Death by Water

john_everett_millais_ophelia_resized


Those of you familiar with the work of Sir John Everett Millais and/or Shakespeare’s Hamlet will know that this is a painting of Ophelia singing before she drowns in a river (1851-2). 
I’m not sure why I find it, and other images like it, so fascinating. Yes, the painting is eye-catchingly vibrant, beautifully composed and exquisitely detailed. But I also think it has a kind of – for lack of a better word – poetic quality that derives largely from its subject matter, and I find this quality simultaneously intriguing and baffling (I’m very aware that I’m echoing Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ (1846) here).

Apparently I’m not the only one: Ophelia is one of the most acclaimed and imitated pre-Raphaelite paintings, and artistic representations of female death by drowning abound in both historical and contemporary contexts. What is it about the aestheticised spectacle of female death (a realistically grim and unpleasant topic) that holds our attention? As someone who is interested in photography, and particularly in what might be termed ‘conceptual’ or ‘narrative’ photography, which often borrows from literature, I’ve browsed through countless digital image repositories and come across a surprisingly large number of Ophelia-esque pictures. Here are just a few examples:

Monia Merlo
Monia Merlo

Monia Merlo 3
Monia Merlo 2

Monia Merlo 4
Monia Merlo 3

Carly Zinga Photography
Carly Zinga

Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 2
Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina

Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 3
Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 2

Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina
Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 3

Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 4
Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 4

Dorota Gorecka Fotografia
Dorota Górecka

Dorota Gorecka Fotografia 4
Dorota Górecka 2

Slevin Aaron Photography
Slevin Aaron

Tom Hunter
Tom Hunter

There are many more, all equally stunning (which I know is a bizarre word to apply to any representation of death). There are countless literary (not to mention filmic) references, too, made by authors ranging from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Arthur Rimbaud to T.S. Eliot to Margaret Atwood, who gave a lecture entitled ‘Ophelia Has a Lot to Answer For’ at the Stratford Festival in September, 1997.

Unsurprisingly, critics have long been engaged in debate about the aesthetic, symbolic and cultural implications of these sorts of images. In his essay ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ (1846), for example, Edgar Allan Poe argues controversially that ‘the death … of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world’ because it marks the moment at which death (the supremely ‘melancholy’ topic) ‘most closely allies itself to Beauty’. Elisabeth Bronfen both elaborates on and problematises this assertion in Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic, contending, in an argument that is far too sophisticated to outline here, that artistic representations of female death are often symptomatic of androcentrism.

‘Poetic’ or not, it’s clear that these depictions – especially those featuring water – hold a certain kind of (counter-intuitive) appeal. I’m still trying to figure out why, and hopefully in future I’ll be able to research and write a paper on this topic, but for now I’m quite happy to be stumbling across images online that suggest that many people share my interest.


Header image: Sir John Everett Millais, ‘Ophelia’ (1851-2). © Tate Britain. 

Advertisements

Drawing from literature: Tennyson’s Maud

 

Small rose4

 

I’ve had these lines from Tennyson’s Maud stuck in my head all week:

Come into the garden, Maud,
For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
And the musk of the roses blown. (XXII, 850-855)

It’s funny, because I haven’t been reading any Tennyson lately, but it must have something to do with the incredibly memorable second line.

Since I’ve been meaning to attempt some illustrations for a while, and since I’m almost completely free at the moment (we’re on a uni break, and I don’t start work until this weekend), I decided to sketch something based on this stanza.

I opted against the garden (line one) – I’m not sure I have the patience or skill required to draw an entire landscape – and the metaphorical bat (line two) – for reasons you can probably guess – and eventually settled on the roses (line six): arguably one of the most hackneyed images in art and literature, but for good reason.

So I guess I haven’t really illustrated Maud at all – certainly not in any identifiable way – but the anonymous photograph I found online was just too good to pass up as a reference.

If you’re interested, you can read more of Tennyson’s poem here (part XXII) and here (full).

Case study: Me and Orla

 

Photographs by Sara Tasker; used with permission.

