A third set of panoramic stills from my short stop-motion film, Ink (2021), which, unlikely as it now looks, captured the interactions between black marker pen and rubbing alcohol on the surface of a 20cm x 20cm white ceramic tile. A number of the images in this collection remind me very strongly of the sublime horror of the footage of nuclear bomb tests.
A second set of stills from Ink (2021), evoking expansive skyscapes and vast coastal land masses.
Inspired, as ever, by all those dubious photographs of ectoplasmic excretions, I locked myself away in the empty salon of the old French house, and waited for the spirits to show themselves…
For our recent Ernst Haeckel-inspired Kick-About, I produced a short little animation, capturing the rather wonderful effect of rubbing alcohol on drawings made in black marker pen. As the process of producing an animation requires lots and lots of individual frames, I was able to isolate some of these landscape-like transformations as a series of satisfying photographs in their own right. More soon.
Inevitably, given the monochromatic weather and newly-announced ‘lock-down 3’, I find myself preoccupied with memories of different sights and warmer climes.
Back in February, 2017, I visited Rome in the company of a crowd of students, alumni and staff, and during the course of our five day stay, walked the length and breadth of the city. The weather was amazing, the sights impressive, and the food delicious – with the exception of one group meal so haphazard and underwhelming, the experience of it still lives on in the collective imaginations of an entire cohort of students. Meanwhile, I’m not sure what the nutritional benefits may or may not have been of my daily morning cocktail of Berocca, Pro Plus and velvety double espressos, but they certainly ensured my camera and I remained very much alive to every sight and sound the Eternal City had to offer.
There I was, snuggled in bed, too tired to read, but reading anyway, beginning another collection of weird tales from the collections of the British library. Entitled Weird Woods – Tales From The Haunted Forests Of Britain, I was just a few words into John Miller’s introduction when I sat up in bed, suddenly wide awake. Miller begins his preface to the anthology of woods-based narratives thus:
“I grew up three miles from a haunted wood: Oxney Bottom, a name which still gives me shivers. You’ll find it on the road from Deal to Dover on the Kent coast, though it’s not a place you’re likely to stop… but if you did somehow end up in Oxney Bottom, you could tell straight away that there’s something uncanny about it. The road curves as it dips and takes you down into a hollow. Whatever the weather, it’s suddenly darker and colder there… the trees are thick enough to imagine that looking at them five hundred years ago would be the same as looking at them today. There’s no sign of the eighteenth-century house, or the ruined chapel, or the well where a young girl fell to her death in the 1960s. There’s a grey lady – the story runs – who will come out of the woods at night, limping into the oncoming traffic and then melting into the air…”
I turned to my husband, read Miller’s words out loud, and a few seconds later, a plan was formed. We would find the haunted woods of Oxney Bottom and make this jaunt into the arboreal uncanny our last excursion of this strange lost year.
We set out on the afternoon of December 30th, wrapped in scarves against the cold, but not dressed at all suitably for the horse-churned paths of treacherous mud. Admittedly, we may have trespassed a bit, daring one another to walk over a fallen section of fence so we might go deeper into the woods, where the colonies of aspleniums were at their most lavish. We encountered a structure of bent trees, fashioned by nature in homage perhaps to the old chapel mentioned in Miller’s preface. It made for a pleasingly eerie set-piece in the noiseless woods. Ivy was rampant, the trunks of trees rippling with its arteries, and the woodland floor upholstered with thousands of dark green leaves, which, like fish scales, reflected what little light remained.
The quality of silence reminded me strongly of my wanderings in Abney Park – not so much the absence of sound, but an abeyance, these woods waiting for us to leave so it might go back to whatever secret rites our presence had interrupted. Disappointingly, we didn’t catch sight of Oxney Bottom’s grey lady, or even the damp spectral form of the unfortunate girl who fell down the well all those years ago, and we didn’t dare go deep enough to find the walls of the ruined chapel itself. Instead, we enjoyed the curious sensation of time-travel, being the only things moving through an otherwise ancient woodland, a site which long since pre-existed us and would likewise go on without us too.
On the cusp of the new year, I wanted to avoid any further musings on 2020 as they might relate to the pandemic, not least because I suspect the ‘new year’ is going to feel a lot like the old one – at least for a while. Instead, I’ve gathered together all seven ‘Lost In Fields’ films as my swansong to a strange, slow year that was not without its simple pleasures and rich in moments of beauty.
The house I grew up in had no central heating, only the gas fire in the living room. There was no double-glazing either and it was quite normal to wake up and see your breath in the bedroom. It was also common to find ice on the inside of the windows – frost ferns of extraordinary beauty.
In response to this music, I wanted to capture those patterns of ice, but the weather here is stubbornly mild and ordinary. Undeterred, I set about recreating the sorts of photographs I might have taken, but had to rely on some digital transformations, taking an image of an actual frosted fern taken in my garden several winters ago, and pressing it against a window of my own invention. When the first of these images coalesced, I gave a small cry of delight – for yes, here they were again, those delicate veneers of ice, just as I remembered them, and for a moment at least, I was my small pyjamaed self.
Having produced these ‘fake frosts’, I wondered if I could develop things a little further – or rather, I wondered if CGI-whizz kid, Deanna Crisbacher, could help me in the attempt. After all, not so long ago, Dee had taken some landscape photographs of mine and turned them into an entire range of planets and nebulae! Fortunately, finding some time in her busy VFX schedule with The Flying Colour Company, Dee had a kick-about of her own, supplying me with a glistening array of computer-generated frost ferns derived from my digital collages.
Then it was back into Photoshop for a judicious crop or two and a sprinkling of tweaks, to produce this final set of frost ferns. Many thanks to Dee for helping me achieve digitally what I was unable to produce photographically. As I type this, the weather here remains drably wet and decidedly unpretty, my windows opaque, yes, but with condensation and a few chalky streaks of seagull shit. Fingers-crossed the depths of winter might still provide some real-world opportunities for nice ice!
Taken a few hours before an 80’s themed birthday party back in late February, these photographs of my fancy dress preparations have since accrued an improbable poignancy. It was a moment of silliness, which saw me attend the party as a hirsute amalgam of Cher, Bonnie Tyler, Jon Bon Jovi… and, anachronistically, Roy Wood from Wizzard.
What’s a little sad about these portraits is not so much the slow, inexorable tragedy of my hairline, but that this fancy dress party was the last large communal gathering of 2020. Shortly after these photographs were taken – about three weeks later – the UK went into its first lock-down in response to COVID-19. I can’t help but marvel now at how close to me my friend is sitting as he applies my rock-star eye make-up, his hand on my shoulder, his fingers touching my face. This same friend and I haven’t been this physically close since.
When I look at the image of the long crowded table, everyone sitting cheek-by-jowl (or wig-by-wig), it looks like a scene from another time completely, some historical tableau.
My wookie-sized wig is upstairs in the attic, hibernating – like the rest of us. Perhaps, when the time comes, the bells ringing out, strangers in the streets dancing arm-in-arm, I’ll stick it on my head again, backcomb the fuck out of it, and dance along in the crowded streets too.
A seventh short little exercise in seeking to evoke a particular place and time through the simplest means of image, movement and sound. Our trip out to the nature reserve at Oare, Faversham, Kent coincided with a wonderful sunset and pellucid moonrise, our slow shamble among the tall feathered reeds and every-which-way grasses accompanied by the haunting trill of curlews. As the light faded further, the landscape just fell away into tawny softness. It was other-worldly out there. I hope this short film expresses some of that.