John Duncan, Editor, Source Magazine
Issue 66 of Source Graduate Photography Online on Joan Alexander: In a series of time based works the artist reveals her fascination with mapping the passage of time. In one series we experience the duration of a day as revealed through the passage of light and shadows created by an unseen window in the room. In another she traces the light from the window on the ground in chalk as it shifts in position during the day. Working in a meditative manner Alexander employs the simplest of elements to great effect.
Magenta Flash Forward 2012
“The Flash Forward 2012 photographers look at their lives, memories, futures and world with freshness and intelligence that speaks to possibility.” —AARON SCHUMAN
The Magenta Foundation is pleased to announce the results of Year Eight of its Emerging Photographers exchange. The Flash Forward 2012 Group Show debuted in Toronto at Artscape Daniel’s Spectrum, and then travelled in part to the United Kingdom and the Salt Institute in Portland, before reaching its annual home at Flash Forward Festival 2012 at Boston’s Fairmont Battery Wharf.
Garrett Carr ‘On Shadow Mapping’
Light, shadow, and the passing of time, surely the fundamentals of photography, are the Alexander’s distilled subject matter.
Yet her images have humanity and a playfulness that calls the viewer in, no matter the scale. This is the effect of the trace of her own hand. With chalk she outlines the shadow cast by the sun as it moves across ground or up a wall, perhaps one line every ten minutes. She marks the chalk lines with the exact time it was drawn until she has built up a record of time passed. With her intervention sunlight leaves behind a web or a net. The marks have their own abstract qualities but also catch out of the air, in the manner of a web or net, a sense of elemental time. The photographic record of Alexander’s time-chasing poignantly imply all that is gone and will never quite be again.
In Conversation with Rebecca Drew; BPF 2013 Interview on Danny Wilson Award.
Rebecca Drew is a trustee (and interim chair) of the Brighton Photo Fringe, involved since the very beginning, and instrumental in setting up the Brighton Photo Biennial, as it’s first coordinator and then a founding Board member. Formally Deputy Director of Photoworks and now Head of Finance and European Programmes at Fabrica.
Alexander’s photographs are small histories of perfectly innocent times.
As such they have a bit of sadness in them. The shadows she traced have passed on. The chalk lines she traced them with will wear away soon. She uses photography, the medium of light and time, to show us light and
RD: I was one of the judges on the Danny Wilson Memorial Award last year. So I was delighted when Joan won, but it was a very close competition and the judges had heated debates about who should win. It was the originality of Joan’s work, it’s delicate beauty and its experimental nature, that won the argument. And the fact that Joan had been involved in two very successful Fringe projects.
I am generally interested in work that is quiet and thoughtful. I call it Slow Art. Art that makes me think. And your work definitely draws on philosophical thinking. You started off studying philosophy? So how did you come to do an MA in photography here in Brighton?
JA: I studied philosophy and minored in politics at Queens University Belfast, afterwards I worked in politics with an NGO while developing my practice, to the point where I was ready to do my MA. This took about 5-6 years. I taught myself through doing foundation art, took various short term courses including studio lighting and pinhole photography. Then I successfully applied for an Arts Council Award grant, did a residency at PAF in France and volunteered at Belfast Exposed, working as a gallery assistant in return for the use of their facilities.
RD: And the link to your philosophical studies is very important ….
JA: Yes. Reading, and linking texts into my work, absolutely goes hand in hand with my photographic work, I read quite a lot, and it’s not that I illustrate texts with my work but I like how the texts I use are really important, both as an influence in what I make and in getting me to the point of getting out there to actually make work.
I think this is why it takes me quite a long time to make work because there is this incubation period. I do get worried at this stage and am relieved when I finally start producing something and gathering source material, finding that the texts I’ve been reading overlap and coincide eventually in my ‘finished’ work.
RD: So we are going to look at the work in your MA show
Let’s start with your Shadow Dial Studies series – you map shifting shadows with chalk, they’re like a kind of scientific experiment to capture the intangible. You’ve said you want to ‘interrupt, imprint and record layers of time’.
