My Heart’s in the Highlands

Robert Burns

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the north,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains high-cover’d with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green vallies below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

Great-Great-Grandpa Robert Burns (c1930)

All I have to do is dream…

As I contemplate nostalgia, it’s role in informing my work and how I intend to communicate the theme through my own project, it’s important also for one to consider the limitations and ceiling that it can create.
Course webinars with Anthony Prothero on my current MA Photography module, Sustainable Strategies, have highlighted and help me come to the realisation that feelings and emotions of nostalgia cannot be evoked simply or solely by a personal choice of analogue film stock.

I have to continue to experiment and consider new methodologies that communicate the themes, but that perhaps also are unexpected to the viewer, that illustrate memory in a new and innovative way.

Being ill with COVID-19 has been a set back over the past weeks and although I’m legally now allowed to leave the house, the long-term effects are still taking toll on my levels of fatigue. This has forced me to step back from practice with the camera and has given me time to contemplate and reflect.

A key method I’ve been using with my project so far is engaging in conversation with my photographic subjects about their item or keepsake that they’ve chosen to be photographed. Intentionally, and crucially, this exercise serves multiple purposes; to engage my subjects and build rapport (many of whom I’ve not known personally, prior to shooting), to understand their story and what their chosen thing means to them personally, to find clues as to how best (and accurately) portray my subjects and illustrate their memories.

Seahouses 1994

Going forward, I will begin to experiment with ways of portraying these memories in a photograph. For me, memories and dreams tend to play in my head like a spotlight on a stage, surrounded by darkness, void of any context. They repeat over and over like the GIF above of me at 4 years old playing in the sand in Seahouses, Northumberland.

Whilst memories and dreams are often very visual and even photographic for me personally, they’re often simultaneously distorted, broken, glitched.

Song: All I Have To Is Dream
Artist: The Everly Brothers
Album: All I Have To Do Is Dream
Writers: Boudleaux Bryant
Licensed by: WMG (on behalf of Warner Catalog and O/H); SOLAR Music Rights Management, CMRRA, LatinAutor – SonyATV, Sony ATV Publishing, BMI – Broadcast Music Inc., LatinAutorPerf, ARESA, BMG Rights Management (US), LLC, Harry Fox Agency (Publishing), UNIAO BRASILEIRA DE EDITORAS DE MUSICA – UBEM, and 10 Music Rights Societies.

When the boat comes in.

As I explore new methodologies in my research, I decided to take a fresh approach as I explore themes of nostalgia in my photographic practice. The following images are a collection of photographs shot last week in Glasson Dock, Lancashire.

I used a new method of repeat photography, a nod to the work of Edward Ruscha and his series of Twenty-Six Gas Stations.

Using the opportunity to try different 35mm film stocks, I used Fujicolor C200 with my Canon EOS 5 35mm camera and a Sigma 105mm f/1.4 ART lens to photograph these beached and abandoned boats around the River Lune estuary.

The One Where We All Realised How Precious Time Is

Friends: The Reunion – HBO, 2021

Last night, millions around the world watched Friends: The Reunion as it was aired on HBO & Sky. What does it have to do with photography? I hear you ask. Not a lot, at first glance. But it was a program that unearthed all sorts of emotions and feelings of nostalgia and had me reminiscing about a simpler time. A recurring theme throughout my photographic practice.

It was an emotional hour and a half as I watched it late last night whilst sat in bed. Did the loneliness of the night have something to do with my emotions as I watched? Perhaps. I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the return of the comedic sextet, particularly as they re-read old scripts and reflected on best bits from old episodes. But, as it ended, I felt more emotion than I remember feeling when the six friends placed their keys on the table and left their New York apartment for the final time.

It’s only the next day, but I’m still trying to figure out these emotions. For me, the one that really hit home, was in a moment of realisation of the unstoppable marching of time and suddenly feeling, and experiencing, age.

I begin to question, is this why the theme of nostalgia is so prominent at the current time in my career as a photographic practitioner? Have I hit some sort of inevitable checkpoint in life where this epiphany, right on cue, occurs in us as human beings?

I will need to ponder on these thoughts and emotions over the coming days or weeks perhaps, but I felt it important to note down this shift in thinking in this moment.

Stay tuned…

Informing my Practice; a Research Bibliography

Barthes, R. and Howard, R., 1980. Camera lucida. Reissue, London: Penguin Vintage Classics, 2020.

Barthes, R., 1964. Image – music – text: The rhetoric of the image. Reissue, London: Fontana, 1977

Batchen, G., 2004. Forget me not: photography and remembrance. 1st ed. Amsterdam: Princeton Architectural Press & Van Gogh Museum.

Belk, R., 1988. Possessions and the Extended Self. Journal of Consumer Research, [online] 15(2), pp.139-168. Available at: <https://doi.org/ 10.1086/209154> [Online source accessed 2 May 2021].

