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This is a screen grab from DJ Cam’s video for his single “Swim.” Directed and produced by Sonia Sieff it shows a young woman falling from a building. Other than the woman, the only thing occupying the frame is the sky. The woman has long styled hair and is wearing a noticeable amount of make up. At this point in the video she is falling directly downwards. Due to the nature of a moving image, in its original context the images changes compositionally over time. Fortunately the video is slowed right down so there’s little variation in composition between start and finish for this particular shot. The arms and body are positioned intelligently; they don’t seem tensed up. something one would expect during free fall. This contributes to the lucid, tranquil feeling of the image, precisely what I want to emulate. Her hair is the give away however. She’s supposedly falling but her hair comes down straight past her arm. If this was a real slowed down image of free fall the hair would be blowing everywhere but downwards. It’s a clever piece of rigging they’ve used for the actress as super slow motion cameras are very expensive and either way the actress wouldn’t have jumped from a sufficient height for the length of falling time captured. She has a beautiful, placid expression on her face, as if she’s indifferent to her fall, the potentially fatal experience she’s going through. This gives the image a distinct tone; it’s grungy and has a fierce attitude. Her expression of angst wouldn’t be out of place in any fashion magazine today. It’s lit all naturally as it was shot outside. I don’t think there was any fill-in spotlighting with this particular shot as the image is quite flat; not many details are really standing out. The clothes she’s wearing are height of current fashion; this is a very new video released early this year. (2011) The fact that she’s wearing a dress upholds a prominent sense of femininity and adds to her frail appearance. Her expression suggests she may be exhausted or depressed in some way, which adds a certain narrative; perhaps that is a contributing factor to how she’s in this situation as we’re drawn to the question of whether or not this is suicide.

This is another screen-grab from the same music video. It’s the same woman in different clothing and you can see her whole body this time including her footwear and how she’s positioning her legs. The way her arms and legs are held suggest the same lucidity. The way the fabric of her dress is moving though proves that she is slowly revolving in the air. This rotation is almost playful; at first it diminishes the impact, the seriousness of what’s going on. There’s an innocent charm about that carousel movement which makes it all the more chilling when you think about what she’s doing to herself. Again the subject is alone against the sky’s backdrop but I prefer this image compositionally. It may be because it’s framing her whole body rather than a closer crop but the innocence is amplified when compared with her obscurity against the relatively infinite sky.

Here’s the music video in its original context for an idea of the feeling I’m trying to emulate:

 

The following two images are screen shots of the 2005 film “Sin City”. It is based on the characters, story and visual style of the famous graphic-novelist Frank Miller. The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez but he based the stylisation and visual effects true to the graphic novel. The film was shot entirely in colour but in post production was converted to black & white. Some colour information was kept in however but only on certain objects. Blood was a recurring theme in the film and it was kept red while the rest of the film was black & white; a very effective technique to emphasise certain areas of the film. In this particular scene, one of the main protagonist played by Clive Owen has fallen into a tar pit. Very cleverly, and staying true to the original novel, the style of effect changes. The character’s silhouetted in an inverted way; he’s all white and the ever consuming, suffocating tar around him is an impenetrable black. It’s a wonderfully ominous image of life and death; the only life, the character is attacked by all  sides by the seemingly inevitable death until a lifeline comes from above in the form of a hand, a biblical reference perhaps. I think it’s compositionally stunning, just the two hands of mortal and saviour, meeting in the middle. It’s timed perfectly also; this is just as the scene cuts to another shot, at the precise moment the fingertips make contact. As this scene takes place, the character, “Dwight” performs a monologue. A transcript of the monologue follows:

“Silence now. No air to breath. Only the hard, oily tar taste creeping up my nostrils. Let it in, let it fill your lungs. They were counting on you and you blew it. Skinny, steely fingers at my wrist. Miho. You’re an angel. You’re a saint. You’re Mother Teresa. You’re Elvis.  You’re god.”

He’s initially resentful of himself, willing himself to accept his death and “let it in.” This shares closely a feeling I found with the DJ Cam video; the young girl, tranquil in death. He isn’t struggling, he’s accepting it. That’s a very striking concept for me, something I find it exceedingly difficult to grasp, yet it’s evident in literature, media and indeed real life. It’s evident then that it is a biblical reference holding his saviour in high esteem, deifying her as he does so. The following image is a whole body shot:

The main themes I wish to carry forward into my work are the isolated person in the frame, the simplicity of  a human life on a blank canvas, and the flowing material the person’s wearing. Even though he’s slowly sinking through tar and not falling through the air at a great velocity, they act in similar ways. I’d also like to bring forward a focus on the extremities. The image of the 2 people grasping hands is beautiful and small details like that will enhance my work. I find it wonderful how no emotion is detracted from the image regardless of it being exclusively an inverted silhouette; there are no facial features to portray anguish, or apathy but the body language, still expressible through an exclusively-silhouette form suggests his tranquillity. The drawback of this particular screen shot is the lack of imaginative composition. It is difficult to determine where a subject should be placed within the frame where there is no background detail for it to respond to.  Having perfectly upright and dead-centre though feels a little stale. This may have been how they filmed it with green screen, having the actor stand up on a sound stage and have the green screen turned black and the actor turned white in post production. I’d like to continue this idea of black on white, polar opposites and stark contrasts into my work, though I would like some detail especially, facial and in terms of fabric.