Tell us about the Blue Room Series
JA: The first images here weren’t actually in my MA show but they were key pieces in the overall project. Blue Room consists of a shadow dial created from 11 am – Noon.
To make a Shadow Dial, each 10 minutes I draw a line between the shadow and the light – or more simply I trace around the shadow lines. These pieces are very time based and I tend to print these particular ones quite small so the viewer has to look very closely at the lights movement. In the next stage I transfer these onto tracing paper by tracing the chalk lines onto tracing paper with pencil, which is where they become physical maps, and finally I stick these maps to a window and photograph them as slides.
There were 2 Shadow Maps in my MA show, Sunrise and Solar Noon.
Study Viii, Sunrise Transparency
These drawings were and still are at the core of my work, they are made in a process which begins with watching light and tracing shadow lines in order to measure and interpret them.
I wanted to collect and file them, in a way to collect invisible things, I began making these shadow dials after my foundation art project , working mainly in three locations over a period of three years before collating them into Shadow Dial Studies in my MA.
The idea behind this is to hold time in works that are informed by light, weather and the layout of the place or building I am in.
RD: So what fascinates you about shadows?
JA: When I watch shadows I am totally drawn in because I think they are so visually beautiful but also really interesting, For me they are loaded with philosophical meaning and history, they are ciphers for a lot of my thinking on finitude, death and being human. Shadows reference passing time , they are at the origins of how we measure time (the first ideas of the sun rising and setting being ,measured using sun dials) and in so shape how we perceive and structure our lives, our ‘being’ in time.
RD: I think it was Eduardo Cadava who describes the photograph as an agent of temporal disturbance.QUOTE And your work points out the complexity of the time of photographs – past present and future in one image. There is a beautiful Murakami quote that you have used before:
“The sharp sunshine of early summer dappled the surface of the alley with the hard shadows of the branches that stretched over head. Without wind to move the branches, the shadows looked like permanent stains, destined to remain imprinted on the pavement for ever”. Murakami,The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, p12-13
Alongside the Shadow Dials you presented two other major works for your MA show. Normandy Figure was made during a residency in France. It was presented as a series of images in a lightbox and you also made it into a beautiful little editioned book. You showed this work in the fringe in Velo Vitality , a bicycle shop because it was made on cycling trip?
JA: I made Normandy figure during a cycling trip to France before my residency and MA but continued making the work for years afterwards. Finally now, when I see the work it feels like watching shadows, and that was the aim , to merge the shadow and the ghost with this lady.
RD: Can you describe how this happened?
JA On the cycle from Mont St Michel back to Cherbourg we stopped for lunch in a village. It was siesta time, and I went for a walk. When I saw her form across the square, everything was still and really quiet, there was no one around at all, the square was empty. Everyone was indoors I think. It was quite an uncanny feeling, even more so because of where she was, what she was wearing and the emptiness of the surroundings. At first I was quite taken aback, and just stood and watched, I think she did remain in the window for a long time, it felt as if she was timeless, it may only have been 10 minutes, I don’t remember. I didn’t take a picture and walked around the square, she was still there when I got back and I started taking pictures, to avoid approaching her even I zoomed in. She was still there when I left. Later that year in December, between times (between taking these pictures and processing them) I had visited a cemetery in Lisieux Basse, Normandy) on my way to my residency in St Erme, Picardy and made shadow cut outs out of some of the St Therese figurines on the gravestones. Then during my MA I made Normandy series taking the lady out of her window and letting her move around the space and time of her original place, where she had been imprinted on the emulsion.
RD: I think there is something very uncanny about her. It’s like a Hitchcock movie. And then you disembodied this woman and you cut off her shadow like Peter Pan. She then seems to fly out of the window. You take her into a kind of theatre, a shadow world, a shadow-puppet theatre. It seems to be about photographic processes because your manipulating the image by taking a still photograph by zooming in, and then zooming completely out and releasing the image into a new space, into a new life in the darkroom. She is disembodied and then re-embodied. Like that old idea that the photograph steals the soul.
