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The Remains of Elmet: a collaboration by Ted Hughes & Fay Godwin

The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet witnessed “Druidism; Britons, their fight against Rome and their adoption of Romanism; the start of Christianity and the clash with Rome’s catholic Christianity; a Bardic tradition in a Brythonic tongue and then in the highest quality Latin, the struggle against the English; the struggle against the Norse; the coming of the Normans; civil war in the 12th century; Scottish raids; the rise & fall of the Percy’s; the bloodiest battle in the Wars of the Roses; religious rebellion in the Tudor times; sieges and battles in the English Civil War; the growth of great estates through the 18th century; the centre of the Industrial Revolution. “

– John Davey

Elmet (Elmed/Elfed) called Elmete Saetan or “the dwelling place of the people of Elmete” came into prominence following the evacuation of the Roman Legions from Britain after 407-410 A.D. As such it is synonymous with the origins of Arthurian legends much corrupted by later generations.

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The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet has inspired bards, poets, photographers and authors, among others, with its history, legends, landscape and folklore, not least of all the Arthurian legends, though that connection is for another day.

One such body of work inspired by the landscape and history, is the collaborative Remains of Elmet. Collaborations between poets and photographers became increasingly common in the late twentieth century. Among the most successful was Remains of Elmet (1979), by photographer Fay Godwin and poet Ted Hughes.

Remains of Elmet

Remains of Elmet marks a departure from Hughes myth laden sequences of poetry which he produced in the 1970s. After the likes of CrowCave Birds and Gaudete,Remains of Elmet appears downbeat by comparison with its sparse lines of verse and bleak black and white high contrast photographs of the West Yorkshire landscape as taken by Hughes’s collaborator on this project Fay Godwin. ” – The Ted Hughes Society

Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet
Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet

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Fay Godwin, Ruined Farm, Stanbury Moor, 1979

“Hughes’s poetic vision of the Calder Valley, a region formerly referred to by the Celts as ‘Elmet’, is not a wistful and rose-tinted appreciation of the area he grew up in. His poems depict a weather beaten landscape and people and the vestiges of industrial enterprise, religious custom and ancient tradition. Here, the only survivor among these remains, the only ‘thing’ to flourish, is nature as it reclaims the land from those who inhabit it. This underlying conflict is foregrounded by allusions to the First World War where the valley is at once an extension of the Western Front and a site of remembrance with repeated allusions to the cenotaph and the war dead. Survivors of this conflict and the generation of inhabitants who have witnessed its economic demise become anachronisms, symbolic of an inertia crippling attempts of tame the valley.” – The Ted Hughes Society

Fay Godwin is very much a writer’s photographer, in more senses than one. Poets and novelists are drawn to her work, and she worked closely with several.”

“From an urban life as a 60s north London wife, mother and hostess, she set out on a long journey into the wilder landscapes of Britain, sometimes in company, sometimes alone, often on foot, and built up over time a body of work that reflects a deep sense of place and the poetry of place. In 1970 she met Ted Hughes, with whom she formed a creative partnership which was to result in his lament for the Calder Valley, Remains of Elmet (1979). Perhaps the best known of her collaborations, this volume was very much poem-led. She responded strongly to his vision of the ruined mills, the “melting corpses of farms”, the Satanic majesty, the sluttish subsidy sheep, the black chimneys, the cemeteries, the millstone grit, the willow herb. It was through Hughes, she said, that she got to know England.” Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin

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Fay Godwin, Top Withens

Fay Godwin on a Photographers Place workshop in the late 1970s
Fay Godwin on a Photographers Place workshop in the late 1970s

“Attuned to each other, like the strings of a harp
They are making mesmerising music,
Each one bowed at his dried bony profile, as at a harp.
Singers of a lost kingdom. “

(from Remains of Elmet)

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Ted Hughes

“Throughout his creative life, Ted Hughes has used his poetry to tap the universal energies and to channel their healing powers towards the sterility and the divisions which he sees in our world. All his major sequences of poetry work towards this end, and Remains of Elmet represents an important step in Hughes’ ability to achieve wholeness and harmony through the imaginative, healing processes of his art.

