasise the bleakness of film noir plotlines’ (Xue et al, 2013: 255). Improvements on this will come later, once I’ve mastered (somewhat) the basics. The aim with the trailer is to evoke a feeling of melancholy accompanied with discomfort. Xue et al., provide a useful chart of the labels of colour styles (see Table 1 below) as guidance.

1

 

I’m still in an experimental phase, but I’m taking it in my stride. The lesson here is that some things just take time, and that’s OK. Below I’ve uploaded stills of two particular shots which I’m still working to improve

hannah 3

the bell jar

 

Above – Perhaps the most challenging shot of the film – the green screen was being reflected by the golden foil on the cover. The mustard background ages the shot which feels appropriate due to the time period it was written and set in. The figs allude to the previous shot sequence.

Below – This shot is proving difficult. There appears to be a white outline on Hannah’s silhouette and the shadow on her legs being cast by the typewriter has been problematic.

 

Sources Used

Leirpoll, J. 2018. ‘The Complete Guide to Premiere Pro Color Correction’ Frame.io Insider. Available at: https://blog.frame.io/2018/05/21/premiere-lumetri-guide/ [Last accessed 9 November 2018]

Xue, S, Agarwala, A, Dorsey, J & Rushmeier, H. 2013. ‘Learning and Applying Color Styles From Feature Films’ Pacific Graphics, 32(7), pp. 255-265

Video School Online, 2015. ‘Green Screen: How to chroma key in Adobe Premiere Pro’ Video School Online. Available at: https://www.videoschoolonline.com/green-screen-how-to-chroma-key-in-adobe-premiere-pro/ [Last accessed 9 November 2018]

 

 

 

The Bell Jar: Now and Then

This blog post explores the reasons why I chose to produce a book trailer for Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Relevance

Published in the 1960s and set in 1950s New York, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s seminal novel. Nearly fifty years on, the book still resonates, reflecting on issues associated with gender, class, and mental illness; these themes even more prevalent in societal discourses today. As Grocott (2013) States:

‘Plath’s description of Esther’s disintegration into mental breakdown has lost none of its power… depression is characterised by scraping away the veneer of acceptability, scratching beneath the surface and seeing life for perhaps what it truly is. When we are well, wrapped up in our serotonin blankets we see our existence as busy and fruitful. When the carapace is removed we view life as futile and worthless. Plath captures this perfectly’

Moss describes the way Plath explores her ‘crisis of identity, sexuality, and survival are grim, and often funny’ (Moss, 1971). The air of humour and sarcasm throughout The Bell Jar renders it much more relatable, in my opinion. Through my trailer, I wanted to try and bring this seminal text into the present day, particularly for young adults, as an important text in its exploration of identity, sexuality, and mental health. Although a potentially distressing piece of semi-autobiographical work, I believe there’s a salience in Plath’s writing.

Exploration of feminism

As Grocott notes, ‘Plath has explored the position of women in society and forced us to evaluate it’ (Grocott, 2013). This reinforces why I chose to produce a book trailer for The Bell Jar. With the centenary of the women’s suffrage this year, it felt an appropriate time to reflect on Plath’s experiences as a women in 1950s New York. Throughout the novel, we see her constant battle with the expectations placed upon her; we see her question her sexuality and feel her lack of belonging. With an increasing focus on sex and gender politics in the present day, Plath’s work offers readers an insight into her lived experiences from over forty years ago. We can see how far we have come, but also how far there still is to go in accepting, and embracing, differences.

Visual potential

Finally, I saw much visual potential in The Bell Jar to be translated into film; the most intriguing of which became Plath’s imagery of the fig tree.

‘Esther visualises the tree, ripe with sexual symbolism too, as a tree of choices; each fig representing a different role… Esther believes that she may only take one fig; she sees herself “sitting in the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death”. Saying ‘I wanted each and every one of them but choosing one meant losing all the rest’…’

(Grocott, 2013)

As a new-comer to film making generally, I became excited by the abstract. I wanted to create a piece which embodied the novel itself, mesmerising and uncomfortable. This atmosphere of discomfort particularly inspired a sequence of shots of Esther cutting up figs, alluding to the tree itself. The sequence is odd to watch; Esther slices through the figs with a knife, almost mechanically, smearing the innards across the table. It is almost awkward to watch, but perhaps my favourite part of the trailer. As Moss states, ‘[p]ain and gore are endemic to The Bell Jar, and they are described objectively, self-mockingly, almost humorously to begin with (Moss, 1971). This gore aspect is emphasised by the sequence.

