SlideFest has come and gone. It’s a relief really. I am not much of a performer, and somewhere along the way ICP-Bard’s annual event to showcase first year work turned from a slide presentation to full-on theater. It says a lot about the experimental and creative nature of this program.
For me, I needed a work-around for the fact that I am awful at documenting my work. Most photographers have it easy—digital files or scanable negatives—my large-scale photographic chemical abstractions aren’t as easy to digitize. I also don’t feel like I have the right words yet to describe my process. Or at least to make it sound more interesting than: something about photography, experimentation and the sheer pleasure of being in the darkroom (it’s sexy).
In February, I saw Ellie Ga’s narrative lecture “The Fortunetellers” at the New Museum. She used video, slide projectors and overhead projectors—a multimedia frenzy—to tell the story of her five month trip aboard an Arctic research ship. The piece left quite an impression on me.
Layering modes of storytelling is a strategy I use for my own creative writing. While I was a student at Bennington, I took a course called The Lyric Essay with poet Mark Wunderlich. Our assignments pushed us to use appropriated text, visual materials, poetry and prose to create an experience or mood for our writing. It really changed my narrative style—using leaps and associations to fill in gaps of storytelling, allowing for more of the readers/listeners projections.
I hadn’t been writing creatively much in the past year—focusing more on my visual art (I chose an MFA in photography, not poetry, after all). However, SlideFest presented me with the opportunity to write again, and Ellie Ga’s performance reminded me that I could bring more to my writing than just words.
This gave me the form of my SlideFest piece, but not the content. What was I going to write about? What images would I use? This was in February. I was spending a lot of time reading the poet Philip Larkin and looking at Philip Guston (I love his line!). And then there was a third Phillip. Dredged up from memory. He was a classmate of mine in Sunday school. He died from heat exhaustion in the Grand Canyon when we were ten years old, and I can remember watching that news story so vividly.
I didn’t remember his last name at first. I used the few details I had an ran with it—contacting old friends, librarians and cemeteries to try to understand something more about this boy. After all the research and the trip to Ohio, I sat down to write.
All I had was evidence of his death. I was right back in the living room, ten years old, hearing the news. And I hadn’t learned anything more about him. An address, a brother, voice lessons—these bits of facts aren’t enough to assemble a person. I just started writing around that. My own experience, not facts. I allowed myself to speculate.
With the images, I did the same thing. I only had a handful of pictures relating to Phillip. I keep a vast archive of envelopes filled with ephemera from my life. I filmed myself. I filmed my computer screen. I used whatever images made sense to me. Planning and research didn’t seem to get me anywhere. It was intuition.
When the piece was finished, I was so uncomfortable with what I had produced. It was personal and direct. It showed images that were painful to me. It was difficult to share. The support my classmates gave me was outstanding. I needed to make this piece. And I’m happy I did. I’ve yet to see a video of my performance, but from what I’ve heard it was the real start of something worth pushing forward. I’m hoping to add to it this summer.
Here’s a link to one of the video components to my performance. The text was read live and there was another video of a slowed down scene from Gus Van Sant’s film Gerry.