Archive for Ireland

Disciplinary Institutions video (new, improved 2011 edit)

Posted in Disciplinary Institutions, Moving image techniques, My practice, Urban Exploration, Video with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I also made a new version of ‘Disciplinary Institutions’, using footage shot in 2009 already used in the 2010 edit, and new, previously unused footage shot in 2010.

This piece is rather dry, similar to the work of the Wilson sisters, whereas I believe Ghost House is closer to what my work would look like should I move into a more narrative direction. By keeping a steady rhythm and directional continuity in long corridor tracking shots that get darker and darker as the video progress, I aimed to convey the feeling of powerlessness and crushing fate experienced by the inmates.

In this video too, I applied my theoretical readings and paid great attention to steady rhythm, avoiding jerky images and precise pacing by carefully selecting shot lengths. I decided on purpose to leave the 2 last shots on for longer necessary, in order to play with the audience nerves. The previous to last shot is especially unnerving because it’s a steady frame showing a book that says ‘Ecclesiastical law’: nothing happens in it visually yet the words say it all, and the audience have to bear it and suffer it, just like the inmates had to bear their imprisonment. The last shot of the moving shadow of a ‘caged’ plant swaying in the wind is the exact opposite: aesthetically pleasing (though gloomy) but conceptually simple. It is aimed at lulling the audience into calm thinking, so that, maybe, they can start integrating what they might have learnt while watching the video about themselves, their fears, their idea of freedom.

One technical problem to be sorted later is that the words ‘Ecclesiastical law’ are not very clear because the white pages of the book are a little overexposed. This is due to shooting in abandoned buildings with nothing but a small camera and in a completely improvised manner, since neither the local authorities nor the Catholic Church are willing to have the Magdalene Laundries advertised, and access to them therefore has to be ‘taken’. I hope to sort this in post production. I have not done it yet because I’m about to get the Adobe professional software, which should make a more precise job of it than MoviePlus which I currently use.

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Ghost House video (new, improved 2011 edit)

Posted in Ghost House, Moving image techniques, My practice, Urban Exploration, Video with tags , , on May 30, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I have made a new version of ‘Ghost House’, using footage shot in 2009 already used in the 2010 edit, and new, previously unused footage shot in 2010.

I needed to make a 5 minutes version for a submission that required a 5 minute film and found it a worthy exercise. The limited running time forced me to very carefully consider the appropriate length to get the most efficient effect from every single shot. I realised that in the previous version, I sometimes tended to let static shots run for as long as they were beautiful to watch. I realised that in trying to use as much of my footage as I could, I ended up diminishing the efficiency of the shot because, however beautiful the static shot, the audience was getting bored with it before it disappeared from screen. I saw that I could get more striking results by being more ruthless in my cutting, by keeping shots to the minimum length required to get affected by their atmosphere, but short enough not to get bored with it, even if it meant discarding well shot footage. I also took the difficult decision to discard beautiful shots because they did not quite suit the mood of the piece, whereas last year, I always tried to edit in everything pretty.

Reading all those reference cinematography and editing books, and writing down the tutorial helped me realise the paramount importance of coherent mood and precise rhythm. It’s more important to have a piece where the mood is coherent and not disturbed by elements that don’t quite fit, and a rhythm very precisely designed to lull the viewer into the desired reaction that to try and use as much of my good footage as I can just to prove I can shoot good images. Reading those reference books also made me more aware of how easily a viewer may be ‘jerked out’ of the world of the film by bad editing transition or jerky shots. It’s not about aesthetics, it’s about maintaining the illusion.

