Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Katie Louise Dixon
Throughout the course of this project my ideas concerning my chosen theme have evolved. Drawing inspiration from survivalist literature Protect and Survive, a public information handbook issued by the government in the early 1980s, this thematic body of images explores the psychological strains and effects the devastation of a life-altering cataclysmic event would have on a survivor. Through my research I have been forced to question: ‘what effect would surviving the apocalypse have on a person?’
By imagining the following days and weeks post nuclear attack, I have constructed scenes and images to portray aspects of an individual’s daily routine. These images explore the monotony, loneliness and haplessness of being incarcerated within the recommended areas of shelter.
Originally, I intended for these images to focus on the subterranean spaces located at the Hack Green nuclear bunker in Cheshire (currently operating as a tourist attraction). This site is a decommissioned purpose-built facility from the Cold War era, to ensure local authority and government remained in control of the country in the wake of a nuclear attack. Concentrating on ideas of Psychogeography, which I have previously explored through my photographic projects, I became interested in the effect such a location was capable of having on the emotions, feelings or behaviour of an individual.
This project has been heavily influenced by the photographic work of David Moore. His series The Last Things (2008) explores the Ministry of Defence’s current crisis management arrangements, deep within the bowels of the City of London. His work depicts empty and often ominous spaces that are uninhabited as well as uninviting. The images meditate on a sense of apprehension by forcing the viewer to acknowledge that such a place exists, laden with paranoid themes of power and control, I was conscious that this body of work already exists. This forced me to consider other means of translating such themes in my own work.
Instead of photographing the spaces at Hack Green empty, as my initial instincts had dictated, I decided to place a model within the environment to explore the effects of such a place on the human condition. By shifting the focus of the imagery from the interiors to a person I hoped that the work would be more poignant and powerful, helping the viewer relate to the theme on a more personal level. I also hoped to capture a sense of the psychological impact the situation could bestow upon a survivor; this event could possibly trigger a descent into madness, brought about by this formidable yet imaginary tragedy?
I had hoped to be able to gain special access to the Hack Green facility in order to photograph my model within the exhibits. After many weeks of trying to contact the curator of the exhibition, Rodney Siebert, through varying channels, I was denied such a liberty. The curator’s unfortunate and unhelpful attitude towards my requests set my project back a few weeks, forcing me to reconsider my options with regards to using the exhibits within the facility as a ready-made sets for my model to pose within. As I felt location was an intrinsic element to my psychogeographic themes, I decided to re-evaluate my options. Eventually opting to work within the areas of the facility that were freely available without special permission or access granted, I concentrated my efforts on the Fall Out Shelter room.
The Fallout Shelter is an original feature, now serving as a simulation experience within the museum attraction. Due to the nature of the nuclear attack simulation concept, working within this environment was at times quite difficult. Tourists visiting the fallout shelter attraction often interrupted these shoots. Many of the tourists would take an interest in our activities, a few even agreed to pose for some shots, however due to this, many shoots were further prolonged and more time consuming than anticipated. This caused both the model and myself to be inside the fallout shelter for numerous hours at a time, though perhaps this can be interpreted as beneficial to the overall project, portraying the claustrophobic mood of being confined within the shelter in a more genuine way.
The lack of light also made working within this space quite challenging for the model, often having to hold poses for 12 seconds or more. Atmospheric red flickering lamps were the only available light sources within the space. I decided it could be interesting to focus on this unusual lighting eventually deriving the name of this project from their given effect. The military and government term ‘Code Red’ has been used previously to describe emergency situations of heightened danger and threat, or in the case of the BIKINI code, an imminent nuclear attack.
I feel that the red colouration of these images sits well within the theme of this body of work. Traditionally the colour red is associated with danger, blood and death. I was happy to work within this pallet believing that the symbolic and powerful connotations of the strong red would work well for a themed body of photographs, cohesively tying them together.
After many weeks of shooting these images I found myself having trouble deciding how best to present them. Inspiration came after seeing a recent feature in an issue of The British Journal of Photography. Graphic artist Paul O’Connell has re-worked the reportage images of photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale into a graphic novel style format. O’Connell has digitally altered Bleasdale’s images of the humanitarian crisis in the Congo in an attempt to capture the attention of a younger generation, who have perhaps little or no interest in current affairs or news stories.
