Some nice news today: When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach has been selected for screening at NIFF London – New Indie Film Festival of London. This short film was made in response to the Kick-About No. 28 and so reminds me of the importance of starting work, finishing work, and sharing work.
And a final collection of fundus-inspired photographs, prompted by the Kick-About No. 30 – and this time, science-fiction vibes abound, as the ‘eye in the sky’ starts to evoke much bigger orbs in starrier, more nebulous realms. I really enjoyed producing these images and learned a lot in the process about what I need – and don’t need – if I want to produce painterly and impressionist effects when I’m taking pictures.
A third set of fundus photography-inspired images, conceived and shot in response to the Kick-About No. 30. Not sure to what sort of creature these eyes might belong – something aquatic, or Lovecraftian, likely both.
When you live by the sea, in a place famous for its spectacular sunsets, there comes a point where you have to say ‘no more!’. No more photographs of sunsets, however extraordinary. No more photographs of clouds, however painterly! No more! In my defense, these photographs date from 2009, so well before that embargo, and I still remember very clearly how special this particular lightshow was, boasting skyscapes so dramatic they could have come from a John Martin painting.
A second batch of ‘fundus photography’, as inspired by, and produced for, the Kick-About No. 30, which challenged us to make new work on a loose theme of retinal imaging. In common with the first set of images, I was working with a simple ad-hoc set-up – glass, latex, water and ink – and shooting outside. Not sure all of these are human eyes; there’s something decidely ‘chameleon-meets-praying mantis’ about a few of the results here, which pleased me, of course.
Even though this shoot was a PVA-free zone, you might be forgiven for thinking I’ve been up to some older tricks – I haven’t, and I wasn’t, but I suspect anyone who really knows me could pick some of these images out as mine without the bother of me saying another word about them.
I guess the first thing to establish is no actual eyes were harmed in the making of these images! I should say too, no actual eyes were photographed either. In common with these recent images, I looked to various commonplace things at my disposal, and once again channelled my inner low-budget film-maker to respond as instinctively as possible to the retinal-imagery of The Kick-About No. 30.
I won’t reveal my secrets just yet, but suffice to say there is now a shortage of red food colouring and olive oil in our kitchen. I don’t think I will ever tire of the ‘in-camera’ transformations produced by light, specularity and depth-of-field, the magic that sometimes happens between the subject and the lens. I was inspired by images of cataracts and ‘damage’ to the eye (and I think, more gruesomely, by A Clockwork Orange too). In terms of producing some of the more painterly noise in the images, the bokeh, scintillas and dust, I also revisited Street Of Crocodiles by the Brothers Quay.
This set of resulting images is but a small sample, as I did a bunch of different things over four different days. From these very biological-seeming images, things became more painterly and strange, so I’ll be sharing some more ‘fundus photography’ in the coming days. I’ve certainly been having some fun.
The Kick-About No. 29 was inspired by Murakami’s description of the all-seeing moon, and this, our latest creative shindig together, has been prompted by an image of the human eye no less planetary…
“In eyeing things up, this KA drew my attention to the bees snuggling into, and reversing out of the foxgloves so, being nosey I had a peak, and discovered a tunnel of pure exotic joy with bright saturated light (optic disc) at the end of the tunnel. Taking a closer look meant later on recalling sensations, avoiding loyalty to the order of nature’s design, to arrive at – maybe the same for the bee (how presumptuous) – memory of that which came to me as a rush.” Oil on prepared paper 25cm x 25cm.
“Dear Charly Skilling – thank you for your beautiful moon submission – enormous hugs to you and your beloved. Unfortunately I didn’t read it until after bouncing out of the kick-about gates – it would have changed my direction by 180 degrees.
The fundus spiralled me through cyclops thoughts – not wanting to approach the glaucoma too closely. I added some Royal Academy on-line life drawing, a Tasmanian beach and sky, some sea birds from Byron Bay then decided it was to be all about emotion rather than narrative and substituted the cyclops for the falling upside-down life model to get to my pic. During this process I gazed longingly at our washing machine as I removed another load and noticed the similarity between the fundus image and the inside of the machine and took a series of photos with my head and camera wedged there – the obvious ones made sense thematically but I only really like the attached blurry detail.“
“I guess the first thing to establish is no actual eyes were harmed in the making of these images! I should say too, no actual eyes were photographed either. In common with these recent images, I looked to various commonplace things at my disposal and once again channelled my inner low-budget film-maker. I won’t reveal my secrets just yet, but suffice to say there is now a shortage of red food colouring and olive oil in our kitchen. I don’t think I will ever tire of the ‘in-camera’ transformations produced by light, specularity and depth-of-field, the magic that sometimes happens between the subject and the lens. I was inspired by images of cataracts and ‘damage’ to the eye (and I think, more gruesomely, by A Clockwork Orange too). This set of resulting images is but a small sample, as I did a bunch of different things over three different days. From these very biological-seeming images, things became more painterly and strange, so I’ll be sharing some more ‘fundus photography’ in the coming days. I’ve certainly been having some fun.’
