Thursday, June 14, 2012

Catching what doesn't exist

Well, folks. One last push. Tomorrow is the date of my final assessment, so naturally I'm scrabbling like an idiot to get everything done in time. Because, you know, I didn't burn out from my last two assessments or anything.

(That was a lie. I've been pretty useless the last 18 hours.)

So I guess that this is the final comment on acutal uni work on the blog for this semester. Shall we do it?

This is the concept for my other Photography subject, Light. My other, 3000-level, third-year elective. (Brooke is an idiot.)

The theme for this project was Fabrication.

Because Light was all about using light (in its many forms) to fabricate a composition. Funny that. Anyway. I really can't remember where exactly this started to crystallise into something solid.

I guess it was when I started breaking down the concept of Fabrication by writing things and sticking them to my wardrobe doors. I love this wardrobe. Not just because it's a giant IKEA monstrosity that I built when I was sixteen, but because it's really good for spatial thinking, and for taking photos against.

That aside. Somehow I arrived at an interesting conclusion. Depict and create a recurring character on film.

The character in question I refer to as the Girl in the Blue Dress. She doesn't have a name. I don't want to give her one either - I've named too many separate pieces of personality, anyway.

But this one; she is odd. She doesn't exist properly; always outside of the action and the noise. Unable to speak or touch. Removed from reality but for one thin point of contact, and she's always wanted in, but can't. She's made out of the wrong stuff.

Admittedly, that 'wrong stuff' allows her to float around, and blend, and interact with the world like a whisper. Busy looking cool and slightly frustrated by the alienation.

I draw her a lot. That's how I know her. And she's probably my most successful fabrication. Moreso than Beech, or Rowan or Joey or Kara or Aeon or Caspian or Xander (who are all characters in stories I've written over the last ten years or so). I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I didn't give her a name. It's allowed her to keep growing because she's not defined by it.

And then I was going to try and take photos of something that didn't exist, with a device that is designed to pin down reality. The indexical qualities that we give the photograph means that even when we know it was 'shopped, there was something that this was taken from that existed first.

It's an odd concept, but it's also something that's almost exclusive to the realm of photo and video. It's much more difficult to alter a photo than a picture or a painting. Not in a technical sense, but there's a bit in your head that still goes 'this is a part of that person'.


So, camera dictates that the photo has to have stemmed from life, somewhere. Photo also dictates that something has to be there to create the subject matter.

Because explaining Girl in the Blue Dress to people was a bit difficult while I was working in the classroom, I had to simplify it a bit.

"It's about the things you invent in the back of your head that don't exist properly"

Well, sort of. The manifestation that we got to see through my project was just her.

There were two parts to how the project was executed.

The first was in camera (and I work with film because I enjoy a nice simple life).
Because I wanted to take photos of something that didn't exist, or at least didn't exist properly, the project got pushed in the way of ghost photography and long exposures. I would leave the shutter open for a while and let light and the girl walk across the film before closing it and advancing the film. The results always varied from horribly overexposed to difficult compositions. Good photos were few and far between. It wasn't until I was almost finished that I had another tutor talk to me about how the photos were taken.

"So you're taking all of these in camera?"


"On 35mm film?"


"That's actually really difficult,"

"I know."

Oh. For those who aren't familiar and have not gotten info from context. In Camera means that the composition or special effect was applied when the photo was taken. There was no post-production work done to get the effect.

(Which is still possible in a film camera. If you don't believe me check out Jerry Uelsmann. The guy is a nut and a genius.)

Manual Photoshop.

Having the subject move around in camera was good, because I got these blurry half-defined images of something which definitely didn't exist on the same plane as everything else.

And then, in Silver, we learned how to tone images by dunking them in more chemicals. Some of which were very smelly. But that was how I got introduced to the sepia bleach, and after seeing what it did to the images, decided that it was needed for the project.

This is a little bit funny. Because it was Bleach and it was working, because of the other Bleach with the swords and the ghost people and such.

This is a tiny bit deeper, I promise.

I haven't read much of the early manga, as I watched the anime and then started reading when I ran out of it. But the early anime had some interesting lighting effects, and they may have gotten incorporated a bit in the process.

See, this is what the environment looks like when the characters are interacting with the normal world:

Which is a fairly normal colour palette for an anime. And then a couple of seconds later Rukia literally knocks Ichigo's soul out of his body so she can take his Soul Reaper butt to the park to take out a Hollow.

Screencapping level: novice.
I like how all the highlights are blown out and everything seems more ethereal. Well, ethereal for an anime. It's like...the light is harder, and infiltrates even the darkest corner. The small details are lost to the eye and even the air has tactile qualities, like the edge on the breeze of an autumn evening...

Ah. Yes. I think that in the anime this might have had a twofold purpose; 1. It let the audience know when the characters were interacting with spirits and 2. There were less details. Easier to animate. I've heard it said that 'Bleach has no backgrounds.'

I'll pay that.

Have another gander. Ichigo's first encounter with Rukia. And she looks back at him...

And then walks away. Ichigo realises that she's not part of the material world as the noises of everyone else who did not see the chick in samurai gear dispose of a giant mantis filter into his perceptions.

Screencapping level: should not be screencapping.

See the difference in the background? The contrast is heightened and the highlights are so overblown it feels like when I walk out of the darkroom to check stuff in white light.

Blinks Owlishly.

And I love it.

So, applied Bleach to prints to make the compositions feel less real. Or, less tied to flesh and blood reality, anyway. Dawg.

Oh. The toning was the second part of making-the-images-feel-like-they-weren't-tied-to-reality.

And then:

we came full circle. Scurrying to think of how to present the story, the Girl in the Blue Dress invented someone else without a name. An Observer.

I found it disturbingly easy to write like a crazy person.

I wrote a series of letters from the perspective of someone who'd sighted the Girl and had been unsure of what they were seeing, but decided to document it anyway. Eventually, they convince themselves of her existence only to find that she was a projection of themselves all along. Which explains the fabricated evidence and drawings, but not necessarily the photos.

Because those photos have to come from somewhere.

The idea of the submitted project was to leave that one open to the reader. To have it not-completely-resolved because it allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions about who and what the Girl is. Because even though she was fabricated by me, I believe that it's not too much to a stretch to see others with the same small existence, scratching at the wall of reality, desiring to be let in but unable to interact with the world that does not see them, because it's warmer on the inside.

That's about as profound as I can get for now. Talk to you later.


  1. Hi Brooke

    Do you imagine the girl in the blue dress as a kind of La Belle Dame Sans Merci?


    1. Hi Sam,
      I think that the answer is a little bit of yes and no; In terms of how La Belle interacts with the man, the answer is yes. However the sinister undertones attached to the woman don't ring true with the Girl in the Blue Dress. She's otherworldly, but not malicious in any way. Just a lonely ghost.


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