Zines of the Zone is a travelling library of independent and self-published printed works containing, and relating to, photography. It’s going everywhere from Barcelona to Athens, and will be exhibiting the pieces it’s collected at special events in every city it visits.
We were very happy to hear about this fantastic project, and to donate a copy of our mermaid anthology ‘Lines Underwater’ for inclusion in the travelling library and exhibition.
Here on our website, you can read about some of the photography in our anthology, which ranges from a semi-animate bench and a romantic turtle to a mermaid’s-eye view with an underwater camera and a wiry siren (seen here in its fleshless glory), as well as lots of photographs by Kirsten Tambling. You can also take a look at some of the other artwork involved in our project.
We liked Michele Brenton’s photographs because, like Katie Hale’s poem Siren’s Song, they explored the idea of a ‘mermaid’s- eye view’, whereas traditional accounts often present only a ‘sailor’s-eye view’ of the seductive mermaid. Michele writes,
“When I take a photograph I am trying to capture every moment and view I have experienced with that space over an extended period of time. It could be seen as the diametric opposite of cubism as I attempt to concentrate as much as I can into one simple image. This series of images was taken with a waterproof camera, one is completely underwater, four were taken as I trod water after swimming some distance out from the shore and one was taken from a rocky outcrop at sea which I reached by swimming and climbing so I could take the picture looking down at the boundaries between rock, dry weed, wet weed and open sea. All are places intimately known to me and I hoped that the images would give a sense of being surrounded by water and allow me to share the sensual essences which collected make up each individual image. I felt a spirituality of connection to these places and in my humble way I tried to capture the soul of them with my camera and eye and heart.
“Spartia at Dusk is a photograph taken from the sea off Spartia beach on Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea where I lived for three years.”
Michele’s beautiful photograph Spartia at Dusk can be seen in our anthology, and will also be exhibited at Deptford’s Undercurrents Gallery throughout October. Meanwhile, here are five more of her photographs, and a poem A life on the ocean’s wave!
Michele Brenton self-identified as a writer before she was five & now past fifty realises self-identification is a complex, never-ending journey of discovery and surprises. She does not like to imagine what her life would be like without the internet and the people who live in her computer. She hangs out on Twitter at http://twitter.com/banana_the_poet
Meredith Knowles’ excellent photograph of a painted turtle, ‘Casin Lake Turtle’, appears in Lines Underwater, an anthology of artwork and writing re-envisioning mermaids in the twenty first century. We liked this picture because it highlighted ideas of evolution and adaptation in the water, and also because the turtle had a very expressive face. Get yourself a copy to see it! Two pictures of Casin Lake, taken by Meredith, can be seen above. Below, she describes how she took the picture and tells how painted turtles got their names – which is a pretty cool story.
Casin Lake Turtle and the story of the painted turtle
“I found this wonderful little turtle in a shallow, weedy, West Michigan lake. My husband and I had earlier seen some turtles swimming in the lake as we rowed across it, and I decided to try and catch one in a small net. After a long hunt, I caught this turtle and took some photos before returning him to the lake. He was very grumpy with us for disturbing his evening swim.
“As I was completely ignorant about this kind of turtle – and any kind of turtle, for that matter – I decided to do some brief internet research. My turtle appears to be a Midland Painted Turtle, if the images on Wikipedia are to be trusted. The most amusing, if not germane, tidbit I learned about this species is that the males possess such long claws so that they may tickle their mates during courtship. Who knows what else these turtles are into.
“During my turtle research I also stumbled across this Native American story about Painted Turtles, which was recorded in 1916 by Truman Michelson for the Illinois Centennial Commission.”
The Painted Turtle
There was a chief, and he had a fine-looking girl. There was a painted turtle, and he fell in love with the chief’s daughter. But he could not come to see her or get to speak to her, because neither the girl nor her parents paid any attention to him. He kept thinking, “How can I win that girl?” And day after day he came, but still they did not notice him. Finally he thought, “If I would paint up, they would notice it and ask me why I painted.” He painted up and went to the chief’s lodge and the girl fell in love with him as soon as she saw him. So he told her to follow him and started off and went to a big river. When she first saw the turtle, she thought it was a human being, but when they got to the water and she saw that it was a turtle instead of a man, she said, “I cannot go any farther with you.” He said, “Come and follow me. You will turn into a turtle the same as I am.” When she went in, she turned into a turtle, but a different kind, a soft shell. Sometimes they name women after this turtle.
