Thursday, 23 July 2009

Sing, not bling

It is now recognized that societies in developed countries have ceased to be sustainable. The World Commission on Environment and Development convened by the UN in 1983 defined sustainability as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

If present population growth and fossil fuel consumption trends continue; humankind will eventually consume our planet’s available resources and poison the planet’s air, earth and water, rendering its eco-systems unable to support humankind any further. In the most simplistic terms: the activities of the developed world releases carbon dioxide in excess of the biosphere’s capacity to absorb it, heating up the planet’s atmosphere causing extreme changes to climate and land usage that threatens food availability. Declining supply of resources against ever increasing demand adds up to catastrophic failure.

Sustainability is a broad term which has environmental, social, and economic, and some say, cultural dimensions. One of the most fundamental challenges for all societies today is how can consumerist, capitalist societies adapt their traditional economies into sustainable models?

It is often said that the most sustainable business is one that doesn’t happen. Faced with all the ramifications of present practice and the complex interdependency of the issues and related science, say nothing of the resistance from those whose interests suffer from any change, it can be overwhelming to determine a strategy to improve an organization’s sustainability. Determining whether waste reduction or energy reduction would be a better strategy for an organization could employ expensive consultants for years before an answer is definitive. Every scenario is different and it is staggeringly complex to unravel what exactly is for the best.

A factor I think is significant on both the global and individual scale is that the effects of climate change for most of us in Western Europe have been incremental and this distances us from responsibility for taking action. The trend of an increasing frequency of hurricanes or droughts has taken place over several decades while the evidence is distorted by natural cycles. [1] Both statesmen and individuals can defend inaction by expressing doubts or offering a ‘wait and see’ strategy, or even, in the case of India and the USA, engage in brinksmanship over treaty terms, leaving a legacy they cannot be held to account for.

Evidence for climate change is often contradictory, a fact leapt upon by climate change deniers. For example, recent research shows that global warming is actually reversing desertification in the Sahel region due to increased rainfall (which has been catastrophic for others).[2] Many interests are served by denying climate change exists and they claim we cannot be sure of anything but not having all the answers doesn’t abrogate the need to change from our present practice. If if we get it wrong, reducing carbon emissions is a better strategy than doing nothing as that certainly does no harm, whereas the latter is much more certain to. In fundamental terms, at some time, a need for change is undeniable as the planet’s eco-system is self-regulating; if we affect our environment, it affects us.

My reading has shown me this is a very complex issue to understand and this complexity, from my experience, is a factor in people’s ignorance and aversion to considering it. As this was not a topic I had considered in any depth before, I created a simplified diagram to summarize my own understanding and I think using such a process would aid in explaining to people what kind of cause and effect their actions have and assist their analysis of their strategic options. Under each of my headings are more complex cycles and issues such as the many mechanisms by which material consumption directly causes biosphere destruction from urbanization, overfishing, mineral extraction, deforestation, waste disposal and so on, besides the indirect effect of CO2 emissions that will have to be explored further.

Many current strategies; such as carbon-offsets by tree planting to improve CO2 absorption or switching to renewable energy sources can be expressed in the diagram. It can also show that it may be necessary to change our culture of materialism, to consume less non-renewable resources, or that biosphere protection, such as designation of nature reserves and so on, is another option. And, bearing in mind the failure of Malthus to account for the increased productivity of the land to feed the exploding population,[3] it also shows that technological improvements such as increased efficiency is also a valid strategy. It is obvious though that climate change must be tackled on all fronts.

An interesting topic for me as it must be relevant to forming a sustainability strategy in my own work, is my analysis raises questions on the role our cultural wealth will have in this adaptation of our economies in the future. I conclude that in the developed world, people’s lives may have to be less tangibly material and those people will have to find more meaning and significance for their lives in the intangible wealth of culture. Perhaps a new proverb will arise; ‘sing, not bling’.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Mells View

Some views within a few yards of each other. I wouldn't have known there was a footpath here if I hadn't caught sight of the footpath diversion notice for the Wehaston Quarry at Mells Hamlet. There's only a few days left before the deadline to register objections "if you are aggrieved by the diversion" says the notice.

