Wednesday, 15 June 2011


Right, there are some words and phrases in photographic technical language that I feel denote certain things, and some which are inappropriate when talking about work.

Firstly, because it’s freshest in my mind, is the word “shot”. To me a shot is a spur of the moment, unplanned chance, the kind of word you use when describing contact sheets or landscapes (still hate them). There is a huge difference between a ‘shot’ and a ‘picture’. This grates on me because I was recently reading some student blog and they were speaking about how they felt a picture they had done was reminiscent of a famous ‘Mapplethorpe shot’. This just completely jarred in my mind that anyone could put the words ‘Mapplethorpe’ and ‘shot’ in the same phrase. Mapplethorpe is a god to me, so I always do get annoyingly picky about peoples thoughts about him, but to me, the appropriation of ‘shot’ to him was a complete oxymoron. The image they were talking about, a portrait of a male ballet dancer’s buttocks, was very definitely a ‘picture’ or ‘image’. It was carefully constructed, lit specifically, the model being cast thanks to his notorious young ingĂ©nue status in New York, the exact opposite of all my connotations of the word ‘shot’. I feel that you shoot things you see in what some might call the real world. The thing dies a small death when it is photographed; you have supposedly caught its essence if we are the sort of people who read Barthes. To me, the kind of work Mapplethorpe does is almost the exact opposite. He does not destroy or replicate, he creates things afresh. He does not attempt to recreate reality, he creates AN IMAGE. He fills it with ingenuity, Eros, stylised light, classical poses and inhuman looking men. I despise anyone who looks at his work and comes up with ‘Sick shot.’ IT IS NOT A SHOT, IT IS A PICTURE.

Another phrase that’s been setting my mind on edge for a while is the whole ‘shooting’ concept. In a way it’s too violent for the work I produce, particularly in relation to my current themes of renaissance and baroque painting. Again, I see situations in which that phrase might be more appropriate, but right now, for me, not so much. I was trying for quite a long time to come up with an alternative, but nothing came to me until recently. I tried ‘taking pictures’ but that still felt wrong. In one way it seemed to simplistic, and in another it seemed inaccurate. I don’t feel that I am ‘taking’ from my subjects; I feel that I am giving, creating, an alchemist. I recently reread ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’ and I did start enjoying the relationship between the artist and the model. I enjoyed the idea of having someone in to ‘sit for me’, when it comes to pictures. I feel it relates to my fine art beginnings and suggests something unexpected about my images.

‘Capture’. Another sticking point. I don’t think you capture anything, through photography or otherwise. You can never own a fleeting moment; there is nothing to hold onto. This is another word I see littered over student and amateur sites like flickr, and I constantly see it being (in my opinion) misused. I find a beautiful studio portrait with surreal lighting created by about four different flash heads, coloured gels, intense make up, and then the comment ‘Wow, great capture”. It drives me insane. This clearly wasn’t a capture, this was a carefully thought out set up. Stop flooding the internet with your weak, ineffectual lexis.

Sometimes, I just hate everyone else in the world.


I wallow in black lakes, sinking ever faster.
The sky blinks and you are gone forever.
I remember your paralysis, your cold marble.
The sea of milk dried up, and the roses withered and died.

I fell in love with a dead boy.

I lift your sweet bread to my mouth, and bite.
The smiles you gave to me crack between my teeth.
I drink deeply of your blank, tepid wine.
The child in me drowns in the unbearable sorrow of expiration.

I fell in love with a dead boy.

I watch the soft black stars leak from your skull.
The warmth of your voice will never again protect me from the harsh winds.
I have nothing else to believe in, my spirit is bereft.
The only thing that exists now is decoration. Beauty is my Messiah.

I fell in love with a dead boy.


In reviewing other amateur or student photographers’ work, I have discovered that I really hate landscapes. I can see no obvious reason for such antipathy, so I hope to delve into my subconscious anger by thrashing it out on a keyboard and reading back what comes from it.

I would like to point out that I don’t hate all landscape work. There is a gallery which I frequently go to in Donegal, Ireland, which is full of paintings of the local landscape, which is a place I consider to be truly relaxing and rejuvenating. Nor do I hate the work of Ansell Adams or Edward Steichen, as both provide at least a sense of drama and international intrigue. The work I hate is the innocuous attempts at “doing photography” displayed by so many on websites such as flickr, tumblr and BlogSpot. Don’t think that I am arrogant enough to consider my own work to be a hundred times better, I know I am as flawed as they, if not more so, but it seems that I have set myself high standards in what I do and do not enjoy in both photographic and fine art, thanks to my early artistic education.

I think one of the main issues I have with landscape is the lack of humanity. In painting and photography, I am always drawn to the figure, the touch of life, the identifiable subject, THE PUNCTUM. Whilst the landscape can be a beautiful, surprising, overwhelming studium, for me it is only ever a backdrop. James Whale’s ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ became one of my favourite films from the way it dealt with its epic location shots of forests and mountains. The whole thing was shot completely in a studio, with lavish hand painted backdrops, a fantasy within a fantasy. The reason why I felt this was so effective was not just because of the beautiful visuals it produced, but the very ideas it resonated within me. Frankenstein was obviously a gothic fiction, a ghost story, and Whale didn’t dispute this, or try to meddle with it. He didn’t try to make it real or relatable, but kept it as a fiction. He didn’t try to stage the extraordinary in the ordinary, express the unreal in a relentlessly real world; he created a story within a painted box, a fiction within a fiction. The focus is the characters and the story, not the REALNESS of the production.

