Product Placement vs. A Moment In Time

Here’s something I’m ready and happy to admit: I can’t take a good photo. Just like someone who doesn’t waste away hours of the little free time they have blogging and reading may cobble together a sentence that takes your breath away, I have occasionally accidently captured a moment in time that makes for an aesthetically pleasing photograph but as a professional, I would suck. Various friends and housemates of mine work in the film, design and photography business; I can’t count the amount of conversations I’ve had surrounding the question: what makes a good photograph?

Commercial photos of products do nothing for me. Not only do I not take any joy in observing the photograph but also I can’t think of a time that a photograph of a product alone willed me to buy. Taking, as an example, a photo taken by friend and professional photographer David Wilman.

So, I can see why the products are laid out thus. The shapes of the bottles compliment each other, the product names are visible and the background creates a sense of calm that allows the consumer to feel a sense pleasantry while viewing the products. I couldn’t take a photo like this, I couldn’t even begin to think about how and it’s just all too much for me. The bottles are too perfectly placed. The colours are too complimentary. It’s clear why the photographer set up the scene this way, to please the client, to tick the boxes. Alas, it doesn’t paint 1,000 words but just three: consume, consume, consume.

Reversing all this; I would now like to share with you a photo, also by David Wilman that made me say ‘Stop! Go back! I like that.’

A perfect example of a moment in time: candid, improvised, real life. The differences are obvious. Firstly the contrast between the content: people not product. Outdoors not set in a studio. It takes still, a keen eye, a quick shot to capture a scene that’s on the move; after all, time waits for no man (or camera.) I figure the real test of heart behind a photograph is if it could tell an infinite number of stories. The Little Red Joggers are child convicts, they’re on their sports day or they’re living in a dystopian future in which they’re training to become level one a citizen.

Distinguishing between different types of photography is something that the general public, photographers, clients, artists all do on a regular basis without even really realising it. In the same way that a talented writer might knock out descriptions for estate agents websites, photographers must also pay the rent.

Draw the distinction, keep the art form alive: capture the stories.

– K for Kandid

For other photography by David Wilman click Here

Top Ten Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic Novels

Dystopian fiction is no doubt my favourite literary genre. It is the beauty and difficulty that makes it so wonderfully gripping. Simply, Dystopia refers to a nightmare world, an alternative future to the one we expect to arise from this present. As a general rule there is often a catalyst that makes this present shift into the Dystopia of the novel, be it nuclear war, religion, a change in ideas, technology, medicine. The thing that really sets a great Dystopian novel apart is how and when to reveal what happened in the present to create this nightmare, the reader is left piecing together the facts and bit by bit.

The way a dystopian novel will touch you is so much more acute than any other genre will. The pain, sadness, longing and terrible beauty of a nightmare future make the reader feel so disconnected from the world they currently live in, and sometimes, that’s just what’s needed, to really see reality.

WARNING: though we shall try and not include spoilers, the very nature of the dystopian novel doesn’t allow much room for description without spoiling at least the premise. I cannot speak for P but I apologise…a bit. P EDIT: I NEVER APOLOGISE!

 10. We – Yevgeny Zamyatin

How does one work out mathematical happiness? Zamyatin’s 1920’s novel was banned in Russia, perhaps because of the accuracy of his depiction of state oppression, or perhaps because he hit too close to home. Our protagonist, D-503 lives in One State; in One State everything is calculated mathematically to make everyone happy. A certain amount of x will make person y happy and that x will also make z happy, and thus this time can be spent together. D-503 is fascinated by the idea that people used to use their ‘free’ time to do seemingly meaningless things, like walk the streets at night. D-503 meets a woman, also given a number instead of a name and, not unlike 1984; the woman reveals her involvement with a revolutionary group. One State are however determined, to rid people of freedom, of choice and most importantly, of imagination.

Many see ‘We’ as the original dystopian novel, touching ground that hadn’t been trodden before; attempting to show the readers how life would be if WE don’t hold onto our freedom, individuality and simply, comply.

