Notes on my PhD, 2016-2018.
Since completing a creative writing course in 2012, I have been writing poems, recording ideas, collecting images and collating them in my notebooks. Many of these ideas have now been adapted into filmpoems for my PhD practice-based project.
In 2012, I wrote 'Absent-Present', and in 2014 I adapted it for my MLitt creative project (University of Stirling). The picture below shows a small amount of the work that went into creating that poem, ending with the final version. As the poem developed into a filmpoem, I replaced much of the visual imagery with moving images. The last picture shows the poster for the filmpoem.
For my practice-based PhD, I wrote three new poems, ‘Dislocation’, ‘West of Dalabrog’ and ‘The Essence of Place’, while I was location shooting on the Isle of Uist in 2016. I adapted ‘Imprint’ and ‘always carry a camera’ from several older poems.
On a cold grey February evening 2016, I drove from the ferry terminal at Lochmaddy to my accommodation, a ‘stormpod’, west of a town called Dalabrog. During my journey, I noticed the heather burning on the hills, the birds roosting on the telephone wires and the seaweed, with its heavy smell, being scattered onto the fields. I incorporated this initial experience of returning to Uist into the poem, ‘West of Dalabrog’.
In 2017, I began my artist's residence with RSPB Loch Lomond, in collaboration with SGSAH. I decided to produce a filmpoem that depicted the changing seasons of the nature reserve over the year. Moreover, to create a different context for exhibiting this film and the filmpoem as an art form, more broadly, I organised an outdoor screening at night. Location shooting lasted from January to August, and the exhibition took place on the 21st October, 7:30 pm.
Location shooting at the reserve was physically and mentally demanding, and while filming, I endured some of the coldest mornings I have ever experienced. Many times I had a 5 am start to catch the geese leaving their roosts. This meant that I would have to get up at 3 am in order to drive to the reserve, park the car and walk the 40 minutes to reach the edge of Loch Lomond. In the summertime, my visits became less challenging, which meant I had more time to reflect on what I was trying to achieve. Many afternoons consisted of sitting under the shade of a tree writing the poem and recording my voice reading it, in situ. The last line in 'The Essence of Place', you have been loved, was taken from the title of another poem, which I wrote many years ago; however, the rest of the poem is original.
Initial camera tests determined what I would shoot on; I needed a lightweight, responsive camera that I could hold in my hand. To begin with, I used the Canon 5D, tripod and various lenses. This camera produced a sharp HD quality picture, but the body was heavy and with a 70-300mm zoom lens attached to it, the weight was incompatible with the hand-held technique. Furthermore, the D5 MKII does not have an extendible LCD screen; therefore, low angle shots are challenging to achieve. I tested the Sony FS 300, which shoots in slow motion, perfect for capturing wildlife; however, this camera was a bulky and too expensive to be, at times, wading through water and mud. Hand-held work was achievable but only for short periods. After a few more trials, I decided to choose the Canon SX60 - a lightweight camera that shoots in slow motion. It has a super responsive zoom lens, is quick to focus and produces a sharp image.
In the final year of my scholarship, I produced Imprint and always carry a camera. Adapted from poems written many years ago, these two filmpoems chart the evolution of my film practice using the analogue film format. Both films were shot on a Chinon 612 XL Macro Super 8 mm film camera, which I bought on eBay for £45.
When I started to use this film camera, I became acutely aware of what I needed to shoot to illustrate the poems. A Super 8mm cartridge only has approximately 3 minutes of film; therefore, time was spent rehearsing camera movements and positions. Initially, I also rehearsed using my Canon SX60 to visualise the scenes; however, as I became more confident with the Super 8 mm camera, I stopped doing this.
To understand how profound the difference was when using an analogue film camera as opposed to an HD camera, I filmed a sequence twice. The tests revealed degrees of change I felt as my body responded to shooting with the different cameras. When I shoot with my Super 8 mm camera, my eye is fixed onto the viewfinder, one hand grips the camera handle while the other steadies the camera body, and my body becomes a stable point to pivot. In turn, this makes my movement more urgent, intentional and explicit than it was when I filmed with the HD camera. Perhaps this is because I only have a limited amount of footage, and therefore time, to capture what I need using the film camera.