Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Height of Happiness



Emotionally I seem fairly inept, so when I came to deciding on a project to do for my Masters I decided to work with the idea of happiness (in general, not personally, that’s a lost cause). Happiness seems like a simple concept and we all know when we’re happy, it’s usually food, sex, or socialising, but such happiness is a fleeting moment. Not to refer to the sex part of that example. Being happy feels like a short lived situation, or one that we ‘need’ to hold on to, compared to being sad which feels like it stays with you forever and can’t get rid of.

So in doing a bit of research about this so called ‘happiness’, I came across a report. The World Happiness Report. This is an annual publication put together by the United Nations, specifically the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It ranks countries in order of national happiness, with help from experts in economics, psychology, survey analysis, and national statistics. These experts try and narrow down the possibility of measuring the subjective meaning of happiness by asking various questions that will delve into an overall average of well being that leads to happiness.

The main question that this report uses is called the Cantril ladder and goes as follows...

‘Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you personally feel you stand at this time?’

This question got me thinking, firstly is ‘0’ the first step or the ground, if it’s the former option where does the ground rate on this system? Complete failure and an overall acceptance of sadness and death? Maybe. But it also had me thinking about the symbolism of the ladder and the fact I am definitely going to take it literally.

Let’s do the math. So if we accept that the first rung of the ladder is scored as 0, this must mean the ladder has 11 rungs. The minimum safety distance between each rung is around 29cms. And the minimum safety diameter of a rung is 2.5cm. All this together gives me the minimum height of what shall be referred to as the ‘ladder of happiness’, one in which adheres to the minimum safety requirements. It is (319cm + 27.5cm) 346.5cm or roughly 11.36 feet. However, if we’re wanting to reach the dizzying heights of happiness we can’t just climb a free standing ladder, it needs to be safely propped against a wall at a distance of one foot per four feet of ladder. (For all those circus acts that literally make a living from climbing a free standing ladder and showing off their superior balance, this next bit is not for you. Take the first measurements and go climb that ladder of happiness, and beam downward upon the rest of us as we piss around trying to find a wall and working out our safety distance.)



Up next is Pythagoras...

A2 + B2 = C2

A2 + 86.56cm2 = 346.5cm2


A2 = 7492.63cm - 120062.25cm A2 = 112569.62


A = 335.51cm = 11ft


So the safest height of the ladder of happiness, when up against a wall, is 11ft. (For your true subjective height of happiness please account for your own height atop the ladder at every point in your life.)

The height of a basketball net is 10ft, you could say all those players are just reaching for the happiest moment of dunking a basket. (Interestingly the simple reason a basketball net is 10ft, is because that was the height of the fence James Naismith hung his basket on in 1891. Fences however are neither here nor there on the subject of emotion and could be said to be sat on themselves.) Giraffes are crazy happy coming in at nearly 20ft. The ladder is in fact taller than Tinky Winky who is 7ft 11, clearly that monstrous nightmare wasn’t quite the embodiment of happiness someone thought it would be. And just one final point, the tallest recorded human was 8ft 11, which just shows we are destined to be born at a measly height compared to that of happiness requiring us to acquire such a ladder. To live on a born basis of not being anywhere near the height of happiness in a way proves Schopenhauer’s brilliantly cynical quote...

“There is only one inborn erroneous notion ... that we exist in order to be happy ... So long as we persist in this inborn error ... the world seems to us full of contradictions. For at every step, in great things and small, we are bound to experience that the world and life are certainly not arranged for the purpose of maintaining a happy existence ... hence the countenances of almost all elderly persons wear the expression of ... disappointment.”

So yeah, what’s even the point.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Eggleston and Temperance (My Inspiration)

Originally posted on NARC Magazine as part of their 'My Inspiration' feature, in support of the Temperance exhibition...





For my inspiration I guess I could describe the first exhibition I saw when I was in my first year of college at the Side Gallery. Or there’s the first photo book, which I won a competition for from MACK books back in 2013. Or there’s the countless photographers I found along the way that either challenged my view of the world or the object of the photograph itself. In a way there is a lot of influences to look at and choose from over the years, each time they shape differently, kicking me in the face numerous times or falling by the wayside to gather dust. However, the one I will always remember, and will always return to, is an afterword from William Eggleston in his book ‘The Democratic Forest’.


I left the car and walked into the dead leaves off the road. It was one of those occasions when there was no picture there. It seemed like nothing, but of course there was something for someone out there.”      


Eggleston saw the potential in everything to be a photograph, the world was present to him as an even canvas in which he had an immense freedom to point his camera. As a photographer I believe you sit on a pedestal and give yourself up to judge the importance of what surrounds you, the importance of what deserves to be a photograph or what will make a ‘good’ one. Eggleston taught me that although we can sit and judge, there should be nothing that is not worth attention.


Last year (2017) me and Murray Thompson decided to collaborate on a short term project, at the time The Hoppings was only a couple of weeks away so we decided it as a subject on a whim. The Hoppings is possibly the most photographed event in Newcastle, it has become a backdrop for photographers and the subject for photographers each year. When me and Murray started ‘Temperance’ we decided we’d visit the Town Moor at all times of day whilst The Hoppings was here. I realised that I was confronted with the opposite of what I’d learnt from Eggleston, that everything had already been given the status of a worthy photo. In reality it seems crazy for someone to go to The Hoppings and not take a photo or video of their time there. I almost felt a need of defiance to not do the project and sit photographing grass, dirt, and maybe a bit of asphalt instead, It would have been true to the spirit of Eggleston.