The next 2 images are screen shots from another music video. It’s for a song called “Pure Morning” by Placebo released in 1998. It was directed by Nick Gordon. The main concept of the video has the singer of the group standing on the ledge of a window, contemplating a fall to his death. There’s a policeman trying to stop him; throughout the duration of the video he’s running across the apartment in which the window ledge resides, trying to reach the man before it’s too late. The footage is interspersed with footage from the people on the ground, some news reporters, some people with a megaphone trying to get the man to stop his attempt, and 2 men are arrested on the ground. -We assume they’re allies of the jumping man who’ve helped him in his quest- He eventually jumps and instead of falling to his death is able to walk down the wall, a seemingly impossible task. He’s then deified by the people below in light of this impossibility. The first image shows the man, mid-flight, he’s slowing down and is about to start walking down the wall. What is striking to me about this image is his body shape. His arms are outstretched either side of him reference to Jesus perhaps, breaking physical rules to open the eyes of the people. He’s also coming down from the sky from the this perspective, a personification of God coming to Earth in the form of Jesus Christ. This like the last image follows quite a symmetry. Unlike the last image it isn’t a hindrance for me. The geometric perspective of the building he’s about to walk down suits it well, it feels balanced. This is echoed in the horizontal field; the skyline and the edge of the building meet perfectly in the middle of the frame. This balance is very striking and makes me think of the coming of Christ in the modern world, and what repercussions that might have. I appreciate the colour tone too; it’s as if there’s a grey filter on it with any colour information coming through pale and pastel. This directly represents the grim reality of the subject matter of suicide. Limiting colour tones works well with the natural lighting of the cloudy day of filming, and the grey-feeling industrialisation around such as buildings and pavements.

This next screen shot shows the man’s hand just as he’s about to jump. He has his fingers crossed, hoping to perhaps a higher power that what he intends to do will be successful. A number of all of these influential images follow the trend of focusing closely on the hands as they’re most likely our most used parts of the body after our eyes; I like how this importance is portrayed in his supposed dying moments. The hands will be a key part of a selection of my images. The composition of this is beautiful. From a production standpoint, the added touch of nail polish completely suits the style of the song and video; angst, punk oriented. The apartment, the unimportant background detail is completely blurred with a very shallow depth of field bringing the viewer’s attention directly to the sharply focused fingers being crossed. Modern stylised videos like these would most likely use a Digital SLR with video capabilities to access this versatile lens usage for depth and focus. 

The last image is, in some ways, what started it all. The concept of falling to your death, regardless of circumstance and accepting it, is a concept I hadn’t come across really until studying this image for my last module. It’s known as “The Falling Man” image, taken during the terrorist attacks on September 11th in New York by an Associated Press photographer, Richard Drew. It caused major controversy on its day of release, the day after the event. It’s not been printed at all since that day. It doesn’t follow particular compositional techniques; it’s in the nature of a  documentary image to be rushed because of the small time frame of the event. This in no way feels rushed though. After researching the velocity of a free falling person, it’s said to be close to 150 miles per hour. This is a testament to how quick Drew would need to have reacted, and how high his shutter speed would be to get the shot. This image had and still has a substantial impact on our culture; it’s been called the most important image of the early 21st century. The main aspect of this image I want to carry forward is the practical application of burst mode. Though the man seems to echo the subject in the other images, a fall of tranquillity and acceptance, Richard Drew took a series of photos of this lone “jumper” as they were infamously dubbed. The series of images can’t be found easily as a set, but have been mentioned in the Channel 4 documentary, “The Falling Man”. It’s a harrowing thought that this man was less calm, and more frenzied in death, flailing into different positions throughout the set of images. It’s a tool I’ll need to utilise to emulate the shot though, so I’ll be able to choose a single image to take forward from the number of different positions in one jump. The photograph shows the importance of natural light in documentary photography. What I find particularly intriguing about this image is the parallel lines of the building’s windows echo almost perfectly the lines of the edge of the frame. It’s hard to imagine paying attention to such detail when documenting such a profound and rushed moment which leads me to believe it was either accidental, or cropped so afterwards. From our perspective as a viewer they could be seen as guidelines, willing the subject downward towards his fate. I can only hope that my photographs can convey a fraction of this image’s cultural importance; it would be an honour if my set could in any way pay homage to this photograph and the grave subject it occupies.

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