Scribble Screens is Shahrokh Na’els digital sketch book – an ever-evolving experiment dedicated to the study of moving images. This transcendental flipbook is a projector for stories – highlighting issues that matter against a backdrop of cultural intrigue and unbridled artistic expression.
Crowded around the mouth of the River Weir, in the far North East of England, the port city of Sunderland was once hailed as the “largest ship building town in the world”. In addition to the construction and launch of thousands of seabound vessels, this former industrial powerhouse also served the adjoining Durham coalfield – fueling and facilitating Britain’s maritime exploits and the ascendance of the nation’s Empire.
Today, Sunderland is a very different place – gone are the yawning maws of its mining heyday and the looming steel leviathans that once hugged the banks of the river. Drawn into the roiling vortex of time – these linchpins of a bygone social and economic architecture have been confined to memory – fossilised beneath drifts of regenerative development that have changed its cultural landscape forever.
Having spent over 40 years familiarising himself with Sunderland and the North East – the native home of his wife and her family – Na’el has witnessed this irrevocable sea change personally; and felt compelled to excavate the region’s heritage to preserve it for the world.
A welcome addition to Shahrokh Na’el’s Scribble Screens’ online canon, Tin Bath immortalises the recollections of veteran engineer, John Goodfellow, as he shares memories of a working class life resigned to the past – and soon to be lost to living memory.
Swabbed with a monochromatic watercolour wash, it’s ashen frames reflect both the subject’s advancing age and the culture of mechanisation that has riveted his experiences together. Meanwhile, the clarion calls of foghorns and seagulls announce an animated armada of chugging boats – doffing a cap to Britain’s imperial past – a delicate floral underlay hinting at the blossoming of the industrial age.
It’s the subtle touches that stand out within this affectionate composition – the flash of yellow blonde hair that picks out our narrator’s infant self amongst his drab surroundings, the understated score that buoys the words of our octogenarian envoy as he guides us through a vignette of huffing smoke-stacks, toiling miners and humble, two-up-two-down terraced houses.
“That was the good old days” Goodfellow assures us – offering the tech-toting children of later epochs a heady reminder that life’s beauty lies not in its luxuries or conveniences – but in its simplicity. Those of us bound to the present day would do well to heed his message – and mine the gold accumulated by our predecessors whilst these invaluable resources remain available to us.
This interview with John Goodfellow took place in June 2018 and was recorded in one sitting. Urging John to unveil snapshots of an everyday but enlightening former life, Shahrokh was regaled with four evocative personal stories – Tin Bath, Broken Radio, 350 breakfast and Pitch Black. Using recordings of John’s own introspections, Tin Bath was the first project that Shahrokh finalised employing the voice of an interviewee.
The illustrations that embellish the piece were crafted digitally and the whole production took two weeks to usher to completion. Determined to capture the minutiae of John’s vanishing experiences, Na’el chose to focus intently on the subtle cadence of this folk offering – emphasising a small series of visualisations with limited movements. This exploratory endeavour has since permitted Shahrokh to cultivate a production methodology that can be applied to the aesthetic and narrative demands of more complex storytelling vehicles.
Tin Bath has been selected by three Film Festivals – the latest, the Sunderland Film Festival has embraced this love letter to the city’s past by exhibiting it to the general public – via live viewings and online.
Written by KJL.
Date of Publication: 08/10/2021