Waiting for an answer
Inspired by Tom Hunter, Hannah Starkey and Jeff Wall who have been influenced by literature or paintings in their works, I was drawn to Samuel Beckett’s existentialist play, Waiting for Godot. The image below was my inspiration for creating an image to reflect on a contemporary interpretation of absurd communication and the seemingly pointless way in which we often fill the time.
Waiting for Godot (Itzkoff, 2018)
Patrick Stewart as Vladimir and Ian McKellen as Estragon in Waiting for Godot
Image courtesy of Bing images: in the public domain
Waiting for Godot has two main characters who wait by a tree on a country road for a third character, Godot, who never arrives. The protagonists become bored of waiting, they have nothing to do and nothing of any importance to say; they are just passing time. The play is typical of the Theatre of the Absurd which explores the idea that human existence doesn’t have any real purpose, life doesn’t make any sense and we are all increasingly alienated.
Since ‘most of the play is spent trying to find things to do to pass the time’,(Gradesaver.com, 2018) I considered how Becket might portray this waiting if he were writing his play today. I wanted to comment on our increasing reliance on ‘virtual lives’ where we have become absorbed in communication with ‘strangers’ and have ‘friends’ that we have never met. I can imagine Beckett’s characters, absorbed by their phones, looking up now and again to pass inane comment. My intention is to use Beckett’s play as an inspiration, both compositionally and conceptually to provide comment on modern life, the lack of meaningful communication and how we absurdly use technological devices in place of human interaction.
Evaluation of the process
How I found the location
In the opening scene of Beckett’s play the two main characters are waiting by a tree along a country lane in the dark. The tree is the main prop and it was essential that my staging included a leafless tree in order to create an association with the play.
I decided on a bus stop location as I considered that this was synonymous with ‘waiting’. I paid attention to my local area for several days assessing the potential of different locations. I then did a preliminary shoot which was a walk round the village to take snaps of my shortlisted locations to get an idea of whether they could work compositionally. Here are some of the locations that I considered:
I rejected the location above as I didn’t want housing in the image and the fencing was more garden than country lane, though the tree had potential. I gave it a try though, after dark, practising with just the mobile phone light at first (below).
I actually thought it had potential, as the houses were not too obvious in the dark, but I needed more of a country lane feel.
I rejected bus shelters after I had seen them at night as they are too brightly lit with fluorescent lights in the ceiling and because a built structure was not in keeping with the play.
The location above was a possibility but I wasn’t happy with the bench. I had a reasonably successful initial test at this location though (below).
Above was just a quick test to determine whether the location had potential.
Above, I certainly didn’t want a hedge.
Above is my final location.
How I set up my work
It had to be dark to provide a visual connection with the scene from the play below. Since the clocks have gone forward this meant waiting until after 8pm. I wanted to use lighting in three ways. One, to light up the tree in a ‘Godot’ way with branches highlighted against a black sky. Two, to light up my subjects’ faces and three, to light the floor to give a staged look.
I initially hoped that car headlights would be enough to provide lighting for the tree but it quickly became clear that this wouldn’t work. The light was not high enough and positioning the car exactly as needed was impossible. I considered whether I would be better borrowing a generator to allow me to use indoor lighting equipment outdoors. However, I moved on to use two miner’s LED cap lamps as shown below.
These were ideal. They are battery operated and have a powerful directional light.
Above is how I managed the final lighting of the tree. At the base are the two miners’ cap lamps to light from below and a torch set on the wall to add light from mid height. The road is lit from street lights and the intention was to light the models’ faces from their phones.
How my direction went
Below is a more relaxed moment when my ‘models’ were waiting to be ‘directed’!
A short break
I knew what I wanted my image to look like beforehand. Black sky, stark branches, concentrating expressions, a couple engrossed in their individual lives, so I feel that compositionally I achieved my intention. Regarding lighting I was pleased with how I sourced the lamps and positioned them, and I was pleased with the location. My main personal achievement was in organising the ‘shoot’. I directed my models on where to stand, how to position themselves and where to hold their phones to direct the light and felt that I was in control and knew what I wanted.
Regarding the success of my message I feel that the concept of waiting and the reference to the largely futile nature of modern communications has worked well, and I hope that Beckett’s play is evident to those who are familiar with it.
A word about props
Regarding props, I was insistent on a leafless tree that I could access with lamps. I also needed my subjects to hold mobile phones to provide light on their faces and to articulate the current obsession with phone technology. I wanted one of my subjects to be wearing ear phones to further convey a lack of interest in communicating with real people. A closer inspection shows the man wearing a hat and heavy boots, both significant props that are integral to Beckett’s play.
My models were my husband and twin sister and I hope that they conveyed a couple as opposed to two strangers at a bus stop. I considered two men, in keeping with the play, but thought that a mixed sex couple would more easily portray a relationship. Their stance, nearly touching, was intended to communicate a closeness. If these were strangers they would be invading each others space. Casual clothing is also inspired by the play. In addition, the daffodils are not circumstantial; they are deliberate. I wanted to show how a couple, who are so intent on their phones, with their backs to the flowers, are missing the beauty of real life, at the expense of their virtual lives.
How did this process affect the final outcome
Trying different locations showed me what worked and what didn’t work and led me to considering different settings, rejecting them and searching for something better. This repeated consideration led me to choose an ideal setting. I wasn’t prepared to ‘make do’.
The trial and error with the lighting and the rejection of car headlights and weaker torches made me more aware of the effect I wanted to create and made me conscious of the different effects that different lighting had.
Constructing this image has made me more aware of composition, lighting and concept and I have learned a great deal about photography as a language with which I can convey my ideas. More than that though, I have gained in confidence and am keen to articulate my ideas through photography.
Contact sheets Assignment five (Making it up) annotated
e8bloggt. (2018). Waiting for Godot: Silence pours into the play….. [online] Available at: https://e8bloggt.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/waiting-for-godot-silence-pours-into-the-play/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].
Gradesaver.com. (2018). Waiting for Godot Analysis of the Play. [online] Available at: http://www.gradesaver.com/waiting-for-godot/study-guide/analysis-of-the-play [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018]
Studies, V. and Death, W. (2018). Waiting For Godot: Silence and Death Book Report/Review. [online] Studentshare. Available at: https://studentshare.net/visual-arts-film-studies/64447-waiting-for-godot-silence-and-death [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].
UKEssays. (2018). Waiting For Godot Essay | Analysis of Waiting for Godot. [online] Available at: https://www.ukessays.com/essays/english-literature/waiting-for-godot-and-companionship-english-literature-essay.php [Accessed 7 Apr. 2018].