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.