As planned I continued to address the theme of ageing and memory. I had hoped to concentrate on my work on the subject of my mother, which I have done. However, the work has evolved through the module, I have moved more generally to at my experience of her as a person. I have immersed myself in observations of her, scrutinising at some point to know and understand more of how she operates; especially now she is in her eighties.
Experimenting with filming has given me lots of material to consider, some of which I have used and other bits that have been mostly useful as information gathering. I have used conventional filming techniques with a good quality DSLR camera, equipment and accessories and I have also used a simple Gopro. I have experimented with sound and incorporated conventional still photography to support my work on medium format film and digital.
During the first stages of this project I did lots of research, some by chance (festival and exhibitions) and others by recommendation. The work of Andrei Tarkovsky dominated my initial investigations. It is the 85th year of his birth and to mark this Film4 have shown all seven of his feature films, from ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ (1962) to his last award winning film ‘ Sacrifice’ (1986). All of his work has moved me and inspired me to understand more fully my own sense of how to approach my own work. ‘Nostalgia’ (1983), inspired me to push forward with my stylised photographic intentions. Having taken on board many articles about film technique and film theory, I came to realise through the work of Tarkovsky that a film piece can stand alone, simply as a form of art. In the same way as we can stand in front of a single photographic image and interpret the meaning in which ever way we personally are inclined to, a film piece can be experience in the same way. Tarkovsky ’s work is notorious for being difficult to understand in terms of meaning. This was not a concern for him, he produced work that came from his thought’s and feelings in a very instinctive way. There is narrative and there very particular themes and subject matter, but the way he presents the work is about the bringing together of composition, textures, angle and light.
My initial filming involved shooting scenes in a car journey – ‘Gilbert’s Funeral’. This is an interesting and entertaining piece form an observational perspective. I was able to see from a bystander’s point of view the interactions, mannerisms and behaviour between my Mother and I. I was struck by the comedy and humour that I know of her, but have been less aware of lately. There were lots elements for me to take way from this experiment. I considered working further with it developing the bizarre and ludicrous elements with compositional montage of old photographs and comical drawings in the vein of seaside post cards from the 70’s.
Having listening the Heather Agepong and Partrick Graham’s explanation of working on personal projects surrounding their relationship to parents, I was struck by the opportunity to involve my Mother more with the process of creating this work. The car piece cemented by thoughts about the work I wanted to produce, it was not a direction I wanted to pursue, but what I did realise it that my Mother could be more participatory and not just my muse.
I turned my attentions to the sewing machine to explore the mechanism, the functioning, design and sound. I shot a series of clips, hand holding the camera, panning around the machine and moving close in to see the details. Patrick Graham’s work, “the things you left behind” uses objects left for him by his Father as metaphors for specific elements of the relationship he didn’t have with his Dad; a collection of match boxes from his Dad’s travels around the world (without him), pen knives; these represented to Graham the lost ‘typical’ father son bonding experience he was denied. For me the Singer Sewing Machine is an iconic symbol that will represent an array of meaning about my Mother. To explore the machine initially I set it in the context of a home and shot it in a kitchen a place it dominated when I was young.
This shoot served a purpose on one level as an experiment of technique. I found there was considerable difficulty managing the focus at the same time as framing is shot and moving it around the machine. The clips were too short without sufficient leading and tailing off for editing purposes. The jerky random movement of the camera did not serve the viewer well to appreciate the machines’ beauty, design and engineering detail well. However, the experiment with such a narrow depth of field did cement my opinion that this would be a good method to create clips of the machine, which enable the viewer to experience seeing machine in the particular sense – abstract (dreamy) way. Such close-ups take the machine and it’s mechanisms out of the context of sewing, the elements of the machines mechanisms could be cogs in any large Edwardian, industrial mechanical mechanism of an number of processes. The details of the engineering and design of the machine and it make-up are pronounced.
