Laura Pannack – “Youth Without Age, Life Without Death”.
I have recently found the work of Laura Pannack who on going work in progress “Youth Without Age, Life Without Death”, inspired by a Romanian folk tale of the same title, re-imagines the story of a young prince on his quest for eternal life. The work sensitively responds to the strong role that folklore plays within rural Romanian culture. It is described in the British Journal of Photography as ‘unravelling the myths, culture and tradition of the rural Romanian landscape, using a blurring of fiction and reality to draw a line through past, present and future.’ The blur between fiction and reality and drawing lines is exactly what photography is and does. But in the same way as Pannack, this is what I want my image content to be, to play on that, to tell stories. Pannack explains, in the BJP article, her sense of universal anxiety over life and the passage of time; technology, and its inundation of peers’ success and achievement have made our senses distorted to own of senses of self-accomplishment. In search of answers, Pannack went to Romania on the strength of wanting to go somewhere she couldn’t speak the native language, following in her tradition of “doing things that scare” her, and on the advice of a friend. She came across the tale of the prince and recognised similarities in her own yearnings in her own life. Pannack uses expired film, giving a further context to the idea of life and death which is present within the photographs, frequently using red ribbon (am integral symbol of birth and death in Romanian culture) in the photos.

“This project is a response to my need to escape, adventure and roam in reaction to internal pressure I feel that time is moving too fast. Hours, days and weeks pass and I can’t recall them and it frightens me. The purple evening sunlight and untouched scenery are an escapism and a perfect visual language to match any fairytale.”

Laura Pannack,

I like this project, if I would say anything about it critically, maybe the images of a little nostalgic in tone and colouration. The use of expired film does add a layer of contextuality in relation to the life and death of something, it’s time span, and her anxieties about time passing, but I wonder if this is an after comment or a predetermined outcome, it is not clear in the article. I really like the photos but I would prefer to seem the same images but not with the aged look, in this respect I think a comment could be made about Pannack’s relation to the present rather than maybe harking back to the past. It is interesting to think about colour photography and nostalgia considering the how a fair amount of my research to date has in some way been related to nostalgia but specifically with monochrome in mind. I had intentially ignored colour before in part because I knew wholeheartedly I would somehow come back to this notion later on, now.

This project has elements to what I have started to develop as an idea for my research proposal and another aspect of this project I have taken note of in relation to my own work is that of Pannack’s seemingly unqualified/lack of connection to Romania. She is British and went to Romania with no experience or connection to the subject of her project, this is something I have found problematic in my own work; just because I have taken interest in something, as a foreigner (to which all aspects of foreign daily life are arguably more interesting than that of own) , does this qualify you, give you the right, to make a project about it, say for example a Romanian photographer coming to England and photographing English myth because they found it interesting, I would want to know why English myth is the subject to them, in Pannack’s case, she connects her own sentiments regarding her feelings about existence and time to the myth about the Prince looking for eternal life.

Charles Fréger – ‘Yokainoshima

From Charles Freger website – ‘That is the topic of Yokainoshima: through an inventory of masked figures, he paints the face of Japan’s countryside, the traditions that set the pace of its inhabitants’ lives and the earth upon which they tread and work. Over the course of five trips, Fréger travelled through many inland areas and islands, experiencing Japan’s particular relief, its extent and the natural phenomena that regularly rock it. His extensive exploration of the archipelago has allowed him to sensitively grasp the reasons why the Japanese have an empathic relationship with their environment and their extreme awareness of nature’s vitality. Yokai, oni, tengu and kappa, which can be translated as ghosts, monsters, ogres and goblins, are ritual figures imagined by man and embodied during festivals and ceremonies as an attempt to tame the elements and find meaning in natural events.

Tim Walker inspired by Alice in Wonderland for Pirelli Calendar’s 45th edition:

For the 45th edition of The Pirelli Calendar, which was shot in London, Tim Walker revisited ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. In an interview with CreativeBoom, he states that his inspiration partially came from the illustrations that Louis Carroll had entrusted to John Tenniel for the first edition of 1865. In order to convey his idea of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Walker has portrayed a cast of 18 personalities, including Naomi Campbell, RuPaul, Whoopi Goldberg, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Duckie Thot, creating an all-black cast.

”Alice has been told so many times and I think I wanted to go back to the genesis of the imagination behind Lewis Carroll so that you could tell it from the very beginning again. I wanted to find a different and original angle”.

Tim Walker

“It is very important that the story of Alice be told to a new generation. Her adventure in Wonderland resonates with the world we live in today; obstacles we have to overcome and the idea of celebrating difference. Growing up in London I often lived in a fantasy world of fairy tales and detective novels. Alice was always one of my favourite characters. I always felt I was with her on the journey through Wonderland, and all of these extraordinary characters became my friends…well all but the scary Queen and her beheaders…To see a black Alice today means children of all races can embrace the idea of diversity from a very young age and also acknowledge that beauty comes in all colours. Culturally we are living in a diverse world. Projects like this remarkable Pirelli Calendar demonstrate that there is still hope in what sometimes feels like an increasingly cynical reality.”

Edward Enninful, Stylist for Alice in Wonderland (first male and first black editor of British Vogue).