 

I’ve been following Sara Tasker’s Me and Orla for a while now, and recently I’ve been visiting it more and more. It’s everything you want in a blog: creative, visually stunning and beautifully written. Sara, who is based with her partner in Yorkshire, started ‘Me and Orla’ as
personal photo project on Instagram in January 2013, to chart the growth of her daughter, Orla. By April that year the blog had over 35,000 followers, and it has since surpassed the 100k mark and developed into a fully fledged ‘online brand’.

The blog is very much a success story, and in this post I want to briefly explore a few of the reasons behind its popularity. How has Me and Orla amassed such a large following, and what has Sara done, online and offline, to ensure its success?

One reason for Me and Orla‘s popularity is, I think, the quality of its writing. Sara has stated that she considers herself ‘a writer more than a photographer’ and that the blog ‘sprang up as a place to spill all those extra words’. Her posts certainly reflect this fact: they are invariably honest, witty and incisive.

Sara’s discussion of both personal and professional issues also lends her blog an edge. She broaches topics such as emotion, loneliness and anxiety, as well as providing photography advice and tips and tricks for Instagram. Her pieces include:

  • ‘Living with Big Emotions’
  • ‘Café Stories’
  • ‘Café Stories: The Lonely People’
  • ‘Stuff that Works: Anxiety’
  • ‘Instagram: Why Growing Your Following is the Wrong Aim’
  • ‘Instagam Tips: Notes on Notifications’
  • ‘Happily Addicted to the Internet’
  • ‘Late Night Trains – 100 Stories’
  • ‘Instagram Tips: Learning From My Mistakes’ (Parts I, II and III)

In this last set of articles, she shares a series of old photos she believes she should never have posted in the early days of her Instagram use, explaining the problems with each of them and outlining what she would do if she had to post them again. This kind of reflective self-critique is relatively uncommon among popular bloggers and was really well-received by Sara’s followers, who comment on the helpfulness of her posts.

Some of Sara Tasker’s Luke Skywalker photographs;
used with permission.


Sara also offers various types of ‘
Instagram Mentoring‘ as well as an ‘Insta-Retreat‘, a virtual seven-day course comprised of daily challenges. One of the top-level tabs on Sara’s website is ‘Instagram help’ and she has clearly capitalised on her online success to generate further engagement. She ran her first set of face-to-face workshops at West Elm in March this year, where she met with other Instagram users, and she has talks and styling workshops upcoming in Cambridge, Derby and London.

It’s impossible to overlook Sara’s stunning photography when reflecting on Me and Orla‘s success. I’ve included a small assortment of these photographs here; I think they pretty much speak for themselves.

Finally, Sara also has a somewhat unconventional project on the run called ‘Me and Luke Skywalker‘, complete with a whole new Instagram account and hashtagin which she photoshops Luke Skywalker into her pictures. She talks humorously about the project in various posts, stating that it has generated a lot of attention and encouraging viewers to ‘share [her] post[s] far and wide’.

She’s also devised a second hashtag for an expanding series of fairy-tale-inspired photographs. About these two projects, she says that they’re a ‘chance to do something a little bit different – to stretch my imagination and step outside of the usual Instagram cliches.’

 

 

Ten things successful bloggers do on Instagram – part II

If you haven’t read the first part of this post, you can do so here.

6) They encourage reader participation
Bloggers often solicit participation and contributions from their followers by asking questions, running exclusive giveaways and competitions, and requesting recommendations for places to visit when they’re travelling.

Some popular bloggers also reply to comments left on their photos, which strengthens their relationship with readers and in turn encourages further participation. Researcher Kayla C. Boyd suggests in her paper ‘Democratizing Fashion‘ that these blogger-reader interactions establish a sense of community and allow followers to ‘build self-confidence by exploring their identity with like-minded others.’

Gustavo Gomes
Photo by Gustavo GomesCC BY-NY 2.0.


7) They interact with their followers in real life
When bloggers become sufficiently popular they often host meet-and-greets for their followers, particulate in industry events, and occasionally run workshops, masterclasses or retreats, some of which are conducted through The School Instagram.

The workshops I’ve come across have ranged from photography to styling to cooking to calligraphy to writing, just to name a few. These courses run from anywhere between a few hours to a few months, and may even be conducted virtually.