“I found this here: http://www.museum.state.il.us/muslink/nat_amer/post/htmls/popups/be_turtle.html
“I like to imagine that all painted turtles are as cunning as the turtle in this curious story, but my experience suggests otherwise.”
Meredith Knowles was born in England but moved to the US two years ago. She now lives in Chicago, IL and takes photographs in her spare time.
‘Jenny Haniver’ is the mysterious name given to grotesque composite fish-creatures made by sailors. They were conventionally made from skates or rays, presumably because these are among the most anthropomorphic sea-creatures easily obtainable from a boat – compare Jean-Baptise-Simeon Chardin’s haunting still life ‘The Ray’ (below), where the dismembered fish hovers in the background like a lacerated human soul in torment.
Jenny Hanivers overlap thematically with ‘strange fish’ – curiosities from the sea displayed at fairs and markets for money. Strange fish might be either outright composite fakes or bizarre fish believed by their exhibitors to be genuine – in The Tempest Trinculo mistakes Caliban for one such, in the process evoking a contemporary English consumer culture of exotic objects:
A strange fish! Were I in England now, as once I was, and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver: there would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man: when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lazy out ten to see a dead Indian.
Jenny Hanivers also have obvious connections to mermaid fakes – many ‘sirens’ were made from sewing a monkey corpse to a fish corpse, or indeed assembled from the ground upwards like craft objects (as with the talismanic merman at London’s Horniman museum, which seems to have had a religious significance). This strain is the less Pre-Raphaelite image of the mermaid in history.
Where exactly Jenny Hanivers get their bizarre name is not clear – in The Fabled Coast (previously reviewed on this website), Sophia Kingshill and Jennifer Westwood give the term’s origin in ‘Jenny’ (as in female, like a ‘Jenny Wren’) and ‘D’Antwerp / D’Anvers’ (‘from Antwerp’, where they were supposedly manufactured). Wikipedia gives an uncited emendation as ‘jeune d’Anvers’, so they are not gendered, but rather precisely aged. But it’s still not entirely clear what their purpose was – clearly they had a commercial value, since they were made in a trading port and (presumably) sold to sailors as souvenirs; perhaps they also had uses as low-level fakes giving credence to sailors’ yarns. I think, with their evident strangeness, they also have something of the talismanic about them – in a harsh natural environment like the sea, you need all the help you can get.
Jenny Hanivers tie together many of the ideas running through this project – they are hybrids (albeit man-made) and they speak to an ancient tradition of myth and legend surrounding mermaids, mer-creatures and the sea. They also appear to have had a commercial value, which is a telling point in the light of our last trip to Deptford Creek (a key trading port), as well as in some of the discussions we’ve had about the commercialisation of the mermaid in the twentieth century. It’s interesting, too, that they appear to have been gendered as female. I thought I’d have a go at making some.
It was my birthday at the weekend and, in honour of Poems Underwater, I was presented with this splendid mermaid cake, courtesy of Alice (‘Raddington‘):
Alice describes over on her blog how she based the cake on a late medieval mermaid detail from a misericord in Ludlow, Shropshire (pictured below). She had similar problems to Starbucks, albeit with purer intention, since she ended up moving the waist ruffle higher up the torso, thus losing the typically Gothic rounded stomach so central so many medieval nudes. The original was missing an arm, but since mermaids are traditionally depicted with combs anyway, she added one in.
The carving itself is an interesting companion piece to the Mermaid of Zennor found in St Senara’s church in Cornwall – a much earlier carving depicted on a church bench where, once again, the mermaid is admiring herself in a hand-held mirror. That carving formed part of the inspiration for Martin Kratz and Leo Geyer’s opera as discussed in an earlier post and, here again, the belly is prominently rounded. Both these carvings have something of the medieval marginalia about them – the mermaid is just one more strange hybrid, like those beings you see in illuminations, and perhaps, like those, occasionally an implicit comment on the ‘main text’ she surrounds.
Unfortunately, though, Alice’s cake met a fate as violent as that of Andersen’s Little Mermaid, and ended up cut into pieces.
Some more photographs of tights, continuing the sinews and limbs theme. I have learnt that it’s quite hard to take effective photographs of one’s own knees. I’ve been looking into making these into line drawings (see the Gallery) and am going to create a little series on a theme.
Some photo-doodlings in response to some of the work we’ve already done. A lot of the reading I’ve been doing around mermaids has focused on the physical – from Hans Christian Anderson’s hacked-off tongue and walk like knives to the overt physicality of the melusine, whose body Starbucks were forced to crop so closely it could no longer offend. So obviously I got out an old pair of tights.