9. Brave New World  – Aldous Huxley

In World State people are happy. The population is limited and thus recourses are plentiful. People are promiscuous. New life is now battery farmed and the people are encouraged to have…fun. Sounds great right? People are divided into 5 groups: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon; each group has a different part to play in the running of World State, for example Alpha children will grow up to be leaders, and Delta consumers. Sex is a large part of Huxley’s novel; Bernard, an Alpha-Male who doesn’t quite fit in due to his small stature, has different views on sex, culture and many other things not considered by most citizens. The population are brainwashed, according to their group, and thus the state runs perfectly, in harmony, until eventually something terrible happens and the protagonists, John and Bernard, start to feel real emotions, and worse, start to show them.

Brave New World is no doubt an uncomfortable novel, with the amounts of sex and references to, it doesn’t make for a ‘holiday’ or ‘bed time’ read, but it does explore the connotations of taking away the capacity for humans to be whoever they want, which is something the population as a whole, take for granted.

8. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

As the only “Children’s” book on this list, The Hunger Games must be pretty special to make the cut. And it is. I read quite a lot of teen fiction, but I haven’t read anything that even touches the Hunger Games. (NB: Being able to claim that reading Children’s books is beneficial to my job is amazing.)

Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, the mining district in the 12 that comprise her world. When Katniss’ younger sister gets chosen to participate in the ‘Hunger Games’ Katniss volunteers to take her place. In order to win the Hunger Games Katniss must kill the other 23 participants, including the boy from her district, Peter. Then the rules change.

The beauty of The Hunger Games is that they introduce teens into the world of Dystopian literature without explicitly stating the genre. Not overly different to the concept of Battle Royale, The Hunger Games has a brilliant balance of gore, romance and suspense. Unfortunately, the second two aren’t as good as the original, the concept is slightly dragged out, but are needed to complete the idea of revolution. The one thing that The Hunger Games does do, in comparison to other Dystopian novels, is address the idea of a revolution, it being possible, as opposed to impossible, as it is in many other dystopian worlds.

7. The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndam

Bill wakes up to find he is no longer blind, but everyone else is. After his brush with a ‘Triffid’ at work, Bill, having already had an incident with a Triffid as a child, had been unable to unwrap bandages that covered his eyes during an unexplained, yet beautiful, lights display. This coincidence saved his eyesight and throughout the novel he meets various people with similar stories, having slept through or missed the mysterious lights that turned everyone else blind.

A Trffid is simply a plant. A plant that can walk, but with humans controlling them and restricting their movement, tying them down and such, even their deadly poison is useless. Make all men and women blind, and shit hits the fan.

Much unlike other dystopian novels, Day of the Triffids spans over many years, extending beyond the initial almost-end-of-the-world. Wydam is a sci-fi master, describing the weirdest of circumstances in the most matter-of-fact way.

6. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

Humans have developed a cure for all kinds of diseases; Cancer, MND, anything that can be cured by replacing a certain organ, blood, tissue.

The two issues that run throughout Ishiguro’s novel are morality, and love. About a third of the novel is set at Hailsham School, where the children are educated in a way that preserves their health to the fullest extent. The children of Hailsham hall are different. Though their boarding school life may seem idyllic, they are told never to leave, must check in regularly at certain checkpoints and their lives are rigidly surveyed and controlled. The terrible secret behind Hailsham hall, and it’s relations to a futuristic world, free of disease and illness, drives this moving story of love, destiny and mortality.

Mainly following the lives of Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy, the novel moves from school into their young adult lives where Kathy becomes and carer and thus sees the lives of other humans end.

Compliance is a cruel mistress.

NB: As most of the novels on this list Never Let Me Go was made into a movie, but actually a great one.

5. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange is a difficult read. Perhaps the unusual language, integrating Russian slang into English colloquialisms, will prove inaccessible. Perhaps the extreme violence and cruelty exhibited by our lead antihero will prove intolerable. Perhaps the grim vision of a future dominated by gangs and criminals and the only reaction to this recklessness is total authoritarianism and mind control will prove unthinkable. If not, then you may just battle on and find something special in this book.

Following the life of gang member, Alex Delarge, Burgess exposes a bleak future in which society is sick and the cure is worse than the disease. He tackles the problems that can arise when we try to fight immorality with immorality and thoroughly explores the criminal mind set against a dystopian future in which the hostile prison and sterile hospital is the only escape from the cold, vicious streets.

