Looking back on my photographic work since 2012 I’ve got to the point now where I feel I’ve amassed a good range of these pseudo-mythological characters. There are probably a couple more female characters to do, then I will turn my attention to the male characters.
My initial interest in creating my own set of mythic characters initially came from some cursory reading about ancient Sumerian mythology. Sumer was one of the most ancient human civilisations from the early Bronze Age in Mesopotamia, although the roots of the culture probably stretch back to over 7000 years ago. Sumerian culture is so phenomenally ancient that it feels almost alien due to its remoteness. As I read about their gods and goddesses—Enki, Enlil, Inanna, and others—I wondered at the people who invented and worshipped them, and how very different their thought processes must be to ours.
This led me to reading up on comparative mythology, particularly Joseph Campbell and James George Fraser, whose theories on how myths continually grow from earlier versions reminded me of two novels that I’ve read and re-read over many years: Mythago Wood and Lavondyss.
Mythago Wood and Lavondyss—and the other novels in this series by Robert Holdstock—take the concept of earlier versions of myths underlying new ones, and place them in the middle of a mysterious English wood. Holdstock uses his novels to re-imagine ever-more-primal versions of myths and mythological characters—or mythagos as they are named in the novel, a portmanteau of the term “myth imago”—with a particular emphasis on primitive Western European cultures, Proto-Indo-European-influenced myths, and speculating back to the Ice Age, with a dash of Jungian Archetypes thrown in for good measure.
This is expanded in the second novel Lavondyss with the protagonist Tallis’ use of her carved and painted masks to draw her further into the mysterious wood. I’ve discussed the use of masks in my work in my previous blog post, so I won’t repeat myself here.
All these elements above combined together to form the underlying theme for this series of photographs.
The visual aspects of the artwork come from a very different source. I’ve always had a fascination with photographs taken of theatre plays, and I wanted to partially recreate that sense of a dramatic moment captured from a much larger ongoing narrative. That’s where the black background and the spotlight-style lighting comes from.
The challenge was to include this archly dramatic chiaroscuro lighting without veering into the “perfect” world of high fashion photography. I did this by making the lighting either “too harsh” or “too dark”, and by only using only a single studio photoflood—recently replaced by a single studio flash—rather than using three-point lighting or other carefully-modelled lighting set-ups typically used in high fashion photography.
The finished photographs—as well as being exhibited as artwork in their own right—also feed into my printmaking and drawing practice, from the large Badb Catha print to my more recent charcoal & chalk drawings.
I aim to continue with these photographs as one thread of my artwork. I’m currently planning the next set which I blogged about a few weeks ago, and hope to be producing these new photographs in April or May.
Note: A version of this blog post has since been published, along with others on the subject of myth and the “English Eerie” and pieces of my artwork, in my 2016 hardback book of art and writings Myth and Masks, available exclusively from our online shop.