Friday 9 November 2012

The Propaganda Effort

I know the whole point of this blog was to document past projects alongside current stuff that I'm working on, but without anything good enough to show off at this moment, I'm dragging back through the archives for the sake of something to post...

A look back this week at bits from several past projects, but something that started with the Britannia Model Village, and which has featured in several subsequent projects- using miniatures as an element with creating false posters.

Back in the early days of Britannia, I found that the best way to tell the back story of this fake, alternate Britain was to use propaganda posters, adverts, graffiti etc in the background to set the scene.  With some of the films that helped inspire the Model Village ("Children of Men", "V for Vendetta", "Doomsday") there was a wealth of stuff hidden in the background, that you only notice in passing.  Unless you are a nerd like me who specifically looks for stuff like that, to the annoyance of friends and relatives who get sick of me pointing stuff out whilst they're just trying to enjoy a film.  I wanted the same effect though with background stuff, helping to tell the story.

Back in second year I'd shot a project called "Happygoth" (long story short, evil corporation rebrands a niche look to make it more commercially viable to the masses), and the outcome was a series of fake posters and magazine images.  It was something I decided to return to for Britannia, and indeed the Happygoth posters were tweaked a bit and appeared throughout the project.

The problem was that it meant I had to produce a load of imagery in a relatively short space of time, and because it all had to fit in with this false Britannia I was busy creating, I couldn't really use stock.  People familiar with my work will know that I have a habit of making my life harder in this way, which is probably why I spend ages doing photography shoots with home-made images, making no money, whilst other photographers I was at Uni with are more commercially successful photographing celebrities and football matches, but hey-ho, not that I'm bitter or anything.

I chose to rework some classic real-world propaganda posters for Britannia, as part of the half-arsed satire I was going for in the early days of the project, when it was more of a piss-take than a fully fledged-out alternate setting; I ended up modelling for a lot of them myself (thank God for having self-timers on a camera) in the space of one weekend, as I desperately needed the posters in a hurry, before I could start shooting actual pictures of the model village.  This was mainly a consequence of lecturers wanting to know why, three months into an 8 month project all I was doing was building Airfix kits instead of taking photos- in hindsight, I suppose it was a fair concern.  After this initial flurry of poster-making I was able to rope some other people in for a slightly more co-ordinated effort, and starting a trend which continues to this day of using people in shoots before they can think of a convincing excuse not to participate, I set about drafting people in to dress up in silly clothing.  Most of my housemates and friends ended up in Britannia in some capacity- for example, the Emperor of Britannia is a friend of mine who at the time was in the year below, the leader of the resistance who is wanted by the authorities was a housemate, an old friend from college turned up on a police recruiting poster as a riot cop, my now-wife is in a news broadcast as a scientist, etc etc...  I only actually cast two people specifically when I needed some fake holiday/travel posters, because magnificent as my friends were, a bunch of heavy-metal-fan gothy chaps didn't really suit the swimsuit-clad girl with a beachball-type poster that was required.  As for other elements, I couldn't go around finding real tanks and jets to photograph, so just shot pics using the models and miniatures being built for the actual model village shots.

A typical scene from the model village shoots, note the fake telly broadcasts, the travel posters, and the various other propaganda elements.  The Stratospheric Aircraft Carrier from the "Team SHED" project also appears, in a poster on the left, "Team SHED" nominally being set in Britannia as well (see the older blog post for more info on this, if you're interested in a real flight of fancy- probably the most science-fiction element in the whole damned project being the idea that British workmanship could build a fully functional flying aircraft carrier, ).

In 2009 I ended up exhibiting some bits from the project at a gallery in Birmingham with a solo show, so took the opportunity to produce some new posters, which featured the same techniques, for example the shots below.

My friend Chris playing the Emperor of Britannia, with various models from the project (and also from another which was running concurrently).  The poster is a reworking of an old WW2 poster which featured Churchill.  The Primeminister, not the dog. 

