Art Matters

Crow by Ted Hughes - Interpreted in Dance Movements

The inspiration for this work sprang from a long time, deeply felt regard for Ted Hughes' highly anthropomorphic 'naturalistic' poetry and, in particular, those poems published in the collection by the name of 'Crow'.

Crow by Ted Hughes - Rising From The Void

This video version has been long in creation, largely because it became my transition project from still photography to newly acquired video creation skills.

The project began at a Dance Workshop hosted by Nicola Selby, herself a talented dancer and photographer. The dancer is Amy Eccleston, now Amy Hallam.

There are many interpretations of Hughes' Crow, and many agree it's undoubtedly a re-telling of the Bible's Genesis story but, as Hughes envisions it, with a disastrous, dark and apocryphally evil twist.

Hughes himself explains that 'nobody knows quite how Crow was created, or how he appeared' (into the world). Crow, he says, was 'created by God's Nightmare'. I took that idea and interpreted it freely with Amy's spellbinding choreographic interpretations of my somewhat clumsy direction. The approach is described in my earlier post here. The images used in this final edit were from the low-key lighting session. I hope you enjoy the outcome.

It was a very exciting project, even though it took many months to complete. It also offered me the chance to work on the sound design for the accompanying score. I aimed at creating a soundscape that complemented the darkness of the poem while at the same time weaving the still images into a semi-continuous evolution; from Crow's 'birth'. or 'coming into existence' and its final triumphant realisation of the havoc it was about to unleash on Man.

Poetry, Dance and Photography

poetry, dance and photography - aesthetic collisions?

You could argue that a specific 'language' lies at the heart of each of these art forms. They have their own special 'vocabulary' with which to express the inexpressible. Each in their own way form 'impressions' in our mind, encapsulating the essence of some distilled human experience, causing us to react emotionally or logically to the work.

Poetry uses the language of words, style and form;  Dance, the language of movement, style and form; Photography, the language of light, shade, geometry and composition. When looked at in that way then, it's easy to see their commonalities, in terms of their fundamentals and effects, rather than the differences in the methods and medium they employ; starkly obvious though they are.

And so it was, in an effort to visualise a famous work of one of my favourite poets, Ted Hughes, that I came upon the opportunity to do just that. I attended a Dance Photography Masterclass, held by Nicola Selby, where I was asked for my particular objectives for the sessions. Having made no plan, I was temporarily at a loss, until the idea of bringing to life one of Ted Hughes' poems struck me. The particular work was 'Crow'.

Crow is somewhat difficult to grasp, even when you've read it many times. It's often described as a reworking of the biblical Genesis story - with a great deal of 'twist'. And therein lies its fascination. To visualise it you would have to be very selective about which elements of the story to work with, in order to do it any justice - if that's the right word.

Nicola was game however, so I briefly described as best I could the general thrust and she was kind enough to suggest I work with Amy Eccleston, a dancer with both classical and modern dance training who was excellent at 'improvisation'.

Since the lighting was already set up for high key work, we decided to shoot two sessions, one high and one low-key session, covering a short sequence of improvisation with Amy following my 'direction', which consisted of me loudly reinterpreting the poet's words by shouting, at Amy, 'key' concepts abstracted from Hughes' lines while she worked hard to interpret the flow of ideas in her dance movements. I can only fully applaud Amy for the very considerable patience and professionalism and hard work she put into those sessions.

With Nicola's help we worked together to interpret the storyline, framework and language of the poem, interpreting those ideas emotionally and then expressing them physically in dance movements, and finally creating images to encapsulate the impact of the work in a strong, visual form.

