Saturday, 29 May 2010

Greenland blog 02: How my art took me to Greenland, and a Danish tongue twister

Parting clouds, west coast of Greenland. Image copyright Margaret Sharrow, 2008

I mentioned yesterday about the grant that allowed me to travel to Greenland, generously provided by the University of Wales, on condition that I was engaged in some sort of creative project (drama, cinema, creative writing, or in this case, fine art) with a further outcome to enhance my educational experience. I was at the time pursuing a BA at the Aberystwyth University School of Art, having hurried straight into the second year and begun experimenting with alternative photographic processes. This means that although I started out making some digital work, my main focus was in the darkroom, first doing traditional prints, and gradually moving into different techniques and chemical processes until it became photography, Jim, but not as we know it. By the end of the year I was cheerfully pouring bleach over multiple-exposure prints then wailing when I discovered that Sigmar Polke had already done exactly the same thing in 1971. To cap it all I’d been awarded a massive travel scholarship, which made for an interesting summer. After I finished marking a million media studies A level papers I had flown straight into preparations: daily study of Danish, in hopes of being able to speak Greenland’s colonial language, if not Greenlandic itself, which is difficult to find recordings for the essential comic attempts at mimicry. Now Danish can be difficult for the English speaker because of its range of guttural sounds produced at the back of the palette. Though Danish is reasonably similar to English in terms of word order, linguistic roots, etc., and I’d spent hours making vocabulary flashcards in my favourite cafe, I found that when confronted with actual Greenlanders speaking their colonial tongue I had my usual reaction - I froze (metaphorically, as it was still summer) and forgot everything I’d ever learned. There was one exception - I was able to amuse people by reciting the never-to-be-forgotten tongue twister taught to me years ago in Toronto by a Danish-Canadian friend. It employed a string of the guttural sounds, and provided guaranteed hilarity, by dint of my pronunciation: rød grød med flød på - which is red pudding with cream, as I remember.

Somehow I have diverged onto Danish tongue twisters and puddings, which throws up the whole question of Greenland’s relationship to Denmark. But more political thinking would leave us both up in the air, ignoring the spectacular views unfolding out the window of the descending plane. I can assure you unreservedly that at the time I took the photograph shown here, I was as fully present as I have ever been in my life, allowing for the fact that a certain detachment is inevitable when taking photographs at a furious rate. By the time we landed I was convinced that if I never took another picture over the next three weeks, I would still have enough material for an exhibition. The land was chiseled out of the green-blue sea, its elaphantine wrinkles washed with rusty red. And here I must say something about the colours I experienced, and have passed on to you. As with all my digital photos from this trip, I have made no alterations to saturation, contrast, density, etc., avoiding the current fashion in advertising and on Flickr for playing with these mechanics in Photoshop, producing supersaturated landscapes that anyone who has been to the place will recognise as overhyped, and setting up anyone who has not been for disappointment. Suffice it to say that with my photographs, as far as colour goes, what you see is what you get. Unless of course I have rendered the whole scene blue, by printing it as a cyanotype...

26 August 2008 09:32 (Greenlandic time) recalled 6 January 2011


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