In his pursuit of these regenerative energies, Hughes appears to have adopted the role of poet/priest/shaman, and it is a role which carries responsibilities that Hughes takes very seriously. He is aware of the creative/destructive powers of the energies he courts, and he has a superstitious belief that by fixing these powerful energies in a poem he can affect both writer and reader “in a final way”. Consequently, Hughes has experimented with many methods of summoning and containing these energies and, whilst he is skilled at using the rhythms and the rituals of poetry for this purpose, in his longer sequences he most frequently turns to “the old method” of religious and mythological ritual in order to obtain the imaginative healing he intends.” © Ann Skea – Regeneration in Remains of Elmet

For more on Elmet

sources:

Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin

The Ted Hughes Society

Ann Skea – Regeneration in Remains of Elmet

 

 

 

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Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – Jo Woolf

All images © 2016 Jo Woolf

(from Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – #FolkloreThursday)

Beith’ or birch is the first symbol of the Ogham alphabet, representing the letter ‘B’, and ancient birch woodlands are immortalised in many Gaelic place names: examples include Glen an Beithe, Allt Beithe, and Beith in Ayrshire; the old name of ‘birk’ also appears in many parts of Scotland and England. It’s interesting to note that a fungus known as witches’ broom (Taphrina betulina) grows on birch trees, causing dense clusters of short twigs that look like untidy birds’ nests. Having stimulated this sudden growth, the fungus then feeds on the new shoots without inflicting too much harm on the tree itself.Birch with witches’ broom fungus.

Traditionally, birch is said to be full of the light of the warrior-god Lugh, and the old belief in its power to drive out evil is strong and persistent: even in Victorian times, naughty schoolchildren would find themselves on the wrong end of a birch switch; and ceremonies of ‘beating the bounds’, many of which have survived into the present day, involved the ritual tapping of local boundaries with staffs of birch or willow. Cradles made from birch were believed to protect new-born babies from malicious spirits, and in the folklore of the Highlands, it was said that a pregnant cow herded with a birch stick would bear a healthy calf; and if the animal was barren, she would become fertile.

In Norse mythology, the birch was sacred to the goddesses Frigg and Freya, who are believed by some scholars to share the same origin; and in Welsh legend, the tree was linked with Blodeuwedd, the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes – interestingly, the Welsh equivalent of Lugh. The Irish warrior Diarmuid and his lover, Grainne, slept on beds of birch twigs when they fled from the wrath of Fionn mac Cumhaill, to whom Grainne had been promised in marriage. “The birch has always been associated with the spirits of the dead and with those that mourn, for, in sympathy with the sorrowing, ‘weeps the birch of silver bark with long dishevell’d hair’.” Trees and How They Grow by G Clarke Nuttall, 1913.

Birch can mark the threshold between this world and the next: in The Wife of Usher’s Well, an old ballad which appears in Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a mother grieves for the loss of her three sons whom she had sent “o’er the sea” – perhaps to find their fortune in war. Superstition decreed that the dead should not be mourned for more than a year and a day, or else their restless spirits might return to haunt the living; but the woman took no heed of this advice, and in the depths of winter the ghosts of her sons appeared, wearing hats of birch to protect them from the physical world which they had left behind

Jo Woolf

  • All images © 2016 Jo Woolf

More at the Source: Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – #FolkloreThursday

Edward Steichen – To Catch an Instant

“Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. [It is] a major force in explaining man to man.”

Steichen Quoted in Time Magazine, “To Catch the Instant” 7 April 1961

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Edward Jean Steichen (March 27, 1879 – March 25, 1973) photographed by
Fred Holland Day (1901)

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Edward Steichen. Self-Portrait with Studio Camera. c. 1917

 

Born in Luxembourg, Steichen moved to the United States in 1881.  1894, at the age of fifteen, Steichen began a four-year lithography apprenticeship with the American Fine Art Company of Milwaukee. After hours, he would sketch and draw, and began to teach himself to paint.

Having come across a camera shop near to his work, he visited frequently until he bought his first camera, a secondhand Kodak box “detective” camera, in 1895. Steichen and his friends who were also interested in drawing and photography pooled together their funds, rented a small room in a Milwaukee office building, and began calling themselves the Milwaukee Art Students League.

