For my usual documentary work when it comes the time to actually put the puzzle pieces together I find they fit together better and better the more projects I work on. A finished book of photographs has to work like a mosaic, with individually polished tiles fitting together in exactly the right places to appear beautiful as a whole. If one tile is out of alignment the entire work may not be greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s difficult enough pulling together photographs to illustrate a clear narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end. For Dream Grieving, my most “artistic” and least journalistic effort to date I found it even harder to piece together images which illustrated not so much a story, but a concept, a train of thought.
Dream Grieving started off as a sort of notebook, a collection of thoughts and feelings, barely bullet points. Over many months I fleshed these out into an essay, and then reduced the essay down into a more poetic structure. Conversational tone, but a monologue directed internally, and I’d totally get if people find it weird or unrelatable – probably how they’d find me in real life.
As I was constructing the words I was also finding photographs from my archive, and also constantly producing new images as well as part of my day to day photography. This meant I was occasionally switching out images as I’d freshly made one which illustrated the same idea better. The front cover went though a few iterations, but in the end I made one of the branches of a living tree with a dead branch placed across it, an intersection of life and death in a simple composition which worked well for a front cover. In the opening pages of the book an alternative version of the same scene reiterates and explains the purpose, and frames the rest of the book.
Dream Grieving is sort of a “post-Covid” project, nothing explicitly about a pandemic or social consequences, but a personal fallout and continuation of my mindset, where at the time I’d had nowhere to store those thoughts, no direction for them. It took time to digest and crystallise into what you read in these pages. There are some ideas and rhetorics I use which mirror some obvious philosophies, I don’t think I’ve especially covered any new ground here, but I don’t think I was having a “new” experience when writing it all. I’m okay with piecing together a document for my own use, to be able to literally close the book on something I don’t want to revisit.
Once I was happy with the selection of images to accompany my ideas I had to go through them again as individual scanned files to make sure that none stood out in the wrong way. The book uses images made with all kinds of films, developed in all kinds of ways, from deeply expired stand developed through to perfectly grainless Ilford Pan F+.
I had to make some tweaks to the highlights and black-points of a few of my images in order for them to coexist. Some photographs are especially grainy, while others are perfectly smooth, and I made no attempt to smooth out the grain, I feel that this is part of the image where exposure tweaks are more necessary to bring something from a backlit screen to a reflective page. Enough ink must saturate the paper for a slight grey to render as such rather than un-inked white, and not enough nuance in the shadows risks becoming pure smudged black.
Dream Grieving is a complete and coherent body of work, but continues to guide some of the larger projects I am working on, both in the way the information is presented and in the overarching concept itself. It’s certainly the most personal work I’ve created, and as such feels fairly pretentious and on the nose, although I often feel that about my work.
Some of my favourite pages of the book feature spreads and sequences which are in dialogue with one another, where the images, text, and layout blend together into a seamless flow.
Even something as simple as aligning lines of sentences against telephone wires at the edge of the frame on the opposite page makes the piece feel more complete than if it were just a block of standard text.
I enjoyed making these, as the feeling of realising the potential in what was previously a simple spread of words and photographs becomes something more, elevating the whole.
Dream Grieving is currently listed for pre-sales on my website as part of a bundle with another publication as well as an 8×10 darkroom print, all for the fairly reasonable price of £20, which includes postage for UK buyers. Thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered so far and still waiting to be fulfilled!
Share this post: