Sunday, 20 August 2006

Illustrating Dylan (My souvenir of Biggar)

A photographer called Mark Edwards has published a book of photographs, each illustrating a line from Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’. I opened it at ‘I met a young child beside a dead pony’, with a picture of exactly that (a scene of drought in Namibia) and picked up a general objective of concern about climate change and concern for ‘sustainable development’, in essays by Edwards and Lloyd Timberlake. Mostly I was transfixed by the story of Edwards, lost in the Sahara in 1969 (at the very moment of the moon landing), rescued by a Tuareg tribesman who made him a cup of tea and played him a cassette of Bob singing that song. Well, it would change anyone’s life, wouldn’t it? I shelled out the extravagant £15, some of which hopefully goes to some related good cause, but few of the images have that wow factor as illustrations to the lyric, and they are variably related to the socio-economic theme (e.g. the ‘white man who walked a black dog’ is in a grainy picture captured anonymously at Abu Ghraib, and the ‘girl [who] gave me a rainbow’ is Edwards's little blonde god-daughter on a trampoline in her green, (presumably English) garden, shaking out irridescent bubbles from a pot. I don’t really care for the enterprise artistically: it doesn’t add up to much for anyone other than the person who has made a hobby of collecting of images that resonate with the lyric, and it’s clunky to insist on finding some literal correlative to every one in this series of dreams. As for the association with a Cause, that is against Dylan’s spirit, as we understand it, no?
Coincidentally, Len had reminded me when we visited him & Judith a couple of days before, of the Getty Museum book (that I also own) which juxtaposes details of James Ensor’s painting, ‘Christ’s Entry Into Brussels’, 1888, with the lyric of ‘Desolation Row’. It’s also naff in some ways, especially the Word Art-style text design, but at least has a certain speculative aesthetic coherence, in that (of course) neither element can be thought of as illustrating the other.
Still, the pictures in Edwards’s book are mostly good and interesting, the project’s fervent good intentions are infectious; the texts are informative about the current state of international progress (lack of) and policies on development and the environment and there’s a useful bibliography. Then, this book overtly invites the reader actually to take action as a result of reading it, and includes suggestions about what and how: inform yourself, change your own lifestyle, campaign.
Mark Edwards, Lloyd Timberlake. Hard Rain: Our Headlong Collision With Nature. London: Still Pictures Moving Words, 2005. ISBN: 1-905588-00-3
In Biggar (where they have moved the Ian Hamilton Finlay sundial again) the independent, nice bookshop is called Atkinson-Pryce.