The book has something of a mixed reputation. Burgess himself disowned the novel as something he threw together in three weeks for money and declared that its message has been corrupted beyond repair by Kubrick (let’s not argue with that here). However the message is one open to criticism, namely that mankind has the right to be brutal and cruel and unkind if it wants to be and that trying to force it to be otherwise is to betray some fundamental human element….obviously there is room for argument there. But it cannot be argued that this is a powerful book, and accomplishes what all good dystopian novels set out to do. Warn us about the future.

4. A Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Attwood

The central issue in Margaret Attwood’s novel is the key feminist issue underlining so many female writers’ work.

Offred is a Handmaid, her job is to breed. Due to various nuclear and environmental issues, only a small number of women can conceive and bare children, these women become Handmaids and live in a household, trying relentlessly to conceive a child. The other issue here is religion; the strident followers of the state believe that it is a woman’s job to bare children, and a man’s to multiply- not necessarily with his wife, if she is past ‘it.’

A beautiful element of The Handmaid’s Tale is the ‘flashback’ element; it is difficult to balance the nightmare present with the normality of the past, especially when being described in first person, however Attwood manages it beautifully, weaving the story from our ‘normal’ past to the nightmare future she lives in.

3. The Road – Cormac McCarthy

The road is one of the crowning accomplishments of the incredible novelist Cormac McCarthy. Having worked for forty years around the subjects of human depravity, the godlessness of the world and desperate poverty and loneliness, it was the experience of fatherhood that inspired his most devastatingly human work. The story concerns a father and his son wandering the wasted world after some terrible apocalyptic event. The landscape is barren and cold, gangs of cannibals roam the land and death surrounds our two starving heroes. Their only protection is a revolver loaded with two shots, and it is implied throughout that these shots are intended for the son and his father. Yet at its heart this is a novel against the notion of suicide and the glimmer of absurd optimism is unique to most dystopian novels

The novel is dystopian in that there is no hope left. From the very start there is no chance of a happily ever after because the earth has simply stopped providing for us. Mankind has very few generations left before all the cans are eaten and we all starve to death, or eat each other to extinction. Tragically this is merely an exaggerated version of how the world really is. Yet our heroes do not give in, like the boy’s mother did, they keep walking south and then keep walking after that, and through tragedy and loss, they just keep walking and “carrying the fire” down the road. All good dystopian novels contain warnings about possible futures, and this novels message of maintaining our humanity in the face of overwhelming emptiness is extremely relevant.

2. On the Beach – Neville Shute

Shute’s dystopian novel about a post-nuclear war world is so beautifuly terrifying because it is so realisticly possible. The novel is set in Australia where the main characters are coming to terms with their impending death, by carrying on with life. Set partly on land and partly on a submarine Shute documents life as we know it ending, due to a nuclear war in the Northern hemisphere. Shute opens the novel with a quote that I’ve been in love with since I first heard it many years ago ‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a wimper.’ Taken from T S Eliot’s Hollow Men this quote perfectly describes a number of the books on this list; the dysoptian novel always has an air of slow and mellow decline and Shute does this wonderfully.

The real, stabingly tragic part of the whole story is that the characters and you, the reader, know they are going to die. There is no ‘if’ or ‘but’ or ‘maybe.’ From the beginning you know they will die, within the space of the book. Only a small number of books have made me feel loss like this one has, you grow so attached to the characters that a part of you wills something to happen, for the world to change. But alas, that isn’t how it works in Dystopia.

1. 1984 – George Orwell

Arguably the most famous, most popular and most groundbreaking of all dystopian novels, 1984 hits you like a fat kid running to the cake shop, and not stopping to apologise. ‘What the hell was that? I feel like something abusive just happened but I just can’t be angry at it!’

Winston exists in a world where everyone, and everything, every movement and every breath is watched. However, he finds a small space in his small flat where the tele-screen, that watches his every move, cannot see him, and begins to write about his life. Winston works for the Ministy of Truth, where the workers tailor the news and literature to reflect who is currently at war with whom, what is true and what is not.

Then he meets Julia. He knows he wants her, he knows she is like him, a doubter of the state. As their illegal relationship develops, as they engage in normal things like sex and conversation, as they get deeper into the world of the anti-state Orwell’s novel gets darker and faster.

Although it is undoubtedly cliché to place 1984 in the Prime position to put anything above it would seem wrong. No words can describe the feeling of finishing 1984, but without reading it that feeling cannot be conveyed.

Be warned. Big Brother is watching you.