INNOCENT LANDSCAPES REVISITED: 24 / JUL / 2010
Posted by David Farrell
Only recently it dawned on me that in mirroring the activity of the search team at Wilkinstown I have been photographing this location almost every weekend since last September and I realized, as I stacked the work print boxes on top of each other in preparation for an edit, that quite possibly I was pontentially suffering from 'Pittsburgh Syndrome'. While on one level it would be an honour in a certain way to make photographs that shared the psychology that Cartier Bresson beautifully ascribed to Eugene Smith’s photographs as being 'captured between the shirt and the skin', it was the volume and the inherent difficulty of distillation that perturbed me. How can one make sense of a mound of photographs, perhaps too many, can there be too many? And so over the last few weeks of decompression from teaching and spending much time walking "Past the..." and floating around in the goodwill and overall success of Ireland’s first ever Photo Festival, and visiting some of the other locations being searched while also finally revisiting some others that have resolved their story and unfortunately attending another set of too close funerals, the back of the head thinking was in progress as I felt it was time to examine the work and see what was there.
The basic initial problem was, as with most things, that of structure and structure in relation to ‘the book’, which is always my starting point. Reasonably quickly the simple idea of sequencing to parallel the timeline of making the work sprang to mind. So far so good, possibly. The notion being that the shift in seasons and aligned variations of light might somehow convey the durational aspect of over ten months ‘emptying a swimming pool with a spoon’ and act as a small mirror and tribute to the patience and endurance of this endeavour. I don’t want to get into the maleness of numbers and quantities but at present my next issue was how to distill roughly 250 reasonable images thus far, to possibly 70 to 80 where one could explore the repetition but not be repetitious. I tried to shuffle them manually but my brain could not hold on to them and assemble them due to the volume. Currently I don’t have the wall-space, floor-space, ceiling space to ‘stick and stare’ - so not a runner either. All these being methods I have managed to use before, wherein I slowly reduce a bunch of photographs to a sequence, then photocopy or Blurb this edit into a book in terms of book size, image size, title, text, etc. The task with this work began to feel like one of the earth-mounds at Wilkinstown – composed of many fine grains and every time you climb one you disturb what is settled so that when you look back at the way you have come up things have rearranged themselves and it doesn't look quite the same as when you started. It began to feel insurmountable. I couldn't handle all that evolving time with what felt like a neanderthal brain. And then it hit me – don’t distill now, but put the photo-mound into a Blurb-like book programme in the sequence of the passing months as the base edit-line is somewhat akin to the timeline of video editing programmes and would allow me to track across my small film of still images quickly and effectively to get a sense of the narrative and dialogue between photographs. What's the big deal you might ask. The point is that I was stuck in terms of how I usually assemble a book maquette and possibly would have spent weeks taking the photographs out of the box, shuffling them a bit and returning them to their own casket/grave and getting more frustrated, fed-up and blocked to the point where one avoids opening the box.
This small step to the left reminds me of my chemistry days and the concept of activation energy – the energy required to get a reaction going but in certain types of reaction once overcome the reaction generates enough energy to sustain itself to completion. Without this initial energy the components sit and mingle with each other but nothing happens.The next small breakthrough which came quickly was the title and a solid idea for the cover, which gave me a vessel to work within. The cover above of a ‘road’ through the recovered landscape last September was not in my initial mental shortlist, but emerged, as on one level it echoes the image of the road on the cover of Innocent Landscapes and has other aspects that are a bit long-winded to explore here. So far so good, possibly. The rear image shows the recently replanted trees that have 'autumned' in summer while the day closes. So far so good, possibly. The title Small Acts of Memory was a title for a blog that I wrote about 35mm analogue photography but has now been borrowed and I feel it’s very suitable. So far so good, possibly. At present the only decision to be resolved concerns the subtitle which currently makes no reference to Wilkinstown but uses the name of the wood itself – possibly a second line underneath with the place-name might be appropriate to connect with the previous work as a potential memory spike. So possibly not so good so far, possibly. As regards the timespan of 1999/2010 I suppose that is a small note of optimism for a proximate resolution.
It’s a reasonable start. The next month will be spent shuffling along the timeline and, when close to completion, I will print out a basic laser copy to explore the work as a physical object and see whether it survives the journey from imagination to a hard reality.