Fiction starts with reality

janelong6

I love Jane Long’s work.  You can find some here, and more here.  She takes existing antique photographs and turns them into whimsical, magical scenes.  What strikes me is how her works are imaginative yet (for the most part) logical extrapolations of the existing images.  Above are two children dressed in adult clothes, particularly the little boy in the military uniform.  Long’s recreation invites us to look into the future, where the two are grown up, yet reminds us that the future is uncertain, and only shows us their backs.

Fiction, when done well, does the same thing as Long’s art. It starts with a given, with something that exists, if only in general, then draws out the rich possibilities, taking imaginative, yet logical, narrative steps.  A writer sees two children, and imagines how they might grow up. And perhaps they only show us their backs, and allow the reader to fill in the blanks.

Projection

Photographer Ursula Sokolowska created this series to explore themes of an unhappy, isolated childhood, like her own as a Polish immigrant in the US.  The thing that strikes me in these works is the detachment between the stiff mannequin bodies and the faces projected on their featureless heads.  It says interesting things about the mind-body problem, that our consciousness can only be expressed through these awkward, flawed physical vessels.

Mermaid

This image is from photographer Seth Casteel’s series of babies underwater (click on the image for more).  I love the confidence that this little girl exudes.  She’s totally in her element, as if she starts off with infinite potential to be anyone and everything, even a mermaid.

Weightless dance

One thing about ballet that always takes my breath away is how the dancers seem to float.  It’s like they have conquered gravity, and it doesn’t apply to them anymore.  This series of self-portrait photographs by dancer and photographer Mickael Jou captures that aspect perfectly.  There’s an exquisite freedom to them, a sense of peace and power.  Check out more of his work by clicking on the image above.

Loving the unreal

The above photograph is by artist Jamie Diamond, and portrays a “Reborner,” someone who creates and cares for baby dolls.  In many ways, they treat them like real babies: they bathe them, comb their hair, and take them on walks.

This makes me think about the complexities of emotion and attachment.  It’s easy for us to dismiss these women as crazy, but I don’t think it’s as clear cut as that.  Their emotions toward the dolls is pronounced and specific, but most people have attachments to inanimate objects.  For instance, many of us believe on some level that toys have presence.  And sentiment keeps our closets, garages, and basements full of boxes and boxes of things we never use but can’t bear to throw away.  It’s arguable that the difference between walking a baby doll in a park and hauling around boxes and boxes of useless objects is mere semantics.

There’s also the question of human relationship with art.  When we create, we attempt to bring a fictional world to life in our own.  The aim of every artist is to stir emotion in the audience.  If we make you care, then we’ve done our jobs.  I think there’s definitely such a thing as caring too much, of becoming too invested, and I think these ladies are on the far side of that line.  It does, however, make me wonder exactly where that line is.  When I was in college, a debate society I belonged to once pondered the question of whether it was possible to truly love a fictional character.  They don’t really exist, but to what extent do any of us really get at the existence of another person?  At most we have our perception, which is always going to be incomplete, because we cannot fully know another person’s interior life.  It is arguable that it is impossible to truly know another human being.  All we know is a collection of actions and words, which is what we have of fictional characters.  A fictional character will never know of our love and will never return it, but one can truly love unrequitedly, even if the object of affection is never aware of it.  So we have to ask: if someone can truly love Sherlock Holmes, can they truly love a doll?

(For more images from this project, click on the photograph.  I highly recommend doing so.  Ms. Diamond has a number of fascinating projects that deal with similar themes of emotion and attachment.  The webpage is well worth your time.)

The tension between the known and the unknown

Photograph by Martin Vlach. Click the image to see more of his work. Hat tip Beautiful Decay.

My mentor Paul McComas has a principle he calls the Tightrope of Disclosure.  Give too much information to the reader and the writer falls off one side into obviousness and will bore the reader.  Give too little information and the writer falls off the other side into obscurity and will confuse the reader.  The sweet spot is between those two extremes, a fine line where the reader has just enough information to know what’s going on and be intrigued, to want to read on, discover more. The writer should be sure the reader knows what’s happening, and then let them figure out the why.

I think this principle can also be helpful in other artistic media.  Consider the photograph above.  Much of its power is in its simplicity.  Its aesthetic grace draws us in, and once we’re in it tickles our brains.  We know the what, the men standing silently in a forest shrouded in mist, but we don’t know the why.  We’re prompted to ask questions, and then to imagine answers.  And those answers are going to be different for everyone.

I love using images like this as writing prompts, but it also inspires me to infuse my own art with mystery.

Coloring the past

Colorized black and white photographs have been all the rage lately, and it’s easy to see why.  Consider the above iconic photograph.  In black and white, it’s Albert Einstein, the genius on a pedestal, revered and distant.  With color, we warm to him.  He’s Albert Einstein the teacher.  The father.  The colleague.  He’s someone we could know, could touch, could befriend.  Despite the distance of time, he’s one of us.  Color makes all the difference.

(Click the image for more colorized photographs.)

Ordinary to Extraordinary

This photograph is part of a series by French photographer TOMAAS where mundane objects are transformed into beautiful fashion pieces.  It’s a brilliant reminder that even the smallest, most everyday things in our lives can hold a profound significance when seen in a new way.  This is as true in writing as it is in art.

(Click the image for more photographs.)