Everything Is Illuminated

I chose to create a poster for my favourite book, Everything Is Illuminated, and its movie counterpart. Unfortunately there will be spoilers in my artist’s statement!! The story follows an American, Jewish man named Jonathan who goes to Ukraine to try to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis during WW2. He’s equipped only with an inscribed photograph of his grandfather in his youth with this woman. The inscription says only two things: Augustine (the name of the woman, presumably), and Trachimbrod (the shtetl in which they lived).

Because the grandfather is the catalyst of the journey, I decided to make him the central figure of my poster. In Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan and his grandfather looked identical. It must be a Jewish thing because my older cousin looked identical to our grandfather too. I decided to take a photo of my cousin in my grandfather’s old clothing to reflect this aspect of the story.

One of the themes of this story is that, “Everything is illuminated in the light of the past”. It’s the idea that we are who we are not in spite of our past but because of it. We are shaped by the past that happened even before our time, and this knowledge is essential to helping one live meaningfully. I wanted to capture that idea in my poster with the way I inputed the image of “the grandfather”.

I decided to add in a picture of the grandfather alone, rather than a picture with him and a woman (to emulate the story). Even though the movie focuses on finding Trachimbrod and therefore the woman, the novel focuses more on the creation of Trachimbrod several hundred years before. I wanted to display the idea that even though the woman may be the last piece of remaining piece of Trachimbrod, she’s not more important than the hundreds of people who lived in the shtetl since its inception. She’s only one part of the history that shaped the story of Jonathan’s life.

There is one scene in the movie where Alex, the Ukrainian translator that Jonathan hires, walks up to a house surrounded by sunflowers. It’s a stunning visual that many assumed to be CGI. However, according to the director, the sunflower seeds were specifically planted and cultivated, and the filming schedule was based around them. They’re a symbol of light and illumination as Jonathan and Alex finally find Trachimbrod.

This was my first time using Photoshop so I came across a lot of challenges. When I tried to recreate the sunflower field (digitally this time!), I didn’t realize I’d be creating 300 layers as I individually placed and sized sunflowers onto the lower half of the poster. The sunflower field took the longest time and by the end it still looked like it lacked depth. So I started messing around with filters and settled on one called Dust and Scratches. I selected the smaller, further away sunflowers and applied the filter to 2 pixels while the middle section had the filter applied to 1 pixel. The rationale behind this was to create depth – specifically the idea that you can’t see details as well the further away the subject is.

I created a gradient underneath the sunflowers but by the end I was displeased with the colour choice so I copied the leaf from a flower in the bottom left corner and placed the duplicated layers underneath the sunflowers. That additional layer added depth to the field as well and made the grass look more realistic.

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