I am not so keen on the distorted and fish-eye aesthetics of these photos but they are employed for obvious reasons. As much as I like distortion I find this a little unambitious given Walker’s skill, maybe the budgets went on the celebrity fees. I am really interested in the ‘twist’ played on the traditions of Alice being white. An essential part of mythical folktales is they transcend time, they are handed down in varying capacities over time through generations, notably often at a young age meaning people carry these tales with them throughout their lives. Walker’s images, to me, go some way to neutralising/voiding stereotyping. Alice is typically depicted as the white, blonde child, and similarly the Queen of Hearts shown as fat.

Ellie Davies – ‘Into the Woods’

Ellie Davies’s work is somewhere between fantasy and reality using forests and galaxies as her subjects. Davies’ work addresses the complexities of human relationships with the natural world by exploring the space between human creation and nature suggesting the human impulse to create is also part of nature. Davies looks at how cultural myths and personal experience can alter our perception of particular spaces, meaning that we read our own stories into our surroundings, rather than seeing them objectively. By artificially altering natural environments, Davies fuses science, magic and reality to question nature and the layers of meaning that we project onto it. I am particularly interested in the idea of how cultural myth can dictate our experience of a place, or anything I guess, through perception. It is my guess that our preconceived ideas of pretty much everything are arguably responsible for a lot more than one would necessarily warrant! Aesthetically, I think the images are really nice, I would like to seem them physically rather than on a screen as I imagine they have more of a depth to them in print.

Riitta Ikonen & Karoline Hjorth – ‘Eyes as Big as Plates’

The collaboration between Finnish artist Riitta Ikonen and Norwegian Karoline Hjorth evolved into a eight-year (and ongoing) project “Eyes as Big as Plates,” in which local elderly people of Greenland, Japan, and the US, and potentially Africa and South America are transformed into mythical gods and organic creatures. The resulting works can be seen in a here. The project title is borrowed from a folk tale about a dog, that lives beneath a bridge, who has eyes as big as plates. Approximately 60 folkloric and whimsical portraits are taken in collaboration with their chanced upon/randomly chosen subjects, often photographed in locations of special significance to the subject.

Asked if the photographs are more about humans or the environment, Ikonen says: “I think they might be, interestingly, about how there might not be a difference between the two,” …. “It’s very nice when after the shoot you ask, ‘How do you feel?’ Sometimes the answer is: ‘I’ve never looked at my surroundings like this. I really feel part of where I am right now.”

I cannot find any information on this work regarding their inspiration to travel to the locations they have, and plan to visit, and I am not sure of their connection to those places. I think the majority of images are really great, some are comical, although some appear a little like the participants have been talked into dressing up, or perhaps a little awkward. They seem to have spent a lot of effort in the production which is something I really appreciate and think the literal adorned use of the local landscape, often in near complete camouflage, is not an overkill. I do however think some images work a little better than others, a product of progression within an 8+year ongoing work, I imagine.

Maja Daniels – Elf Dalia

Maya Daniels is a native of Älvdalen (Sweden), which still has its own language, Elfdalian (which has been traced back to Old Norse).

“My grandparents spoke Elfdalian, whose continued existence baffles linguists, but also is a personal mystery to me, as I cannot speak it.”

In 2012, Daniels started to make work about Älvdalen, having moved back to Sweden, after living in London, and her resulting project is titled Elf Dalia. The project, printed as a book, reflects on place, memory, myth and belonging by juxtaposing images of local young people and landscapes with an incredibly interesting collection of photographs from the archive of Tenn Lars Persson, a lifelong resident of Älvdalen (1878-1938). Persson, remembered for bringing electricity to Älvdalen, his lectures on the wonders of the solar system and plant life, made his own cameras and constructed a telescope to study and photograph the moon.

“Tenn Lars was interested in what can be described as natural magic – knowledge of astrology, alchemy, the occult and the hidden power of plants, animals and stones. Despite spending only four years in school as a child, he became a self-taught electrician, optician, inventor, photographer and scientist. In many ways, he was a wizard of his time.”

Maya Daniels

“the sense of wonder and mystery” that drew her back there. “I felt a deep connection to his work,” … “I wanted to initiate a dialogue with it, to emphasise the unique, almost eccentric spirit of the place.”

Maya Daniels

As well as under- and overexposing her photographs, Daniels sometimes allowed light to leak into the exposed rolls of film:

“to let go of some of my control, but also to produce the sensation of otherworldly presences – which I had, in a way, invited in”.

Maya Daniels

Another contextual layer is added by the inclusion of a poem (Myriadmouth by Andrea Lundgren) talking of mysteries such as “the dark night” and “the forest mouth” and the “great stillness” of the wooded valley. The poem adds to a feeling of modern society overshadowed by a darker and stranger history.

“Elf Dalia is a made-up word that derives from the name of the language, but refers to a place,” … “I wanted to ensure that the book is not read in too straightforward a manner. Despite engaging with a real community, its history and its language, Elf Dalia represents a place I have to a degree created. If someone looks at the work and decides to go and visit Älvdalen, they risk being disappointed.”

Maya Daniels