Despite all the old sayings, the absolute first thing that drew me to Plath’s book was the cover – a beautiful gold foiled spiral on a black background. Humorously, this cover would end up being the biggest technical difficulty I would have in post-production, due to its unavoidable reflection of the green screen. Although a great choice overall, maybe you truly shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.

Sources Used

Grocott, K. 2013. ‘Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar still haunts me’ The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9793589/Sylvia-Plaths-Bell-Jar-still-haunts-me.html [Last accessed 12 November 2018]

Moss, H. 1971. ‘Dying: An Introduction: The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1971/07/10/dying-an-introduction-howard-moss [Last accessed 11 November 2018]

Plath, S. 1963. The Bell Jar. London: Faber & Faber

Embracing Difference: Ode to Janicza Bravo

Janicza Bravo fascinates me. From the first time I watched Gregory Go Boom (2013), I have been in awe of her work. I recently read that she doesn’t like it when people say that her work is ‘weird’ (Erbland, 2017), perhaps it’s not quite the right word, but I find her embrace and exploration of difference admirable.

Awkwardness

After deciding a feeling of discomfort would be integral to my own film, The Bell Jar (Book Trailer), I naturally gravitated back to Bravo’s work and took inspiration from it. In Gregory Go Boom (2013), every shot is designed to make us feel uncomfortable – the wide-angle camera shots force us to sit with our protagonist and endure such moments. Much of the landscape is bleak and rather depressing. Music enhances the discomfort further, using random, punchy guitar riffs which are almost nausea-inducing. Nothing seems to quite fit, including Gregory. I wanted to embody this in my own work, depicting The Bell Jar‘s protagonist Esther Greenwood as separate and disassociated, in front of an empty, monochromatic background. I aspired to achieve this style of filming by using similar wide-angle shots, uneasy jazz music, and a bare set-design.

Absurdity 

Bravo’s exploration of taboo in her absurdist style is commendable and something I could only hope to try and mimic in my own film. In this case, her exploration of disability so strikingly different than that of, say, Me Before You (2016) or The Theory of Everything (2014), both of which have (spoiler-alert) a relatively happy ending. Bravo’s depiction, in contrast, feels frighteningly realistic. It’s unnerving but fascinating. In this way, I aimed to channel the ‘absurdity’ (although we might question how ridiculous the ridiculousness actually is) in my own work. In The Bell Jar, Greenwood’s journey is not linear; she fluctuates between spaces, physically and mentally. I showed this by filming five sequences, representing her mental state in each one. From working writer to institutionalised patient, the trailer synthesises her journey without giving away too much. The final sequence, shots of Greenwood slicing up figs, is perhaps the most absurd of the bunch. Like Bravo’s work, it is uncomfortable to watch, but impossible to look away. For a moment, we are stuck in time with our protagonist.

the bell jar
The Bell Jar (Book Trailer) © Chanelle Manton

Sources Used

Erbland, K. 2017. ‘”Lemon” Director Janicza Bravo On The Art of Rejection and Why Her Movie’s Not Weird – Sundance 2017’ Indiewire [online]. Available at: https://www.indiewire.com/2017/01/lemon-janicza-bravo-sundance-interview-1201774063/ [Last accessed 8 November 2018]

Gregory Go Boom. 2013. [film]. United States: Jash Network – CYRK

Me Before You. 2016. [film]. United Kingdom: Metro-Goldymn-Mayer, New Line Cinema, Sunswept Entertainment

The Theory of Everything. 2014. [film]. United States: Working Title Films, in association with Dentsu Motion Pictures & Fuji Television Network

Featured Image – Gregory Go Boom: Sundance Film

The Bell Jar (Book Trailer): Planning

This post outlines the planning processes I carried out in anticipation for filming The Bell Jar (Book Trailer).