“For these images I essentially constructed a mass of veins and vessels and trawled through dozens of randomly generated variations looking for the perfect image akin to how a photographer searches for the image of a perfect snowflake amongst hundreds of failures. I somehow managed to generate the aesthetic that I had in my mind after the first attempt, but beyond that lucky first hit I spent a considerable amount of time just staring at blurry orange images, only occasionally getting a glimpse of the things that had initially made me so excited. In a somewhat scientific manner, and after many experiments and further failures, I was able to come up with the formula and methodology that yielded more productive results. Thus was I finally able to reveal the secrets of ‘the eye‘.”
“I thought I would do a collage pattern of eye shapes, and began by sketching the outlines. As I did this a fantastic SF story came into my mind entitled ‘Dark They Were, and Golden Wyed’ written by Ray Bradbury. So I ended up with “Martian Eyes” which was fun to do. The background is a wax/wash and I used a combination of paper and material scraps.”
“The prompt this week sparked all kinds of thoughts, feelings and associations for me. I’m a visual artist, so the workings of the eye, and the connections between the eyes and the brain are pretty darn important, Artists have been exploring how we see things for a long time, not just how they record visual information, but how they can also play tricks, and see what is not there.
For example, before I get a migraine attack, I sometimes get visual disturbances, like veils of glowing zig-zag patterns that drift into my vision from the periphery of my sight until the cover everything. It was terrifying when it first happened, I thought I was having some sort of brain haemorrhage. And there are certain substances that can produce dramatic hallucinations that are totally convincing, but are created entirely by our minds, but the eye can see them.
I went to see an exhibition recently by Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist who has suffered visual hallucinations most of her life. Early on, she decided to include them in her art and they have become a signature of her work. Kusama has spoken about her wish to create work that conveys her desire to melt into everything, to dissolve and become one with the universe. Her mirrored rooms, or ‘infinity rooms’ as they’re called are particularly effective.
I’ve written a short story about a rather grumpy old man and his family who went to see the Kusama show. He’s a very imperfect man, but not all bad, like most of us, I suppose.”
“This was done in response to the rise in domestic abuse during lockdown. The eye tells all.”
Watercolour on vellum. 10cm X 8cm
“This prompt was made for my watercolor mandalas. I did 4, and embroidered on 2 of them. I’ve included both the original and the embroidered ones.”
“Whenever I see one of these retinal photographs, it makes me think of alien skies. Not that I know much about alien skies, except as depicted on the covers of sci-fi paperbacks or in Hollywood’s representations. So I decided to create my own “alien sky” with sharpies and alcohol on ceramic tile. While I was playing, I got to thinking about ‘Ingenuity’, the little drone helicopter NASA is using to map the terrain of Mars. Here are the results.”
“I just really wanted to do some digital drawing, I haven’t done much of it lately and I miss how relaxing it is to put some jazz music on, get in the flow and let the lines go where they may. Picturing different landscapes centred around the fundus photograph, a sprawling metropolis materialised, with vivacious characters and stories between them, feeling so close but far away.”
“I know this orange orb from personal experience. It unnerves me and intrigues me at the same time. A tricky subject for me from a very early age. I became a pirate at 4 with a constant patch over one eye that made my ‘lazy’ eye do a bit more work. Why am I lazy? I queried. Banned from games requiring throwing a ball. I saw two and had no idea which one to catch. At 8, I started putting lions in cages. I hate zoos. Terrified of balls coming towards me. Fascinated by cages and getting out of them. Set caged birds free.”
“Ah, the joy of that tiny piece of plastic. The contact lens! Free at last to see clearly, use make-up, change hair styles, join the world. My eyes did not agree and rebelled years later, after I had often rammed them back in my eyes with grit and detritus just licked off, as there was nowhere to rinse them up mountains in deserts. The dreaded Orange orb showed a bump that was dangerously close to detaching the retina of my right eye. The bump caused a sentence to dip in the middle on the screen or whilst reading a book. Back to wearing glasses despite trials with soft lenses and many a red eye, and now spiders appearing across my eyes! Back in my cage.”