Berger, J., 1972. Ways of seeing. Reissue, London: Penguin, 2008

Doisneau, R., Deroudille, C. and Wythe, S., 2018. Music. 1st ed. Paris: Flammarion.

Forsyth, J, 2002. Out of One Eye. Tyne Bridge Publishing

Hirsch, M., 1997. Family frames. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Hirst, W, et al., 2011. A ten-year follow-up of a study of memory for the attack of September 11, 2001: Flashbulb memories and memories for flashbulb events.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 144(3), Jun 2015, 604-623
https://psycnet.apa.org/journals/xge/144/3/604.html?uid=2015-09755-001
[Online source accessed 12 March 2021]

Kuhn, A., 2002. Family secrets. 1st ed. London: Verso.

Lester, P., 1995. Visual communication. 1st ed. Belmont [u.a.]: Wadsworth.

McCullers, C., 1940. Look homeward, Americans. Vogue, [online] (19401201), pp.74, 75. Available at: <https://archive.vogue.com/issue/19401201&gt; [Online source accessed 8 May 2021]

Miller, D., 2008. The comfort of things. 1st ed. Polity Press.

Niemeyer, K., 2014. Media and nostalgia. 1st ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sontag, S., 1977. On Photography. Reissue, Penguin Modern Classics, 2008

Exploring The Concept of Nostalgia

nostalgia

/nɒˈstaldʒə/
noun
noun: nostalgia; plural noun: nostalgias

  1. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.
    “I was overcome with acute nostalgia for my days at university”
    • something done or presented in order to evoke feelings of nostalgia.
      “an evening of TV nostalgia”
fig. word origin accessed via Google 2021, published by Oxford Languages https://ssl.gstatic.com/onebox/dictionary/etymology/en/desktop/20c6a37a211074318db1186d10452fad4d0aa9a1d179fa4794f150a4d9d485b6.png

I’d like to explore the concept of nostalgia, and how the way we experience the past now – through photos and video (and also other means such as sound recordings) – contributes towards the “magic” we associate with it, or even the disassociated experience we have in the present day.

“Loads of us would love to experience the past first hand, but in what capacity do we want to experience it? Do we want to experience it as time travel, as going back and visiting it as though it were a foreign country? Or do we want to experience it as though we were living at the time? Because, obviously, those are very different things… …For us, what we’re living through is so completely mundane, that it never occurs to us that it might be extremely interesting to somebody in the future.” (Roper, 2021)


How has commercial marketing influenced the way we produce and consume photographic imagery?

frame from the end of a Kodak TV advertisement – Eastman Kodak, August 2002

By no means do I deny that the emotional connection between photography and nostalgia existed prior to the mass marketing of camera and film manufacturers in the 1970’s and beyond, but it’s important to question the effect that this style of marketing towards the mass consumer market had on the way we, the consumers, used and thought about photography – at hobbyist, amateur and professional levels.

The “Kodak Moment” became a popular tagline, identifying (and cleverly tethering the household Kodak brand with) the act of taking a photograph as having a nostalgic motive – consciously or not.

YouTube: Simon Roper – How We View The Past (2021)


The Power of Nostalgia

It’s not just in the marketing of photography and consumer goods where the emotion of nostalgia is exploited. Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) 2015 election campaign is a perfect example of just how powerful and influential nostalgia can be.

It’s highly debatable whether America was ever great, and if it was, how so? But the use of this slogan in 2015, regardless, evoked enough emotion and belief from a majority US electorate for Trump to defy the expectations of many and win the presidential election.

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 11: (AFP OUT) Rapper Kanye West speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval office of the White House on October 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras – Pool/Getty Images)

How do the characteristics of old photography contribute to the experience of nostalgia when looking back?

ie. film, grain, lens flare


Photography as “The Puzzle Pieces”

Memories from early adulthood

Photographs can be kept and used for both nostalgic and documentary purposes. Rewinding back to c2008 as a young adult and undergrad student at university, some of the best times (or at least considered so when these times were the present moment) were those we didn’t remember. Naturally, it was a time of celebration, of freedom and liberation. My friends and I didn’t take photographs for the purpose of reflecting back in decades to come, but almost to “prove” the existence of a good time.

There was always a “designated photographer” in the group on each night out. The word “selfie” was yet to be invented, instead we’d occasionally pass around the camera for group photos as we over-indulged, danced on sticky floors and lost ourselves in the shower of lights and music. It became the task of the “designated photographer” to process the photos from the previous night to piece together what had happened and share with the others, so that we could remember and relive (sometimes with horror!) the events of the night before.

It was a fascinating time to come of age. It was an era in which the birth of social media and mobile 3G internet happened, and as a result, the increased social activity of sharing images digitally within circles. As digital point-and-shoot cameras such as Canon’s Powershot series dropped in price and became more accessible, suddenly, our newly established social media profiles became flooded with albums documenting such adventures.