I don't mind the diversion myself but I'd hazard a guess that the diversion of the path around the edge of the quarry instead of running straight through the middle as at present is to ensure the sand and gravel extraction can continue for longer. The WDC plan says though the quarry is completly unsuitable for development as all the access is by class three roads with high banks and ditches, a hazard for HGVs and the road users, like me on my bicycle.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Vietnam War Story

Unlike Private Payback's remonstrations, this picture proves I was there man! Not in South East Asia but in a swamp ten miles outside of Savannah GA shooting the first three pilot episodes of the much acclaimed HBO drama Vietnam War Story.

image: a continuity Polaroid ® from the first episode The Mine.

Someday, for a film class or something, I'd like to tell the story of how four guys; a Brit, a former LRRP who was self-medicating his PTSD and couple of crackers can make a three foot deep, six acre rice paddy in a month with nothing but shovels and wheelbarrows (as a backhoe would have sunk in the swamp) and put in there the USA's entire stock of fake rice plants that twenty women from the WI have spent a week wiring onto stakes.

Then, as a director's afterthought, after it has been flooded of course, how they made an island to put a crane in the middle of it and then a raft to get the crane onto the island like a ropax ferry...

The B-story of this heroic tale would be a case of confronting racism. Can someone remain colour-blind or will subtle pressures make them conform to the status quo. Can they, as a manager, get a mixed crew of locals to work together or do they take everyone's advice to either hire black or white labourers but not both.

Then there'd be the colourful supporting characters and comic interludes of nights at Pinkie Masters, the lovely, bright and willing girls from SCAD, the surreality of airboat trips by moonlight, meeting real ‘shiners and then, when driven crazy by the vapours from the pulp mill and the heat and humidity, the hero gets caught up with persons unknown (ahem) commemorating Yorktown by bombarding Savannah with cherry bombs catapulted from a vintage Cadillac.

I think my Southern Gothic tales will be told. To my children at least.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Henry V

This is an experiment I did in the studio today with the actor Tom Holloway to develop a poster design for a production of Henry V planned at Eye Castle in 2010. I have to qualify it's an experiment because I didn't use any lighting or backdrops and have treated it as work in progress. The final poster will be a composite of several images and likely heavily photoshopped to add the elements of blood, armour etc. we didn't have to hand.

The poster designer Steve Peck had been working with Tom on a detailed poster sketch and Tom had done a shoot for the central figure which had been unsatisfactory. (It was flattering to asked to come in to fix things).

Steve Peck sent me a brief for a pose which Tom and I followed as above, but moving the sword more into frame because we didn't think it Tom's hands looked right and the gloves we had weren't good enough and also perhaps subliminally, I recognise that the hilt of a sword is often used as a metaphor for a spiritual dimension.

Looking at the file now the job was done in about ten minutes but Tom wanted to, and I was game to, take the time to see if we could come up with something else and explore some other ideas. What followed was a collaboration between a photographer and an actor to exploit each other's craft of communication. Here we explored our ideas on the semiotics of poses and theatre poster design which I am sure there is a PhD on somewhere.

For Tom a challenge was working in the minute intimate space of the camera frame, finding a 'look' that models understand is their craft; which is vastly different than the expansive expressions required sometimes for the stage.

I think good model understands about communicating with posture, expression and gaze - much like acting but without a voice - and the model's skill is being able to find it reliably and
regularly to give the photographer what they're after, for which they can be grossly overpaid.

Pretty boys and girls should know that a model that can't do that won't get much work. For me, the photographer, my challenge was like the theatre director's task of recognising it
and capturing that and guiding Tom to find it in himself.

