Editor's note: Photographer Seamus Murphy, whose Afghanistan war photography has appeared in GlobalPost, has produced 12 short films to accompany P.J. Harvey's newest recording, Let England Shake. The video series has run, in part, on Newsweek. Here's the latest video from the series, for the song called "Written on the Forehead." Here, too, is Murphy's reflective essay on the collaboration, and what he was trying to accomplish by setting his photojournalism to the music of this prolific British rocker.
LONDON, United Kingdom — "When I first heard 'Written on the Forehead' and its opening in a Middle-Eastern war setting and ending with a reggae-riff, I thought of black and white photographs I had taken in hot, dusty conflict zones.
Mixing them with the scenes of quiet desperation of England and that parallel movement came later in post-production.
Call it random, maybe it is, but usually the pictures themselves suggest what works together, the music has a lot to say in the choice too and a sympathy between them develops. It ended up as a way to show how different are all our lives, Us and Them. And a reminder, that despite all our differences we are all still vulnerable with human emotions.
Shooting pictures makes you observe in a detached way, whether in the West Bank, Gaza, Mogadishu or Waterloo Station in London.
Afterwards you try to make sense of them. What they mean will be personal to everyone. The opening with P.J. Harvey's lyrics spoken in Arabic was shot in a pub on the Portobello Road."
"P.J. Harvey’s new album was recorded in a 19th Century church in Dorset, on a cliff-top overlooking the sea. It was created with a cast of musicians including such long-standing allies as Flood, John Parish, and Mick Harvey. It is the eighth P.J. Harvey album, following 2007’s acclaimed White Chalk, and the Harvey/Parish collaboration 'A Woman A Man Walked By.'
Such are the bare facts. But what is remarkable about Let England Shake is bound up with its music, its abiding atmosphere — and in particular, its words. If Harvey’s past work might seem to draw on direct emotional experience, this new album is rather different. Its songs center on both her home country, and events further afield in which it has embroiled itself. The lyrics return, time and again, to the matter of war, the fate of the people who must do the fighting, and events separated by whole ages, from Afghanistan to Gallipoli. The album they make up is not a work of protest, nor of strait-laced social or political comment. It brims with the mystery and magnetism in which she excels. But her lyric-writing in particular has arrived at a new, breathtaking place, in which the human aspects of history are pushed to the foreground. Put simply, not many people make records like this.
'I was looking outwards a lot more,' she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr, when she appeared on his program back in May. 'I think a lot of my work has often been about the interior, the emotional, what happens inside oneself. And this time I’ve been just looking out, so it’s not only to do with taking a look at England but taking a look at the world and what happening in current world affairs. But always trying to come from the human point of view, because I don’t feel qualified to sing from a political standpoint. … I sing as a human being affected by the politics, and that for me is a more successful way … because I so often feel that with a lot of protest music, I’m being preached to, and I don’t want that.'
Let England Shake evokes the troubled spirit of 2010, but it also casts its mind back to times and places from our long collective memory. In keeping with such imaginative intentions, its music has a rare breadth and emotional power. Nearly two decades after she made her first records, it proves not just that its author refuses to stand still, but that her creative confidence may well be at an all-time high. It is safe to say that you will not have heard anything like it before."