Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures
REVIEW PHOTOGRAPHY & FILM
Mount Stuart, Isle Of Bute, until Tue 30 Sep
A man sits at his living room table, a pet pug and its pups at his feet. An elderly couple walk through the countryside, posing for the camera, stiff-backed and proud. The slides that follow, occasionally punctuated by Eastern European-sounding accordion and plaintive female singing, looks like pictorial records of some agricultural pogrom occupied by model workers basking in some rough-cast pan-generational Soviet idyll.
The sense of place that pervades Mark Neville’s photographs in ‘Tula Fancies’, however, is deceptive. These are not leftover remnants from some long forgotten five-year plan, but representations of 21st century Bute in living, breathing colour. Neville modelled his studies on 1920s Soviet portraiture, name-checking the Russian Tula region as he commissioned the school captains of Rothesay Academy to compose the accompanying score.
The result is a 14-minute documentary photo essay of a community at work, rest and play, from still lifes of work benches and cattle in the living room, to Highland show ceilidhs and after-hours reverie. The hinterland between wildlife and domestic pets becomes blurred, a counterpoint that becomes even more marked in the 18-minute film, ‘Fancy Pictures,’ a blurred slow-motion 16mm close-up, shot in the splendid grounds of Mount Stuart itself.
What initially looks like home movies pans out to resemble a more choreographed and impressionistic take on wildlife documentaries, whereby a pensive-looking sheep stands before a 19th century portrait of a regally poised spaniel. Such a backdrop is crucial as the camera concentrates on a group of frolicking cygnets protected by their own family even as they are at odds with their plush environment.
This is as far removed from David Attenborough as you can imagine, the film’s lack of soundtrack or voiceover lending a stark melancholy to a skewed depiction of domestic bliss. In the big house itself, the quartet of pictures that form ‘Photographs For The House’ suggest deeper connections still. It’s a feeling of another country, be it past, present or future, that’s conveyed best by the solitary school assembly piano with which the ‘Tula Fancies’ slideshow ends.