“…but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
On the approach to my 60th birthday there is something quite comforting about recalling my childhood memories, going back to happy family times and playtime. There are a number of things that trigger my moments of nostalgia, television programmes, shops full of retro and vintage goods, old photographs, catching up with an old friend. Lately, I’m hearing songs on the radio that take me back to “eeh, I remember when…”. But, as Alice ponders, when in Wonderland, “I was a different person then”. 
I loved dressing up and playing with my dolls. I recall the excitement of receiving my weekly copy of the Bunty comic, turning to the back page for the ‘Doll’s Cut-Out Wardrobe’ then inventing a storyline for the ‘doll’. I was (still am) fascinated by fiction, fairy stories and escapism. I also have a love of nature, trees in particular. For this final assignment I wanted to combine the two and continue the theme I have been building on throughout the module; specifically the passing of time, nostalgia and childhood memories. My idea stemmed from an earlier exercise, Masquerades, in which we were asked to make a photograph of a childhood memory – on my list of ideas was the cut-out-dolls.
I called on my mantra to; read the brief, turn it on its head and play with it, take risks! Graham Clarke comments that; We look at a photograph as recording time, as a historical record, whereas invariably it stops time and, in turn, takes its subject out of history. Every photograph, in that sense, has no before or after; it represents only the moment of its own making.  In my constructed image I am weaving past narratives into present places in an attempt to portray ‘before and now’.
As children it is perfectly acceptable to dress up as adults or fairies, or dragons or animals or indeed anything at all. For a child ‘make believe’ becomes reality. As adults we are expected to act with maturity and yet, fancy dress, pantomime, theatre and film are all acceptable excuses for ‘dressing up’. I wrestle with the reason why I am doing this. Is it just for fun – adult play as opposed to child play? Is it to relive my childhood, a longing to be as I was ‘yesterday’? Maybe I am reflecting on the passing of time, or perhaps it is an attempt to mask reality or disguise my identity – albeit a thin disguise!
In his ‘Model of the Psyche’, Carl Jung compares the perception of reality to the eye; we can only see a limited number of things at a given time, likewise our experience of reality. So, what then, is real? My image portrays two worlds, a photograph somewhere between the actual and the imagined, abstract yet object. A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” (Diane Arbus).
My intention is to bring into question how our values change as we grow up, we conform to expectations and maybe lose a little (or a lot) of ourselves in the process. As youngsters we aspire to be ‘grown ups’. In my image the reverse is implied, a yearning to return to, or hold on to, childhood. It connotes nostalgia. The image demands to be read, it evokes a response, the audience must surely ask,”What am I seeing here?” They must create a narrative of their own. As Barthes declares, “The reading of the ‘text’ becomes that of the reader, the author is no longer present.” 
Full details of my process along with photos can be found in the post A5 Planning and preparation. But in summary;
I enlisted the help of Lesley, my art-loving friend. Having travelled 130 miles to spend the weekend assisting with my project, we only had one opportunity to get it right, whatever the weather! Lesley and I were to be the ‘dolls’. Day one: We made the ‘clothes’ and prepared the props. I had spent quite some time roughly sketching out my ideas and gathering all the materials for the set. I wanted the outfits to suit the era of when I was a young girl, early 60’s.
I chose mount board to make adult sized ‘cut-out-wardrobe’ clothes and a handbag. We covered the board in fabric – to replicate making dressing-up clothes, wax crayons were used for colouring in the handbag. The dresses were intentionally made to be ill-fitting and childlike. The fastening tabs on the dresses were exaggerated, as was the lipstick I daubed on my lips and cheeks.
My tutor suggested I look up Cindy Sherman’s project. See video clip ‘Doll Clothes’. I had no prior knowledge of this project and was encouraged to discover that I was not alone with my musings in relation to paper dolls! I have written more on Sherman’s project here. I also gained inspiration from the story of Alice in Wonderland and the wonderful work of Tim Walker, examples of his work can be found here.
Day two: It had snowed overnight! I could have shot the scene indoors, but wanted to stay with my original plan to shoot outdoors with the trees. The snow added to the quirkiness of the scene – posing in summer outfits on a cold winter’s day! The only props in the scene not constructed are from nature itself. I hung some of my clothes from the tree branches to give a sense of present day – again influenced by Tim Walker. However as the light faded the clothes were less visible.
