Assignment 5 : Response to Tutor Feedback Part Two
Creative influences underlying my approach towards the Assignment
I’ve described previously how the starting point of Tales with Valeria was a new Holga lens that I thought Id try out on a doll bought from a charity shop. In its own small way Tales with Valeria grew organically, with the first image nurtured by comments on my Flickr stream particularly from Clive White who also mentioned the magic words ‘fairy tales’ which captured me straight away!
In my assignment write-up I quoted the author Clarissa Pinkola Estes. My tutor commented on this in that her only criticism was for more – “perhaps discussing in greater depth the work of other photographers/artists/writers who employ similar feminist themes/strategies”.
Fox and Caruna (2012 ) state “All photographic series are harvested from research from scholarly investigations to catching an overheard conversation on a bus” (p.11) they then go on to provide a clear model for planning and developing your project. Looking at my personal learning cycle I know that I can easily get stuck in the thinking/planning stage. This can be good in terms of learning and assimilating but not for getting something done. Sometimes I can think about a project for so long that I lose interest so it was good for me to dive into taking photographs and allowing ideas to form more spontaneously.
I did do some planning. The doll was going to find the babes in the wood, there was going to be a wolf and the tables would be turned on him. Snow White and a mirror also featured. The Holga lens was good for creating more dreamy images that I hoped could also make the doll look more life-like and enable a combination of the man-made and natural. I had no intention of creating a femininist theme but soon realised that I had a notion of a girl who knew what she wanted and set out to get it. Why The Babes in the Wood, Red Riding Hood and Snow White? They are amongst the best known but, presumably, they have a particular significance for me. It’s only through reflection and re-reading that I’ve been able to clarify what this could be.
I’ve always enjoyed fairy tales, fantasy and fiction. Through reading I’ve learned that fairy tales may appear to be simple tales but they carry many underlying implications and messages which can be interpreted in so many different ways by listeners, readers and academics who ‘analyse’ them for their meanings. I’m referring to ‘fairy tales’ because that’s what they’re usually called although writers such as Jack Zipes do remind us that they are actually folk tales and fairies hardly ever appear.
In The Uses of Enchantment (1976) Bruno Bettelheim provides a psychoanalytic viewpoint on the purpose and meaning of fairy tales in terms of fostering children’s personality development ). He believed that children have to learn step by step to understand themselves and make sense of both a complex external world and the inner turmoil of their feelings and urges. People have to learn to develop their inner resources and fairy tales can get this across to children in a simple yet symbolic form. He suggests that, whilst myths give definite answers, fairy tales’ messages are suggestive and, “ leave to the child’s fantasizing whether and how to apply to himself what the story reveals about life and human nature (p.45). Characters are usually given general or descriptive rather than ‘proper’ name, “Fairies and witches, giants and godmothers remain equally unnamed, thus facilitating projections and identifications” (p. 40).
Bettelheim also reminds us that, to the child, there is no clear line separating objects from living things; or dead things or objects etc. Therefore it’s only natural that a child will believe that animals or objects can talk. He refers to the development of logical thinking from this ‘animistic’ thinking but it seems to me that magical thinking is always with us, although maybe more strongly in some than others. As science progresses and the world becomes more mechanistic our right-brain continues to seeks nurture hence the apparent rise in fantasy films and literature.
Whilst Bettelheim looks from a viewpoint of ego, id and oedipal fantasies etc Jack Zipes adopts a much wider view in looking at the history of folk tales/fairy tales in the context of the prevailing social and cultural context of the time. In Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion (2006 [updated from the 1983] edition ) we are reminded that the genre’s origins lie within the tradition of oral storytelling. and almost all critics agree that “…educated writers purposely appropriated the oral folktale and converted it into a type of literary discourse about mores, values and manners so that children and adults would become civilized according to the social code of that time” (p. 3) which was a patriarchal one.
Zipes provides examples of how the oral folktales were converted in this way in relation to Beauty and the Beast. . The oral tales originated from a cultural pattern of matriarchy where the wild, predatory and undomesticated animal bridegroom had to be ‘saved’, clothed and domesticated by the woman . By the end of the C17th, “the original female bringer of salvation could find her own “true” salvation only by sacrificing herself to a man in his house or castle, symbolical of submission to patriarchal rule” (p.49). Zipes also compares three different version of The Frog Prince to illustrate how the original, more simple tale moves from being more explicitly sexual, with mutual sexual recognition and acceptance, towards the princess rejecting the sexual advances of the frog and being rewarded for this.
