Dreams of your life

Over the last few days there has been much discussion in the OCA office about a web experience commissioned by Channel 4 called Dreams of Your Life. The experience (or game if you like) was commissioned to support the release of a documentary funded by Film Four, Dreams of a Life. The experience asks you a series of questions and as you answer tells you a story. It lasts about 30 minutes and personally I found it immensely thought provoking.

Thoughout the experience, you sit at the computer reading text against a background of a window. Time passes, and it was this aspect which led me to speak to the photographer Lottie Davies on the telephone. The notion of returning to the same scene over a period of time is a standard challenge in photographic education and here is an example so wonderfully conceived and executed that the result is both beautiful and haunting.

We began by talking about the commissioning process. I asked how the brief had been developed:

LD: ‘Essentially we worked it out between us. Hide and Seek had been commissioned by Channel 4 and they had already had the idea of a window. I wasn’t allowed to see the film and the script for the experience was in development. I thought about the passage of time. There were two key aspects to Joyce’s story, the wrapping of the Christmas presents and the time. 3 years! Initially I thought about positioning the camera further back in the room, so you could see more changes, but then I realised that if you were close to the window it would be as if you were looking at the text on the computer screen with the window in the background. I wasn’t charged with reproducing the story, rather creating an atmosphere which enabled the three themes of the experience to be considered’

We then moved on to the challenge of fulfilling the brief:

LD: ‘The first challenge was the location, getting the right window. I wanted a neutral interior so that people could identify with the situation. I looked at a lot of council flats but they were too run down. I also needed to consider what was outside and whether we would be able to shoot without interruptions, there couldn’t be too many people passing. Having found the location, there were no trees in view, so we had to import that. I got permission to cut down a tree and brought it on the top of my car and mounted it on a scaffold. The entire sequence runs over five seasons and we were shooting in three days in February/March I think so we had to dress the tree with leaves. We also had to think about the weather and the different light – I had to say to myself, “It’s August and the afternoon, so the sun will be there”. We had gels to put over the lights to create the right colours. Then inside we worked with a film special effect team, working out how the dust appears and the mould forms, where the postcard falls off the window frame and leaves a trace. In the end we shot about 3000 images and I think 276 are used. What I would say to students engaged in developing photo narratives is that most of the work is done beforehand. In my case I am thinking about who is involved and what their roles are. Whatever scale you are working on, the worst thing you can do is get there and then think, ‘Now what?’. You will spend lots of time working out what to do and then run into problems like the fact there is only so much daylight available.’

‘As well as the practical challenges, there are the creative choices. I wanted it to be thought provoking rather than depressing, there have to be lighter touches, hence the cat. When I finally got to see the film it was not anywhere near as depressing as I thought it would be. My images reflect this; there are dark elements but sunshine at the end.’

Finally, I wondered whether the negotiated approach to the brief was a consequence of Lottie’s growing success (she won the Taylor Wessing Prize in 2008 with the image Quints):

LD: ‘Well I would like to think so. Hide and Seek were the perfect client to have, but generally the times we are in now mean clients are less likely to take risks.’

The website for the film Dreams of a Life is here and you can read further articles on Dreams of Your Life on Wayne Ford’s Preposterous and It’s nice that – both blogs are worth keeping track of.

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6 comments for “Dreams of your life

  1. 9 January 2012 at 10:04 am

    I thought this was brilliant…
    To read about the production of it is really interesting, and credit goes to it being done really well. I was critically looking at things like the tree, leaves, light, dust and the little ‘feet’ that appeared in the dust even before the bird appeared… and I honestly couldn’t work out how it could have been done other than an entire year.

    Mixed feelings, but not in a good and bad way, rather in a way of what the narrative pulls from reflecting on the questions, sad, yes, depressing, sure, funny of course… but ultimately, it connected with an experience earlier the week, and that struck me quite a bit.

    I felt that some of the questions were indeed extremely personal, and I was not really comfortable answering them in the conversation, but it is strange when you are in fact honest with yourself.

    This post connects well with working towards As. 3 in PWDP, where you need to plan a photo essay, and this makes me wonder about my own preparation.

  2. marmalade
    9 January 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Wow, what a find… very effective in so many ways and very much universal themes…I cheated first time around and went straight through to the images but then felt guilty and tried it with the ‘game’, although I too found the questions uncomfortable. It is certainly thought-provoking and your eyes are drawn to the text and not what is behind it. I did find the questions ‘leading’ and often couldn’t find an answer that fitted, although at times thought ‘yep, you’ve hit the nail on the head’. As no doubt others have, I will be doing a fair amount of reflecting as a result. I am intrigued to watch the film now – can’t believe she was only 38, in my mind Joyce was old!

    I’ve since had a look at Lottie’s website too and am very inspired by much of her work – and she does this for a living – how rewarding must that be!! I love the memories and nightmares series – I can imagine the fun she had coming up with the ideas, finding the locations and creating the scenarios. Thank you for posting.

  3. 9 January 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Not sure about brilliant – but searching and deeply personal. Honesty is a difficult currency even with an inanimate computer, however charming the interplay. The layered questioning revealed truths about me that I hadn’t expected. Like Dewald I suspect, I would recommend this short journey to see what you turn up for yourself. I hope you are content with the result.
    Very clever.

  4. 9 January 2012 at 1:41 pm

    You can also view a number of trailers and interviews related to the Dreams of your Life film on the Dog Woof You Tube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL989BFC84F72B5D82&feature=plcp

  5. 10 January 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Great visual potential but I didn’t finish the web experience…kind of got bored. In my opinion the text overlay killed the complex narrative of the sequence of images, which for me acts as a fast-forwarded film. It has the potential to evoke feelings to do with the ideas of time passing and the ephemeral nature of life. I would have left it there. No text. Just a short video made of single images.

  6. Jim
    12 January 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Quite thought-provoking and photographically interesting. Personally, I liked the text and the questions.

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