The humid, sweat-box of a month I spent in Vanuatu this year seems like quite a while ago. It was March when I got back, so nearly five months. I have to speak with my friend Roman (who came with me) to remind myself of the trip, remember all the small details: the heat, the food, the conversations and the various encounters. Below is on of the portraits I took on Espiritu Santo – there’s a beach there called Million Dollar Point, nicknamed after the US Military dumped an extortionate amount of machinery, equipment and waste into the ocean. By today’s standard it’s an ecological disaster, however, it does create somewhat of a tourist attraction. The three girls in the picture, (Francisca, Lyn and Eva) were sat on the rock you can see.
I stopped for a minute and asked if we could make a portrait, so I stood with my tripod in the sea and shot a few frames. Chris Lord (the writer I’m collaborating with on this project) and I have been getting together to recount our trips to the islands too. He has worked as a correspondent in Istanbul up until recently, and since his return to London we’ve had the time to meet up and go over the details: trip by trip we have gone through our journeys almost day by day – and it’s amazing what you forget. February 2014 was when we first travelled to the islands together, really a recce trip so we didn’t have much time, but when you revisit what we discovered it’s brilliant fun.
I think about it all so visually (obviously), but Chris has another perspective entirely and it’s so entertaining bringing it all together. When I asked him to write the foreword to Empire, people responded to his work as though he’d been on the journeys with me – so it made us both wonder what would happen if we did collaborate together on something from the start. The answer is that we’ve found and discovered elements to the story that I couldn’t have done alone, it opened doors to bits of history and taken us to different islands to tell different parts of the tale. The job for me at the moment is making sense of it all, and working out how it looks and feels on paper, so I have been busy printing.
Below we have acclaimed photographer Stephen Vaughan deciding on the best course of action with my contact sheets: cutting my them up into small squares. I have to trust him because he’s a lecturer. I have three years of photographs from Vanuatu that I’ve started to edit and create the narrative out of, and after 20 minutes with a scalpel I have a large pile of 3inch prints. It’s hard at this stage to see the woods from the trees, and I’m sure editing the photographs from Empire was easy – although that might be selective memory.
I am comforted by the fact that Stephen has 10-years worth of imagery from Japan that he’s currently editing for his upcoming (have seen his small squares I can reveal the work is both epic and stunning in equal measure), but when I get to this point you know it’s time to get outside opinions and advice from those that aren’t close to the project. I have also had some assistance from the fantastic James Allen, who, in the image here you can see I’ve let loose with a marker pen.
Printing out and laying images out is such a simple but satisfying task. It’s essential, and for me to be away from the drain of my computer screen it’s quite cathartic – and I’ve now managed to create a few piles of yes, no and maybe. It turns out more people are interested in the no pile than the yes, but we’ll just see how that develops. There’s not much more to report at the minute – it’s a work in progress, but I have a couple of months to concentrate on it, and I’ll be back with more updates soon.