Storyboarding

Prior to filming, I created a storyboard to outline and manage my expectations for the day . I went into the studio with the understanding that this would act as guidance, not gospel. From my experience in photography, I knew that some of the best shots would not be premeditated – I would keep an open mind and work with my eyes. The storyboard also assisted me in communicating what I wanted to produce to my actress, whose input I valued and encouraged as someone familiar with Plath’s work herself.

It doesn’t look like much, but many of these shots were successful; much of the change will be in post-production in terms of sequences for narrative construction. Overall, I found storyboarding to be a fantastic method for creating a framework to structure the day spent filming. This lent itself to managing time well in the studio, leaving a generous buffer for experimentation (and the lengthy file transfer to my hard-drive).

Forming a Narrative

Having read The Bell Jar over summer, I felt I had a good grasp on the novel but struggled to form a visual narrative from memory only. I went back through the book, picking out key quotes which would function as areas of focus. I then translated this into visuals, using the storyboard shown above. Using content from the book inspired creative responses too. Some examples of quotes I drew upon included:

‘I was supposed to be having the time of my life’ (Plath, 1963: 3)

‘The more hopeless you were, the farther away they hid you’ (Plath, 1963: 84)

‘That afternoon my mother had brought me the roses “Save them for my funeral”, I’d said’. (Plath, 1963: 107)

‘The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air’ (Plath, 1963: 113)

Styling

Prior to filming, my actress (Hannah) and I met up to style her for each shot. I’ve always been fascinated by set and costume design so this was one of my favourite parts. As The Bell Jar is set in 1950s New York, I wanted to allude to the decade through dress. This included garments such as long skirts and swing-style dresses, red lip-stick and stockings. Each shot was styled individually to indicate a passing of time. Accessories were key too; for example, we used a typewriter to demonstrate Greenwood’s occupation, a pearl necklace to indicate her place in society. By planning this in advance, we saved a lot of time and confusion on filming day.

the bell jar
Esther’s Party Look © Chanelle Manton

Overall, I couldn’t have hoped for the day to go better. There were no technical difficulties, to which I have come to expect, nor any hiccups (literal or not). I believe that the planning involved played a large role in the success of the day, in addition to a fantastic model and an inspirational text to work with.

Olivier Fermariello / Je t’aime moi aussi

Olivier Fermariello’s Je t’aime moi aussi, or I love you too, embodies much of what I hope to capture in my own photographic work this year. By focussing on the naked body, Fermariello has created a series which explores the relationship between disability and sexuality. As members of society who may not be completely independent due to their disability, the photos give the subjects their autonomy back. As viewers, we feel uncomfortable at first; it is as though the actions we are observing are unnatural. Of course, these assumptions are the result of social norms being produced and reproduced in photography and mainstream media and are not the reality in many cases. The discomfort we experience is worth exploring for this reason; Fermariello succeeds in creating work which challenges how we expect disability to be performed by individuals and shows how lived experiences may differ to what we expect of people who are not considered ‘able’.

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The compositions Fermariello creates are worthy of analysis. The lack of eye contact from the subjects leaves the impression that they do not know we are here, observing their most intimate, private moments. In the image above, the woman is facing away from the camera, carrying out her morning routine. We feel as though we are intruders; I believe this sensation occurs because it is not something we are used to seeing. The plights of people living with disabilities, from the simplest things such as not being able to reach the sink without a foot stall, go unseen. Meanwhile, photography and mainstream media normalise certain bodies in the bathroom setting; a quick google search only confirms this.

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I find this image intriguing, too. The setting feels almost clinical thanks to the neutral colours and negative space, yet the Superman boxers coupled with the arguably pornographic images taped to the wardrobe behind lend themselves to more personalised feeling overall. Whether this is a room in a care facility or the subject’s own house, the dichotomy between clinical and homeliness is clear and married in this image. This emphasises the notion of autonomy mentioned earlier; lived experiences are not linear or completely limited amongst those who are less-able, despite common conceptions.

