There is a phrase at the beginning of “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov, spoken by Yepikodov that became central to my process as a theatre director. To paraphrase a literal translation of the Russian text:

“It is three degrees outside, and the cherry trees are all in blossom. I don’t understand this Russian weather of ours”

© Gabriela Restelli “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov, directed by Tim Stubbs Hughes

In 1991 I worked with the Russian theatre director Genrietta Yanovskaya and she introduced me to this method of analysis when working as a theatre director: that there are moments when talking, in both life and in plays, that we/characters are caught in Paradox, Irony, Self-assessment and Realisation.

Using the example above, Yepikodov is not talking about the weather but about himself, but he is only able to express this through abstract thoughts and realisation. Breaking it down:

  • It is three degrees outside [very cold and dead of winter]
  • The cherry trees are all in blossom [yet these trees that have been in hibernation for five years have now sprung to life]
  • I don’t understand this Russian weather of ours [I don’t know what to feel or think about all that is happening: that Ranevskaya (owner of the estate) who returns today after an absence of 5 years, since the death of her little boy; that I do not know my place in all this; that why is this happening now…]
  • What Yepikodov is trying to do is hold the two opposing views at the same time: of death (cold) and the blossoms (life) and see the significance of this in the return of Ranevskaya. And that through the paradox of two opposing views, he comes to a partial realisation in the lack of his own understanding, in that he cannot clearly articulate what he feels (and others feel).

Through the analysis and consideration of Paradox, Irony, Self-assessment and Realisation, it means that acting, theatre and live performance are always “in the now”. That in a single moment, a realisation can come to you, and your world vision (or perspective) can change irrevocably.

This analytical technique is a central cornerstone of my process.

Unruly discipline

Course Question: How does your practice relate to topics outside of discussions of contemporary photography? For instance, to geography and history; to environmental or gender politics; to social and economic discussions; to historical and present day debates; and to debates on aesthetics and philosophies.

I suppose at the heart of my photography is theatre, writing and narrative structure. Even if the single image is a ‘stand-alone’ moment with no specific theme or direction, my feeling is that I have taken this because a potential story exists within it.

Added to this are the reading of plays, poetry, philosophy and novels, the watching of films and documentaries, news and current affairs, politics and culture, reading about art and artists, of listening to music and (when younger) going to see live bands.

And then delving deeper into my own journey, through the theatre that I have directed and the process that I have undergone (creation of presence in the actor, semiotics of the stage, scenography, light and set design, vocal and physical training, analysis of practitioners and teachers, of theatre directors and writers) to then working on productions and understanding business management, marketing, press and publicity, graphic design, website design, which led to an interest in the Internet and Social media and how companies and artists can utilise these and promote themselves.

Photography Time and Motion

Course Question: What does the moving image tell you about the still photographic image? How distinct do you see the still and the moving image nowadays? Do the practical similarities outweigh the medium’s theoretical differences? And if you don’t already, how might you use moving image within your own practice?

“While I was thinking about photography and film, prior to writing, I began playing with the idea that film is like fire, photography is like ice. Film is all light and shadow, incessant motion, transience, flicker, a source of Bachelardian reverie like the flames in the grate. Photography is motionless and frozen, it has the cryogenic power to preserve objects through time without decay.”

The Cinematic by Peter Wollen, Chapter: Fire and Ice, p110.

I think we watch movies and we look at photographs.

The use of the moving image creates a focus on the narrative, the journey of characters and the dramatic story, which are placed in the reality of the cinematic scene. The narrative structure can be linear, disjointed, moving from past to future or vice versa, into dreams and fantasy. It can be paused or made to fade and is connected with political, social and environmental issues. For me, the moving image seems very much in the now and pushes us forward.

A single image is frozen at the time; it seems to convey a past or a possible future and is trapped within the borders of its frame and exists in the moment. When we look at a single image, we can ask ourselves “what just happened or what will happen”. Our connection is not so much about what we are looking at but our feelings towards this.

Both the moving and single images are separate entities but can be used together either to heighten a moment or direct the attention of the viewer. You can make a film pause so that it becomes a single image, or create a montage of single images so that they become a film.

Within my own practice, I have mainly been focusing on the single image (analogue and digital) for creating my own personal projects, but I am interested in expanding this to explore film (both digital and cine). I have been using video and film when working with artists or companies to create short trailers and interviews but am more interested in exploring video to create a different perspective on my work.

Fields of Cultural Interest

Course Question: Which of the disciplines discussed here do you feel is most relevant to Sam Shere’s famous photograph? Do any of the disciplines mentioned resonate with your own practice?

© Sam Shere “Hindenburg disaster”

I consider the definitions outlined by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida of “stadium and punctum” to be essential in the understand and appreciation of a single photographic image. This philosophy that he outlined enables the viewer, and history, to analyse an image and place it within a certain reference and context.

The punctum deals with the personal response while the stadium places an image in a contextual environment, allowing it to be analysed across a broad spectrum of places.

Within the context of Sam Shere’s photograph, the image has been an iconic and zeitgeist moment of the Hindenburg disaster. While other footage exists, both on film, radio and personal narratives, this image is possibly the one most associated with the event. Though it may not have been an immediate process but one of gradual assimilation. A hypothesis for the photograph’s journey could be that the image: recorded the tragic event; followed this with newspaper publicity; through Shere’s connections became part of the museum and gallery collections, and finally moved into popular culture reference and marketing materials through an album cover and other merchandise. The image moved from the historical moment to a cultural reference.

Photography and…

A few years ago, I created this video with a couple of actor friends (Joanne and Jeffrey). They had never made fresh pasta and I photographed them as they made this (and the sauce) and then before we sat down to eat, I had them record a short poem of Fernando Pessoa’s.

This was the end result

Making pasta & a supper with Pessoa from Grey Swan Fusion on Vimeo.