8) They post at the right times of the day
This point is a little arbitrary, given that many bloggers have international followings, but most successful bloggers tend to post at times that are optimal for their primary audiences. An
article in The Huffington Post has shown that 2am and 5pm EST are the ‘best times to post [on Instagram] if you want your followers to pay attention to you’, and that ‘the worst times are 9am and 6pm’.

These are logical statistics: at 5pm, as the article suggests, people are finishing work and will likely browse through social media as they wind down and head home for the day. The article shows, however, that optimal times vary significantly throughout the week; that while a post is likely to perform well at 5pm on Wednesday, the optimal time shifts to 7pm on Monday and 8pm on Friday, and so on.

Gustavo Gomes4
Photo by Gustavo GomesCC BY 2.0.


9) They accept sponsors strategically

As bloggers become more popular they invariably receive requests from companies to endorse certain products. Many bloggers have openly stated that they are careful about the sorts of products they choose to feature; they don’t promote items they don’t use or believe in, they clearly disclose sponsored posts, and they ensure that a partner company’s image and values are compatible with their own.

10) They integrate their Instagram account with their blog and other social media
Specifically, they excerpt and promote their blog on their Instagram account, often sharing numerous photos from a single blog post over successive days to maximise click-throughs. They provide a link to their blog (and sometimes other social media accounts) in their Instagram header, and their blog in turn contains links to accounts on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and so on.

 

Ten things successful bloggers do on Instagram – part I

As someone who (I’ll admit it) browses Instagram almost every day, whether for enjoyment, inspiration or simply to keep up with my friends’ accounts, I’ve occasionally found myself reflecting on the reasons behind certain bloggers’ success. Still, I was surprised at how quickly the ten points below came to mind when I finally sat down to write this post. I suppose it wasn’t until I had to put my thoughts into words that I realised just how much I’d noticed.

While I jotted down these points with Instagram in mind, they’re applicable to a whole range of social media. Without further ado, here are some of the things that successful bloggers do on Instagram:

1) They post consistently
Most well-known bloggers post at least once – and sometimes even up to five or ten times – a day. They maintain a connection with their followers by constantly updating them about their activities, projects and events, and if they’re going to be inactive for a while they generally let their readers know in advance.

 

SHOW & TELL - MARCH
Photo by Sara Tasker (Me and Orla); used with permission.


2) They pay attention to composition
Really good bloggers have a keen eye for tone, texture, colour, contrasts and perspective. They’re able to manipulate these elements to produce photos with a particular feel and atmosphere with seemingly little effort.

3) They edit their photos carefully
In other words, they don’t simply post without first checking basic things like brightness, contrast and saturation. They frame and crop their images thoughtfully, and often post-process their images, applying special filters with apps like VSCOcam.

4) They write clearly, authentically and thoughtfully
High-quality writing is more important now than ever, given the morass of content saturating Instagram and the internet. The best bloggers write honestly and idiosyncratically; their photos are almost always captioned; their captions are well-thought-out; they use language in vivid and interesting ways; and they are often open about both the personal and the professional challenges they face.

Bloggers such Beth Kirby (Local Milk), Sara Tasker (Me and Orla) and Melissa Findley, for example, have been direct and honest about issues such as perfectionism, anxiety, depression and the death of family members.

 

LIVE WITH LESS - EPHEMERA
Photo by Sara Tasker; used with permission.


5) They use links, tags and hashtags effectively
Popular bloggers will rarely post a picture that isn’t tagged or integrated with other social media in some way. They tag the subjects of their photos; branded accessories, clothes and other products; those involved in a photo’s production; the accounts of places they visit; the apps they use for editing; ‘feature’ accounts that collate the photographs of various Instagram users; and popular associated tools such as LIKEtoKNOW.it, which uses the hashtag #liketkit and enables users to get detailed product information for a particular photo sent to their inbox, if they register their email at the app’s website.

They also play into hashtag trends in order to maximise their exposure and to gain the attention of specific user groups. Among the hashtags currently trending within creative communities on Instagram, for example, are #inspiremyinstagram, #momentsofmine and #thingsyousee.

Continue reading this post here.