I feel my technique improved by following those abstract concepts, but ironically, I ended up breaking several textbook rules on purpose. You are supposed to start and end each sequence on a static shot, but I found out I got better results by ending and starting most moving shots on movements, but making sure that there is a continuity in the speed of fluidity of the movement in the 2 thematically different shots each side of the cut. Part of this is due that if I zoom in or out with the camera fixed on a tripod, there is often a slight jerk when I press the zoom button. It’s very slight but noticeable because the camera does not otherwise move. Ironically, it was more natural to start and end slightly jerky hand held shots on a freeze frame, because the slight sway was present all through the sequence and therefore not shocking. The other reason In think this particular rule was not appropriate is that it is designed for traditional narrative cinema where the camera is fixed and the actors move within the frame. Whereas I film static building and the movement comes solely from the camera move. Therefore what matters is to keep the movement of the camera fluid and regular, to give the impression it is travelling through the house without interruption. It’s as though the camera is the only character, the unseen narrator’s eye, and what must be preserved is the coherency of its point of view. Therefore, I aimed to keep a very fluid rhythm all through the piece, to give a sense of geographical continuity even though the video was shot at three different houses, to give the impression that a ghost was moving through the house, no longer limited by laws of physics and Euclidean geometry, and that we were seeing the world through its eyes.

It reminded me of a comment in The Technics of Film Editing by Reisz & Millar about Alain Resnais using moving camera shots in Last Year in Marienbad for the sheer sensual pleasure they procure. And indeed, in Marienbad, the camera moves a lot through the endless corridors while the actors in them are frozen like statues, almost becoming part of the décor, as immobile as the discarded objects of my ghost houses. I think the words ‘sheer sensual pleasure’ struck me, because I had never considered my relation to the moving image medium that way, yet I realised it was very true.

By the way, thank you WordPress for finally allowing to embed youtube videos!! 🙂

‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ continued during Summer 2010

Posted in Disciplinary Institutions, Ghost House, Methodology, My practice, Photography with tags , , , , , on January 31, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

In June/July 2010, I went back to Ireland to shoot some more photographs and video footage for the ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ projects. I mostly revisited previously explored locations; My aim was to try and rely less on the automatic settings of the cameras, make better use of the tripod, and generally be more thoughtful about my images. I have not looked at the video footage in depth yet, but for the photographs, the result were mixed. I did get some good images I did not get before, but some scenes I re-shot look no better in the newer, more worked versions than on the older version where I only specified the ISO and let the camera do the rest of the work.

This is a Ghost House in co. Galway that I visited in 2008. The first picture with the stairs is my favourite of everything I’ve made this year.

Ghost House

Ghost House

This is a Ghost House I saw from the road. I could not go inside because it was locked up, but I thought the exterior shot was very interesting because the walls appear to be bleeding.

'Bloody' Ghost House

I was granted authorisation to go into Woodlawn House, co. Galway. The house is empty and awaiting renovation but the elaborate interior architecture was enough to make interesting pictures.

Woodlawn House

Woodlawn House

I went back to the High Park Magdalene Laundry in Dublin, but I did not get much better pictures than last year.

Magdalene laundry, Dublin.

Magdalene laundry, Dublin.

I went back to the Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry in Cork and got better pictures, especially from the upstairs floors. Some of these photographs need to be straightened because my tripod was not straight on the uneven floor (I need to find out how to do that).

Magdalene laundry, Cork.

(The book says ‘Ecclesiastical Law’).

Magdalene laundry, Cork.

Magdalene laundry, Cork.

I also got more pictures from Eglington and St Kevin’s insane asylums in Cork.

Eglington insane asylum, Cork.

I found by chance a Magdalene Laundry in Kinsale, co. Cork. The building itself was gutted and being transformed into flats, but the inmates cemetery was still there at the back of the building site.

Magdalene Laundry Cemetery, Kinsale, co. Cork.

Our landlady also tipped me to go see Letterfrack Industrial School: Industrial Schools were the equivalent for boys of what Magdalene Laundries were for girls. The School is now a normal school, but an information panel in the hall tells the story of the former Industrial School and the inmates cemetery has been turned into a sort of memorial.

Of course, erecting memorials afterwards does not change anything for the victims, but the contrast between the tended memorial of the Industrial School and the rusty, abandoned graves of the Magdalenes made me bitter. The wrongs done to the little boys are at least publicly acknowledged and apologies are at least paid lip service to. But the Magdalenes do not even get this: the Catholic Church still refuses to acknowledge any wrong done to the Magdalenes, despite campaigns from inmates’ descendants, and public authorities are all to eager to eradicate the Magdalene Laundries from the face of the earth, turning them into overpriced apartments without as much as a commemorative plate. Seeing this contrast made me all the more determined in my project to document the Magdalene asylums.