Zipes is highly critical of Walt Disney (2006 considering that, even though the cartoons feature young women as heroines, they are “ pale and pathetic compared with the more active and demonic characters in the film.” (p.205). Films continue to be about the domestication of women, Disney celebrates the ideal of the Protestant Ethic of hard work and desexualizes and orders the world into cleanliness. In later films in the genre such as “Shrek” and also the films of Miyazaki, handsome princes do not save virgin princesses and the ugly Shrek and Fiona choose to stay in their messy swamp.
Zipes describes the way in which some contemporary writers have transfigured the tales to show that, “..civilization and life are processes that can be shaped to fulfil basic needs off the readers” (p. 178). He refers to the ‘strident antisexist and antiauthoritarianI perspective of some of the contemporary writers which ‘question male domination and sexual stereotypes (p. 179) and refers to four women of the Merseyside Women’s Liberation Movement in Liverpool who rewrote several of the fairy tales, and Tomi Ungerer who rewrote Red Riding Hood to break the sexual taboos of the original story. It was always my intention that, in her search for love, Red Riding Hood was going to use various strategies to capture the virile ‘wolf’.
Historical perspective from a female viewpoint
Marina Warner (1995) also looks at the context in which the stories were told; who told them; the history of story telling and some of the roots of the folk tales in various literary cultures. Warner looks at the rivalry and hatred between women in some of the stories that often focus upon other women as agents of the heroine’s sufferings –ugly sisters, stepmothers etc. She tells us that the earliest extant version of Cinderella was written down in China around AD850-60 where there is the link with bound feet (p. 202). She asks why it is that women continue to narrate these stories where female characters are so cruel and mothers absent whilst reminding us that, in terms of the history of the fairy tale, the absent mother is literally that as so many women died in childbirth and men remarried and provided step-siblings so there would be competition for resources.
Frogs and animals as symbols
To begin with I chose the wolf and the frog. In “A Hero with a thousand faces” Joseph Campbell (1988) describes the frog in the Frog Prince as the ‘herald” and, in this fairy story, as signifying the coming of adolescence (p. 50). Bettelheim cites the frog as both the necessity for the child to move from a symbiotic relationship with his mother and also a symbol for sexual relations. (p.289) and the metamorphosis from ‘disgust’ at the cold clamminess of the frog, to pleasure when the frog turns into something very beautiful.
Marina Warner looks at ‘The Beast’ in terms of the bear, which survived as a beast of prey in many fairytales, despite actually becoming tamed and humbled in actuality including becoming a teddy bear. The bear, like the wolf, is a metaphor for the masculine appetite, wildness and lust, and Warner cites how Angela Carter “dared to look at women’s waywardness, and especially at their attraction to the Beast in the very midst of repulsion” (p. 308). when she reworked ten fairy tales in ‘The Bloody Chamber” (1979). Carter’s choice of fairy tales for the Virago collection (1990, 1992) also included women of all types, from the bawdy, to the clever, to the crafty to the crone.
Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes (1992) uses the symbol of the wolf in a different way. She writes that the title of her book “Women who run with the wolves” (1992) came from the study of wolves, and that wolves and women
…share certain psychic characteristics: keen sensing, playful spirit, and a heightened capacity for devotion ….. Yet both have been hounded, harassed, and falsely imputed to be devouring and devious, overly aggressive, of less value than those who are their detractors. (p2).
Dr Estes believes that women’s wild instinctual nature has been repressed and she offers the Wild Woman archetype as a way to understand this innate basic nature of women, illustrating this through recounting many absorbing stories from all over the world whilst integrating messages that encourage women to trust their intuition. She also refers to dolls as “talismans, reminders of what is felt but not seen, what is so, but is not immediately obvious”. (p.87)
Dolls in Fairy Tales
Bruno Bettelheim states that children use dolls and toy animals to ‘embody’ aspects of their personality, “which are too complex, unacceptable and contradictory for him to handle” (p. 55). For example, a doll can sublimate an Oedipal desire to have a baby with either mother or father. Well, to me, that’s rather a narrow view of the wonderful use of imagination that children show in playing with dolls, which I think are often serving as role-plays for many aspects of how children perceive their current and possible future lives. Dr Estes gives us a richer meaning of the doll (whose use in various forms and beliefs goes back to antiquity) – as a “symbolic homunculi, little life….… Superficially, it is just a doll. But it represents a little piece of soul that carries all the knowledge of the larger soul-Self” (p. 85).
My tutor had previously suggested that I look at the work of the photographer, Olivia Parker who has also used dolls as subjects. I was caught by Parker’s introduction to the Booklet on her series “Weighing the Planets” (1987). She writes, “For most of human history people have looked to the spirit world to explain what was going on. Animals floated in the night sky and each object had its own “Anima Motrix” its own moving spirit. Further on she writes “Fairy tales speak of strange tensions and balances: life, growth, and sex versus death and decay”. For me both those aspects infuse her photography. This leads me on to images as illustration and narrative.
Illustration and Photography
So far as “Tales with Valeria” is concerned I think I was mainly influenced by illustration in children’s books and the way in which simple sentences can convey so much more. I was very drawn to David Hockney’s illustrations for his book “Six Fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm” (2012) It’s hard to describe them but they are finely wrought black and white etchings with a look of stylized cartoons.
Olivia Parker has used dolls as subjects but not in portraying fairy tales so far as I know, and I have not yet found other photographers who do so in combination with use of the Holga lens.
There have certainly been many initiative by femininist photographers, such as Jo Spence (M.W. Marien, 2010, p462) to explore social and cultural aspects of womens’ role socialization. Cindy Sherman used protheses and mannequins in her Fairy Tales Series – 1985. I don’t recognize any fairy stories as such but the images are certainly reminiscent of goblins etc. Another photographer, Annie Leibovitz produced a series of photographs for Disney where Hollywood stars such as Jeff Bridges and Penelope Cruz were transformed into characters from fairytales. they are mainly glamorous and beautiful though and, for me, reinforce the notion that heroes and heroines should be too.
The photographers I have appreciated the most have been those such as Jamie Baldridge and Paolo Ventura who have created and illustrated their own fantasy tales. Jamie Baldridge created a fantastical journey entitled The Everywhere Chronicles (2001) and his images can be found here. Paolo Ventura created a work entitled ‘The Automaton” which is a photograpahic narrative centring on a Jewish watchmaker, living in the Venice ghetto in 1943.
I have to agree that the doll, Valeria, does embody much of my life experience, and knowledge/reading around fairy tales and myths over the years that I wasn’t aware of at the time. I was surprised how such a small piece of work can carry such an accumulation and I’ve enjoyed re-reading the books and doing further research. Being immersed in the reading took me back into my childhood, adolescence and the later years when I was working out what kind of a woman I wanted to be. If I’d actually been asked to produce a piece of work around fairy tales I don’t think the outcome would have been the same. I might have been more inclined to do something along the lines of interviewing children, young people and some adults on their favourite fairy story and what it means to them’ perhaps with photographs of them and extracts of their words. I’m pleased that, unusually for me, the narrative just emerged with a twitch of Valeria’s nose as it were. On the subject of names – I couldn’t complete Assignment 5 until I had a name for my doll. It wasn’t until then that she could become an entity in her own right, an agent of her own destiny, and the Assignment could come together.
I’m reluctant to explain my intentions behind the images and simple words because I would prefer for the viewer to make their own interpretation based on their own experience. However, here are some of the personal experiences which seem to fit the various analyses offered by the writers I’ve mentioned. Personal Experience in relation to the meaning of Fairy Tales
I have a file of all the work I’ve done towards the assignment. This particular piece fits some of the categories provided by Fox & Caruna (2012) in their Photography Project Self-Evaluation Form (p. 101).
There seem to be so many directions in which I can go with all the information I have to hand. My husband thinks I should ‘finish the story’. I’m less sure because the one drawback concerning this particular doll is that she doesn’t have movable parts and her nose will always be pointed in the air. I have now acquired other, older and movable dolls so could do something with those.
I’m attracted towards Olivia Parker’s work in general and intend to explore her approach more deeply. I also like her notion of each object having its own “Anima Motrix” and would like to do more work along those lines. I’ve rediscovered a liking for telling stories and so work such as that done by Jamie Baldridge and Paolo Ventura also interests me.
The major challenge for me is how I’m going to align that with my new OCA module which is People & Place which doesn’t seem to fit at all. Whatever I do I think it might have to be a concurrent personal project.
30th June 2012
Baldridge, J The Everywhere Chronicles, (2001) (Thesis) submitted towards degree of Master of Fine Arts
Bettelheim, B. (1978) The Uses of Enchantment, Peregrine Books
Campbell, J. (1988) The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Paladin, UK
Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and other stories (2012) Vintage Classics
Carter, A (ed) Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales (2005), Virago Press, London
Estes, C.P., (2008) Women who run with the Wolves, Rider,
Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, (1933) George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London
Fox.A and Caruana, N (2012) Behind the Image, AVA Publishing SA, Switzerland
Grimms Fairy Tales (1930s?), Ward, Lock & Co. Ltd., London and Melbourne
Hockney, D (197) Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Royal academy of Arts, London (2012)
Marien, M.W, Photography: A Cultural History (2010 (3rd Ed), Laurence King Publishing Ltd, London.
Parker, O. (1987) Weighing the Planets, The friends of Photography, Carmel.
Warner, M. (1995) From the Beast to the Blond, Vintage, London
Zipes, J, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion (1983) rev 2006) Routledge, Abingdon