Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A story about a story.






The brief was to take photos that told a story, a narrative. The thought of taking any photos that didn't tell a story was ridiculous to me but I played along anyway, there were plenty of people at art school who thought narrative was over.

The visiting lecturer was young and female which instantly lent her opinions more value to me than those of the old men who held our captive audience each week, imparting their Great World View under the guise of teaching.

She showed us a range of work by established artists exploring storytelling, both traditional and experimental. One set of slides that jumped across the projector was work by a Japanese photographer, black and white photos taken from a bus window as she traveled home from the city to see her family. I don't remember the specifics of her situation but it was moving, emotional, artist's statementy. I do remember the pictures though; deep blacks and murky greys, reflections on the dirty windows of public transport, fragments of other passengers creeping into the frame, flocks of jet black crows scattering over fields. Crows were a recurring theme, she saw them a lot as she traveled home and they seemed to symbolise something ominous, heavy. (When have crows ever symbolised anything else?)

The tutor went round the class asking us what our thoughts on the project were, where our ideas were going. The Japanese photographer has inspired me, photos through car windows having stirred something in me ever since the opening scene of Lost in Translation. The layers and the distractions, your eye flirting between subject, glass, reflections, questioning which layer exactly is he subject.

When the tutor reached me I mentioned that I was interested in the Japanese piece, that I frequently traveled between Edinburgh and Glasgow and was inspired to tell the story of that journey in black and white, through moving windows. 

'Well' she snorted without even taking a pause, 'that was a very emotional journey, very meaningful' as if that fact might have escaped my notice. 'I don't think your journey would quite have the same impact. Ok, who's next.'

Embarrassed, I turned back to my sketchbook, crossed out 'bus journey' and started scanning the other notes I had made for new ideas. I don't remember what I handed in for that project but I do remember the feeling of being dismissed out of hand, as a silly little girl who imagined herself more interesting than she really was. I also don't remember when my embarrassment turned into anger, when I started bristling at the power that that woman had held to encourage me, to listen to my ideas and help me tell my story. She didn't know why I was travelling between the two cities, she didn't know because she didn't even bloody ask. I could have had a dying parent, a secret child, a desperate unrealised love that had turned my heart to an over filled balloon of quivering liquid and my every move through this world a hallucination of watery sun straining though threatening clouds out of which menaces of crows burst . . . theoretically speaking. Ahem.


I don't feel ashamed that I let myself be dismissed and I don't berate myself for not thinking 'well fuck you' and doing that project anyway, I was 18, and I was a student in the cult of the mythical Artist Tutor, and it was that woman's job to teach and encourage me and she totally, utterly failed. Sometimes the lesson people need to hear isn't 'stand up for yourself, take no shit, ignore the haters', it's 'don't be a dick'. Listening to people's stories isn't hard, it just takes a little bit of time. Almost everyone is more interesting than they first seem (some people are less interesting than they first seem, you can usually find those people at art school.)


These photos are not the art project I never made, that can't be recreated and these weren't taken under the influence of any great well of emotion (they were taken under the influence of boredom and a couple of those tiny bottles of supermarket wine), but every time I take a photo through a moving window I remember this story and today I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for listening.