As part of the Representing Butetown study (2013 – 2017), I was asked to capture the area where I was born, grew up and continue to live. No strings attached, so in whatever fashion, style or focus I wanted. In some respects, this was a dream commission and in some ways it was quite difficult. The brief ‘to create any video you want related to Butetown’ lead to days of a creative block, angst about how good or bad and artist I am and a load of reality checking.
I am used to having a more definitive brief, ‘Make a film about the regeneration of the Butetown shops’ and I can easily slip into a convention. That convention being to shoot a few interviews of people talking about how great it is, have someone talk about ‘the Old Bay’, shoot the icons, The Flats etc and capture footage showing how diverse the community is. It feels that a mixture of these conventions plus a few others including black and white photos and footage of how Butetown/Tiger Bay used to be are the standard Butetown Videos, what the commissioner and the artist expect.
Now I’m not suggesting that what I have created is radical video art but these are radical for me, in terms of fighting against the conventions mentioned above. And as some one from the community these conventions feel deeply in engrained into my psyche.
So after days, possibly weeks of thinking about what I should create I decided that I was going to take my camera out walk around Butetown and shoot what I saw, the things I see everyday as I go about my daily business. I had no set plan and I hoped to shoot instinctively, trying not to over analyse. My brief to myself was to represent the everyday through my lens.
After getting home and beginning to edit I realised that I wasn’t interested in showing iconic buildings, I wasn’t interested in the myths and legends and wasn’t interested in showing the diversity of the community because all of this has been well documented. I was interested in the everyday, the unseen, the uncelebrated.
I went out the next day to capture more images, I decided to choose a prime lens (one that doesn’t zoom) which is best for medium to close up shots, so the technology would limit the type of shot available. I continued to shoot the details that interested me as I walked to streets.
As the name suggests I cut the film using Intuition. I spent some time search the internet for a suitable piece of music, knowing that I would be limited as this music would have to be available under Creative Commons License. I thought about the genre of music, first thinking may be a Nyabinghi drum would suit, but this felt too culturally specific. I thought about the Kalimba, but again perhaps too specific. I thought about mixing West African, West-Indian, Indian and Chinese drums, but this felt too obvious, too much of a tick box exercise. I eventually settled on a Jazz piece, which whilst undoubtedly being culturally specific it felt to me that with in the context of Butetown Jazz is relevant to all.
The editing process was where intuition came into play. I didn’t want to cut images together that told a narrative and as there are no words I didn’t have to battle against placing images that compliment what we hear. I simple saw an image, decided if I liked it at that moment and if I did I put it into the sequence, the only thing I couldn’t free myself from was cutting the images to the rhythm of the music.
I read the title of an article recently that trauma is passed down though generations in our DNA. This got me to thinking about how the traumatic experience of having your home, the place you know and love torn down (Tiger Bay) and how that experience and that narrative has been passed down through the generations, what affect has that had. Has this new trauma in fact replaced older narratives of colonialism? What affect has it had on me and how I feel the cycle is now, hopefully, broken with my kids. To be fair to my parents, I don’t recall them specifically talking about ‘The Old Bay’ but its definitely a recurring story I’ve heard.
I’d had these thoughts before I cut the video but when I was watching the existing videos about Tiger Bay I heard the excerpt that I’ve chosen. Its from After Many A Summer directed by Harley Jones and Chris Bellinger and what first stuck me is until the lady mentions the price of a flagon of beer, after about 1 minute 30, this conversation could have be heard on the street today or probably at anytime since the film was made in 1968.
I chose to start the piece with a ‘broken record’ and a heart beat, to symbolise to polarity if feel about what the lady is saying. Everything she says I can relate to but at the same time I’ve heard it many times before and nothing remains the same. The other sounds, the children playing, the industry I feel are self explanatory.
This piece is probably the most conventional of the three, to an extent. Some of the images are directly linked to what Ali is talking about in his poem. The Poet, Ali Goolyad, is a Somali born Butetown resident who moved to Butetown at the age of one during the civil war. His poem was written for a National Theatre Wales production called De Gabay.
I love his positive spin, I love his defiance, this piece in not defeatist. Again I used other sounds to add texture, the industry, the children at play. I added the sax solo to create the cultural ambiguity (in a Butetown context).As an artist this is also my default piece, related to what was spoken about in the opening paragraphs.
In conclusion I’m pleased with what has been created. Its only in the last year or so that I have been confident enough to describe myself as an artist, although I’m still and perhaps always will be exploring what that means. This project has allowed me to make something that I wanted, not what I thought others want, which has been quite liberating.
I recently read a quote attributed to Andy Warhol which sums up the process for me “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
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