Cutting through images with words | Loranne Vella

Author Loranne Vella speaks to us about creating fictional pieces inspired by photographer Ritty Tacsum’s exhibition ‘4 Rooms’, which will appear in the booklet accompanying the exhibition – now on display at St James Cavalier, Valletta.

Loranne Vella.
Loranne Vella.

Artists sometimes prefer to work under limitations. Are you one of these artists, and if so, is the real and very physical limitation of 4 Rooms a very good starting point for you?

I always need a reference point to start writing. I wouldn't call this a limitation, simply a starting point which will take me in a particular direction. I can eventually discard this reference entirely but it would have served its purpose. Very often in my writing the reference point would have been an image - a painting or a photo. Which is why my work with Ritty on 4 Rooms moved so smoothly. The images in themselves were very strong stimulii. One glimpse, and the story was writing itself.

What were some of the initial, 'raw' images that got you going when you started to write these texts?

I remember looking at the some of the pictures Ritty had sent me and thinking, 'But where are the eyes?' and the first sentence was born. As soon as I discover the first sentence, the rest of the journey becomes one exciting adventure for me. With each sentence I peel off another layer and the characters and plot become more and more defined. It's a journey of discovery of what was seemingly already there. A second strong image was that of the girl at sea, an Ophelia of sorts. The serenity that the body and mind experience while floating, the weightless body calmly seduced into letting itself go. This was the image that shaped Part 3 of the story, 'Mind'.

What led you to settle on SKIN - BODY - MIND - HEART as separate sections?

That was one of Ritty's conditions - to write a story in four parts, one for each 'room'. She gave me a few points about her own photographic journey into these personal rooms which I followed closely when writing Dawn l-erbat ikmamar l'għandi. But the story is not about Ritty Tacsum, her work or her subjects. Nor is it about me. It runs parallel to Ritty's images, and at times it cuts across them. Some of Ritty's images were eventually inspired by the story itself which is why this has been a dynamic collaboration.

How do you feel about this marriage of fiction and photography? What do you think it contributes to the experience of the exhibition, as a whole?

Words and images go very well together, as everyone knows. I find Ritty's work very poetic and evocative. I could write a story about each photo she's ever taken.

I've been following her work for some time now and knew a collaboration was bound to happen. I actually thought it would be the other way round, with her images illustrating, or rather complementing, my novel.

Which is why I was both surprised and pleased when she invited me to collaborate with her on 4 Rooms. The exhibition itself is bound to be more engaging, with a longer lasting effect on the viewers who will also be readers of this experience. The images will live longer through the printed word. And vice versa.

'4 Rooms' will remain on display until November 10. The exhibition is supported by the Malta Arts Fund.