My work developed from this shoot to filming the machine in the studio (daylight) with equipment that would enable me to control the composition more exactly. I wanted to capture the elements of the machine in a more aesthetic way, to abstract them from the machine as an entirety and function. I recorded the sound of the machine separately with an off camera microphone. My focus was to use the conventions of photographic composition to frame elements of the machine, giving a sense of beauty and grace.
Once this work had been edited together it felt strong and I had a good sense of working around the light and incorporating more formal filming techniques. I used a table slider to plan across the length of the machine and extra lighting to balance the exposure from the nature light of the window. I realised the subtly of the camera movements were key to the viewer. The work came across as engaging and pleasing to watch. There was some confusion about the meaning and some saw it and felt perplexed and by the machine not actually functioning as it is supposed to; there was not sewing, the cotton reel didn’t move, the bobbin wasn’t loaded. I fully indented this to be the case. Tarkovsky’s work builds tension through his juxtaposition of unconventional elements and normality. I wanted to challenge the viewer the think a little harder about these images and to wonder why they look like they do.
I planned my main piece to be shot in a large room and from the outset had hoped to use a space I had known of in Warwick. The courthouse is an 18th century municipal building in the centre of the town with a formal ballroom, which has become available to the public. The test shots for light and composition made me feel this would be the perfect space. I wanted to build a relationship between my Mother and the machine and space around them, to have such a vast room, with plenty of light, clear and minimally decorated was ideal. I was able to film my Mother at the machine, her walking towards it and away from it, with out there seeming as though there were any boundaries. I used the room for the filming on four separate occasions and a further time to take still portrait images. Although the exposure of the light was very even the colour temperature did alter as the weeks progressed through the spring and this made reshoots difficult to edit. I had a vision for the work form the outset; the room and light were extremely key factors.
I was prompted to consider using sound, although I believe not to have sound was an option, to this ends I had some ideas around my mother singing. Once again the inclusion of my mother in generating material (Singing recording) inspired me to observe her and see her from a particular (removed) perspective. Her character and good nature seemed extraordinary. Heather Ageprong discussed her relationship with her Father from an occasion when he entered her school to collect her (not usual) which made her run and hide, to him going to the viewing of her exhibition (not expected) when he seemed speechless with pride. She discussed her view of him as a black African man disassociated from her and her lack of any expectation of him emotionally, but that though him; part of her legacy, she is able to be who she is today.
The final ballroom piece has two versions, with and without sound. I will develop the idea to incorporate singing further in the future, at this point it feels clumsy. The imaging of my mother and the machine generated the kind of aesthetic I was looking for. There are still moments of contemplation and gentle reflection and then an unsettling section of quicker movement, which is out of focus at a different pace and some what confusing. The negative space to the room allows all the emphasis to be on the my Mother and the machine. The room enables a framing, it give the space for the presentation of this moving (film) portrayal.
I looked at length at the filming of ‘Breaking Bad’ and the considerations of colour and tones. The contrast of the black of the machine and the soft cool tones of the room work well, as do the blurring from the depth of field in generally muting the tones. I explored this furthering to creating a set of stills from a selection of clips (Ball Room Film stills). These separate printed frames are atmospheric, their styling gives a sense of narrative, one immediately associates them with the genre a film. Like the final ballroom clip their meaning is ambiguous, giving the viewer plenty of opportunity to put their own ideas and experience onto the work. I also took the opportunity to support this final piece with some black and white portraits of my Mother, which I shot on the Mamiya RZ. I wanted to project something more of her identity to go along with the moving images, to convey a strength and grandeur, which may challenge some of the frailty and vulnerability presented in the film piece.
My initial proposal set out to reflect the issues around my Mother’s aging and the changes this brings to her and her relationship with me. I wanted to look at how only through reference to our shared past, she is able to affirm, and help me reference where I stand today. However, I have been able to disassociated myself from our relationship through this work and consider her character and nature alone without dwelling on any significant on the process of change to her relationship with me. It has been challenging to move away from that question and look at how to portray her wholly in the present and she stands today. For this I use the machine in relationship to her as a symbol of her and I use it as metaphor to describe her relationship to the past.