Tim Walker The Dress/Lamp Tree 2002
I set up the camera equipment and volunteered my husband David to act as grips and props man. This was necessary as the ‘models’ lacked agility. I did try the camera in self-timer mode, but this proved limiting and lacked spontaneity. It was a bitterly cold afternoon and we needed quick fire shots. David offered to shoot the photographs under my direction, all the while I was concentrating on composition, detail and our gesture. The lighting was regularly repositioned to enhance the scene. As the light faded I introduced a third (halogen) lamp.
Selecting an image to submit was not an easy task. The images taken at dusk (above) created a theatrical aspect, the combination of natural and artificial light offers a more dramatic sense of place. I also toyed with the idea of submitting a pair of images to form the narrative of ‘friend and foe’. Children easily fall out with each other over the simplest things, but then quickly ‘make friends’ again. They are practising for adulthood, just like they are when dressing up.
1. Carroll, L. (1958). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Children’s Press. London.
2. Clarke, G. (1997). The Photograph. Oxford University Press. London.
3. Barthes, R. (1993) The Death of the Author: Image Music Text. Fontana Press.
Arbus, D. Available from: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/3279. %5Baccessed 18th December 2016]
Jung, C. The Model of the Psyche: Available from: http://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html [accessed 4th January 2017]
Sherman, C. Clothes Make the Woman. Available from: http://www.escapeintolife.com [accessed 18th December 2016]
Bunty. (1965 & 1971). Bunty’s Cut-Out Wardrobe. D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd, London.
Walker, T. (2008). Tim Walker Pictures. te Neues, London.
Walker, T. (2012). Story Teller. Thames & Hudson, London.
Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills
My equipment set up was quite straightforward with ample room available to manoeuvre the lights and tripod. A high intensity light was angled downwards to emphasise and light up the ground while another light highlighted the trees and models. As daylight faded the lamps and camera settings were adjusted accordingly. My direction pretty much went to plan. I suppose the only aspect that was slightly out of my control (apart from the weather), was the actual shooting – shouting out instructions and guiding the ‘camera man’. Because of the cold we would take around 30 shots then convene in the warmth of the house to review the images. We continued shooting even though the natural light was fading. I had not taken into account the limited daylight hours in December and the time required to alter the camera settings by torch-light!
In terms of composition – there was a lot of ‘suck it and see’, several shoots, retiring back to the house, analysing and then back outside again to try different aspects, poses and lighting angles. I had pre-planned the colours of the dresses to contrast with one another and to stand out in the setting. I didn’t want any close up shots because the surrounding scenery played an important part in the scene.
Quality of Outcome
Considering I had a clear picture in my head of the finished article, there were times when I was spending too much time diverting from my original theme. This was due to my usual excessive amount of reading and viewing other photographer’s work. I got carried away with my imagination and at one stage wanted to include fairies, actual dolls, books and other assorted props! In the 1960’s the image would have most likely been shot in black and white, but the colour is this instance is important, I wanted to highlight the garishness and drama of the theme. I also thank my lovely assistant/model and my technician husband for their co-operation and patience – without them this concept would still be unrealised. I know these results are not achieved without time and patience, therefore my advance planning and preparation was crucial. To re-shoot would mean Lesley having to travel up again at a later date, not an option this side of Christmas. Yes, I could have chosen a different location or setting, but I really wanted to do this as originally planned and I’m delighted with the outcome.
Demonstration of Creativity
The most challenging aspect of the whole assignment has been to choose just one image for the final submission to my tutor. I toyed with the idea of using two images to form a narrative of ‘friend and foe’ (see A5 Planning and preparation notes). Children easily fall out with each other over the simplest things, but then quickly ‘make friends’ again. They are practising for adulthood, just like they are when dressing up.
With regards to a specific artistic intention, while my image is not a convincing scene and certainly not subtle, I feel the narrative is loaded with symbolism with conflicting subjects/scenery all of which make ambiguous suggestions. The photograph displays a paradox in both time and place. I feel I have successfully produced a constructed scene without the need for manipulation in Lightroom or Photoshop – apart from slight adjustments to detail such as contrast and straightening.
I enjoyed working towards this assignment. Having to produce, control and direct the whole thing has really stirred my creative juices. Mostly I researched the work of Tim Walker and Cindy Sherman. While working through the module students were encouraged to research Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson and Nikki Bird in particular. All my findings and comments on these photographers can be viewed under the relevant headings within my blog.