There is something very ghostly about this work. (Like Cinders – never the same as what was burnt.) Do you believe in ghosts?
JA: No….but yes…
I believe in what we can’t see, in gaps of memory and time, of overlaps of past and present and the role that perception pays in our reality. Whatever results in ‘seeing’ a ghost, the idea is very important to me, in terms of in terms of understanding and finding out about life, and also ghosts are a natural product of death which is one of the few certainties we have. This piece of work became quite important for me. I used it to really experiment with my ideas. I found I could literally use it to demonstrate and explore what photography, or the photographic process, does by exaggerating and delaying stages of it : tracing light, duplicating lines , transferring, enlarging , exposing , using negative and positive, switching unseen for seen . I traced the ladys profile and repeated it, essentially taking her shadow out of the picture and recasting her into the picture as light moving backwards and forwards towards her.
I duplicated these and cast her shadow in the studio using lights and a wire stage.
After that I used tracing paper in the darkroom to duplicate the scene, I placed the anonymous lady in a sort of 2D shadow theatre by making a photogram collage or tableau.
I also made a book as a separate piece which contained images of the rest of the village during the same siesta time combining them with the studio pictures. They were shot on black and white and printed quite small so already looked dated and out of time. It became a very rich piece of source material for me, being quite an uncanny scene to begin with and allowing me many ways to experiment and push the material in the darkroom and studio. This all ties in to my understanding of photography’s relationship to the indexical and as an index how elusive it is. Despite drawing on ideas of time and indexicality, my work always tends to come back to very practical experiments in the darkroom or with very simple subject matter, such as dust, a window washer , ashes or empty rooms.
RD: The third piece of work for your MA is also quite haunting. It was an installation entitled Dust shot in Rylagh, an old dilapidated house belonging to your family in County Tyrone.
Click to view Dust
JA: Dust the video was made while I was preparing or sweeping the floor there to make a shadow tracing with chalk, I saw the dust in the light coming through the window and recorded it. As a child I always tried to ‘hold’ the rays that came through windows, reaching out to touch them, in the moment really believing it would be physical. The dust here, makes the light tangible, it becomes the lights channel. Afterwards when I watched it the work became very significant. It references photographic equipment through the visual echo of dust in the light rays from a projector beam, and this is why I made a slide to project in my space of the broom that I used to sweep the dust.
RD: I’m particularly struck by references to photography’s history throughout your work, Dust obviously references Fox Talbot early image of a broom. And the woman in Normandy Figure seems like a cipher for the first photograph emanating from Niepce’s window. You also create links between the past and present with your use of different technologies, photograms and lumigrams, black and white film, an old fashioned slide projector juxtaposed with a digital film projection. And as we’ve discussed your interest in history and the passage of time is evident in the subject matter, dust and the sweep of history. You have said that your work engages with Fox Talbot’s belief that photography shifted our understanding of light by turning time into space. Can you explain that more?
JA: I think, in terms of Talbot’s quote QUOTE that photography turned time into space shifting our understanding, has influenced my work through its resonance with the mechanics and the technology of photography more than the finished photograph itself. The process of light going through the machine or registering onto a surface is really exciting, it is the mechanics and the process. That’s why with my work the process is important; the work is almost always ‘in progress’ rather than a finished piece
RD: So you’re investigating the ontology of photography in your work?
JA: Yes, I do this through investigation in very simple ways, like what I did in Normandy Figure, stretching out the photographic process, experimenting with its basic elements – its relation to light, shadow and time. Using a variety of photographic techniques to experiment and investigate as part of an ongoing photographic process I try to literally re draw time by tracing, transferring and recasting shadows.
