Exercise Brief: History painting was a specific genre of painting that depicted scenes from religious, historical or mythological texts. Choose a text that has meaning for you. It can be anything from a poem to a newspaper report, a biblical passage or a scene in a novel. It can be a long text, but it would probably be best if it was reasonably short, even a few lines. You’ll need to know your text, so read it repeatedly. Try to generate visual ideas that communicate something about the text. Discuss the text with other people and find out what images spring to mind for them. Write down any ideas you get from the text. They can be visual ideas or thoughts about the subject. How would you turn that text into a photograph or a series of photographs?
• Begin by thinking of a literal translation from the text, like a movie or a biblical painting.
• Next, try to think in more metaphorical and symbolic ways. Text can be didactic, but you don’t have to illustrate the text; you can use it as a starting point for your picture- making or you can create a broad interpretation based on the intuitive or emotional meaning the text has for you. For example, the Resurrection may cause joy and this joy could be metaphorically expressed in an explosion of color, as in the work of Polly Apfelbaum. As further research on the relationship between image and text, look at Barbara Kruger’s montages of photography and text, plus Gillian Wearing’s Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say.
If you’re stuck, have a look at the short texts below. ‘Genuine peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice’. (Martin Luther King Jr) ‘Silence is like a place outside the world’. (Søren Kierkegaard) ‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea’. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) When you’ve finished your work, place the photograph or photographs you’ve made with the text, side-by-side.
Photographs from text
The inspiration for this exercise came from an old classic song “Wichita Lineman”, written by American songwriter Jimmy Webb in 1968 and sung by Greg Campbell that I happened to be listening to on a road trip.
“And I drive the main road
Searching in the sun
For another overload”
“Wichita Lineman” is a song written by American songwriter Jimmy Webb in 1968. It was first recorded by American country music artist Glen Campbell with backing from members of The Wrecking Crew and widely covered by other artists.
A simple tale of a lonely telephone repairman working in the vast open plains of the American Midwest, Wichita Lineman is one of the most perfectly realized pop songs of all time. The lyrics describe a lineman who is also pining for home and imagines he can hear his absent lover “singing in the wire”. “I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time,” he tells her. “And the Wichita Lineman, is still on the line.
Thought Process – As I sang along I started to notice the overloaded bikes and vehicles along the highway and these lines took a new meaning. The similarity being that this song was coined on a highway and listening to it on the loop on the highway was extremely nostalgic. My initial thoughts translated into the following images-
Not a literal translation of its original meaning, it took upon a new meaning for me as I captured these images. What started as a kind of a humoristic tribute to the song from my side gradually made me link it to the overburdened Earth. As I collated the entire data for this exercise, it was kind of scary to realize that the word “searching in the sun”took a new meaning. At the time this song was coined the highways would have been so lonely that one actually had to look for something. In the present scenario, I really did not have to search for my translation of overload – it was scarily everywhere. And it ceased to be funny once I started to bring my work together.
As I moved beyond the humor, an extremely scary picture started to emerge. The human population has grown so alarmingly and is almost uncontrollable, at least in this part of the world, that the value of human life is perhaps as low or equal to how animals are treated in this country.
My take on this exercise was to capture images that resonated the word “overload” – the final meaning that it took for me or what I ended up relating it to the most was to an overburdened Earth, due to the overgrowing population of humans that has resulted in an unprecedented pressure on the Earth in every which way. Humanity has itself ceased to value its own life. It is evident from these images how human life has devalued and as far as one can see it is only oceans and oceans of people. I narrowed down my image captures to be suggestive of overflowing humans, resulting in the following images –
My top 5 images selected images from the above contact sheets portray human beings, depending on rickety means of transportation, in order to get to their destinations, in vehicles that have no safety measures, that are filled more than capacity, with as many humans as they can take, in order to make more money, and where the humans themselves have accepted this, without realising the fact these are just a tragedy waiting to strike. But we have increased so much in numbers that perhaps the value of our own lives does not seem to matter to us anymore. We are stuffed like guinea bags everywhere, wherever one sees. We are just an overload that will one day collapse upon ourselves.
Conclusion – I learned a lot from this exercise. Initially, at the beginning of my road trip, my thought process made me chuckle at this visual imagery. The images I captured were comical, amusing and made me smile. I guess I was looking at them with the word “overload” literally translated, which was not incorrect but maybe was slightly superficial or light in meaning. My initial thoughts made me capture the various scenes where visual overload was apparent, like overloaded bikes, trucks, etc.
Gradually, looking and relooking at my work started to make me realize the different meanings that an image could take. As I went deeper into this exercise, I realized that I could relate these images to more than one meaning. The work before me did not appear so funny when I laid it in front of me. All the images together were an overload within themselves and that’s when I started to correlate these images to the effect of the overburdening on the resources of our Earth – which is directly related to the ever-increasing human population. With this new found meaning to these images, I focused on the images that directly dealt with overcrowded humans and which showcased how we are becoming a burden on this planet in more ways than one. Since population explosion is the reason for almost every problem in our world, I began to narrow down to images that directly showed or related to this.
This was a crucial learning process in which I learned that one may take out many meanings from an image with the power of text. I could have approached my exercise from more than one ways.
I learned the power of words combined with imagery has a very deep impact. An image might be looked at from various perspectives, like in my case, initially, they appeared to be quite amusing. It’s only when I started to juxtapose it with my text did I start to realize the disturbing meanings and impact some these images had.
I have processed these images in monotones as I wanted the impact of the image to be felt and not be obscured by color or clutter in the images. Coloured images had a different feel and appeared unsuitable to me for the purpose of this exercise. Also, the visual layout and the monotones were also done keeping in mind the inspirational words and the era they belonged to.
I read thoughts of various artists who work in multimedia to understand the relationship between text and visuals. It is quite an interesting area that I have covered in my learning log – Relationship between Image and Text – Learning from photographers and artists.