A couple of weeks ago I finished round 6 of SPARK (the internet project that pairs writers and visual artists) – my third time participating in this event. The results are now up for all to see here, and I can now relate some of my experiences:
SPARK is always an adventure, and this time was no different. As with round 5, more writers than artists signed up, so I agreed to work with two partners.
My first inspiration piece came from writer Mary L Tabor – an excerpt from her story “The Burglar” (from her book “The Woman Who Never Cooked“). Even though it is just an excerpt, the piece is choc full of so many different images and ideas that it was almost overwhelming. Of course, the point of SPARK is not to illustrate the writing but to be inspired by it. Mary’s work is very personal and emotional, but my images tend to be fairly abstract, and I think in simple shapes, so the challenge was how to marry those two styles. I decided that the best way was to not overthink it, but just run with the first image that came to my mind’s eye after reading the story: A simple white triangle on a black background …the beam of a flashlight in a darkened room.
But how to realize that in a photograph?
Normally I would go out to “find” my image, but that was clearly not going to work this time. Without a proper studio and lights I knew I was going to have to improvise.
A makeshift “studio” was set up in my laundry room and I started experimenting. The flashlight beam was harder to capture than I imagined. I thought blowing talcum powder into the air might do the trick, but all I did was make a big mess! The answer eventually came from the season – Halloween! I had a Halloween fog machine stashed in the attic, and the fog turned out to be just enough to catch the beam without obscuring the rest of the scene.
That got the flashlight problem solved, but the image as I’d imagined it was simply not interesting enough as a picture. I needed more.
The final image came through much experimentation, trial and error, and many failures. I eventually decided to become the burglar myself! The darkness and fog allowed my few props to stand out, and the lack of proper photographic lighting (plus the fog!) was a handicap that turned into an advantage, as it gave the image a unique painterly look. The “lighting” was created using just three flashlights, one in my hand, one suspended from the ceiling and one duct-taped to a microphone stand! (The camera remote is in my hand, hidden behind the flashlight!). Here is the final image:
My second challenge was to create an image inspired by Meghan Hunt‘s story “The Old Man” – a reminiscence of her late grandfather. The story starts with a memory of him teaching her to play poker at the age of six, and follows her memories of him, in episodes, until his death. The sense I got from the story was one of loss – of a space where a person used to be, and a sense of how we experience time.
Once again, I had a vivid mental image in mind after reading the story – an old antique bed, empty, in an empty room. It could be either an old photograph, or a modern photograph of old things …or both.
My first job was to find that exact scene in real life …and one that I could photograph.
As a result of this particular SPARK challenge I think have now visited most of the historic houses in the area and learned more local history that I ever wanted to know! Most of the lesser known historic houses are only open one or two days a week and staffed by volunteers who are typically retired teachers, exclusively female, and sometimes even in period costume. Since only a few people can figure out the odd hours they are open, they don’t get many visitors, so when someone shows up the docents are keen to talk and share ALL the information they have!
After four or five houses, I discovered the scene I was looking for. This was one of the few houses with a bedroom, and also one of the few that was not set up like a museum. It also had the advantage of being an upstairs room in a house staffed by volunteers for whom stairs were difficult …so I pretty much had the run of the place and could take my time. It also made it easy to place my playing cards on the end of the bed without having to explain myself (you can read the story to see how these fit in).
The theme of the story is time and memory. Objects and places exist both in the past and the present. When we see them today, we experience them both as they really are, and as we remember them. Our memories are imperfect, like old photographs, but have deeper meaning. By “aging” the image I wanted to create ambiguity as to whether the picture represents an old photograph – the past as it really was – or a scene in the present day in which someone is reminded of the past and remembering what used to be. Here it is:
As always, I’d love to hear your comments…