Emily Brontë projection & guest post from Al Reffell

A video of Al Reffell‘s beautiful film projection to accompany my song ‘Emily, the Diver‘ is now available to watch! Read on below the video to hear from Al about her approach to it. I loved working with Al, she really got what the song was about and brought it to life in such a gorgeous way, as you can see…

Thanks to Joe Kriss and Jake Barrett.

Al Reffell on Emily, the Diver:

“I was delighted to be offered the commission to create a large-scale projection for singer/songwriter Nat Johnson’s ‘Emily, the Diver’; one of three songs celebrating the Brontë sisters, written for the bicentennial celebration of their lives and commissioned by Wordlife for Off the Shelf Festival.

There were three songs representing the three sisters to choose from. The songs explore aspects of the sisters’ lives and personalities using elemental symbolism and ideas of liberties expressed through each sister.   It was great to receive these contemporary interpretations – compelling narratives, each with its distinct individual tone, both musically and lyrically – laden with rich visual imagery.

Which to choose?

I am familiar with some Brontë literature and had been particularly drawn to Wuthering Heights many years ago, reinforced by my love of walking the open moorland areas of Yorkshire – but more distinctly I have carried with me a quote from Emily Brontë, made art inspired by it and it resonated with my connection with the element of water.:

“I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.”

I am a swimmer. I have a friend who is a dedicated swimmer and artist who was happy for me to photograph her ‘swimming’ on her living room floor! for the video with patience and understanding of the process.  So I had my Emily…swimming and diving through the piece in stop motion.. drawing a parallel between immersion underwater as immersion in the creative process of writing.

So we see Emily as misunderstood – obscured to the public with her ‘face of fog’ and ‘body of clay’ (connected to the earth? brittle/fragile?) – this invoked for me a strongly mysterious image.  Along with her ambivalent presentation to the world, there is also her ambivalence towards her work being published. She disappears from public view – preferring to dive down into her hidden creative place…


I wanted to bring in more traditional Brontë imagery, including the Haworth parsonage and classic Top Withens moorland scenery from Wuthering Heights – but on investigating Emily’s life and looking through archive material from the Parsonage Museum collection I learned that Emily also drew and painted – one of these paintings being of a pet hawk she owned called Hero.  This captured my imagination along with a delicate pencil drawing of a moorland bird  – the two seemed to perfectly represent the duality here – ‘life giver, life taker,’ ‘port-wrenching power and starboard compassion’ – seemingly opposing energies emerging from the same source and drawn together (in love?)

I also wanted to bring the viewer into the room in the Parsonage where the writing happened but to represent this obliquely.  The lyrics offered this opportunity directly with reference to the wallpaper and I was delighted to discover has a floral pattern winding through trellis – so it became animated in to life as both the dining room and (Anne’s) garden.

And in the growing and disappearing of the flowers her element represents an essential life giving force to the sisters’ creativity, but again there is ambivalence in this ebb and flow and a difficult relationship with Charlotte creating tumultuous weather as elemental forces collide – with a lot of sheets of paper flying about as a result!

The paper sheets found their way into the piece initially as Emily’s galleon – I bought a copy of Wuthering Heights as I knew I wanted the text represented somewhere and this paper ship seemed an obvious place, but then I started playing with cutting the pages and placing them on a lightbox – they started to follow Emily around as she was swimming – ‘brideless train of eternity’ – an idea that she and her work were bound together in this element which represents total immersion…from which she emerges at the opening of our song – and to which she returns – ‘taking her place’ once more in her natural environment.


Emily’s immersion was mine also – a lovely piece to work on.”

Thanks, Al!