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The artist Alphonse Mucha, as photographed by Edward Steichen, c. 1895

Steichen met Alfred Stieglitz in 1900, while stopping in New York City en route to Paris from his home in Milwaukee. In that first meeting, Stieglitz expressed praise for Steichen’s background in painting and bought three of Steichen’s photographic prints.

 He was elected a member of London’s Linked Ring Brotherhood in 1901.
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Camera Work

In 1902, when Stieglitz was formulating what would become Camera Work, he asked Steichen to design the logo for the magazine with a custom typeface. Steichen was the most frequently featured photographer in the journal.

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Edward Steichen, The Flatiron c. 1903

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Edward Steichen, The Big White Cloud, 1903

Edward Steichen + The Pond - Moonrise + 1904 + platinum print with applied colorMetmuseum
Edward Steichen – The Pond – Moonrise, 1904
Edward Steichen, Moonlit Landscape, 1903
Edward Steichen, Moonlit Landscape, 1903
Cooper_s Bluff-Moonlight Strollers, 1905
Edward Steichen, Cooper’s Bluff-Moonlight Strollers, 1905

In 1904, Steichen began experimenting with colour photography. He was one of the first people in the United States to use the Autochrome Lumière process. In 1905, Stieglitz and Steichen created the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which eventually became known as 291 after its address. It presented among the first American exhibitions of Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Constantin Brâncuși.

Edward Steichen, Rodin, le Monument à Victor Hugo et le Penseur, 1902

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Edward Steichen, Rodin, le Monument à Victor Hugo et le Penseur, 1902

In late summer 1908 Rodin moved the plaster of his sculpture of the French writer Honoré de Balzac out of his studio and into the open air so that Steichen, who disliked its chalky aspect in the daylight, could photograph it by the moon. Waiting through several exposures as long as an hour each, Steichen made this exposure at 11 p.m., when the moonlight transformed the plaster into a monumental phantom rising above the brooding nocturnal landscape. Steichen recalled that when he presented his finished prints some weeks later, an elated Rodin exclaimed: “You will make the world understand my Balzac through your pictures. They are like Christ walking on the desert.”

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“Open Sky” Rodin’s Balzac 1908 Reproduction:© 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In 1911, Steichen was “dared” by Lucien Vogel, the publisher of Jardin des Modes and LaGazette du Bon Ton , to promote fashion as a fine art by the use of photography. Steichen took photos of gowns designed by couturier Paul Poiret, which were published in the April 1911 issue of the magazine Art et Décoration.

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Edward Steichen, a Paul Poiret design

According to Jesse Alexander, this is “… now considered to be the first ever modern fashion photography shoot. That is, photographing the garments in such a way as to convey a sense of their physical quality as well as their formal appearance, as opposed to simply illustrating the object.”

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Edward Steichen, with what is deemed is the first “fashion photoshoot”, 1911

Steichen practiced painting in Paris intermittently between 1900 and 1922; there he met Rodin and was exposed to modern art movements, and was thus able to advise Stieglitz on exhibition selections.
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Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz and His Daughter Katherine

“The break between Stieglitz and Steichen came on the verge of the United States’ entry into World War I, perhaps chiefly because Steichen was a dedicated Francophile and Stieglitz was openly sympathetic to Germany. Or perhaps it was because Steichen had come to believe that Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession and its instruments—291 and Camera Work—had become the vehicles for a personality cult.

After the war he replaced the rather vaporous symbolism of his earlier Pictorialist style with optical clarity and greater objectivity of description. Steichen spent several years experimenting with realistic effects of light, tone, and shadow; during this period, he famously photographed a white cup and saucer against a black velvet background more than one thousand times, hoping to achieve a perfect rendering of subtle gradations of white, black, and gray.

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Edward Steichen, Lighters

In a further reaction to what now seemed to him pious Photo-Secessionist attitudes, Steichen threw himself wholeheartedly into commercial photography, establishing a successful commercial studio when he moved to New York City in 1923. He devoted the next 15 years of his life primarily to fashion photography and celebrity portraiture for Condé Nast publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair and to advertising photography for the J. Walter Thompson agency. Most notably, as part of his work for Condé Nast, Steichen created striking portraits of figures such as Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and Charlie Chaplin that helped to define the era.