As we started out we quickly got on to a discussion about the overwhelming clash of time and culture, comparisons that lined up beside each other and showed us the fairs age and audience by era. An amazing display of airbrushed celebrities that have fallen from our TV screens or settled onto an afternoon re-run slot, cosied up beside the new Disney stars and characters that are stuffed into arcade claw games or hung up for a lucky ‘winner every time’. We talked about how the rides have evolved but with traces of the past still lingering, a sense of traditionalism and acceptance in the helter-skelter sharing turf with a ride you spend most of your time upside-down on.

Eggleston’s idea to view ‘nothing’ as the potential for ‘something’ was still there, but I couldn’t ignore that everyone sees The Hoppings as a photographic potential already. it is already ‘something’, and  the interest in the project wasn’t in what could be made out of nothing, but was to see what was so worthy that it is photographed year in year out. It became, in itself, a truly inspiring subject that wasn’t just The Hoppings of 2017 but also the Temperance festival of 1882.   


Thursday, 4 January 2018

'Why do you use photography to explain the world around you?'





Both bodies of work (Loci, The Night is Quiet for Me) presented hold similarities, similarities which lie in the fundamental nature of my practice, something that only materialised in the past year working. When I look back through my images I don’t get the feeling I’m explaining anything through photography, ‘to explain’ would insinuate I have discernible answers; It’s more about trying to find answers, and through the taking of pictures, building a piece of research and attempting to flesh out an idea. So to me the keyword ‘explain’ doesn’t fit my work, but ‘explore’ does a lot better, or even an hypothesis on the world and mankind.


With my project ‘The Night is Quiet for Me’ it explores the idea of apotheosis and eternity through the death of Elvis, the images are of the fandom, souvenirs, and place. Describing the work as partially abstract it holds both a documentary merit, in the fact it was shot around the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ death; but abstract in the goal of exploring something more philosophical within death and eternity. If we take documentary as an act of explaining (but in no way a solid definition) I am not using photography to document the death of Elvis, but to try and understand the idea of living forever, and what it looks like in the largest concentrated form. ‘Loci’ almost strips itself completely of a documentary aspect as there is not a lot of imagery that lends itself to the location or a significant theme, but once again it is heavily based around the abstract notion of memory and ‘in between’ moments.

Photography is the synergy of what really interests me about the world, the physics of light, chemistry of film, and the philosophy and psychology within the act to photograph and to view a photograph. Photography itself is what I enjoy when I’m taking photos, and it allows me to take in the world as I perceive it, this is most likely why a lot of important points of my work, for me, are very practical and look at the choices inbedded in how to take the photo as well as how to present it; choice of film is just as important as the choice of print size.

My choice to use photography to view the world is because what I enjoy to photograph is reflected in my joy to photograph.  

Originally posted on Ain't-Bad Magazine https://www.aint-bad.com/article/2017/12/26/daniel-dale/

Monday, 4 December 2017





Images of the sky, specifically at day, have no anchor to location or time and so can be perceived of anywhere or anytime. In difference, at night, stars move across the sky and change throughout the year, there is a particular anchor to a night sky as it has it's own specific landmarks to identify with. There is both finite and infinite. As we grow up learning about the never ending vastness of Space we start to imagine how impossibly huge it is and how difficult it can be to imagine, but we can understand there are other planets, asteroids, solar systems, which gives a where and when to a photo of a night sky even if it is just a perception rather than knowledge. The image of blue sky acts like a barrier to the stars, in a way it holds no real mystery or imagination, even Wordsworth made the sky/cloud the protagonist because everything around it is somewhat more interesting to describe. Without landmark it floats unattached of an objective meaning or documentary use, it can still be open to be purely subjective, but without context it still sits idle on its own, wandering lonely.

Since context for the above image needs to be given, it is that it's from the body of work, 'The Night is Quiet for Me' which was shot in Tennessee following an Elvis pilgrimage. There is enough for a caption but for a while there was no meaning, for a long time the photo sat idle among the rest of the work, the only legitimate lineage it had to the project was the location and time it was taken. But such information is completely negated from the image, and so the lines of inclusion start to blur. To sequence it into a project surely there should be more said, it should link better with the work that surrounds it, there should be a deeper meaning that would allow the photo to be included.

I have recently been reading Luigi Ghirri's Complete Essays, and in it there is an essay titled 'From Contarina to Prince', the photo that sits pretty atop the page precedes a very important line. The image was of a blue sky that had eight electrical wires stretch perfectly straight across the frame, and within the first line, 13 words long, sat my perfect answer. As if I'd cheated on a test, Ghirri had past me a small serendipitous epiphany. It also seemed slightly fitting that as I sat with my project on Elvis, who never really wrote any of his own songs, that I should adopt the beautiful studium of another's photo as my own.

"The cables look like the lines of a sheet of music without notes." - Luigi Ghirri