With similar intentions and also inspired by identifying the graphic quality of my own images, I decided that the comic strip style would be an ideal way of communicating a narrative through my photographs. The narrative is mysterious, with little information given in the work’s presentation. Visual clues are present throughout the body of work in the form of powerful signifiers such as the Geiger counters and gas masks, though no concrete explanation is given as to why the protagonist appears to be trapped inside a red room. This is intentional, inviting the viewer to speculate and form his or her own opinions regarding the story.
This project has been added to my website, the Internet offers the potential for my work to be seen by a greater audience, where it may be viewed by many more people than if printed.
The consequences of cataclysmic events such as the use of nuclear weapons are well documented. Survivalist literature provides little comfort when faced with the thought of such life altering circumstances. For the past 50 years, governments have issued public information guidelines to illustrate protocol for such an unimaginable event. This evidence could be perceived as necessary actions to raise public awareness and control mass hysteria in the event of a disaster. Though these measures are in place, little regard is given to the psychological impact and reality of such a situation, with official guidelines offering no mention of support channels; we are forced to ask ourselves ‘how would I cope both physically and emotionally under these circumstances?’
Your survival under such circumstances becomes a matter of personal responsibility.
Through this thematic body of work I aim to highlight such emotional effects an individual, or indeed a sole survivor, may feel towards such a drastic change of personal circumstance. The pressures of day-to-day life would be heightened to inconceivable levels. Survivors may be forced to seek shelter in subterranean structures, retreating underground to avoid the devastation of the surface; confined for their own safety. These actions in the wake of such destruction would undoubtedly have detrimental affect on the survivor’s physical and mental state.
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
By imagining the following days and weeks post-nuclear attack, I have constructed scenes and images to portray aspects of an individual’s daily routine. These images explore the monotony, loneliness and haplessness of being incarcerated within the recommended areas of shelter.
With similar intentions to that of the Bleasdale/O'Connell project and also inspired by identifying the graphic quality of my own images, I decided that the comic strip style would be an ideal way of communicating a narrative through my photographs. The narrative is mysterious, with little information given in the work’s presentation. Visual clues are present throughout the work in the form of powerful signifiers such as the Geiger counters and gas masks, though no explanation is given as to why the girl appears to be trapped inside a red room. This is intentional, inviting the viewer to speculate and form his or her own opinions regarding the story.
The Bikini code is specifically used to classify terrorist threats - other military threats will have different code names. The alert state is indicated by one of a number of colours, depending on how serious, specific and imminent the threat is:
Bikini White is the lowest level. There is no known threat.
Bikini Black means that there is a possibility of a terrorist attack, but it could occur anywhere at any time.
Bikini Amber states that there is a known threat to an unknown Government target within a specific period of time.
Bikini Red means that a known threat to a specific target is imminent.
The definition of the term Code Red is as follows:
Indicates emergency situation: used to indicate that a difficult or dangerous situation has deteriorated drastically so as to constitute an emergency.
The term is often used by military and government in connection with terrorist threats and global health situations.
The colour red is often associated with emergencies and danger as well as energy. Death is also commonly associated with this colour through its connection with blood.
Marcus Bleasdale is world renowned for his photojournalism, and in particular for his graphic black-and-white reportage from the Congo. He's worked in the region for almost a decade, earning World Press Photo awards and cementing his reputation with a book, One Hundred Years of Darkness, published in 2002.
So he's one of the last people you might expect to work on a cartoon, but that's exactly what he's done, teaming up with Christian Aid's youth initiative Ctrl.Alt.Shift and graphic artist Paul O'Connell to transform his images into art. 'Ctrl.Alt.Shift got in touch and said they loved my images, but that they were trying to reach out to a new audience and take a less traditional approach,' says Bleasdale. 'They asked me if I was interested. My only concern was to protect the integrity, respect and dignity of the people in my pictures but when Paul sent the images back, I liked them a lot. They were shocking, engaging. They really hit the mood. Paul knows his art very well.'
