I began working up basic ideas for the piece in 2013, it was a work I'd been thinking about creating for some time, and as various other works became complete, the idea once again came to the fore. This piece was departure from my
normal style - I normally work entirely in moving image, but this time I wanted to combine stills with 4k moving image.
The final piece I have created is a 3 channel 4k film that plays on three screens inside a sculpture. Each screen shows different imagery and the piece is viewed as a triptych. The work uses peripheral vision, to direct the viewer as visuals appear on different screens. The poetic narration is performed by Catherine McGoohan and Neil Dickson.
I had a long standing fascination with old houses, and after much additional research on houses both sparkling and faded, I began the pre-production phase of the work.
I always act as producer on my works, and as such began approaching all the houses to discuss the idea of the project.
During the pre-production phase leading up to the shoots, I also worked on costumes, styling and the script for the piece. Having worked a lot with Catherine McGoohan and Neil Dickson in the past, I knew early on that I wanted them to be involved. Neil has an amazing voice, it is magnetic, rich, charming - I knew it would be perfect as the voice of sparkling magnificence. Catherine McGoohan, like Neil has a very versatile voice, and I really felt that she could bring to the role both the strength and vulnerability of the fading grandeur. I was so happy when they both agreed to be a part of if.
Catherine came to London in 2014, we rehearsed at my home, and my partner Mark Gilbert and I recorded her at Abbey Road (using Gallery's ADRStudio). Neil and I rehearsed over the telephone (he resides in Los Angeles) and he laid down a temp track in his home studio in LA. A few weeks later we recorded him via internet link to Los Angeles. It was, as ever, such a thrill to hear the words come alive.
Photography for the piece began in February 2014 and ended in July.
The houses were spread up and down the country, and I made many trips to the faded grandeur houses over a period of months in order to get all the images I required. The piece inside the sculpture lasts around 10 minutes, and with the 3 screens in use,
I needed around 30 minutes of material in all.
Shooting on location is always a family affair, so I travelled the country with my partner and cat, (who very much enjoyed his walks outside Castle Howard,
and the attention of visiting tourists)
The country houses of faded grandeur were shot in varying ways, sometimes fully lit, sometimes with little lighting. The quirks of working in faded grandeur environments are many, there isn’t always be a piece of floor where you need to put a light, so you have to take each house as it comes, and work with it. Long exposures can be tricky, as often the floors have a lot of movement in them, and even though the camera is nicely weighted down, the movement is still very much there. In one space I was working in, so much air was being drawn through the glassless windows, that when the door slammed, it did so with such gusto that the whole floor moved quite dramatically. It was rather unfortunate that the door of the room had no handle, and I did wonder if I’d ever get out, but after navigating a rather large chasm that dropped 20 feet to the floor below, i finally managed to gain access to another room and navigate my way back round to the ‘handle-less door’ room. Suffice to say, on
re-entering my work space, I swiftly located a make-shift door stop! Wildlife is also very much a feature in some of the faded houses, and the sudden arrival of a swooping and diving crow, can take you a little by surprise.
In between the work of capturing stills,
I worked on the studio still life shots and the 4k moving image.
I have worked with actress Josie Daxter for many years, (she has acted and performed voice over in many of my prior works) and I knew she would be perfect as the ice princess that appears in the Houghton Hall Stone Hall scene, the butterfly girl with ribbons, and the rose beauty over the Castle Howard scenes.
Josie and I certainly had a lot of fun with wind machines and ribbon in the studio - it took a while to get the final shot I wanted, but it was lovely to be under the wind machines during some of the hottest days of the year.
4k moving images such as the flying ribbons, the textures, the photo album, and the gold hands were shot in my studio. The wheat field with butterfly was shot in Suffolk, as was the beach. Much searching was done to locate the poppy field that appears in the piece - friends who flew light aircraft even took to the air to see what they could find!
After much searching country wide, I finally located the perfect poppy field in the far south west, and contacted the owner to arrange shooting
- it was an absolutely beautiful spot.
When all the shots were captured, I entered the post production phase of the project.
working in Adobe Photoshop with the stills, Adobe Premiere and After Effects - for the 4k moving image edit, and Pro Tools - for the sound-scape, dialogue edit and mix.
4k picture editing 3 screens at once is quite a demanding task for both me and the computer, especially as I was sometimes editing up to 12 layers of 4k at a time on the timeline. Much computer power was needed to perform this technically, and I was lucky enough to be able to use a super powered Apple Mac Pro.
When the weeks of picture post were finally complete, I set about work on the audio. For the fading souls section of the work (the faded houses) I wanted to create a sound-scape that reflected the past life of the house, a kind of 'ghost track', so I incorporated sounds such as children laughing, people talking, telephones ringing, soldiers performing drill - reflecting military occupation, and that kind of thing.
At some of the faded house locations, I had recorded the sounds of the house, capturing wood being nibbled by insects, footsteps, and the creaks and bangs of the building as the wind entered and buffeted around, to use within the ghost track.
For the sparkling houses, I wanted to keep the sound-scape light, elegant, simple and stripped back - let the houses speak for themselves.
The last 2 months of the project was spent juggling final post production with the sculpture build. All of the technical ground work for the build had been done months in advance by my long term technical collaborator Mark Gilbert, but this would be the time when everything finally came together as one. After completing the final sculpture design and finalising the visual appearance, Mark built the structure almost single handedly, I then began working on all the paint and decoration with my assistants.
We had help for the heavy lifting needed to raise the pediments - it was great to see them
go up, and see finally see Breathless Beauty, Broken Beauty
smile at me for the first time.
All in all the project took around 10 months to complete. I was working very long hours which probably constituted 13 months condensed in to 10, but this was the kind of project that you couldn't really tear yourself away from - I just wanted to keep going.
'Breathless Beauty, Broken Beauty' was a fascinating journey.