Book or Video? These two options were before me. To turn my re invention project into one or the other medium could simply be a matter of preference, however I wanted to present my art piece in the strongest medium which would allow the viewer to fully engage with the piece. My project is about re invention and using montage as a vehicle to transmit that message. Picking the right medium was essential if it was to have impact. My subject is the ever increasing number of brown belt sites lain waste behind high rusting wire fences where people are forbidden to enter, offering wildlife a tenuous foothold amongst the slow decaying monoliths of our industrial age.
I decided that the images would best be presented in book form and the type of book best suited to the material was a concertina style.
This style allowed the viewer to look at one image at a time or all of the images at the same time thus adding to the impact. The size of the book would be similar to a children’s book and the concertina style also suited this idea as this type of book is found amongst the literature for the very young. A childrens book also fitted the subtext theme as the section that links the black and white and colour parts of the book would be a childs dolls house. The idea could even be called a re invented childs book.
The idea seemed in principle simple enough. To construct a number of montages showing the decay left after a failed enterprise and re invent them into something beautiful through the medium of a book. The abandoned factories across the world are a constant reminder of our blinkered attitude to blazenly enter a wilderness, destroy the natural beauty and create a desert to wildlife and nature whilst churning out mass produced objects and pollution in the name of ‘progress’. Many of these industrial sites then close as the venture failed to make enough money leaving behind a rusting, dangerous blot on the landscape which nature slowly tries to reclaim and heal, much as a wound would heal on a living thing. What results though in most cases is a place dangerous to life, a permanent scar on the land, and something that takes many centuries to finally fade away.
In my book I have tried to take you on a journey through this industrial desert to raise your awareness of this destruction and to ask you ‘Is this the world you really want? Is one more gadget, one more fashion item really worth the true cost to our planet?’ As more industrialisation of the world occurs more and more of our wild places are disappearing in this way. The last great wildernesses of the Arctic and Antarctica are now under threat as several countries are competing to be the first to drill for oil and other precious minerals under these pristine snow fields.
In this book I have also tried to offer you a glimpse of the world as it was or as it could be by attempting to re invent the space destroyed by mankind back into something natural and beautiful. A reminder that with the right will power these places can be reinvented and once nature truely re establishes its healing powers to complete the process, the scars we made will be forever hidden.
To create the book I used a number of images collected from the internet and magazines. On average 8 or 9 elements from separate images were used in each urban montage (4 montages in total for the urban section) and elements from 15 different images, some of which were taken by me, were used to create the landscape colour view. I decided early on that each cut out element would only be used once in one montage as I felt that repetition of an element may lessen the impact of the view.
Each montage was created using Photoshop with each cut out carefully removed from its background source image, re sized and moved into place in a slow assemble of pieces. All the source images were re sized to help with the scale and put through a black and white process where the effect was slightly infra red. This was to add contrast making the monotone images more desolate than they already were. The choice of monotone for the urban decay montages was deliberate as many samples I found were in full colour and this hid the decay. Many years ago I took some photographs in Romania of a very poor community. The images of the people stood out and appeared bright and cheerful not due to their actions but due to the colours of their clothing dominating the scene. By comparison the monotone images taken at the same time allowed the eye to focus on the state of their clothing and their unwashed faces, revealing much more of the real truth.
I wanted to apply these thoughts to the book.
To increase the sharpness from what were essentially downloaded internet images, I only used large source images. The BW montages themselves were constructed on a Photoshop canvas size of over 20 inches in length so that the precise removal of unwanted image could be carried out. On completion of the BW montage the image was then reduced in size to 10.5 inches for printing.
The colour montage was 3x this, over 60 inches long before resizing for printing.
In selecting the paper to use in the book I also wanted to show a difference between the urban and rural scenes. I therefore set about sampling different papers through an ink jet printer to see how a more fibrous or art based paper would affect the final image. My final choice for the urban scenes came from an art paper I found in a sketch book. When compared to a sheet of photocopy paper the art paper was slightly yellow, giving an aged look. The monotone prints took well to this paper which added to the final effect. Each sheet was removed from the sketch pad and trimmed to the right size before printing. Each print was then trimmed to size but allowing a generous margin either end so they could be glued together in series.
The order in which each urban montage would appear was also carefully considered so as to take you on a journey through the urban landscape, resulting in your arrival in a small room with discarded but familiar objects such as a TV and a dolls house. Ending this sequence on familiar objects was also deliberate as I felt it would help to ground the viewer and assist them to connect directly with the image on a personal level.
The book design I was using was one we had created during our first book binding sessions and is illustrated below.
The concertina effect allowed one image to be viewed at a time or all four images to be viewed as a series. On one side would be the urban images and on the reverse would be the rural scene as one long montage. ( The image above shows the rural scene pages)
For the rural scene paper my final choice was a white soft art paper typically used for water colour painting. This worked as a direct contrast to the urban ‘yellow’ paper enhancing the difference between the two sets of images.
The two covers, one in black and white and one in colour would show opposite scenes. My re-invention of the childs book also included putting the title of the book on the back cover not the front.
For the black and white cover I used a photo I took on a waste ground several years ago, the bare earth strewn with debris showed yet another view of a decaying urban scene.
For the colour cover I scanned and re sized a childs book cover called ‘A Feast of Flowers’ as this appeared to fit in with both the reinvention theme, the panoramic flower montage and the childs toy theme.
The last part to create was the dolls house doors in the last urban montage. Cutting them so they would open and pasting a colour dolls house door on each inside allowed me to insert a colourful scene inside the dolls house, thus re inventing the inside space.
I did consider that the landscape scene might unfold from inside the dolls house but rejected this idea for the following reasons. For the folded scene to actually work would mean that the last frame in the BW series would have to be a close up of the dolls house. The experiments I carried out on this idea (folding a piece of paper and placing it in the space) appeared to have de-valuing effect. By that I mean that the task of unfolding the scene would unnecessarily distract the viewers mind from the mind journey that they were on. Just a simple link of the BW images to the colour scene was needed, in that the task of revealing the colour scene should take no more than a few seconds. I also rejected the folded scene idea as this would mean an extra BW page and as the dolls house already appears in montage 4 it would in effect be a repetition, something I was trying to avoid.
Making this book was very enjoyable for a number of reasons. Creating the montages was a challenge in itself as I wanted to convey the space found in such places and add a grittiness to the scene. I was conscious of how the book would be ‘read’ and took time to take a mental note of where my eye wandered over the BW montages and what parts drew my eye and which elements my eye returned to. I then adjusted the montages to maximise this effect.
Assembling the book brought its own challenges as the prints had to line up correctly, they had to paste together correctly the work had to ‘work’.
I am already considering creating a set a of A3 prints of my BW montages and have been inspired to create more.
Overall I am pleased with the result.