The Kingdom behind the scenes

A before-and-after of 'The Kingdom is Hungry' for Trinity College
A before-and-after of ‘The Kingdom is Hungry’ for Trinity College

This week at Trinity I unveiled my recent work of 4 pieces reflecting the College’s theme of ‘Live like the Kingdom is near’. My Kingdom series were the result of 25 disposable cameras which I had let loose amongst community groups such as the part-time students, the support staff and the College nursery, along with individuals, and a few left around on campus. The resulting 500 photographs were extremely ‘lo-fi’ and informal: grainy, often dark, with people both unposed and full of expression for the camera (including many a selfie!).

From such a gift of material, my (self-imposed) brief was to distill the results into artwork that drew out kingdom identity in this place, as well as being sympathetic to the new colour scheme incorporated into the College’s branding. As I spent time looking through the images, four themes emerged: the Kingdom is backwards, unseen, hungry and little. The set will come online soon, but for now, I thought I’d share the before-and-after of The Kingdom is Hungry, which was by far the hardest one to come together. There is something mysterious in the outworking of concept in/with photographic material, and I find the process entirely unpredictable – sudden revelations about connections happen when you’re not thinking about it (often in the middle of the night), but sometimes a piece needs gritty persistence with Photoshop’s tools. This one needed grittiness.

Photographs of people eating and drinking made up the majority of images in the camera project. But to digitally cut out food, hands, cutlery, arms half-lifted to faces doesn’t result in an easy composition of multiple images. In my early attempt here on the left, neither the centralising table framework, nor the conceptual framework of eating the Word really work to bring coherence – and I tried this with various technical ways of cutting out, selecting and layering portions of images. To provide the much-needed context to anchor the elements in this picture-making, I ended up by cutting out according to a planned circular composition, rather than around the outline of the subjects (hands), since this included just enough of the physical setting without making identifiable people as the subject.

The Kingdom is Hungry centres on a Christmas meal, with a particular visual hinge in the upside-down/right-way-up line to disband too much circular absorption. The Kingdom as a feast is a key image in the Gospels, and the party at Trinity College happens over every meal and every communion and every cup of tea. Even as the circular form suggests togetherness, the spiral moves outward and upside-down to include honoured guests. Needing physical sustenance is a key focus for spiritual life here, and this has particularly been the case for me when working alone in my studio and then chatting to others over lunch or a cuppa. There is certainly a spirituality at College that is rarefied and abstract (in music, conversation or essays), but the photographs reveal an embodied corporeal spirituality that is shared in food and drink. In line with an aim to include iconographic reference in each image in this series, I found the glass of wine here to be a visual key in holding it all together.

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