Following on from Fox Talbot, even though we have numerous means and devices to record and store images now, using ‘live time’, seeing the present as it happens I really like returning to the idea of fixing because now that even though we can ‘fix’ an image we still cant ‘fix’ time, it keeps eluding us, despite living ‘in’ it. Shadows and technology always ever evading us and we are still just as unable to access the present and the past passes through it. In the early days of photography at its invention, the quest was to fix an image, to hold time, and it was frequently lamented that the images faded distressingly quickly. Now of course we also have apps and devices where there is no desire for permanence, there is a keen need to keep images moving with us. Shadow and technology both move and evade us.
RD: And at the same time your video evokes the mundane work of sweeping the floor, the magic of the everyday. Your lumigrams are the simplest form of photography, it’s as if you are trying to condense down complex notions of history and philosophy into the most succinct formal expression. Your Dust film reminds me of Michael Snow’s seminal film Solar Breath, an hour long film of a curtain fluttering in the breeze – yet another window! Can you talk about the formal simplicity of your work and artists that have influenced you?
JA: I like land artists such as Nancy Holt and Andy Goldsworthy, works that use natural light and temporal cycles to create work that is almost already there….I also like diagrammatic graphs and icons, works with annotations and that invite interpretation quite literally. I also at the same time like very large images with very simple aesthetics and that give minimal information. I enjoy looking at Muybridge, or scientific diagrams or maps.
RD: And this is what your shadow dial series is about, mapping and tracing….
JA: I see the shadow as very much an everyday thing that as I’ve said, apart from being visually engaging holds so much resonance to the beyond and allows me to explore the often complex nature of my work
RD: Your work to me often seems like a mad pursuit of containing the uncontainable. It is often informal , always tangential, and a working through, a progress, shabby even, but is romantic and beautiful, elegant and refined. The intensity with which you focus in on the smallest of details makes me wonder if this is a deliberate turning away from politics and violence? You’re from Omagh in Northern Ireland. Home of the Troubles, and a terrible car bomb in 1998.
JA: While I grew up in a province with a substantial and regular amount of tension and loss my work, or my subject matter is not about ‘The troubles’, I think that growing up during them certainly influenced my outlook on life. I wasn’t aware of this until I got older as it was always just normal, life always continued very normally. In hindsight I can see that the environmental impact of sectarianism, borders, definitions and religion was quite defining and it felt quite claustrophobic. I would find watching light moving and the shadows return beautiful and curious, it made me feel like something ‘big’ was happening despite all; despite political ‘incidents’, definitions or religious reasonings. It wasn’t that this was reassuring, but it felt timeless, universal and important to witness, it gave me somewhere to go and was interesting .
RD: You’ve told me that you feel the need to return home to make work and you’ve just got back from a trip. You have a very nice studio here so what it is particularly about the context there that sparks your creativity?
JA: In terms of going home to make work, I feel like I know the space there, the shadows and the fall of the light in a way that matters, so making work is now what I need to do there….also practically , my work is durational , it takes a long time to make and i have the peace of mind, solitude or isolation to make it there.
RD: Your current work in progress Shadow Dials Part II has you trying to trace the difference between a moving object, here a tree moving in the wind, and it’s shadow.
Click to view Shadow Speed (on face of the barn)
RD: When I see this shed I immediately think of Walker Evans, and his clapboard houses, but also the formal lines of the wood are a kind of graph that evokes your shadow dial studies. It’s another impossible experiment.
JA: Yes. A shadow is never separated from its object, it is its twin, so this work is trying to catch the visually imperceptible space between the object and its shadow. In this way it starts to become clearer it’s about the space in between, that space that is often un noticed, and hard to measure.
RD: It’s a kind of determined noticing. A nature study. And it’s also quite absurd. I think that’s where Beckett comes in perhaps. I mean it’s very elegant but its funny too. You’re going to read us a bit from Beckett in ‘Ill Seen Ill Said’:
‘Evening again. when not night it will be evening . death again of deathless day. on the one hand embers. on the other ashes. day without end won and lost. unseen” Ill Seen Ill Said p40
RD: Alongside this you are making a body of work about cinders, following on from your work on Dust. You’ve filmed the remnants of burning papers and have made a series of still images of the ashes in a round jar. Can we have a sneak preview of this new work?
