Quo Vadis — germ of an idea for life after YOP

Posted on December 17, 2014


I am getting close to the end of my degree course at the Open College of the Arts. One more assignment to submit and preparation for assessment and it is all over. It has been a hugely enjoyable and enlightening experience and I must admit I will be quite lost when it is all over. I am conscious that I want to sustain my photographic practice. I may enrol for an MA but not straight away. I need a break from the routine of assignments and so on. In the meantime Quo Vadis?

Well a chance remark by OCA student colleague John Umney about J G Ballard has opened up some thoughts. I am by no means an expert on Ballard. In fact I have only just started to delve into his short stories and novels. But his concerns about the nature of modernity with its obsessional consumerism strike a chord with me. There is an emptiness about modern day life where identities are bought in the shopping malls, celebrities are manufactured in reality TV shows and unconscious aggression and frustration is released through TV, video games, movies and so on. Ballard sees this situation as inherently unstable.

“The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world…”

J G Ballard Kingdom Come

My idea is to use Ballard’s fiction as the underpinning for a series of photographs exploring suburbia. I have a lot or research to do before I can expand on how this might shape up — reading Ballard novels and stories, studying critical texts about his work, reviewing interviews Ballard gave and exploring his influences, in particular Freud and Surrealism. Freud’s Civilisation and Its Discontents, which discusses the fundamental tension between the individual’s instinctual desire for freedom and civilization’s contrary demand for conformity, seems a particularly important reference point. 

My aim will be to represent Ballard’s key themes through photographs of everyday suburban places such shopping malls, housing estates, tower blocks, flyovers, supermarket, cinema complexes, gas stations, apartment blocks and so on. This night time photograph of the quiet cup-de-sac where I live, for example, brings to mind film noir movies with their themes of violence and danger — could this image represent ‘The suburbs dream of violence.’?

Cul-de-sac ©Keith Greenough 2014

Cul-de-sac     ©Keith Greenough 2014

Interestingly, Ballard lived in Shepperton, close to the M25 in the Thames valley and not far from where I live and his novels are situated in suburbs just like the one in which I live… So for this project I would be able to work close to home, which will be a real benefit.

It is very early days with this idea and it may not come to fruition, but I am hopeful that it will…