Imag­in­ing Books

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - GE­ORGE SMITH

This year, The Cabot Trail Writer’s Fes­ti­val included a fas­ci­nat­ing op­por­tu­nity for artis­tic dis­ci­plines to col­lab­o­rate. Cam­eras and Books, an ex­hi­bi­tion cu­rated by Bev Niven, brought to­gether 13 pho­tog­ra­phers and linked them with the works of the fea­tured writ­ers. Artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tion is not new to the fes­ti­val. In pre­vi­ous years, or­ga­niz­ers com­mis­sioned songs from mu­si­cians, and also in­vited a painter and a mu­si­cian to con­trib­ute si­mul­ta­ne­ously to the sto­ry­telling process that orig­i­nates with au­thors and their books.

Col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween artis­tic dis­ci­plines has a long es­tab­lished his­tory through­out the world. Of­ten, artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tions al­low peo­ple to re­late to a con­cept through dif­fer­ent senses, pro­vid­ing a more lay­ered ex­pe­ri­ence. In Cam­eras and Books, pho­tog­ra­phers were given the task of in­ter­pret­ing an au­thor’s work through vis­ual images. While each artist’s ap­proach was dif­fer­ent, the re­sults were all strik­ing and gave view­ers an ad­di­tional win­dow into the writ­ten works.

Pho­tog­ra­pher John Gainer took his in­spi­ra­tion from Sarah Mian’s book, When the Saints. Sarah’s work is de­scribed by her pub­lisher as both “gut-wrench­ing” and “in­ces­santly hi­lar­i­ous”. It is the story of a fam­ily who live as out­siders and whose hope of re­demp­tion may well be found in their re­la­tion­ships with each other. John’s pho­to­graph fea­tures a yel­low dress and three dead birds on a win­dowsill, and he spoke of the whole process, from the odd ex­pe­ri­ence of buy­ing a woman’s dress to finding the win­dow ledge of dead birds in an aban­doned ware­house, and all the serendip­i­tous mo­ments of it all com­ing to­gether as he worked. The end re­sult is a pow­er­ful dou­ble-ex­posed im­age that, while giv­ing homage to ref­er­ences from the book, stands alone as a strong work in it­self.

A fas­ci­nat­ing bi­og­ra­phy, Stalin’s Daughter, by award-win­ning au­thor Rose­mary Sul­li­van pro­vided the start­ing point for a trio of pho­to­graphs by Char­lie Mor­ri­son. He used a long ex­po­sure to cap­ture the move­ment of his model, who was de­pict­ing Svet­lana Iosi­fovna Alliluyeva as she sur­veys the texts and images that re­vealed to her who her fa­ther was. That rev­e­la­tion and the com­pre­hen­sion of Stalin’s legacy to the Soviet Union led Svet­lana to make piv­otal de­ci­sions about her own life and ex­is­tence, and there­fore Char­lie wanted to cap­ture this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in his images. He printed his pho­to­graphs on sheets of alu­minum to rep­re­sent the stark in­dus­trial world of that time, and this process took on fur­ther mean­ing when he dis­cov­ered that Stalin means “steel” in Rus­sian. Rose­mary Sul­li­van told me how much she en­joyed the three images and how there was an un­canny like­ness be­tween the model and the real Svet­lana.

When Christy Ann Con­lin stood be­side the lectern to read from her long-awaited se­cond novel, “The Me­mento”, the au­di­ence was in for a dou­ble treat. Not only is her writ­ing imag­i­na­tive, her read­ing is de­light­fully the­atri­cal. The story is sin­is­ter and chilling; a strange tale of mad­ness, mur­der, and dark se­crets. Pho­tog­ra­pher and farmer Brooke Oland chose to il­lus­trate this par­tic­u­lar book with a scene set up in a lo­cal grave­yard. I was priv­i­leged to be able to ob­serve Brooke’s work dur­ing the cre­ation process, as he took three el­e­ments cru­cial to the story – a young girl, tomb­stones, and a teacup – and com­posed them into a sin­gle com­pelling im­age that con­veyed the shad­owy mood of the book.

And not only did Bev Niven co­or­di­nate artists and pho­tog­ra­phers, she also pro­duced a pho­to­graph of her own for the ex­hibit. Best Laid Plans by Terry Fal­lis orig­i­nated the idea for her to col­lect to­gether a var­ied as­sort­ment of small ob­jects to form a col­lage, giv­ing the viewer a wide se­lec­tion of de­tail to ex­plore for hid­den mean­ings.

Both the pho­tog­ra­phers and the writ­ers I spoke with re­ally en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence of col­lab­o­ra­tion, and if I col­lected a dol­lar each time some­one ref­er­enced “A pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words,” I’d be a rich man; so it re­ally must be true.

Pic­tured above: An 'out­take' from the cre­ative pho­to­graphic process that lead to Brooke Oland's fi­nal pho­to­graph (not pic­tured) that was used to de­pict his take on Christy Ann Con­lin's new novel The Me­mento. Photo by Brooke Oland.

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