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 ingénue 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.


At first I was at a loss with the editing of this shoot, I had to use a cloth backdrop which I really didn't like. I wasn't sure how to play the editing of this, until I got inspired by the amazing BLOW OUT EVERYTHING fandango that is 90s lighting. After that I was really pleased with the final images.


Inspiration: 90s LIGHTING

There is a specific style of lighting which I love which was at it's most popular in the 90s, especially for promoting 'alternative' bands, though even champions of mainstream and reinvention like Madonna succumbed to it's charm. It's kind of a thing where all the features of the face are blown out by the light, and all you are left with is a lot of very white skin and very dark eyes. It's great.





So here it is. The hour has come. I hold your face in my hands, my thumbs brushing your earlobes. I lean in and smell your scent for the last time. Your strong lashes flutter against mine and I kiss away your tears. Your lips tremble, unsure of yourself for perhaps the only time in your life. I see your heart beating through your chest, pounding against the ivory cage of your ribs. The power flows through your veins, pulsing like a bird. But your eyes. Your eyes have become pale. The soft black stars have gone. The only thing left now is your cushioned lips. My world hangs from your cheek bones, the weight of the existence presses down on your shoulders. The time has come and I have to turn away. I am here with Peter and your Mother. We watch in pain, and I can still taste your salty tears on my lips.


I am so pleased with the rest of these pictures, I think I cam away with some very strong images. I particularly love the Pieta with Mary, I think I really managed to hit the lighting just right. I love all of these and I will sort them out into the correct stations at a later date. I am so happy with everything, even though it's become a mad rush to finish everything.



I feel that this is a much stronger image. Throughout my entire photographic life, every photoshoot I've done has been something that I secretly want to do myself, and now here was my chance. I've recently started reading Ayn Rand, and putting myself at the centre of existence seems like a very Randian thing to do. I set up the lighting for this, which took up a stressful half hour. I then set the camera on a tripod and had a handy assistant press the shutter. I was able to get the pose and the expression I wanted, plus the whole thing looks a lot slicker without the six or seven extras disrupting the lines of the cross or the body.


I'm so glad that I reshot this, it's worked out better than I'd hoped. It is a little sad that I didn't end up with a group crucifixion, like I wanted at the very beginning, but I tried it and I just couldn't make it work. Maybe one day in the future, I'll try again.



This is my first attempt at the Crucifixion. Already, I am unhappy with it.
To start with, I think that there are perhaps too many people. I am not enjoying the shape they all create, the sea of black. I am also not impressed with my Jesus' facial expression. It seems a bit, err, limp. I enjoyed shooting this, and I like it for what it is, a picture of all my friends wearing black at the Crucifixion, but I can see that as an image, it's weak. The lighting is off, I'm not happy with it at all. I am however enjoying how brightly white the cross is and how it stands out from the background. The shadows are a bit clumsy, in my opinion.

There's just a lot not working for this, I think I'll have to rethink and reshoot.


Inspiration: MEDEA

I first saw the Pasolini film Medea when I was about 12, and I thought it was incredible. I had little knowledge of Maria Callas, who plays the eponymous role, as an opera singer, but I could feel her commanding presence through the screen. Those eyes, those brows, those lips, that nose, it was all so powerful. I also really enjoyed her queenly costume, and I hope to create something similar for Mary in the upcoming crucifixion.


If I could choose one person to be, it would definitely be Maria Callas.

Inspiration: PASSOLINI

Pier Paolo Pasolini (March 5, 1922 – November 2, 1975) was an Italian film director, poet, writer, and intellectual. Pasolini distinguished himself as a poet, journalist, philosopher, linguist, novelist, playwright, filmmaker, newspaper and magazine columnist, actor, painter and political figure. He demonstrated a unique and extraordinary cultural versatility, becoming a highly controversial figure in the process.

Pasolini's first novel Ragazzi di vita (1955) dealt with the Roman lumpenproletariat. The resulting obscenity charges against him were the first of many instances where his art provoked legal problems. Accattone (1961), also about the Roman underworld, also provoked controversy with conservatives, who demanded stricter censorship.

He then directed the black-and-white The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964). This film is widely hailed as the best cinematic adaptation of the life of Jesus (Enrique Irazoqui). Whilst filming it, Pasolini vowed to direct it from the "believer's point of view", but later, upon viewing the completed work, saw he had instead expressed his own beliefs.

In his 1966 film, Uccellacci e uccellini (literally Bad Birds and Little Birds but translated in English as The Hawks and the Sparrows), a picaresque - and at the same time mystic - fable, he hired the great Italian comedian Totò to work with one of his preferred "naif" actors, Ninetto Davoli. It was a unique opportunity for Totò to demonstrate that he was a great dramatic actor as well.

In Teorema (Theorem, 1968), starring Terence Stamp as a mysterious stranger, he depicted the sexual coming-apart of a bourgeois family (later repeated by François Ozon in Sitcom and Takashi Miike in Visitor Q).

Later movies centered on sex-laden folklore, such as Boccaccio's Decameron (1971) and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1972), and Il fiore delle mille e una notte (literally The Flower of 1001 Nights, released in English as Arabian Nights, 1974). These films are usually grouped as the Trilogy of Life.

His final work, Salò (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, 1975), exceeded what most viewers could then stomach in its explicit scenes of intensely sadistic violence. Based on the novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, it is considered his most controversial film. In May 2006, Time Out's Film Guide named it the Most Controversial Film of all time

As a director, Pasolini created a picaresque neorealism, showing a sad reality. Many people did not want to see such portrayals in artistic work for public distribution. Mamma Roma (1962), featuring Anna Magnani and telling the story of a prostitute and her son, was an affront to the morality of those times. His works, with their unequaled poetry applied to cruel realities, showing that such realities are less distant from us than we imagine, made a major contribution to change in the Italian psyche.

The director also promoted in his works the concept of "natural sacredness," the idea that the world is holy in and of itself. He suggested there was no need for spiritual essence or supernatural blessing to attain this state. Pasolini was an avowed atheist.

General disapproval of Pasolini's work was perhaps caused primarily by his frequent focus on sexual mores, and the contrast between what he presented and publicly sanctioned behavior. While Pasolini's poetry often dealt with his same-sex love interests, this was not the only, or even main, theme. His interest and approach to Italian dialects should also be noted. Much of the poetry was about his highly revered mother. As a sensitive and intelligent man, he depicted certain corners of the contemporary reality as few other poets could do. His poetry was not as well-known as his films outside Italy

Creation: THE CROSS