Click to view Cinders I Pyre
RD: For me this inevitably evokes death, and the holocaust and the Troubles and also Carol Mavor’s writing on Hiroshima that I know is important for you.
JA: Shadow and the latent image are themes I am really keen to develop through my work. In ‘Summer Was Inside the Marble’ Carol Mavor discusses involuntary memory, through the shadow without a referent, no referent because it had been incinerated in the Hiroshima atom bomb. This is a memory that she said must be told but in a radically different way because the ‘image’, this shadow, is no longer indexical. My Cinders’ work is about mourning passing time. It draws on Derrida’s writing about memory, mourning and death, in ‘Athens Still Remains’, on the impossibility of seeing history; a moment just passed or previous spell of time, exactly as it was. Basically about the absence of what is past -burnt, in its presence -cinders. Derrida talks about ghosts, traces and cinders to address the memory by which we construct ourselves and the idea that everything is infused with mourning, death is ever present and ever elusive. I have literally used cinders here, ones burning at my parents home, to begin this line of inquiry, referencing strongly Derrida’s ‘Cinders’, where Cinders is a motif for a radical destruction of memory.
RD: It seems to me that your work attempts to draw out the magical qualities of photography. Given your interest in shadows, ghosts, and cinders, it came as no surprise that your latest project is about fairies! Fairies have been a subject for photography since it’s inception, and Fox Talbot described his early photographs as his ‘fairy pictures’. This new project is called Light, Line and Lore and links storytelling with photography and its relationship to collective memory. Can you tell us more about this and describe what the project is going to be?
JA: I have started working at the sites of fairy thorn bushes, which are actually just regular Whitethorn bushes, but they have grown alone, not in a hedge row, and are said to be inhabited or protected by and for the fairies. So they must on no account be harmed, cut down or even touched, otherwise bad luck will befall the person who does, and their family. Because of this I am working carefully around them! I am interested in them specifically because there is a strong link between shadows and fairies, both are impossible to capture and they are ciphers for ideas about transgression, liminal states, the intangible. Within the tradition of fairy folklore is a strong preoccupation with boundaries between one world and the other. My work considers the line between shadow and light, a line difficult to trace and identify.
With this metaphorical resonance, I’m exploring how verbal histories, folklore and legends are stored in the memory and age with the ebb and flow of the memory keeper, who in their recounting of them, cast vivid stories and influence. I’m referencing Derrida again in ‘Athens Still Remains’, where he writes about the relations between photography, light, writing, memory, mourning , death and survival. The book is short and questions whether the boundary between light and shadow constitutes a line, and this meditation is the conceptual origin for my new work on fairy folklore.
Within the tradition of fairy folklore is a strong preoccupation with boundaries between one world and the other, and as shadow mapping considers the line between shadow and light, a line difficult to trace and identify to be significant, I plan to explore this ‘non area’, and relate it to the photographic latent image, the undeveloped area of light caught between times of capture in the darkroom.
I plan to do this by working in a place that has a strong connection to folklore and fairy legend in Ireland in County Tyrone , Derry and Donegal, as it is from here that my family originates and here that the ideas and stories of fairies were first instilled in my memory. Where a lone thorn bush, or a fairy bush grows will determine where this line will be, as it was ‘borne from a seed that was never planted’, mythically , it has no known referent.
RD: We end with this image of a light meter on the border of a fairy thorn in Loughmacrory. You placed it there to mark , or measure the liminal space between shadow and light., and the boundary between where its okay to go and not okay to go, according to fairy folklore.
JA: In the same way that falling light makes us measure time and structure our lives, fairy sites and stories impact culture and lives in Northern Ireland, it is cultural trope, but also more universally these stories also hold fast. There are loads of stories, folklore, relating to ghosts.
RD: You have been reading ‘Passing the time in Ballymenone’ by Henry Glassie, a great book that explores the value of storytelling, and how it makes sensate things invisible, essentially relating to Barthes’ idea of the Punctum.