One of the concepts that was played around with a lot for the exhibition was the radioactive nature of Cumbria, which was in the news at the time with the plans to build new atomic power stations- whilst assisting Amy on a documentary shoot in 2007 which focused on the derelict railways of Cumbria, we spent a lot of time knocking around Sellafield, which has the most wonderful, glorious sandy beaches, completely deserted, with horrible gantries, pipes and towers overshadowing it all.  The whole area was originally planned to be resort to rival Blackpool back in the 1800's, and now its home to some of the largest and most hideously intimidating nuclear installations in the country (security patrols, dead animals on the beach, radioactive waste discharge pipes, CCTV and sentry towers, you name it).  So I decided that in Britannia both would co-exist, with Britannia Railways promoting holidays to this radioactive hell.  To this end I decided to rework those earlier happy-girl-with-a-beachball travel posters into something decidedly more farcical to suit this idea.

My friend Kitty on her first modelling job with me (she being a very talented horror photographer, who at this point hadn't really modelled for other photographers).  Most of the day was spent shooting horror pics, before she ended up standing around in a field posing for fake holiday posters, clutching a pooltoy and wearing a not terribly convincing gas mask acquired from a fancy dress shop.  Still, cant have weirded her out too much, as she has modelled for other stuff, including more mad posters (see further on in this post)...
The final poster was a take on a style used by British Railways in the 60's.  It was deliberately bleached out, and appeared in the final show and the Flogafield diorama built as an exhibit.  The scene is a composite of Kitty, with the beach actually being Barmouth in Wales, with miniatures for the cooling towers, sentry post, barbed wire etc.  The slogan is a nod to Nevil Shutes classic novel "On The Beach" which featured people in Australia waiting for an inevitable death from radioactive fallout, which seemed appropriate in this instance, advertising holidays in a world which is worryingly comfortable with the idea of atomic contamination.

In the period after the model village, I ended up working on a couple of speculative projects, one of which was piece of fan-fiction inspired by one of my all-time favourite films, "28 Days Later", for which I knocked up a false graphic novel cover...  Yes, more scifi using miniatures, to no practical end- 2007-2011 being what I define as my "Stuck in a rut/professional practise defined by that bloody model village" phase.  It came to nothing, and thankfully that particular piece of uncreative-creative writing, with its many copyright infringements has been lost to the glorious and celebrated mists of time (and a laptop hard-drive crash), all that is left being the cover.

The aircraft was, yet again, one of the freelance and aerodynamically questionable jets built for an abandoned collaborative project (well, got to do something with all this tat once you've made it), with a cityscape from the same project, made from bits of random improvised elements such as filing in-trays and birdfeeders.  Nothing like working on a budget of approximately nowt.

The human elements were a little trickier- the squaddie is me, from the Britannia shoots, but the main figure ended up being Kitty again, looking much more comfortable wielding a chainsaw than she did holding a pooltoy.  Kudos to her for not batting an eyelid at weird requests for modelling anyway.

 And then along came the "Century Survey" steampunk stuff, and well, I had the same issue again- needing to set the scene with background items.  Kind of fitted anyway, since it needed to be established that this was an alternate history of Britannia, was set in the same fake universe, so could share similar themes.  A few simple posters were knocked up, which appear scattered throughout the pictures, such as the one below advising people to join up for the Landships- fittingly, its for the 42nd Expeditionary Force; in the model village, the armoured security forces in Cumbria were also the 42nd Strike Force (me being a nerd who produced enough background material to write a novel, there is somewhere a fairly comprehensive false history of this fictional regiment).  The poster was a bit of a lash-up, done in a hurry and just using the basic test-pic of the model which appears elsewhere on this blog.

The poster (and another fake travel poster, featuring Lexi from the model village shoot) pasted onto the side of Salts Mill in the project.  I quite liked seeing people leaning in closer during the exhibition to spot these little details, it kind of justified the sheer amount of bloody effort I'd had to put in designing it all...

So thats that.  Hopefully I'll have some new-ish work on this blog soon- I've got something big in the works at the moment, featuring that Thunderbolt model which is nearly finished...

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