I’ve never really been drawn to anything typically ‘pretty’, inoffensive or easy on the eye when it comes to photography, cinema or art in general. It’s always been difficult to get across what I mean by that without sounding like an asshole. But it’s something I’ve become clearer on in the last couple of years by discovering what I’m really into. So I guess now is my opportunity to get it out of my head.
While I can appreciate the work of artists, photographers and filmmakers that focus on the classically pretty (a photo of a beautiful woman in a beautiful landscape, who isn’t going to like that?), we’ve become accustomed to imagery in advertisements and magazines that’s just a little bit ‘safe’. As a result, I now seek out the complete opposite; the uncanny, the dark and subtly bizarre as a release from the aforementioned imagery so frequently featured.
I remember first becoming interested in photographs upon purchasing my first French Vogue on holiday with my parents when I was about 13 years old. I was completely captivated by the tall Caucasian beauties posing in ethereal landscapes and I remember experiencing conflicting emotions. I loved to look at these waiflike beauties, yet I couldn’t help feeling a little disheartened when comparing my awkward teenage self to what was all so perfect and unattainable.
Fast-forward about five years, I discover the work of Cindy Sherman, Martin Parr, William Eggleston, Bill Owens, Nan Goldin, Philip Lorca Dicorcia and Gregory Crewdson. These artists single-handedly changed the way I look at photography. They took photographs of the mundane, of everyday life, yet there was something about them that I couldn’t tear my eyes from.
It was a moment of intense realisation that turned the ‘pretty’ imagery I had witnessed for the last five years to something vacuous in comparison to Lorca Dicoricia’s male prostitutes, Cindy Sherman’s clowns, or Nan Goldin’s beaten up, purple face. I was captivated by the way these images made me feel. It takes something extra-special to create an intense feeling within your audience from what should be a pretty ordinary photograph. A Crewdson image of man in his living room watching TV isn’t really showing anything revolutionary or sinister, but still has more depth and stirs a hell of a lot more inside me than a anything I’ve ever seen in a fashion editorial.
These photographers all share a narrative quality in their work often verging on the cinematic. Film inspires me more so than anything else. When I first discovered the movies I love, I noticed a pattern in my appreciation of them. It was never the blockbuster action films, instead it was the odd ones that dealt with relatable, surrealistic dark tales of suburban ordinary life.
I remember the first time I saw a David Lynch movie, perhaps one of the most obvious examples of directors that managed to turn the typical view of quaint picket fence environments on their head by urging a more skeptical take on the mundane suburban experience. Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks, all set in such environments, consistently merge twisted dream-like sequences with dark subject matter. These connotations were revolutionary to me and sparked a new trend in the filmmaking I sought out. I no longer looked to cookie cutter perfection and the typically ‘pretty’ as inspiration for my work, or myself. We have a universal taste for voyeurism (I especially), manifested in our innate curiosity for what occurs behind closed doors. This concept is drawn from the films I’ve watched, the imagery I’m drawn to, and now features heavily in the photographs I take of others and of myself.
Movies such as John Waters’s Pink Flamingos, Kubrick’s The Shining, Tarantino, Larry Clark’s Kids, Buffalo 66, Edward Scissorhands, Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising, all have twisted visuals set in relatively normal environments. This is the sort of thing that captivates me and I think will continue to do so.
One of my most notable movie experiences was the first time I laid eyes on Harmony Korine’s Gummo; a glorious example of the underbelly of American society, set in a mundane tornado-blasted town with exquisitely weird and wonderful characters whose problems I could empathise with greatly. Gummo is a faultless example of taking something so mundane and creating a beautiful twisted fucking masterpiece of white trash suffering that altered my perception of art. Even if this movie appears abrasive there are moments of tenderness and real social importance amongst the discordant sequences.
I owe it to these filmmakers and directors for getting inside my head and showing me that it is, in fact, the trivial rather than exceptional moments that shape our identities and resonate within us all.
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