She Drinks Liquid Nitrogen

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I’ve had conversations in the past with people about the differences between photography and writing, as forms of expression. My crude analysis compared them to fast food representing photography and a full roast dinner as writing. This is not to denigrate photography as lesser, just to emphasis the instant gratification of the medium. When you take a photo, you know you’ve taken a good photo. It’s an instant high, an endorphin kick straight to that part of the brain that keeps all those who enjoy creating ticking along with another fix. You see something. You snap it. You look at it on your screen. You love it… hopefully.

Writing is a slower and more laborious process. Also, personally speaking, my writing highs rarely occured at the culimination of the story in the same way that a well taken photograph gets you. I never sat back from a story with a deep sigh of satisfaction, and if I did it never lasted long – my mind was already thinking about editing and changing things, and then I’d get sucked into the whirlpool whereupon I’d tinker endlessly with every comma and syllable trying to make sentences flow, until I want to throw the whole thing out, at which point I’d declare it finished. But for the moment during the writing of the story, when I knew everything was clicking, only then would I feel that surge. A story going badly is like trying to walk with your shoes tied together, or trying to drive a car with a broken gearbox. A story that is going well is the figure skater who twists on the ice at the exact angle of total grip. The centrifugal force that allows you to spin around with a jug of water held sideways without spilling a drop. The water skier making a perfect arc with a wave as they turn at speed.

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I think my stories always tried to engage people emotionally rather than actually attempt a narrative arc, which is why they so often focused on the minutae – where conversations were the entire story, all inflections and gestures, as opposed to exposition. It was about bringing elements together in snapshots – photographs. Most of my characters search the ruins of a past that wasn’t there looking for answers to an uncertain future. None of this was conscious. The ubiquitous presence of abandoned railway lines was a comfort blanket based on my own childhood.

With my photos, it feels different. I go through the masses of pictures I’ve taken in the past 12 months and I see someone looking for juxstapositions. I’m looking for conflicts. I twist reality, changing shutter speeds to make benign clouds appear tempestuous and apocalyptic. I take photos of industrial leviathans and portray them in warm colour. I take idyllic beaches, forests and countrysides and turn them monochrome.

As I wandered around the woods today, with my tripod and camera slung over one shoulder like a shotgun toting member of the Berkeley Hunt, I thought about the grey area between fact and fiction and whether a name or a philosophy could grow from within it. A dreamlike unreality, when two factual elements can come together to create something that is neither truth or a lie. Case In Point; the Sun is a ‘factual’ object in that we can all agree it exists. So is a tree. If I place the two together by kneeling down with the sun backlighting the trees branches, I can make it appear as though the tree itself is producing the light from it’s trunk. It is a fiction. It is an unreality, artificially created out of two elements that are true. The same could be said for many of my stories – real emotions with real people but with the names changed and the events that caused the emotions altered to protect and respect those involved. My stories never strayed too far from my own life, which is possibly why my writing has gone – I’ve run out of past experiences to draw on. It’s this mining of fact to create a seemingly plausible fiction without actually inventing anything original which relates back to the manipulation of images in photography. Going beyond crude filterisation into a Dali-esque subliminal world where elephants stride thousands of feet in the air on thin legs. Where a sunset can be mistaken for a nuclear explosion, or a silouetted figure can convey sadness or joy depending on the mood of the photographer. Where I can tell the true story about a hostel for broken people, but change the name and events to make it a fiction that isn’t fictional at all, but real enough to be touched.

I went around in circles with this for a good hour or so. Perhaps it was the cold, or I’ve been working too hard lately.

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