In 1979 I bought a newly released Album by a new experimental band called the Human League. It was called reproduction and it changed my life in lots of ways. On the Album is a track called Being Boiled. The first verse goes as so:
Listen to the voice of Budda!
Saying stop you sericulture.
Little people like your offspring
Boiled alive for some gods stocking.
Buddas watching, Buddas Waiting.(1).
In 1979 as an eighteen year old these words were like a different language. One word stood out “Sericulture!”. I raced for the Collins Dictionary to find out what the word means I was intrigued to find it is “the art of growing silk”. I never thought about the lyrics. I borrowed a book from our local library and read about the traditions surrounding this ancient art and its associated stories.
One that stuck in my mind was about Marco Polo following the Silk Road to find out the secrets. He found that anyone who passed on the secrets would be executed.
So let us fast forward 36 years to 2015 in those years I have remembered these stories and have always wanted to follow in Marco Polo`s footsteps. So we went off to China to finally see Sericulture in action.
My first shot is of the Silk Worms these creatures pupate and in doing so produce a silk cocoon. They grow on Mulberry bushes in peoples homes who earn money in relation to the quality of the Cocoon. The cocoons then grow on grass racks.
When large enough they are brought to the factory for processing.
They are graded by size, then they are taken and put in hot water this seperates the silk which is collected on spindles. It also kills the growing moth which took me back to the lyrics which clearly describe their demise so the gods can get their stockings.
Then at this point it follows one of two process it either gets weaved on a loom into fine silk cloth or it is separated into strands or mats and made into silk bedding.
After this dull process the highly skilled people and the silkworms produce beauty like this at the cost of their lives.
After seeing this fascinating place with all its tradition I was pondering over a cup of Green Tea. I was glad I wouldn’t be executed for seeing the process. I thought about the Tracks lyrics in their entirety they suddenly became clear.
Little people like your offspring . Boiled alive for some gods stocking.
I hadn’t realised the Silk Moths in the cocoons are boiled alive to make the silk for the emperors clothes. I finally understand the meaning of this songs lyrics it only took 36 years and a trip of 8500 miles.
About this project .
I wanted to document this as this small incident changed my life in lots of ways. It shows that the most insignificant occurrence can send you on a different course to the one intended. It doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as you get to your destination in the end. I shot in Black and White as the process is so dull but the end product is very beautiful and colourful. My inspiration for my approach was Bill Brandt and the way he had approached the people of London in the war in the photos on the V&A website. (4). I thought this stark approach would match the stark process to produce the beauty. I was influenced looking at Bill Brandts work on the V&A website and looking at his photos in a book about his work for picture post. His quote about travel struck a chord with me as I live to travel.
“It is part of the photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveler who enters a strange country.” Bill Brandt (3).
What went well? The shoot went well with the theme being obvious I could concentrate on the actual shooting. I tried to use a large aperture to minimize depth of field to remove clutter from the busy backgrounds.
What could have gone better? The light wasn’t good and I wasn’t allowed to use flash.
What would I do differently? I would have spent more time wandering to make sure I got the best perspective. I took these shots like a tourist which I got away with on this occasion but I could have improved it with a bit more thought in regard to preparation.
(3) Generator, m. (2015). Welcome to the photography of Bill Brandt. [online] Bill Brandt Archive. Available at: http://www.billbrandt.com [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015].
(2) Kaleidoscope.cultural-china.com, (2015). Pounding Silk – China culture. [online] Available at: http://kaleidoscope.cultural-china.com/en/45Kaleidoscope4702.html [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015].
(1) Oakey, P. (1979). Being Boiled. [MP3] Workshop Studio in Sheffield.: Virgin.
(4)Vam.ac.uk, (2015). Bill Brandt Biography – Victoria and Albert Museum. [online] Available at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015].
(4) Weightman, G. (1994). Picture Post Britain. ed. London: Tiger Books, pp.30 to 80 various photos.