The images are presented with very little text, but they narrate the Congo's grim situation, showing how the ravaging of its natural resources and people has lead to the breakdown of society. The first images show a boy standing over a city skyline, holding a machine gun against a blood-red sky. In the three next frames, demonstrators, police and shadowy figures stand under the words 'Un Congo Fort et Uni' (One Congo, strong and united), while a later page shows a globe surrounded by the words tin, diamonds, uranium, gold, copper and oil. The story is part of a group exhibition and comic book, Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption, and is being shown in its entirety at the Lazarides gallery in London, which also represents Banksy.Remix
O'Connell thought carefully about how best to approach the work, opting to 'remix' Bleasdale's images into completely new scenes rather than simply redraw them.
'Marcus is the person who went there to bring back evidence of what's happening,' he told Design Week recently. 'When Marcus saw the strip and commented to me that it reminded him of his nightmares, I felt that I might have done a decent job of things. Just reading about the situation and engaging with it emotionally made me sick to my stomach a lot of the time. I really can only imagine - and try to convey that imagining - how it must feel to the people of Congo to live day-to-day with those experiences. The situation in Congo says such dark and terrible things about what some human beings are capable of normalising and justifying.'British Journal of Photography 02/12/09
I wanted to try combining graphic illustrations with my images, inspired by the graphic novel style 'remix' of Marcus Bleasdale's Congo reportage by graphic artist Paul Connell.
I've added an illustration of an atom created in Adobe Illustrator and a black boarder to frame the image, in the same way sections of a story are presented in a graphic novel or comic book.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
It is hard to imagine the horrors that survivors of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki must have endured for the rest of their lives. Through this research project the memories of such victims have been shared, the hellish scenes that innocent people witnessed have been documented through their artworks:
A hell-like city in a sea of fire.
Year of Birth: 1898 \ Age at time of blast: 47 \ Age when image created: 76
Date of image depicted: 1945/8/6
Distance from hypocenter in meters: 200
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Raging flames and corpses scattered everywhere / City center / Afternoon, August 6, 1945 / Kenichi Nakano (47 at the time of the bombing 76 when he drew this picture)
Explanation in picture: Whole city a sea of fire. Hell. Hell on Earth.
A woman whose burned skin had peeled off and was hanging down.
Year of Birth: 1913 \ Age at time of blast: 32 \ Age when image created: 61
Date of image depicted:
Distance from hypocenter in meters: 1300
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
She held her arms out in front to keep the burned, hanging skin off the ground. / 1,050m from the hypocenter, Yagembori / August 6, 1945 / Kazuo Matsumuro (32 at the time of the bombing, 61 when he drew this picture)
Explanation in picture: To prevent their red, exposed flesh from sticking, people thrust their arms in front of them like ghosts. Their skin, like the thin skin of potato, hung from the fingernails where it was still attached.
FUJISE Asako 藤瀬 朝子 (ふじせあさこ)
Seen from Hijiyama Hill, the city was a bright red burning Hell.
Year of Birth: 1923 \ Age at time of blast: 22 \ Age when image created: 51
Date of image depicted: 1945/8/6
Distance from hypocenter in meters: 2000
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Seen from Hijiyama Hill, the city is a bright-red burning hell. / Approx. 2 kilometers from the hypocenter / August 6, 1945 night / Asako Fujise
Children of the Atomic Bomb website
Monday, 30 November 2009
In her series On Physics Naglaa Walker combines photographic diptychs, which juxtapose constructed blackboard images of chalked equations with carefully staged photographic images of people - for example, human emotional behaviour such as kissing or arguing is paired with a graphic physical law.
In a similar way, I will try juxtaposing my images with illustrations and text from the Protect and Survive handbook.
I recently found this 1960s encyclopaedic magazine publication at a car boot sale. This issue simplifies the physics behind nuclear reactions for children to understand.
I find the simple diagrams quite interesting and hope to perhaps be able to include them with my images for this project.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Thursday, 5 November 2009
This is an enlargement of the couple I mentioned in my previous post, posing with my original model inside the fallout shelter at Hack Green.