Our time is up and we are going to end on a quote from Henry Glassie in this book;
“The Folklorist’s fascination with surface structure has often made craft of tales. But the good story is crafted for purpose. It uses its appeal to the senses to gain entrance to the mind. It is art. To be art , a thing must move the senses and the intellect. It will have form and meaning. Meaning is not to prove but to approach.”‘Passing the time in Ballymenone’ p 520-521
 Photography & Culture, Vol 1 Issue 1;2008; Summer Was Inside the Marble, p155
Radio Interview with University College FM; On Shadow Dial Study V Light Line and Lore; Cork Photo; 2015
UCFM I’m here at Camden palace for the opening night of Cork Photo 2015 , and I got to meet one of the artists, Joan Alexander who talked me through this Multi media piece with sound, slides, a projection and drawing as well.
I asked her first, what is your background , did you come to photography directly ?
JA I studied philosophy and politics originally and began working working more and more with photography . I trace and draw shadows before using my camera – which I refer back to the origins of photography as being a tracing of light and shadow so I still consider my work to be very photographic.
I’ve come from Philosophy to photography and it is now coming together as multi media installations like this one.
UCFM Does your philosophy background in any way inform what you do as a photographer?
JA Yes definitely. My thinking is informed a lot by pretty standard strains of philosophy. A lot of the work I’ve been doing recently is about indexicality and basically how we record light and time and how that reflects on memory and involuntary memory.
My fairy project is working well for that as people recall stories and have to understand the un see able and the seen and the unseen through them, and is just about trying to trace our being in the world in ways that we cant see.
UCFM Now you talk about fairy stories and the sub title is Light Line and Lore and of course Lore is the fairy story and the light and line is dealing with the shadow
Now this piece is Shadow Dial Study 10 , and I know this an ongoing series with you, so is lore usually a part of it?
JA No this is the first time lore has come into it. Normally I tend to name the Shadow Dial Study by the location of the work and the date or depending on the actual thing I’m using to explore the light, line and the shadow, such as ‘Dust’. This particular place is based around Cooktown in County Tyrone, and that’s near where I’m from, so I imagine there will be a few more within the Light Line and Lore studies form there. I work near to my family home in Tyrone as much as possible,but I’ve done quite a few site specific projects in England where I am currently based. I worked in Embassy Court, Brighton and De La war Pavillion in Bexhill on Sea. They are both modernist buildings and it was nice using their architecture to record shadows there and I did my first tracings of humans there as well.
UCFM Do you have a similar approach or methodology to all your projects because it seems to me that you begin with the shadow, you begin by sketching it. Is that the usual way and why?
JA Yes that’s exactly right I tend to get to a space and usually the first initial studies would be a few photographs obis and then . I make research mainly I take notes and then I’ll trace the shadow and that gives me a real sense of where the light falls, and what way it falls and how long it lasts and how it might change. Last year I was working a lot between Summer and Winter so it that was really interesting to see how the light changed in terms of the shadow drawings at that stage and the shadow quality . And then the moving image work is generally taken quite randomly, if I see something that fits in, or that relates in some way. So normally I will make shadow tracings and moving image pieces that form the introduction and the back bone of the more detailed studies that come next.
So this installation has got a video piece of mist, which is very connected to fairy folk lore, but it was unplanned , it was really early one morning, and it just looked very beautiful so it’s just a hand held piece.
UCFM And does it matter to you that it is not a fairy tree we are looking at in the moving image piece. It is a very atmospheric and evocative thing, with the shadow and the mist….Is it just a about a general impression of where you are within a kind of documented reality?
JA Yes I always feel it’s good to locate the work so you are looking at the surrounding area as well. This was just near my parents house, and I feel it situates the work so you can see outside it. But also in this particular piece it is a lot about the boundary between the magical area and the not magical area, where it is safe to tread casually and where you should be aware of the fairies. These trees were outside where the fairy bush was. It is nice to make it quite a large piece as I felt like the exterior seemed very expansive in relation to the more intricate interior works where you read the story and see the boundary traced between the shadow and fairy white thorn bush in the Shadow Map here. I quite like giving a sense of the outside and the inside and the line between the light and the shadow in the work.
