Heathcliff and me: Sam Taylor-Wood's Ghosts
How Wuthering Heights inspired a series of wild and romantic photographs
Wednesday 29 October 2008
I shot the new Ghosts photographic series, based on Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, on the Haworth moors, Yorkshire, near the farmhouse ruins of Top Withens. This place has long been associated with the Earnshaws' fictional home in the novel, and the surrounding moors were a possible inspiration for it.
I hadn't read the book until last year, but I picked it up because I had it in my head that it would be fantastically romantic. I was at our second home in North Yorkshire at the time, not far from the moors, and it just seemed the right book to read on a November evening, in the howling winds.
Reading it made me want to get up there on the moors, with my camera, to experience the wild landscape, which was the only thing that felt redemptive in the whole novel. I wanted to feel the turbulent emotional weather of that book and the harshness of the landscape that had inspired her.
I set off in February, with my assistant, struggling unromantically across the wild moors, in heavy sleet, with lots of cameras, almost as if I intended to photograph the wind. I wanted to do something that didn't have people in but was peopled in its romanticism in our memory. It was the right time of the year to be going, in the freezing cold. I wanted to capture the sense of the unremitting weather there.
Filming was over about three days and we started work at 7am to catch the dense mist that rolls in during the morning and typifies the Yorkshire landscape, and we worked right through until dusk.
Wuthering Heights is one of those books on a list of books that you should read in your lifetime. It is amazing when you read it that there is not one redeeming feature about any of the characters. It is just unremitting pain and relentless torture of each other throughout.
I was amazed at how Heathcliff has become such a romantic figure. There is an underlying, burning passion and love that holds them together, even though it is projected in pain and misery. But within the constantly sadistic relationships and the unremitting cruelty I was trying to find in my pictures some sort of redemptive quality in that landscape, as well as capture the bleakness that those characters are set against in Brontë's novel.
All the photographs were taken in a four-mile radius of where the fictional Wuthering Heights is supposed to be set. I don't think any of the pictures are too direct in their links to the actual book. Wuthering Heights served as a backdrop. I soaked up the landscape that Brontë's inspiration came from and then made it my own.
The 'Ghosts' series is part of the 'Yes I No' exhibition at White Cube, London SW1 (020-7930 5373) to 29 November, and No 1 The Piazza, Covent Garden, London WC2 to 5 November. Taylor-Wood's single 'I'm In Love With a German Film Star' is out now
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