In any creative endeavor, it is always a good idea to look around you to see what has gone before so you don't reinvent the wheel and to see what you can borrow for inspiration. This raises a discussion about making choices, whether the ideas you wish to appropriate, the source of inspiration, are appropriate to your ends. I do notice the double meaning of appropriate here.

Henry V was a challenging topic. How could we find an image that was visually arresting, majestic and that also conveyed something relevant about the interpretation of the play? What was the the interpretation of the play to be anyway?

Casting around for other examples showed - to us - a variety of interpretations used on posters or press images.

Once source I thought might be interesting was combat photojournalism. I have always admired the work of photojournalist Don McCullin, partly because as a child seeing his work from Vietnam and Northern Ireland in the Sunday newspapers in my sixties childhood, I imagined he was a heroic figure himself.

Tom and I tried to deconstruct what is so visually compelling about one of my favourite images of his (favourite I should qualify as the one that has been the most memorable) of a shell-shocked soldier 'Hue 1968' to see if we could convey some of that elusive and horrific quality. This lead to some interesting insights for me about the image as, in trying to recreate it, it revealed (to us at least) hidden truths.

I found this image of a Manchester production of Henry V and although it wasn't a poster, I recognised that -for me - this image was another pieta and that it invoked something the famous 'Death of a Loyalist Soldier' by Robert Capa.

It wasn't a direction we wanted to go in but Tom and I recognised that war is dirty and that muddying him up a bit would convey some 'grit' into the image we were after, whatever that was. Tom and I went outside and raided a flowerbed for some Suffolk earth.

I tried to deconstruct what makes McCullin's image so arresting? A figure sitting down holding a rifle looking straight at the camera (as we found) does not convey what this image conveys. Tom found he had dig deep into his actors' toolbox to find the physical posture necessary.

The soldier is hunched forward, the shoulders are compressed, almost concave, and the hands are putting weight on the rifle. When Tom tried an expression of determination, the facial expressions and posture came out wrong but when he looked for a sense of womb-like numbness, it started to gell.

We began to discuss then whether this was appropriate for
'our' Henry V production. Would McCullin's message (what we understood it to be) that 'war is hell' be appropriate for the planned production?

All sorts of marketing and critical evaluations stem from that question. If the poster 'promised' a intimate reflection of the nature of warfare perhaps, but our production's USP (and reason for being) was to be massively complex battle recreations which are going to require considerable community involvement. Achieving this will be a social enterprise engaging people with theatre. Would our poster be deceptive or a clever counterpoint confounding expectations?

Tom had earlier said he wanted to explore the character as at a crossroads, someone who was visionary but troubled by the price their actions would cost and convey more humanity than the stoic, heroic, vaguely threatening figure in the sketch.

Branagh's poster uses the device of looking up and to the distance as both a metaphor for asking for divine guidance. The resolute expression of his mouth conveys he has made his decision, the contrast implies the risk that this course action entails; "I don't know how but it must be done". In Branagh's poster the viewer is subliminally told what the story is about with all the window dressing of props and background soldiers to put it in context.

Tom and I had discussed whether we needed a crown or helmet prop, as in the poster sketch, but we could see that if Branagh didn't have one it didn't matter, it would be the sword prop that conveyed the martial context of the story. But then too much resolution in his face in the context of the sword would make it look like a horror movie, which I'd say has some potential: how about 'Maniac Knight'?

Perhaps Branagh thought an uncovered head conveyed his vulnerability? Or was it vanity that the star must be recognisable? I say Branagh wanted it, it would have more likely have been the poster designer of course.

We didn't want to rip off Branagh's pose - it didn't fit in the sketch anyway - so we explored finding something of our own to say something similar. For a laugh we did a rip-off the Kill Bill pose, something that Tarantino had done in the first place. Perhaps the visual recognition it might have would be a good marketing ploy?

I suppose it'll be up to the audience for the final poster to say if we succeeded or not. It is still a work in progress.


Here is the final poster