Note: I’ve been sitting at my computer for about 15 minutes now staring at this damn blinking cursor…it’s taunting me. I keep trying to approach the explanation of this photograph from different angles and I’ve played with four or five different sequencings in my mind…and nothing’s clicking. So I’m just going to jump in…sorry in advance for the rambling structure.
I watched Last Night in Soho the other day, and something about the depiction of the ghosts in that movie has stayed with me. Traditionally, ghosts are depicted as whispy, formless creatures that are mostly confined to observing our world. These ghosts were different, though. They were aggressive, imposing. They didn’t sit passively, they acted. Zombies mixed with ghosts, almost.
They had form.
I think it was this juxtaposition of substance with the ethereal that threw me off. When I sat here a few days ago trying to name this photo, I kept coming back to the word “ghosts”. It didn’t make sense to me at the time, and I thought I was taking the easy road by picking an unnecessarily dramatic word to describe a simple image. But the more I thought about other names, the more I came back to “ghosts”. And now I know why.
Like the ghosts in Last Night in Soho, this photo is a juxtaposition of ethereal and tangible. The portion of the sticks above water enforce tangibility and concreteness…we can see and feel them undistorted. The portion below the surface – that dividing line of consciousness and lack thereof, perhaps? – is distorted, ethereal, whispy.
The reeds in the foreground should be tangible. They’re in the land of the living, above ground, highlighted by the sun which shines on our realm alone (right?). Yet I rendered them out of focus, so now we’re not so sure…
In the bottom right corner we see the dark, ominous reflection of a tree. And in the top right we see that reflection’s mirror image in this above-ground world. Without context, how do we know which is the zombie and which is the ghost?
K, gonna cut myself off there. These are the sorts of things that go through my mind when I’m viewing photography, but I fear we’re veering too far down a side path. To bring this rambling back to some concrete (tangible?) ground: this sort of image wouldn’t be possible if I had shot it in color.
I mean, sure, the image itself would probably still be pretty cool. But this image works first and foremost because of the form of its objects and their rendering when above/below water. In real life, though, this scene was dominated by color. The water was a gorgeous hue of turquoise, and the sticks and reeds were illuminated by low, golden light. It would be impossible to view that photograph in color and arrive at “ghosts”.
Maybe that’s ok, and maybe there’s another mystery to this image to be unpacked and discovered if I had taken it in color. But I didn’t. And since I made this image on a black and white camera, I don’t even have the option to.