Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: Castles in Black and White

Last week, I reviewed Ali Shaw's novel The Girl with Glass Feet, which got me thinking about photography, and light, and black and white pictures.  I love photography in general, but black and white photographs are even more intriguing.  There is something inherently mysterious about the lack of color that suggests the fantastic, particularly when paired with a subject that itself is connected to fantasy and mythology.

Take, for example, these photographs by Nobuyuki Taguchi, a London-based photographer.  His pictures of Herstmonceux Castle, Bodiam Castle, and Langshott Manor are all fascinating, and evoke a mood that suggests that something supernatural is about to happen.

This Italian castle, photographed by Heike Trautmann, and this Swedish castle, photographed by QT Luong, are two other magical examples, as are Billy Currie's photograph of Castle Kilchurn and Christophe Kiciak's photograph of Le Mont Saint-Michel.

As I was looking at these photographs, I noticed that I was particularly drawn to images that contained water, which reminded me of something that Stuart Craig, the production designer for the Harry Potter movies, said about why a key death in the final movie was moved from the Shrieking Shack to the Hogwarts' boathouse.  In this article with the Los Angeles Times, Craig says, "In the book [the character] dies in the Shrieking Shack. I specifically asked J.K. Rowling if she would mind if we transposed that to a boathouse. I felt it would make a very interesting, very theatrical set. There was a lot of glass in the design for the boathouse. Through the glass, you’re aware of Hogwarts in flames and the water inside the boathouse reflects the flames and you get a great sense of the height and the drama. It’s rather cathedral-like in a small way, a rather ephemeral structure. I think [the actor] was happy to die there and I was very happy to see [the actor] die there."  Since light is so important in photography, and in particular black and white photography, it makes sense that spaces and settings that amplify, modify, or emphasize light are particularly magical in this art form.

Here is one final example that speaks to these ideas about light and water perfectly.  The reflection of this Irish castle in the water, the suggested movement of the clouds, and the mystery of the black and white photograph creates a magical atmosphere that is the ideal setting for the fantastic.