Many of my portrait volunteers have spoken about ‘end of life’ in conversation. I became aware of the ‘discomfort’ they and I, seemed to have when we realised we had opened a door on death. My essay was “The Key Narratives Related to Death, Dying and Bereavement”.
Deciding my approach: From an Industry report in Year 5 I had taken with me this idea that photography should have a unique story. In the foundation degree I had also written about ‘Truth in Photography’, this led me to consider other taboos not often looked at directly. My creative practice is called “The Last Taboo” and flows from the essay.
From my industry report I discovered the work of Nick Knight, his images are alive surreal, sometimes taken with just a mobile phone.
I love the work of Annie Leibowitz her images are natural. She captures something of a truth in every single portrait she takes. The detail and the pose are so carefully placed, raw and beautiful.
Sally Mann, photographer did a piece called ‘What Remains”. Her interview as part of that video had a huge impact. She took an unfaltering, yet respectful look at death.
I searched through my own catalogue to see if I had any ideas that could be developed further.
The veil seemed a good metaphor for death.
I looked at how death was represented in humans, and within that age. There is a often a nakedness, the human body looks more vulnerable and there is a grey / black red/orange tone.
My favourite images were by William Blake. The muted colours add a dreamy effect.
In my research it became clear that there is a still a taboo of talking about death. The images would need to include a signifier of this. I thought of the term ‘elephant in the room’ and ordered my prop elephant.
I came across some cards aimed at stimulating conversation. I tried taking these around everyday places and photographing them.
In late Oct I decided tried out the veil idea. They were too surreal, although I liked them they didn’t fit the research which was for a more practical and real image.
A series of strong narratives emerged that included fear, comfort and a battle for life. I began looking for locations and props to match these. Whilst I had some spare time in the studio I produced this image.
Another narrative appeared which was ‘make friends with death’. I bought a Grim Reaper outfit and a Witch King model, and practiced a few images. I persuaded a tutor to don for this studio shot.
These images carried too many fear signifiers. At this stage. I was still looking for a cohesive visual aesthetic.
My research was in full flow and the narratives were starting to tell a clear story.
As part of my practice I took a self portrait. I used a mirror to get an image of myself with the camera I was using. I edited it to make the whites grey and took down the yellow colour to make me look ill.
I really liked it. It matched the aesthetic I had been looking for and it also matched my research. I was nervous about exposing myself like this, but it was to tell the story realistically and frankly.
At this point I decided to produce a set of self portraits of the different narratives in the research.
The next week I shot another scene, this time using a remote control. Then a further scene where the nurse was kind enough to let me take a picture whilst she took some blood. By the end of the week I had four scenes.
Mirrors were becoming a theme, but I wasn’t able to always get them in the picture due to timing and logistics.
Around this time I looked for some way of doing ‘the talk’ scene with family. Family were critical to the narrative. I wrote to the manager of the new IKEA and asked if I could use a showroom, but heard nothing back. Instead I staged ‘the talk’ Christmas Eve in my living room. I then edited it to the aesthetic of the set.
I checked on the flow of images to ensure they still matched. The images were getting darker and busier but if this was a real situation then things would get more chaotic, busy and darker as my ‘illness’ progressed.
First week back I shot the ‘battle’ narrative. I used a Steampunk mask to represent Tran-Humanism, and other signifiers to give clues. My first attempt received criticism in the form of the ‘mask did not look right with me wearing it’. The next day I tried again, this time without it on.
The narratives were so clear in the research now and gaps in the image set were becoming obvious. The next image was ‘Acceptance’.
The ‘self care’ scene was difficult to shoot, It required me to completely move everything around! I introduced some of the props that I had sourced early on, like the clock and crow. This is one of the darkest images, but it is also the one just before ‘letting go’.
I chose to peel the visuals right back for the ‘letting go’ image. The research pointed to minimalist, with little intervention, just a few loved ones and a Do Not Resuscitate order. I am not happy with the little amount you can see reflected in the mirror.
My final image was to be ‘What Remains’. This was a massive narrative as much of our culture is based around the rituals following a death.
The image taken just did not work with the set.
One of early narratives is ‘Awareness’. I found a billboard to take the self portrait and photoshopped in the earlier skull face image.
With days to go I reshot ‘What Remains…’. it became two shots. ‘Memory’ and ‘Love’.
My intention is to put them together as a slideshow with sound track. I would really like to include some of the narrative to make it an exhibition.
I have edited the final images and found part of a Grave Talk interview.
The video will not upload to Word-press and I have spent three hours yesterday completing it.
It looks like I might have to stick with photographs and written narrative.
The final pictures are below, and with a narrative on the link.