Hope Through Severance – Part 1
The past four months has been absolutely nuts. I’m half way through the second year of my BA Hons Photography degree and I’m still trying to get over how much has changed since the start of this semester, even just photographically/artistically speaking. It was only about 6 months ago that I started thinking about giving up on the course and potentially even the medium, thinking it was only about observation and documentation. However this semester I got the chance to open the taps on the kind of work I’ve been suppressing for the best part of a year.
The concept behind this project is one which I care a lot about. Basically it revolves around ideas of potential and aspiration. Some would call it ‘dreaming’ but I feel dreaming holds a different meaning from what I’m trying to do but more on that in part two. At the time I starting pulling this project together, back during the summer break 2011, I was thinking alot about how those ideas applied to me at the time. It seemed that as you grew up through childhood and adolescence you always had those layers of protection, whether it would be parents or high school teachers or other sort of role models, but at some point you’ll hit a stage were, if you want to get to were you want to be you have to cut away from those and step out on your own. So that’s were this theme of ‘Hope Through Severance’ came from and this is how my brain translated those ideas visually:
Now at the time of making that concept sketch it was summer, I had no deadlines or expectations and I spent some time and asked myself, “What would I do if money or time or anything else wasn’t an issue? What would you make if nothing was holding you back?” and it was this kind of high production work with photography. Physically speaking the idea for this image kind of like a hot air balloon only with giant, 6ft diameter helium balloons used instead of the hot air setup, floating a person in a basket over a lough at 1300ft above sea level in the middle of the Mourne Mountains. The body of water I had in mind was Lough Shannagh, a beautiful landscape with a great view of Silent Valley Resevoir in the background and Carlingford Lough beyond that. The reason I was so specific with this location wasn’t just out of a whim but from another question I asked myself. “So if you have to leave this behind [my hometown/Northern Ireland], what place would you feel the most loss for?” and it was this place. A couple of people have asked me why I didn’t just use my actual, physical home as the location but I didn’t feel the same sense of attatchment to it that I do with the Mourne Mountains. I guess they’re a place that, for me, don’t have any tainted experiences attatched. I’m up there amoung them quite frequently, the people at home would say I basically live in them but it they are beautiful.
I never intended on actually executing something as big as this, like I said I was only ‘dreaming’ during that summer, coming up with ideas that i could do in an ideal set of circumstances, being as ambitious as I could with what was in my head. However during one of our seminars with Donovan Whylie in uni he asked the class to stop, close our eyes (he does this a lot in classes 🙂 ) and think about our work on its most basic level. He told us to write down our 3 most favourite photographers and an idea that you would love to do, a body of work we would dream of making. He wanted to do this to get a feel of were we’re at with figuring out our ‘vision’ as he calls it, you can tell a lot by asking those two things. Though it was literally what I was doing just a month or two before during the summer. I had my answers already together in my little journal/my head. “Tim Walker, Gregory Crewdson and Knick Knight” and this “Hope Through Severance” idea. I never really thought I could use something like it for a uni project and it was sort of shelved under “I’ll do that when I’m 30 and have lots of money etc. etc.” He got a hold of my concept sketch at the end of class as everyone was leaving and proceeded to tear through my workings for the project to see if I was serious about it. I had done some scouting and some sums beforehand to see if it was actually possible to do it and it was, he saw that and before I knew it he had told me “You’re doing this, now.”
Skip forward 2 months of planning, logistics, finding suppliers crazy enough to give me a discount, working around many problems in the physics and design of the actual balloon/rig/basket setup and finding a crew willing to freeze their backsides off in the middle of the Mourne Mountains and I find myself on-location with £1.5k and months of preparation sitting, failing infront of me
There was a lot of uncertainty in this production, some things we couldn’t plan for because we simply didn’t know anyone who had done something like this before to tell us what problems to look out for. One of the main factors was wind. 25mph winds (at sea level) on the forecasts mean nothing to you until you have one of those balloons of that size up there going sideways. Not to mention the elevation that came up from Silent Valley Resevoir, cranking the winds further up towards probably 35-40mph gusts. Add to that a bunch of crew dropping out last minute and an unknown amount of forces from that wind that would have been acting on the airborne rig with the surface area of a gallion sail and it becomes uncertain whether we would have been able to control it/stop it dragging us into the aforementioned lough/stop it breaking free and venturing into CAA airspace and it gets to a point were you just have to try (and possibly fail) in order to learn. It was hard having to walk onto a shoot with those pretty crucial uncertainties as before you could always sit back and know you had everything perfected in your head. But I’ve learnt a lot from this and even though I lost a 5th of the budget and wasted a bunch of time to this failure and I by no means was giving up.
Go to Part Two.