Letterfrack industrial school

Letterfrack industrial school

The Ghost House Project (Urban Exploration in Ireland, June-July 2009)

Posted in Ghost House, My practice, Urban Exploration with tags , , , on September 23, 2009 by melaniemenardarts

Here is a google map of all locations explored last summer in Ireland. Some of them, I managed to take interesting photographs and video footage. All the others were visited but either inaccessible (locked up) or uninteresting (just a complete wreck).

I will clean up the map and try geotag pics from Flickr later this week.

The Ghost House Project (Genesis)

Posted in Ghost House, My practice, Urban Exploration with tags , , on September 20, 2009 by melaniemenardarts

The Ghost House project started in summer 2007 when I found by chance an abandoned house near our rented holiday cottage, and decided to explore it. Inside I found personal belongings left behind by the previous occupants (household items, clothes, many religious objects and even drawers full of letters). I did not touch or read the letters, I felt it would be indecent, but read the stamping dates and sender’s address on the exposed envelopes. From those and also from the design of the clothes and items, I deducted that the last occupants either died in the 70’s or left to join family in America. I began to wonder why those houses were never cleared after their last occupants died. It seems those people either had no descendants (I later heard of a tradition of “bachelor-farmers” in Ireland) or their descendants had emigrated (mostly in the USA) and had no desire for a small old fashioned house in the middle of nowhere in Ireland (in the 70s, Ireland was not yet fashionable as a get-away-from-it-all holiday destination … ) Then I wondered why the local authorities did not clear away those houses to make something useful out of them, or at least keep them in shape for future use.

A dear friend is the son of Irish economical migrants and studied the history and heritage of Ireland. From discussions with him, I started to understand that the locals did not see the “Ghost Houses” the same way the outsiders did. They were all but invisible to them. During the Famine of 1845-1850, out the 8 million Irish, 1 million died of starvation and another million emigrated to escape Death. The population was abruptly reduced by 25%. During the Famine itself, the living (or rather surviving) were so underfed they were too weak to bury the dead, therefore the dead were lined on the shore to be washed away by the sea. One can only imagine what a trauma it was to see those Ireland beaches filled with rows of corpses, and to abandoned your loved ones to be washed away. Yet the surviving could not afford any weakness if they wanted to try and survive a little longer themselves. Then the Famine ended and empty houses scattered the landscape, reminding the survivors of the people they knew who died or emigrated. Yet, even after the Famine, conditions were still harsh and people could not afford any weakness. The death of 1/8 of a country’s population in 5 years is such a major trauma it could not be “dealt with”. To go on with their daily business and ensure their own subsistence, the survivors both during and after the Famine learnt to ignore the dead lined up on the beach and then the empty houses. It is as though the country had developed a form of collective amnesia as a form of self protection. Like the way victims sometimes wipe out from their conscious thoughts the memory of a traumatic event, but at the unprecedented scale of a whole country. Today still, it is considered impolite to mention the Famine in daily conversations. It is just Not Done. The Famine may be discussed in political and academic circles, and artworks made about it, but it is never discussed by ordinary people, despite the fact that all families were affected by it. The Famine may be present in the conscious thought as an abstraction belonging to the realms of Politics, History and National Identity but on the human and emotional levels, its consequences are so huge that it was never “dealt with” and the collective amnesia is as strong as ever.

The Ghost Houses I’ve visited may not date from the Famine, but they are reminders of a recent past where, economically, Ireland was mostly rural, poor and lagging behind the rest of Europe and where many people still emigrated to the UK and America to find work. Today’s Irish people see themselves as citizens of a modern, booming “Celtic Tiger” and do not want to be reminded of this recent past. So their eyes scan over the landscape without registering the Ghost Houses who become all but invisible to them. The Ghost Houses are not even “eyesores” like abandoned buildings might be in Britain, they are invisible. The contemporary Irish people deliberately ignore the Ghost Houses and build themselves brand new houses right next to them that project the right image of success and modernity with which they identify. The Ghost Houses stay lying there, waiting to be explored by artists or bought by rich foreigners in quest of picturesque.