There is a definite felling of unease with this image. I particularly like the way in which the woman is hanging her head and clasping her hands as well as the expression on the man's face. Leann's fidgeting with the Geiger counter also seems to portray some sort of hope or her motivation for survival.
Scanned Fuji Pro 400 H F4: 13 Seconds
During this visit to Hack Green we were joined by a couple who were Australian tourists from Tasmania who were visiting Cheshire on a cycling holiday. They very kindly agreed to pose in a couple of photographs along side my original model, Leann.
All models were given direction, trying to create a tense and sombre mood.
I thought that the age difference between the tourists and Leann might create an interesting new dynamic in the pictures.
Shots inside the fallout shelter were taken using a Hasselblad 500 cm at F4 with a shutter speed of 13 seconds on 400 speed film.
The health benefits of sunlight have been explored for many years, resulting in the conclusion that moderate exposure to sunlight is an intrinsic component for healthy life.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is just one of the health implications brought about by reduced exposure to sunlight. Throughout the winter months many suffers encounter these symptoms:
Most sufferers show signs of a weakened immune system during the winter,
and are more vulnerable to infections and other illnesses.
SAD symptoms disappear in spring, either suddenly with a short period (e.g. four weeks) of hypomania or hyperactivity, or gradually, depending on the intensity
of sunlight in the spring and early summer.
In sub-syndromal SAD, symptoms such as tiredness, lethargy, sleep and eating problems occur, but depression and anxiety are absent or mild.
SAD may begin at any age but the main age of onset is between 18 and 30 years.
SAD occurs throughout the northern and southern hemispheres but is extremely rare in those living within 30 degrees of the Equator, where daylight hours are long, constant and extremely bright.
I hope to be able to incorporate this research into my photographs using a model.
This image has been inspired by the Protect and Survive handbook, issued by the Home Office and Civil Defence in 1980. I tried to capture the sense of urgency a person would feel upon hearing an attack siren.
After scanning the negative, I used multiple layers in Photoshop to highlight the running figure. Creating a copy of the background layer, I then altered the levels of original layer to bring out the highlights of the white dust suit the model is wearing. I then used a soft eraser to carefully delete that area of the new layer, clearly exposing the altered levels of the running figure.
Here is a copy of the Protect and Survive page that inspired this image:
I have tried to create a narrative by photographing a model outside of the facility. I am not as happy as I could be with these shots and wonder if the reason is due to removing the model from the bunker and placing her in the outside world.
These images lack the attributes that I have previously mentioned, they don't communicate any of the moods or feelings that I had hoped to capture. Though, having said that, I am interested to see some of these images enlarged. The frames on the far right of this contact sheet look to be more interesting that others, they have captured a sense of urgency. I can imagine looking at these images and hearing an attack warning signal.
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
This is an enlargement from my second visit to the facility at Hack Green, this room housed a warning system, alerting the Regional Commissioner of an imminent strike. The alarm would then be raised to warn the military and civil authorities across the country.
The red telephones on the Warning Officer's desk brought to mind a verse from a song by 60s American psychedelic/folk rock band Love, entitled The Red Telephone from their 1967 album Forever Changes:
Sitting on a hillside
Watching all the people die
I'll feel much better on the other side
I'll thumb a ride
Scanned Fuji Pro 400 H, F22: 28 seconds
Here are a couple of examples of the images taken from inside the fallout shelter at Hack Green nuclear bunker. Using a model I have attempted to create original work concerning post-apocalyptic survival. I feel that these images are the most successful from this particular shoot.
I directed the model, asking her to handle the Geiger counters. I wanted the images to have all the elements that I have previously expressed interest in, such as cinematic qualities and an emphasis on confinement and claustrophobia. I was conscious that over exaggerated emotion and expressions could undermine the content of these images. For these reasons I have made compositional choices such obscuring facial expression, the use of body language and close angles from over the model's shoulder to avoid creating a 'pantomime' interpretation of fear and distress.
Scanned Fuji Pro 400 H, F4: 13 Seconds