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Perhaps my favourite of the series, Fermariello has embodied the phrase je t’aime moi aussi in this photograph. The woman looks at her lover with desire as they engage on the sofa, whilst the man appears to be looking downwards at her body. Whether they are about to have sex or not, the intent with which they look at one another transcends any ability or perceived lack of. In this moment, they are able. He loves her, and she can love him back.

Fermariello. O. Je t’aime moi aussi. [photo series]. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/olivier-fermariello?modal=project-4952 [Last accessed 22 August 2018]

Who cares?

I have been thinking a lot about the state of the care sector. With social care seeming to fall low on the United Kingdom’s list of financial priorities, it’s no wonder the sector has come under scrutiny in recent years and many clients (with ££) are subsequently turning to private care. Since completing my training and working as a carer for several months now, I already have a plethora of experiences. These have contributed greatly to my understanding of the sector, the plights of both those receiving care and those working within it, and how the whole situation can tell us so much about where we are going wrong socially and systemically. I will not pretend to have the answers to such complex, multi-faceted dilemmas, but aim to dissect some of these issues throughout my dissertation with the hope of contributing something useful at the end of it. This blog post focuses on the plight of carers themselves.

(N.B. This is not to say that the difficulties experienced by clients themselves are not incredibly worthy of note, and perhaps the most important area of exploration needed. I hope to address these in the future but could not do the topic justice here just yet).

I have started keeping an journal of my professional experiences at work and beyond, which has proved invaluable since the offset. Looking back on my reflections so far, a prevailing theme has been the trials and tribulations of carers. I’ve transcribed one of these below.

A client’s wife asked me about my salary today and found it baffling that sports-people are paid so substantially in comparison (Wimbledon was on at the time of this conversation). We agreed that our priorities as a society are absolutely in the wrong place.

Care work is inherently easy to get into. I myself entered with no previous qualifications in care work nor any real relevant experience (besides a three month stint at Age UK back in September and about five years worth of hospitality employment). In fact, I was surprised when the phone rang after my interview with the promise of a job, and in my opinion a reasonable starting wage, if I should want it.

I myself am rather self-motivated and like to be good at what I do. This lends itself well to care work, since you truly do get out what you put in. However, perhaps the reason for an increasing complacency and supposed laziness in some care quality is due to the fact that the amount required of workers often does not translate well into pay or incentives. This appears to be the case across the board of medical professions, as evidenced by the National Health Service’s increasing struggle to keep juniors interested. To complicate matters further, many (myself included) find that the value of the job itself often outweighs the bank account balance.

Of course, NHS staff go through arduous training and work incredibly hard which, in my opinion, should be rewarded with fair, equivalent pay. However, I also believe that care workers, in care homes or community settings, are so overlooked. As Wolpert notes in Malignant Sadness, ‘[t]here are very few descriptions of the tribulations suffered by carers’ (1999: 10). Whereas hospitals and doctors surgeries are medicalised and public, the nature of care work is inherently private – particularly in the area of home care. The invisible nature of the job, then, coupled with the long hours, physical and mental strain, and strict rules about confidentiality, results in an exponential under-representation of the experience of care workers.

Perhaps even more interesting than this is the amount of times I have told someone about my profession, to which they respond “I couldn’t do your job”. Of course, wiping twenty different rear ends throughout a shift probably isn’t a dream job for many people. This, however, is just the start, and an incredibly reductive way of thinking about the demands of care work. I often wonder whether frequency of bodily fluids is the real reason that people feel they ‘couldn’t’ be carers. Since becoming one, I have developed a strong stomach for many things, but what I can’t digest is the view that carers are not doing their best under incredibly difficult circumstances, increasing demands. Of course some people are just bad at their jobs, but this is not improved by lack of investment and a general lack of acknowledgement of the fantastic, life-changing care that many do deliver on a daily basis.

Care has become an important but inseparable part of my life. I realised this when I was laying in bed after a 14-hour shift and noticed my uniform hanging on the wardrobe, adamant to remind me of the day I’d just had. I’ve started to think about how other carers’ lived experiences compare, and I’m considering the possibilities of exploring this photographically. More to come.

Wolpert, L. 1999. Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression. London: Faber & Faber