UCFM With the use of the phrase about ‘treading carefully’ I’m reminded of that phrase with ancient maps; ‘Here be monsters’ in terms of this is the dangerous area, because this reminds me of a map, your shadow work….Here of the tree, its like a modern cartography of mapping out, this what is it – is archipelago violin maybe or a coastal landscape or something wild- without knowing the rest of the components of this exhibition, you are trying to make sense of what you re looking at , where you are at – this you are trying to make sense of what you are looking at…Where am I
JA That’s great as these works are actually intended to be ‘Shadow Maps,’ and to literally map out the terrain of a shadow, and everyone knows that’s a futile thing to do because shadows move and disappear with the light and change with the seasons….But that is like what photography does, it futilely tries to hold time and see what it looks like. Trying to catch the shadow by tracing it to see what it looks like on a piece of paper and you don’t often get to do that because they normally move quite quickly, so they are shadow maps to plot your way around a shadow but that’s gone every minute, it just keeps changing.
UCFM And the is where we re enter the philosophical side of it, the idea of of the futility of marking time. Is photography futile in doing that? Has it ever done it successfully do you think ?
JA Yes, yes a lot of my work has looked at that and yes I think it does do that and it’s a lovely way to see your memories or whatever, but in terms of the history of photography , originally the big quest was too fix photographs, so people for a long time were able to record light on a surface and to form images , that was really exciting but then they couldn’t hold the image and there was a lot of distress caused by this because you would have these beautiful images daguerreotype plate and it would just disappear and they took a long time to fix the image, and I think that’s really interesting because even though they fixed that image catching moment closer and closer to catching the present moment and then you get into moving image , and now almost we re back to this very quick transitory image with san chat and digital images
Its a cyclical thing and theres always a desire to hold time and weather way culture is moving seems to affect it an awful lot as well so it just an on going thing but it really reminds us of how we are finite creatures and there is this thing that alludes us with time, we are always moving within in but trying to hold onto it.
UCFM Now we are moving over the the left , and we have a a there is a light box with a number slides. and the slides are of the fairy tree and there are some misty desolate roads around it. Now , the arrangement of the photo . you have two concentric lines going around
whats going on….
JA Well basically the two lines were to show the boundary, and inside the lines are arrows in the directions of the nearest landmarks and habitations, to Cookstown, Carrickmore and An Cregan which is a heritage site that’s got some standing stones. But basically he slides are arranged in a way that hopefully guides the viewer into the duality of the area, and this story….At the very centre , theres a centre point where the thorn bush study it.thats just almost documentary pictures, of the fairy bush itself and you can see there is a kerb around it.this was all done after somebody did chop the fairy bush down. and great … there’s the story here, that I’ve written down expelling it , but , there was a bus crash , and the person who cut it down got killed, and then later some one else chopped at a fairy tree later nearby there was another person who chopped at a fairy tree nearby and their head is permanently twisted to the left now and there are all these stories. and so this piece is almost trying to take a very straight photographic approach to it.
So it shows the surrounding area again, and there is a misty patch of evergreen trees here and then there’s lots of hedges which are actually thorn buses too but because they are not on their own and single they are safe, and they could can be chopped down without harm befalling anyone else. Then I have a picture of the road, the site where the bus actually crashed, and there clearly a blind spot on the road which is very likely to be a good reason wy the bus crashed.
And this was all within the last 10 years, and the story came from some one I know from up round there who told me about it when I was its beginning to form this Shadow Study last year.
So I was basically taking a very analytical, very straight look at this story, and using photography then in one of its more recognised ways, which is just recording a situation, to give us evidence , so I quite like that, it was one of the first times I’ve been able to do that for a long time!
