ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Review of "she dances on Jackson": a book of photographs by Vanessa Winship

Updated on May 24, 2018
CJStone profile image

CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.

We got married in a fever

Hotter than a pepper sprout

We been talkin ‘bout Jackson

Ever since the fire went out

Oh I’m going to Jackson

I’m going to mess around

Yes I’m going to Jackson

Look out Jackson town."

— Johnny Cash and June Carter

Jackson

First of all the title: “she dances on Jackson”. It’s written in small case letters, almost as if it’s being whispered. It’s there on the cover, though you'd be hard put to find it at first glance, discretely tucked away on the bottom right hand corner of this beautifully bound book of photographs, blending into the image, which is a picture of a tree with a flock of birds taking flight from a rust-coloured background.

Actually it sounds like a song title to me, and – I can’t help it – I've been singing Jackson by Johnny Cash and June Carter ever since I received my copy of the book.

Winship explains the title at the end of the book. It involves an incident on Jackson subway, a girl who dances to a busker on the platform, who gets on the train with her mother, sitting opposite the photographer for their journey, and who then gets off at the same station.

It’s an odd little story as a justification for the title of the book as there doesn't appear to be any actual photograph of the incident, nor even a photograph of the protagonists, although they do exchange a few words at the end.

“That’s a beautiful camera,” says the girl, before getting into a car and being driven away.

There is something wistful in the story, of a lost moment in time, of a photograph untaken, as if, perhaps, it is commemorative of all the other photographs that must have passed her by as her and her husband, George Georgiou, traversed this epic landscape on their pilgrimage of discovery to find the real and living America behind the Hollywood fiction that lives inside of everyone’s head.

Glamour

The book takes the form of a dialogue between landscape and individual. Photographs of landscapes are interspersed with photographs of people. The landscapes are spaciously empty, giving an impression of vast distances and undiscovered horizons. The people are poised in their own smaller landscapes, aware of their familiarity with each other and with the world around them. These are people who don’t travel much, you feel. They are comfortable in their own private worlds. And yet the impression you get is of those vast landscapes looking out from the eyes of the people.

It’s like one of those flip card animations we used to do as kids. You run several pictures together to give an impression of movement. By turning the pages of this book you move from intimacy to emptiness and back again; and then its as if the pictures are moving together into a seamless whole, as if the landscapes are informing the individuals, as if they are present in their lives, like the commentary of the unconscious as it appears in our dreams, like a motivation for our actions which we didn’t even know we had.

The landscapes take two forms. They are either natural landscapes, of trees and hills and distances; or urban landscapes, of tarmac and decay. Both appear empty, solemn. But while one is rich and brimming with life, the other is as dry as any desert, as bleak as any mountain, as empty as any soul.

Occasionally words turn up in the photographs. They appear on tee-shirts and belt buckles, on buildings and on hoardings, carved into trees and etched on people’s skin. It is in the realm of words that irony exists. Thus the word COMMUNITY stretches across what looks like a decaying warehouse. Perhaps it is a cinema. Prior to that we had a shot inside a cinema: rows of seats lined up in front of the now dead screen, also decaying. The Hollywood Dream Factory no longer has an outlet in this town. There is no community in this community. The word is a betrayal of its own meaning.

In another there’s a shop sign with the words Glitter & Glamour over a row of boarded up shops, with a piece of Soviet-style, brutalist architecture glowering behind. You remember that this kind of functionally minimalist building was universal in the cold war era, even in the glitzy, glamorous US of A. The word “glamour” refers to an illusion. It is a kind of spell which the fairy-folk cast over your eyes to make you see worthless things as of value. When the spell is broken the scales fall off your eyes and you see the world as it really is once more.

Trees

Often the natural landscapes frame an item or object of our human world. So there’s a car parked by a tree. Some bleak expanse of tarmac. A house. A bridge. A fence. A washing line. A memorial shaped like a heart. Small items of discarded humanity dwarfed by the vast landscapes around them. Tiny obsolescences in a world of epic grandeur. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the United States itself, for the state of the States at this present time. Those bleak scenes of urban devastation won’t last, you feel. One day, maybe, nature will reclaim its place at the heart of our human world again.

The other thread that runs through the pictures are the trees. There are more trees than people in this book. They are there at regular intervals throughout its pages, as if giving commentary to the narrative: from the shoddy domesticity of the apple tree early on in the series, already shedding its fruit, to the vast, archaic swamp tree towards the end, like some throwback out of the depths of time, overarching scenes of comfortable domesticity, with a tyre swing dangling from its gnarled branches to remind us of how small we are in comparison, how short-lived and insignificant. The trees perhaps represent something deep-rooted in the lives of the human beings who populate this story. Something connected to the earth. Something wise and old. Something elemental. Something greater than the human.

One photograph shows words carved into the aerial roots of a Banyan Tree. Earth is Home, it says, amongst all the signatures and scribbles. It could be the motto for the book.

Absence

The trick of photography is that it creates an illusion of absence. The person who is missing is the one taking the photograph. The use of the SLR in most modern photography means that the photographer’s face is hidden. Thus the person being photographed is looking at a camera lens, not at a human being. In Winship’s case, she does her portrait work with a large format camera. The process is long-drawn out and complex, involving a lot of faffing about under a cloak, but in the end the subject is looking at Vanessa Winship, not at a camera. She brings her face out from under the cloak, she smiles encouragingly, and then takes the photograph. Thus the pictures show a real human interaction: a face meeting a face. It is more intimate than most photography, more revealing, more generous to the spirit, more expressive as an art form.

The remarkable capacity Winship has as an artist, is her ability to convey feeling out of what might otherwise be seen as a random collection of photographs. The photographs have a mood. They say something to us. More than anything, you feel, there is something autobiographical in the work, as if, by creating these photographs for us, of a far-off and exotic landscape, she is, at the same time, telling us something about herself. Vanessa Winship occupies these pictures as surely as any of the people whose images emerge from these pages. She is there, reflected in their faces, in the subjects she chooses, in the narrative she conveys.

There is one photograph in particular which caught my attention. It is of a young woman with a flower in her hair, piercings through her lips and various tattoos. Her face is impassive but her eyes look wise and sad at the same time. Lost and defiant. She has a tattoo around her neck, like a necklace: “young heart, old soul,” it says.

I always imagine, looking at Vanessa Winship’s work, that, like Alfred Hitchcock's signature appearances in his movies, one photograph in any collection will represent the artist herself. In this case, I think, this is the one.

© 2013 Christopher James Stone

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)