You need three elements for a good metamorphosis story: a wild, Arcadian landscape, a pair of lovers, and an unfolding sense of loss. Especially in Ovid’s transformative tales, there is an inescapable premise of pursuit, the chase of a maiden through the valleys and brooks by a love-struck hunter. This is best illustrated by the story of the wood nymph Daphne, who after a long chase by Pheobus (Apollo), prays for her river-god father Peneus to save her. He does so by turning her into a laurel tree by the water’s edge, and so in recognition of her beauty and chastity, an unsuccessful Apollo adopts the laurel crown as his symbol giving us the ‘laureate’ culture for victors and heroes. We also get the name ‘Laura’.
Lady into Hut is a multimedia project by British photographer Laura Hynd. The story behind the project involves Hynd’s grandfather, Evan Lynn aged 27, and holidaying with his family in a hut in the Scottish hills in 1947. To occupy his time there he was making a home movie when he saw the pretty 17 year old Mary, a local girl. After requesting permission from Mary’s mother to involve her in his film, the pair fell in love, later married and Laura’s mother was born the following year. Eventually, Evan built his own hut in the place where he and Mary had met, and after his death the grandfather’s ashes were scattered there in July 2010.
So this project is a romantic tale infused with three generations of memories and sentiment, and while it invariably includes the use of modern photographic technology it evades all the cynicism that that implies by today’s standards. One must remember that the camera Evan Lynn was using at the time would have been similar to someone using their DSLR to record video today, though the perception of the viewer would have been a great deal different. The resounding romance of both the human story and the technology resonates in a time of self-indulgent Vine and YouTube puerility. In this age of immediacy it has indeed become something of a trend to ascribe a sense of worth to the temporal digital image by using certain filters to give an image that old analogue feel, thereby creating a false sense of time and place. Hynd was aware of such implications when working with the original 16mm footage, “I feel deeply proud of his home movie. But the pain of losing him and the place our family loved very much – the hut – made me explore the idea of turning what had become a very negative and unhealthy nostalgia into something positive and tangible, that I could call my own and move forward from.”
Hynd combines the stills gleaned from that old 16mm film with her own contemporary articulations taken for the most part with a Hasselblad (some of these pictures were made using out-of-date film) and some with a Contax T3. Using film, and not digital, retains a similar feel and tone to the work which ties the two generations together in certain respects, however it is part of the project’s charm that the viewer could be oblivious to the combination of new and old. Unlike the digital filters used in-camera by so many today, there was no conscious intention on Hynd’s part to simulate one with the other, “While watching his film I began taking stills from it as a way of looking more closely. It was another way of preserving the images. It seemed only natural to combine them with my own photographs.” She continues, “At the time of beginning this work I didn’t have the knowledge that I could actually incorporate the moving image with my own stills, so that is another reason I made stills of the old film. The intention was for me to simply be in that place where they met and make work.”
That place of course is Glendevon, located in the Scottish hills, with its long emerald grass and flowing streams of fresh water providing both a visual stage for the love story and a psychological landscape for the viewer – we can almost hear the water gush through the gullies and feel the pale orange sunlight on our face as we voyeuristically watch the frolicking couple from the banks. But this pastoral utopia, though idyllic, does not escape the laws that govern all nature: One is reminded of Poussin’s 1638 oil painting of the shepherds at a tomb on which is inscribed the Latin phrase “Et in Arcadia ego” translating as “Even in Arcadia, there I am”. The “I” being Death, and in Hynd’s pictures we see death in the form of languid sheep carcasses and up-turned ribs rising from the long grass – in this tale of metamorphosis death is indeed inevitable, and so those expired animals become symbolic for Hynd’s own grandfather’s passing and scattered ashes returned to the earth.
Lady into Hut was published in SMBHmag ISSUE 14 ‘The Mountain’. The couple we see holding hands while running, and the distant echoes of laughter we imagine before the feeling of cold mountain water on our bare feet all combine seamlessly in Lady into Hut. It is refreshing to see appropriated imagery used in such a personal and satisfying manner today; a break from contemporary formalism in all its theoretical iron and branding will continue to have a welcome home in photography for sure. Elaborating on the similarities between the original footage and her own work Hynd contemplates: “There is, unintentionally, quite a similar aesthetic. Maybe because we are in the same valley, which hasn’t really changed in the 68 years since his film was made. Maybe it is because we are family, grandad taught me a lot about the subtleties of colour. Or perhaps because he was a dreamer, as am I…” Whatever the reasons, this body of work possesses a unique personality all of its own and gives hope to such dreaming and desire.
All images ©Laura Hynd