And I have made transparencies as well, and I quite like that they are old 200mm slides, because slides have got the the ability to be projected but I quite like them as little objects so they become evidence of this magical or superstitious thing thats happened here.
UCFM You’ve used the word analytical, and evidence well. I was thinking it is like detective work. The way you have under a slide, ‘Site of upturned bus’, here. and a shot of a bit of road titled, ‘Blind spot on road’ and it is really trying to make sense of rational things, maybe it was just a blind spot on the road, but you cant escape the fact that it resists analysis, it’s a mystery …..
JA Yes and even with the story I’ve recorded here , the person explaining the story that happened with this fairy bush thats been cut down was expressing the story in two different ways….
I asked him, “What is the deal with the bush now, it’s very protected and….. what do people think?
And I really love what he said in reply, he just said, “ Oh well you know, its nothing. A wee bird just carried the seed away and it just got planted in an odd, awkward place, instead of the hedge row it’s nothing. But I mean they cut it down! Why would you do that?”.
So there this kind of dual thing, where it’s the rational; the really rational reason as to why this bush has randomly grown in this case, right in the middle of the union of a lane, that makes it quite a hazard but despite this no one would cut it down and as the story teller said , It’d be a right eejitt who cuts it’s down in the end up”. You can’t follow through the rational and you can’t follow through the magical to reach a conclusion very easily, never the twain will meet , they re never going to sit alongside each other.
UCFM And is that the actual tree – it can’t be I suppose as it was cut down ……
JA Well, no this is the actual tree, it was cut down to no more than a knee high stump , so it was just a stump and then it grew back but now the locals keep it protected, it’s quite nice looking now its been trimmed and got a kerb around it. But it used to be just a big unwieldy bush that nobody would even touch, but now it’s maintained and taken care of. It stands out because as you said , it’s in this desolate looking spot, in a place you wouldn’t expect, but theres this kerb and this well pruned white thorn bush. But it had been just hacked down to no more than a knee high stump so I guess all the branches had gone and if it was to be considered as a sacred place fairy spot, it was done without the right sort of reverence to the fairies, or whatever ritual remained there. It was done in a way that was meant to prove the falsity of such belief. Apart from uprooting it, the person who chopped it, chopped it down to as far as it could have been. But as we see, it did grow back, and now is very much looked after.
UCFM Being aware of the story, I love how the slides at the centre are so clear looking yet unfathomable , yet the ones south side of the margins are more elusive looking and yet perhaps offer more of a location for us to kind of contemplate…. contemplate that it is the unknown
JA Yes, they are more rational, the ones outside are more elusive. I really want there to be a space of contemplation in my work , often to search for meaning in every element of an installation with tracings and projections, reduces the experience down, so I really love the whole area of fairy folklore as it allows for physical signs and evidences to be presented but also leaves this gap where there is no physical evidence. Thats why I have included the issue of New Scientist on the Invisible, to further lay down evidence about how the unseen is increasingly evident, and relevant in our understanding of life. I’m really interested in the tension between seen and unseen and particularly in how it plays out in photography. and this section of my work is going to give me a lot of material to work l hope but I’m really actually tip toeing around the fairy sites themselves, but I actually did manage to get a few rolls of film taken , although I was thinking, ‘these photos are going to be really blurred because Im actually afraid to rake a photograph here incase I shouldn’t be recording or trying to test the fairy lore!’.
But there are circumstantial reasons that contributed to the blurriness and the way the images are almost hazy in places, it was misty weather, a misty day, autumn time, it was the end of summer, so it was a good time of year to get that rainy, misty Irish weather coming on. Then on top of that, I was shooting a little under pressure as the shot of the road actually does look like a road accident scene because I was in the middle of the road and I do know it’s a blind spot , so as well as the fairy worry I had, of upsetting the fairies ,I was worried about getting run over on the road, it’s just a typical country road where there’s no traffic and then suddenly something comes past really fast towards you. So it was a tricky situation with some camera shake in a few pictures….
Joan Alexander, thank you very much.