“So why this lengthy preamble? It could have been much worse. I am obsessed with fencing and seeing through. The lion is sleeping, He has left the cage. The cage has transformed naturally.”
“Watching dancers and working for 25 years to understand the body in movement through the Feldenkrais method (Awareness through movement), I understand and feel the natural combination of the spiral of movement from the eye to the feet. It reminds me of twisted fencing that often crops up in my work and connects me to the natural world to which we all belong.”
“Having googled what fundus photography actually was, I realised I was vaguely familiar, as a long-time glasses wearer. Needless to say I was drawn to visually representing my experiences. My most prevalent memory (since I was about 5 years old) is of the ‘balloon machine.’ A standard test in most eye examinations: the grainy image of a distant hot air balloon against a blue sky, blurring and refocusing, is a distinct childhood memory. Plus, the unique set of noises the machine would emit as it altered the focus. It sounded a lot like an antiquated printer. Going beyond the physical tests I’m fairly familiar with, I looked into more metaphorical representations. Fundus photographs show networks of blood vessels. Leading me to networks of nerves, images being processed and the like. So I envisioned snap shots transitioning from one to the next with the blink of an eye!”
With thanks to regular Kick-Abouter, Graeme Daly, we have our brand new prompt, the work, life and times of German animation pioneer, Lotte Reiniger.
Another sultry night in France in 2015, and this time I was working in the bamboo and bramble tunnel running between the old French house and the Widow’s house. It can take the summoning of a bit of courage to work in the night, laughing off the residual fear of the dark – almost. When I look at these specific images, I recall very clearly the indignation of the Screech owl perched somewhere above me, who was unhappy at my long-exposure exertions.
What I particularly enjoy about these images is the way the pillars of light connect with the leaf litter, helping me vouch for the ‘in-cameraness’ of the image-making – no Photoshop tomfoolery here, thank you very much. I should say too these images spooked me; there’s something sentient about these manifestations…
Another ‘slow-cinema’ impression of the pastoral pleasures of my local landscape, and this time it’s the rapeseed field by Bysing Wood, alive with the buzz of insects and bird song, and desaturated by early evening sunshine.
I can’t be completely sure when I wrote this song, but you can add it to the pile of similar stuff written following my slow and self-sabotaging exit from one particular relationship. I’m calling these efforts ‘songs’, though there is scant evidence of an actual chorus here, and they’re certainly not poetry. All I can say about this Friday’s example (and the others like it) is, whatever I was feeling at the time, I was feeling it vividly enough to sit down and write something by way of a response, be it a song, or so much dirge, or even a tiny capture of something true.
holding the phone
so, you’re phoning again, after all this time?
a bolt from these blues like a neon sign
i’m being real nice like I didn’t even bleed
but you ringing me, it’s like you’re ringing me
between those gentle hands no longer touching me
so, you’ll talk about the rain, ‘ain’t this weather grey?’
as just the sound of your voice chases clouds away
but i’m being real cool, like I never felt the heat
because hearing you, nowhere near to you
makes this day more grey even as your warmth comes through.
you want to hear how I’ve been? well, yeah I’ve been fine
you want to know what I do these days to pass the time?
I think you want me to lie, well that’s fine by me
as you won’t see these eyes, won’t detect this trace
won’t read the need imprinted on this face
i’m asking ‘how about you?’ ‘I can’t complain’ you say,
now isn’t that just great? you and me, we’re doing okay
anyone might mistake there’s nothing left here to break
our conversation clean and our chit-chat bored
my air supply cut by this telephone cord
I know it’s nearing the end as our pauses grow
just these few moments from now you’ll say you have to go
I have to go too, i’ve all these things I must do
like disconnect from you and repair the line
unplug this phone and that neon sign
we’ve been saying nothing much for nearly half an hour
I decide to say goodbye, my remaining power
you don’t seem phased at all me ending your call
so why ring me now? why ring today?
is there something more you want to say?
now this line has gone dead, I say out loud ‘i’m glad’
that’s over and done, and I’m sure, not sad
and in no time you’ll see I’ll no longer be
just sitting here, alone at home
me crying like this, me holding this phone
and in no time you’ll see I’ll no longer be
just sitting here, alone at home
me crying like this, me holding this phone