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.’