Visiting Dublin last December, I made sure to include a day at the National Gallery. There I made a new acquaintance – the paintings of Jack B. Yeats. Sure, I had seen some of his images gracing book covers and illustrating chapters on Irish history, but I had never taken the time to explore his images for themselves.
There were many different things that fascinated me about his images; fodder for far more than one blog post. What I want to share here is a series of Yeats’s paintings called Four Scenes in Search of Characters. I could only see one of them displayed in the gallery, and I’ve managed to find only one other online.
So unfortunately I have only seen two of the four paintings in this series, and yet I am very fascinated by the two I have seen.
According to the National Gallery online display linked to above, the images in this series were painted as stage sets. From that comes the name of the series – being intended for the theatre, they are backdrops waiting to be complemented by the characters of a play.
I couldn’t help but see the similarity between Yeats’s images and my own experiences when travelling. What else is a hotel room but a blank canvas, a backdrop for the individual experiences of each traveller visiting?
Furthermore I began to wonder how to portray scenes in search of characters with my camera. My images feature people very rarely; my closest friends and family are very camera shy, and I am too shy myself to photograph strangers. So I wonder if I can turn the absence of characters into a photographic strength, into a storytelling feature, a trigger of the imagination?
One image that fits this idea is shown here. This is from my hotel room in Dublin, portraying the feeling I always have that I am more at home in a hotel when some of my things are scattered around, like a book on the nightstand, or, like here, a lipstick and some hairclips on the sink in the bathroom.
This image, then, holds strong memories for me of an interesting weekend spent in Dublin. However, I also see the absence of people and the seeds of a story in it, as if an unknown woman just exited the bathroom after applying her lipstick.
In sum, it all comes down to the ever-present desire to tell stories through photography, a desire I hope shall never leave me.