Far from 'aesthetic collisions' then, we found a continuum of artistic expression - from word to movement to image. Quite an experiment! Here are selected images from the initial high-key session:

Crow emerges from the Void - from God's Nightmare

Crow emerges from the Void - from God's Nightmare

transforming from shape to shape - Crow absorbs consciousness

transforming from shape to shape - Crow absorbs consciousness

reaching upward in fear - or is it loathing? - Crow realises its purpose

reaching upward in fear - or is it loathing? - Crow realises its purpose

Crow rises up, and gives life to God's Nightmare

Crow rises up, and gives life to God's Nightmare

realising its power - Crow descends upon Man - to wreak destruction

realising its power - Crow descends upon Man - to wreak destruction

This was a fascinating piece to explore. It was very clear at the end of the first session that a low-key treatment was more fitting, so we adopted that approach in the second session. Those images will follow a little later. For those interested in the technical aspects of the equipment we used -there were only two Broncolor lights; one main flash and focus box set high on the left of the studio at 45%, aimed downward towards the dancer and one fill light set high on the right.

The camera was a Hasselblad H4D-31 fitted with a Hasselblad HC-80 lens set at f3.0. Nicola Selby's Studio can be found here, and she is also represented on Hasselblad's site here.

Botero Museum in Bogota, Colombia

Botero - El Studio

While in Bogota recently, I had the great pleasure to visit the Botero Museum and its superb collection of works by the Colombian artist Fernando Botero. The works are housed in a magnificently restored colonial mansion in the heart of Bogota’s historic La Candelaria area, where the city was founded. It is one of the world's secret treasures.

Botero Museum
Botero Museum Courtyard

The permanent exhibition includes more than 120 of Botero’s own paintings, drawings and sculptures as well as 85 original works by such artists as Renoir, Monet, Degas, Matisse, Miro, Chagall, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec and Dali - all donated by Botero in 2000 when the museum was opened. The Museum itself is a beautiful building in traditional style, well worth a visit in it's own right.

I found Botera's work fascinating, some highlights of which can be seen below.

The Museum is an absolutely ‘must visit’, two hour treat and should be at the very top of every visitor's list – certainly an equal first to the next on your list which should be the Gold Museum, which is in the same part of Bogota, not far from the Botero.

If Botero’s work is unfamiliar (that link loads very slowly), he is among Colombia’s most famous exports. He is the artist who ‘paints fat people’. His love of life and affection for Colombia and its people is revealed in every painting. In the UK, the closest we’ve ever seen to these ‘plump paragons’ is in the work of Beryl Cook from the early seventies. Her work has the very same irreverent sense of fun and 'joy of life' captured on the canvas by Botero and she has a similar preoccupation with the 'larger form' of her protagonists. Although both claim not to paint 'Fat Women'

Dancers by Fernando Botero and Beryl Cook

The painting on the left above is 'Paraja Ballando' by Botero and on the right is 'Tango' by Beryl Cook. Both artists are well worth further study, but back to the Botero Museum. There isn't the space in this article to do full justice to what the exhibition offers. I could almost say that it's worth going all the way to Bogota just to see it. All the work is presented so beautifully.

El Studio by Fernando Botero

The photo above shows how you are greeted by Botero's 'El Estudio' as you go into one of the main galleries. Botero is said to have painted himself into this particular piece (the artist on the left!).

Monalisa by Fernando Botero

My photo of Botero's 'Monalisa', above, just captures the artist's very smooth painting style, best revealed in his skin tones. Below is a shot of Salvador Dali's 'Bust - Retrospective of a Woman' which is beautifully displayed in one of the many alcove displays one comes across during a tour of the galleries.

Retrospective of a Woman - Salvador Dali

Finally, in this short review, I ought to mention the superb collection of sculptures which accompany the many paintings. The 'Hombre. Mujer y Nino', shown below, is just one example of the extraordinary work on offer.

Hombre, Mujer y Nino by Fernando Botero

Unlike the Royal Academy of Arts in London, The Botero Museum is happy for visitors to photograph the art, provided that no flash is used, so it's possible to come away with some quality images to remember the wonderful experience to be had here. There were no guide books available in English, at the time, but there is an online gallery here. Well worth a second visit whenever I'm next in Bogota!

For those who would like to understand Botero's points of view, there is an interesting TED talk: