‘Newspeak is the language of a totalitarian state. The ruling Party created Newspeak, a controlled language of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, meant to limit the freedom of thought — personal identity, self-expression, free will — that threatens the ideology of the régime of the Party, who have criminalized such concepts into thoughtcrimes.’
Does this sound a little familiar to anyone else?
OK, I didn’t make this word up or the explanation of its meaning. Newspeak is a word that comes from the George Orwell novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. This is a must-read if you haven’t already. I can’t help thinking Mr Orwell could see the future when he wrote it in the 1940s. If you haven’t read it though, here is a brief breakdown thanks to Wikipedia (I would have rambled on for ages with my synopsis as it has so many elements that I find interesting).
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), is a dystopian novel, whose themes centre on the risks of government overreach, totalitarianism and repressive regimentation of all persons and behaviours within society. The novel is set in an imagined future, the year 1984, when much of the world has fallen victim to perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, historical negationism and propaganda.
Now does it all sound a little more familiar?
So you understand the origin and the meaning of the word…right? So now let me try and articulate how all of this turned into the series of images you are about to see!
Off the back of the blog last week, (https://www.mattwilsonphoto.co.uk/blog/2019/8/7/creative-nowhere-land-blog-the-personalities) where I created a piece called ‘The Personalities’, I had been thinking about words. My Mum was an English teacher so I was always taught about the power that words have. Words have the power to do so much including educate, encourage, anger and even cause hurt and hatred. I was thinking about words in a time of censorship, ‘Fake News’ and a major distrust of mainstream media! The relationship that words can have with an image and how it can guide context. The importance of free speech and open discussion between people of different viewpoints in an attempt to understand one another better. Personal identity. The things that people can and can’t say these days and whether we have ‘free speech’ anymore in society. All pretty heavy stuff I know and very ‘Orwellian’ but stick with me.
The following images are the creative result of what goes on in my brain when left to my own devices to think about all of that stuff I have just mentioned and my creative team get dragged along for the ride…
So my concept in a nutshell, because I know I ramble on, was… To create a series of portraits that was a collaboration, in the truest sense of the word, with my subject and give her a chance to express herself and show her identity through the portraits. Giving her her own ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘self-expression’, yet still being censored or confined by the words of ‘Newspeak’ or ‘modern society’.
So we got a copy of a major broadsheet newspaper (‘Newspeak’) and I asked my subject, Shaleema, to highlight any words that resonated with her for whatever reason (similar to the idea around last weeks blog!), with no influence from me or anyone else on the team. I wanted them to come solely from her as it represented the idea of free will, personal identity and self-expression that we have discussed.
Once we had the set of words, Gaby, our very talented makeup artist, set about gently sticking each one to our subjects face and head to create the series of images you see above. It all got very arts and crafts haha!
From a photographic point of view, I wanted the shots to be muted and the tones desaturated to create the mood and feeling of an almost colourless, possible Orwellian society. Styling-wise we kept it simple with a military-style jacket that was a little frayed and had the feel of a workers uniform, as I imagined them when I read Nineteen Eighty Four. Finally, the subjects pose, I wanted it almost emotionless with the head lowered and in compliance with the hypothetical ‘Thought Police’ and fear of the repercussions of visual ‘self-expression’. Wow, OK so this has all got very dark again!
I know that everyone will view these images differently, it’s subjective. What I love most about this set of shots though is that despite the somewhat ‘dark’ subject matter I am trying to express, and the idea that our free speech, self-expression and our liberties maybe being, in some ways, restricted in society these days… Shaleemas words, that remember were all selected by her, feel optimistic to me! That’s an interesting juxtaposition (great art college word!) and something I take away from the images. There’s always room for optimism in a negative world.
On that cheery note haha! I apologise as I can’t help feeling I have brain dumped all of that onto you! It’s always harder expressing my ideas in text form rather than verbally. Anyone that has ever had the ‘pleasure’ of one of my ideas rants in person will vouch for the fact that once I’m going it’s hard to stop me so imagine trying to put all that in writing for a blog post!
Definitely a shorter post next week. Until then here is some of the technical info from the shoot:
Camera: Canon 5D MK IV
Software: Capture One Pro
Lighting: 1 x Elinchrom Ranger RX S Head
Background: Cloud Grey
Model: Shaleema J
MUA: Gaby Hunt