The balance between text and picture is delicate. A slight shift of weight from one to the other can cause a disproportionately large change in emphasis. This is made more noticeable as the text becomes more specific and less obtuse. The poetic, allusory text seems better able to support and contribute to a photograph without closing down the interpretations available to the viewer.
Here I have chosen snatches of text from the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake. I made an attempt to read this as a teenager, probably because I thought it would make me mysterious and interesting to girls, a strategy which was distinguished by its profound lack of success. I’ve gone back to it in later years (the trilogy, not the strategy) and find it increasingly seductive. Peake was a talented poet and artist as well as the author of these epic novels – Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone.
His imagery is rich and disturbing but he does make you care about the grotesque characters who populate the work. Finding pictures to complement the words is difficult because the balance referred to above firmly favours the text; it’s simply too evocative to match.
I did have a stab at it, though, and the results are lower down the page. Hover over to see the text. My evaluation follows the photographs, lower down.
These were taken at Forde Abbey in Somerset, a 12th-century Cistercian monastery. It’s not as moody and threatening as Gormenghast so I had to take some liberties with manipulating the pictures in post. In an attempt to match the ethereal qualities of the words I made some of the pictures using an inexpensive tilt adaptor between the 50mm lens and the body. The lens is a favorite – what was the standard 50mm for Olympus analogue cameras turns into a 100mm on a micro four-thirds body and the image circle, originally intended for 35mm film, allows considerable lens movement without vignetting.
Although the results are achieved through true camera movement, they look very much like Photoshop’d imitations, recognised largely as a technique rather than a creative tool. I have used this on previous work to modify the plane of focus to achieve a different look, which did work quite well but on this occasion I didn’t really like it.
The rocking horse and cobweb picture is a composite. The cloisters were taken in bright sunlight but manipulated in PS via a colour look-up table to give a moonlight feel. The wisteria (which looks almost as old as the house) was altered by dodging and burning and the targetted application of green contrast curves. For me it was a fine line between creative emphasis and dungeons-and-dragons.
I think it works insofar as it fulfills the brief but i think it is much too contrived – not just this particular attempt of mine, but the whole idea of combining text never intended to be augmented with photographs. The books are mightily powerful on their own.
There’s a project idea here, though; the characters in the book – Swelter the chef, Steerpike, Fuschia and Lord Groan among numerous others – might make a good portrait series.