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Edward Steichen, Isadora Duncan at the Columns of the Parthenon, Athens, 1921

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Edward Steichen, Gloria Swanson 1924
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Edward Steichen, Martha Graham 1931
Edward Steichen, White, 1935
Edward Steichen, Study in White for Vogue, 1935
He closed his very successful studio on January 1, 1938, and spent much of the next four years pursuing his long-time avocation of plant breeding at his home in Connecticut, concentrating on the delphinium in particular.
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Edward Steichen with his delphiniums, 1938
One month after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. Navy made Steichen a lieutenant commander in charge of directing a photographic record of the naval war in the Pacific.
In 1947 Steichen was named director of the department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, a position he would hold until his retirement 15 years later. “The Family of Man,” an exhibition he curated in 1955, was arguably the most important work of art in his long career. The exhibition was based on the concept of human solidarity, and Steichen selected 503 images from countless prints submitted from all over the world. It is said that the exhibition was seen by almost nine million people in 37 countries. Steichen went on to curate many smaller exhibitions at the museum, some of which were the first substantial shows of the work of important younger photographers, thus continuing his role as a tireless advocate of the medium throughout the remaining years of his career. His autobiography, A Life in Photography, was published in 1963.
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Portrait of Edward Steichen by Philippe Halsman, 1955
Sources:
International Centre Photography: https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/edward-steichen

 

The Celestographs: August Strindberg’s Alchemical Shots of the Night Sky

The Celestographs: August Strindberg’s Alchemical Shots of the Night Sky

In the 1890s, Swedish playwright August Strindberg photographed the night sky without a camera or even a lens. These “Celestographs,” as he called them, were both a folly and an innovative work of experimental art. The National Library of Sweden has recently shared a selection of these photographs online, displaying the gritty textures of the strange images.

Sadly, the plates that Strindberg set out under the stars have been lost, but these well-worn prints remain. While Strindberg is celebrated for his dozens of modernist plays and other works of naturalist fiction, when he hit a creative block he turned to visual art. A friend of Edvard Munch, Strindberg produced paintings that are physical, almost aggressive, canvases marred with paint, jabbed and slashed with the palette knife and brush. His photographs are hands-off. As Douglas Feuk wrote in 2001 for Cabinet magazine:

“Strindberg distrusted camera lenses, since he considered them to give a distorted representation of reality. Over the years he built several simple lens-less cameras made from cigar boxes or similar containers with a cardboard front in which he had used a needle to prick a minute hole. But the celestographs were produced by an even more direct method using neither lens nor camera. The experiments involved quite simply placing his photographic plates on a window sill or perhaps directly on the ground (sometimes, he tells us, already lying in the developing bath) and letting them be exposed to the starry sky.”

via The Celestographs: August Strindberg’s Alchemical Shots of the Night Sky.

Song of Myself By Walt Whitman

Excerpts: Song of Myself By Walt Whitman
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Source and full verse: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174745
Leaves of Grass (final “Death-Bed” edition, 1891-2) (David McKay, 1892)

WaltWhitman-Camden1891Thomas Eakins: Walt Whitman in Camden, NJ  In May of 1891

The Night of the Hunter – The River song and Lullaby

The film’s score, composed and arranged by Walter Schumann in close association with Laughton, features a combination of nostalgic and expressionistic orchestral passages. The film has two original songs by Schumann, “Lullaby” (sung by Kitty White, whom Schumann discovered in a nightclub) and “Pretty Fly” (originally sung by Sally Jane Bruce as Pearl, but later dubbed by an actress named Betty Benson).

The film was shot in black and white in the styles and motifs of German Expressionism (bizarre shadows, stylized dialogue, distorted perspectives, surreal sets, odd camera angles) to create a simplified and disturbing mood that reflects the sinister character of Powell, the nightmarish fears of the children, and the sweetness of their savior Rachel.
In a 2007 listing of the 100 Most Beautiful Films, Cahiers du cinéma ranked The Night of the Hunter No. 2

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Night_of_the_Hunter_%28film%29