Evaluation: Personal Project
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.