Another reason why I tend to shun ‘the outside’ in my own work is I can’t bear the lack of control that entails (a feeling I am sure was shared by Whale, as both Frankenstein films are ruled by his stylised lighting). I can’t order the sun to shine more or less; it’s all ready and waiting. Maybe it’s this ‘already done’ concept which prompts me to look down on landscape work. I almost feel as if the photographer has had to do no work, put none of himself into the image because he has just stumbled across an impressive vista. Yes, the clouds may be forming the perfect shape right now, the trees are in full bloom, blossoms trailing in the wind, a cobalt blue river cuts its way dramatically across a field, but none of that happened because you wanted it to. My photographs are born of my dreams, my thoughts and wishes, I create light, costume, poses, angles, props, text, emotion to express myself, and yet some people find that they can do it through something I feel that they had no part in. Taking credit for God’s work, one could argue. It often crosses my mind that anyone could have taken that image if they had been standing in the same place and had a camera.

Having written that, it then comes to my attention that this is a criticism I come across a lot from other people when they belittle the artistic value of photography.

“Taking a photograph is easy, I could have done that.”

I usually respond with “I’m sure you could have, but you didn’t.” People could do anything. We could destroy the entire world with a press of a button, or we could all pull together and stop global warming in its tracks, but whether we do or not is the key factor. When it comes to my work, I honestly think that anyone could do it, but I am the only one that chooses to. I suppose the same ideas can be applied to landscape work. Just because I don’t see the work and the thought process behind it doesn’t mean that it is invalid.

Art becomes a question of what you would and wouldn’t do. If I came across a beautiful vista, I would sit and admire it, but I wouldn’t photograph it (at least not for ‘artistic’ purposes). When it comes to taking pictures of things that are ‘real’, such as landscapes, cityscapes, unposed, unsuspecting people, ‘documentary’ type situations, I just wouldn’t want to capture it. For me, an image I create becomes sacred, something to covet, a dream caught on paper. Why would I want to photography reality? If I did, all I would have is the ‘real’ subject and then a poor paper representation of it. Pedestrian item times two.

As I go through literally hundreds of landscape photographs (for the purpose of this investigation I sat down and looked at an online album of amateur or student landscapes of about 450 images, spending on average 20 seconds per image), it occurs to me that I don’t quite know what makes a good landscape picture. Obviously, there are photographers with a better sense of composition than others, but even of the well composed ones, I don’t know how to look at it. Should I view it as somewhere I want to be? Somewhere I have been and am remembering? Somewhere that I dreamt of many years ago? Many are vapid. Some are beautiful. None wounded or touched me.

One of the traits I have picked up from my parents is that I enjoy reading books set in places that I have been. I enjoy reading a lot of trashy American crime novels, but the ones that I enjoy most are the ones set in New York, or San Francisco because I have physical memories of those places and can visualise myself there. On the other hand, I dislike seeing some of my favourite places featured in films. The example of this that springs to mind most readily is Indianna Jones: The Last Crusade. Early on there is a scene on the streets of Venice that was obviously picked for its aesthetic quality by the producers, but defies the physical realities of the city. One minute they are walking along the Fondamente Nuovo, and then they turn a corner and are walking down an alley on the other side of the city in the Jewish Ghetto. They turn another corner and arrive at a church which I happen to know is a two minutes walk from San Marco. I have no problems with the twisting of reality; I think I just dislike it when things that have personal resonance with me get drawn into it. The warping of Venice (a place where I spent much of my childhood) felt like someone was stirring up my own memories and disturbing them. Location work has unforeseen impact on the viewer, and I feel should not be entered into lightly.

Landscape photographs continue to mystify me, but perhaps I now feel that I am starting to understand why people want to take them. I was so caught up in my own dreams and ideas that I forgot that other people have memories too. Other people have resonances that I don’t understand, and have no right to expect to. Who am I to demand reasoning for work? I have enjoyed these reflections on work, and I now feel that perhaps I am a little more open to work that is unlike my own.

Dreaming is important, but nothing can destroy the majesty of memory.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


'I will never die. It's only the world that will end.'




You cannot be dead. You of all people cannot be dead. He refused to believe it. I watched as he helped you on your descent from the cross. I watched him run his hands all over your body, checking every wound, testing every inch of your flesh. At first I thought he was doing it out of love, but then I realised he was doing it for the blood. Bathed in your blood, he can be heralded as the new Messiah.

Thomas, you charlaton. You can never be what he was, to me or to anyone else. Run hom child, the Rapture is coming.

But now, this morning, I see the swan lights rising again.
I feel the soft black stars stirring inside me. I taste your tears again, but not only that. I taste your blood, your breath, your skin. I can feel your salt on my lips again. Your scent fills my throat and my fingers become like driftwood, weathered by an ocean of sorrow.
I feel you move within me and I remember lazy sundays, jasmine kisses, wallowing in pools in Florence.
I’m drowning in you, and no one else can see it.

This is your resurrection.