CHLOE DEWE MATHEWS ON CREATING ‘NADSAT’
(FROM THE SERIES ‘NADSAT: EXCERPTS FORM AN ILLUSTRATED DICTIONARY’)
In 1961 Anthony Burgess was struggling to complete the book that was to become A Clockwork Orange. It would be a novel about the relationship between the individual and society, focusing on the punishment of young criminals and possibility of redemption. He wanted to manipulate language to see if he could use it as a brainwashing device, but he didn’t know how. It was while preparing to take a cruise with his wife from Tilbury to Saint Petersburg that the answer came to him: Russian. Alex, the protagonist and narrator of his story, would speak Russian, or at least a strange hybrid dialect mixing teen-slang with crudely transliterated Russian. The effect would be, as he saw it, to turn the book itself into a “brain washing primer”. He wanted people to read the book and by the end, to find themselves “in possession of a minimal Russian vocabulary – without effort, with surprise.” This new language, Nadsat, would behave “like a mist” veiling the extreme violence of the book. It would also become the defining trait of his masterpiece.
During recent weeks, while working in Russia on my CASPIAN project, I re-read A Clockwork Orange. Like Burgess, I was waiting to catch a boat (in my case, a ferry down the Volga) and like Burgess, I was also learning Russian and became increasingly interested in his idea of “language as mist”. During that weekend, I started work on a photographic dictionary of Nadsat: a series of pictorial clues that could be used to unlock the illusive language.
I combed the city for real examples of Alex’s mangled vocabulary. I began with the word ‘maloko’ (meaning ‘milk’ in Russian, the infamous drink that Alex and his ‘droogs’ enjoy before going out for an evening of ultra-violence). By chance, someone ordered a milkshake at the cafe I was sitting in. I quickly snapped it, but looking at the photo a few moments later, I realised it wasn’t quite right: what I’d taken suggested ‘milkshake’ or ‘drink’, whereas for this project I needed an image that simply said ‘milk’. So I scoured the town’s supermarkets for a definitive milk bottle, but each frame I took seemed to speak of broken shelves or cartoon cats bounding across the packaging rather than the milk inside. Within every image was a whole series of inadvertent messages; I wondered why I hadn’t thought about this in my work before? However, rather than using sterile white backdrops to eliminate all potential distractions, I wanted to allow a certain amount of everyday detail into my visual dictionary. I wanted a sense of context and to make connections with Russia, the country from where the words derive.
And so the project evolved. It seemed appropriate to post the photographs directly to Brighton, so I used instant film, because there were no photo labs where I could develop my 120mm film in that part of Russia. I decided to send back the physical prints in envelopes that would become part of the finished piece – the linguistic journey from Russian to Nadsat echoing the postal journey my prints would make, from their origins in Russia, back to England. As I write this, they are somewhere on that journey, 30,000 feet above Poland perhaps, heading West, or maybe already sitting in a Sussex sorting office. Wherever they are, their cultural identity will, I hope, turn out to be as confused as that of the Nadsat language.
DANIEL REGAN ON BEING PART OF THE EVOLVING IN CONVERSATION PROJECT
Working with the young people for the Evolving in Conversation project was a terrific experience. I was really impressed with everyone’s motivation to participate in the project. Not only was it a pleasure to show my own way of approaching the brief but interesting to see how each person had decided to respond to their chosen book. Evolving in Conversation is a great project that encourages young people to develop their visual language and literacy skills through the practical and fun use of photography.
GINA LUNDY ON VISITING THE SECOND EVOLVING IN CONVERSATION WORKSHOP AT JUBILEE LIBRARY FOR YOUNG PARTICIPANTS
I was really impressed by how quickly the group embraced approaching members of the public to ask ‘in what way would you change society’ then photographing them. It seemed to be a big leap to make for their second photography session yet they all engaged and jumped straight in. The exercise fed our group discussions around what we’d like to see change, from greater gender equality, no more animal cruelty, less discrimination in society and fair pay, moving on to positive reflections on their hopes for the future. Our session was right at the start of the project so I’m really interested to see how their ideas developed and the work they produced.
CHARLOTTE BALL ON BEING PART OF THE EVOLVING IN CONVERSATION PROJECT
It was a very inspiring experience meeting such promising young photographers at the Evolving in Conversation Workshop. It was fantastic to see the collective enthusiasm and high quality of work throughout the group from complete beginners to those who had been practising photography for a while.
WILLIAM SADOWSKI ON CREATING A PHOTOBOOK WITH YOUNG PARTICPANTS
Producing a collection of photographs as a book is hard work, and I was really amazed at the focus and energy the participants where able to give to the project. I hope that the contributors are pleased to see a copy of the book they made in the Photobookshow exhibition at the Library, and that they will continue to experiment with photography and design.
CREATIVE FACILITATORS VICKY TREMAIN, GEORGIA METAXAS AND HANNAH COXETER ON THE HIGHLIGHTS OF PHASE 1
These sessions had so many fantastic resultant factors its tricky to know where to begin. A very diverse group of twenty three 13-19 year olds were part of this highly creative library-based project, many of whom will have their work exhibited alongside the professional photographers who assisted them. Lots of new friendships were formed though collaborative, artistic activity and thousands of incredibly thought-provoking photos were taken, quite literally. The project did indeed ‘evolve’ by way of some fascinating (and occasionally some appropriately silly) conversations, as did the work and everyone involved. It has been a real pleasure!
AVA – PARTICIPANT
I have been inspired to make photography a major hobby and I plan to study it at college, when I go. Photography has opened my heart and mind to new things. I’ve developed the ability to let my mind drop down my body. I’ve developed other skills, made things out of cardboard, made collages, got to know people my own age. I got to meet Daniel Regan (photographer). I loved going out to take photos. It’s given me a new hobby! My heart almost exploded with pride to be part of this group.
ALFIE – PARTICIPANT
I took photographs, explored new boundaries and I, most of all, had fun! I really loved coming to the library and working with the different artists…. thank you, Evolving in Conversation , the people who organised it and the people who took part in it, for giving me something to look forward to ,for making my two years after moving down from London worth the while, for helping me meet new people and for helping me have a lovely & fun time.
LIAM – PARTICIPANT
I developed my creative skills… I loved the food and I really enjoyed meeting everyone! I got to speak online in a Q&A which I’d never done before. I was also challenged speaking in public.’
ELLIE – PARTICIPANT
I developed my leadership skills. I loved the public speaking and the food!! I was challenged helping children and talking ‘in conversation’. There’s nothing I’d change about the experience!