Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Shroud

The shroud.

Another rainy day and I am back in the studio with my camera and sp600 Speedlight flash unit. I have been thinking since the last session about what else I can do using myself as the subject. What do I have as a costume that would move me forward in combining lighting practice and expression? I reach for the coloured backdrop fabrics. I`m off on another rainy day adventure with my camera.
There is a long art history of figures wrapped in draperies, not only are the folds and fabrics interesting in themselves, but the figures clothed in them become monumental and formal - there is greater potential here for expressive composition. After yellow, ( a Buddist monk?) And black, ( Auda, the Beduin tribal leader?) I reach for the white length of cloth. I `m getting better at this quick wrapping and posing between tripping the 10 second delay shutter and the flash that bounces off the white reflector panel beside me, and the results seen on the little LCD screen on the camera back look interesting. How instant a learning feedback there is now, compared to film days.
Later, I have a good look when my mornings photos have been downloaded onto the computer. Yikes, Bill playing the silly fool wrapped in fabric, better not let these see the light of day! It had seemed so reasonable a thing to do back in the studio. I did learn a lot in the process but social ridicule about ‘dresses and gowns’ or ‘religious’ quips would be hard to take. I shake it off and get down to seeing what I can gain from the images in this next creative level of making pictures. The first thing that sticks out for me is how simple it is to create different moods and personalities with lighting, facial expressions and a simple costume. I have what could be a collection of National Geographic folk from around the Middle and Far East - anywhere a piece of wrapped fabric is considered normal clothing. My personal face has merged into the faces of the world. That old man in white calls to me.
This man, wrapped in his burnoose, leaning forward with his eyes lowered reminds me of the photos my dad took during the First World War in Egypt and Palestine and with which I had spent a lot of hours last winter trying to bring the yellowed, brown, faded images back up to a higher quality to illustrate the story I was writing of his war time experiences*. I knew now that I was going to follow that familiar trail again, but in the opposite direction! I set out to convert this crisp colour photo into a replica of the hundred year old images that I had found so evocative in the family album. Perhaps it was the thought that I would never show this photo anyway that made it so easy for me to wade against the stream of photographic tradition. Degrade a good photo? Horror! I was on a journey to express something with this image that went well beyond a ‘good photo’.As yet, I did not know how far that would be.
I send a copy via E-mail to a friend, -I do need after all to get to the last level of showing the final result to others, and the next day hear back on the phone. After we have transacted our business I hesitatingly ask, "So, how about the photo I attached to the message?"

" My daughter says it looks like you are dead, wrapped in a shroud." she laughs.

Whoa, I never thought of that! But of course, if one thinks of it as me, not some historical person from long ago and far away and an autonomous work of art, then that is exactly how it seems. I have accidently touched a powerful topic, death. My faded photo has a great deal more resonance than I had planned, but how lucky that as soon as a creation goes out of the makers hand it become open to a larger audience to participate in its new life. Of course, now I wonder if that was what part of me was headed for all the time.

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