Week 10 – Overall Reflections on the Surfaces and Strategies Module and Critical Analysis of My Progress in the MA

To my few devoted readers, I apologize in advance for the length of this post.  It is one I have been contemplating and working on for some time now, and it reflects the integration of much of my research to date and how that research has influenced my thinking about my practice.  It also is intended to provide context to my Work in Progress portfolio and the choices I have made and additional background and context for my Oral Presentation.

When I began the MA programme, I would have characterised (had I even been aware of her writings) in “Sontagian” terms as indexical  (Sontag, 1977), and that I was most concerned with depicting reality.  As I have progressed through the first two modules of the MA, I have come to realise my work is only my interpretation of reality within the limitations of the camera program’s ability to capture a moment is time and space, and my rendering of that image in post-processing.

In Ways of Seeing, (Berger, 1972) Berger writes, “Photographs are not…a mechanical record.  Every time we look at a photograph, we are aware, …of the photographer selecting that sight from an infinity of other possible sights.”  In Towards a Philosophy of Photography (Flusser, 2000), Flusser writes “The possibilities in the camera’s program are practically inexhaustible…The imagination of the camera is greater than that of every single photographer and that of all the photographers put together: This is precisely the challenge to the photographer…pursuit of the informative, improbable images that have not been seen before.”  This is indeed a daunting challenge particularly in light of the billions of photographs being taken every day around the world and the ubiquitous distribution systems enabled by the internet.

As a photographer, I and my practise are evolving, but I am not yet evolved and mature as a practitioner.  In Steal Like an Artist (Kleon, 2012) Austin Kleon posits “Nobody is born with a style or voice…We learn by copying.  We are talking about practice here, not plagiarism – plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own.  Copying is about reverse engineering…First, you have to figure out who to copy. Second you have to figure out what to copy.  Who to copy is easy.  You copy your heroes…What to copy is trickier.  Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.” I have endeavoured to embrace this philosophy.

This term has afforded me opportunities to explore new photographic techniques, different approaches in post-processing, and new ways to display my works from books, zines, social media, and physical exhibitions in addition to enhancing my on-line galleries. I have also stretched myself by photographing subjects out of my comfort zone in some cases and in others subjects I had not photographed before within the genre I typically work.  I have also begun to appreciate that what happens to be in front of my lens sometimes contains elements that detract from the real intent behind the photograph.  Whereas in the past I might have left something in the photo because it was really there, I am now making efforts to crop more artfully or remove specific distractors from my photos in post-processing.  Sometimes, less is more.

The Ed Ruscha challenge proved to be inspiring, motivating and confidence building.  It required conceptual development, planning, execution, editing and curation and resulted in a published book, 19 Sutherland Bridges, of which I am proud, and which sits for sale in the Bookshop below the flat in which I live.  It was the first time in all my years of photography my work was contextualized in a way that resulted in a tangible, physical product; and it was thrilling.

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Creating and publishing 19 Sutherland Bridges had a significant impact on my thinking going forward causing me to be more purposeful about when, where and what I photograph, and to plan how I want to use what I capture.

I used this term also to learn and experiment with additional methods of capture and post-processing, and with added subjects sets than had been my norm. While using and investigating macro photography and how it could potentially complement and add additional dimension to my project, I encountered the work of John Hallmen and the technique of focus stacking. I was stunned by the detail and clarity he was able to achieve which far and away beyond anything that is possible with mere depth of field management and I felt compelled to learn more about his process.

 

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Photo: John Hallmen

It is quite exacting and difficult to achieve in situ if the environmental conditions are anything but quite still air and reasonably stationary subject because between 20 and 50 frames with minute focal plane changes are required.  I was able to manage a few good results from the field, but I had even better success bring the subjects into a more controlled environment.

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Given the subtleties of the natural changes in the short time in which I have been photographing Coul Links, I was looking for away to represent a sense of time in the place that could be contrasted with the anthropogenic changes that are anticipated.  In addition to the “standard” natural history repeat photography techniques I have been employing and having the foreknowledge of a significant event to come, I sought to also approach the project from a Before and After Photography (Bear and Albers, 2017) perspective.  I captured images along the planned routing of the golf course with and without a model dressed as and using equipment from 100 years ago.  I then desaturated the images to imply a sense of age to the photos.  Richard Barnes in his Civil War series took contemporaneous photos of Civil War re-enactments in monochrome and deformed the edges of the negatives to create a sense the photos were taken during the war and to achieve a Matthew Brady type aesthetic.  Barnes work, however, is often cheekily betrayed by the presence of anachronisms such as power pylons or observers of the re-enactments in clearly modern attire.

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Photos: Richard Barnes – Civil War

 

 

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In anticipation of the possibility that my Coul Links story might not be able to be told without the inclusion of the human elements of the story, I took opportunities to do some environmental portraits and documentary photography.  The inshore lifeboat crew on which I serve proved to be an excellent subject, because I am also responsible for managing most of the team’s social media presence, internet fund raising and for photographs provided to print publications for news reporting and promotion.  Photographing people, something with which I have always been a bit uncomfortable, and publishing to social media and newspapers has been a good, practise expanding experience and shown me how much reach and influence social media can have on the organisation.

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In these genres, I am actually inspired by two of my peers; Danny North and Mick Yates.  Danny’s portraiture has a soul penetrating quality and yet conveys a deep and abiding empathy for his subjects.  There is never a hint of exploitation, but rather a real sense of emotional connection and care for his subjects and their feelings.  I find much of Danny’s non-commissioned work very intimate and intensely personal.

Danny North Portrait of Jenna

Photo: Danny North – Jenna

Mick Yates work also shows great respect for his subjects but conveys something more in a sense of time and place than soul penetrating.  There is often a slight distance and detachment that puts the person and place in perspective giving it more of a documentary and formal character than an emotional and very personal one.

Mick Cambodia portraitMick Cambodia Documentary

Photos:  Mick Yates – Cambodia

Lastly, I continued working to improve and refine my wildlife photography skills.  I went even bigger, working with focal lengths up to 840mm, which presents challenges with dynamic subjects, but the results when I got it right are extraordinary and I was able to record some very special images.  It gave me the reach necessary to get the kind of detail on subjects that were often quite far away, but to which I could not physically approach any closer.

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I encountered some technical challenges in my aerial repeat photography work which I have not fully resolved.  I have been very successful in using a mission management application that allows me to fly the exact route and take photographs of the Coul Links from identical perspectives each time I fly.  However, since it is a third-party application, it appears to not be as good at controlling the camera as the manufacturer’s proprietary application.  The resolution is adequate to detect change, but it is not at the standard I would like to show detail.  The proprietary application cannot do the multi-waypoint mission profile around the perimeter of the nearly 800-acre plot of land, so I am faced with something of a dilemma to resolve.  I am continuing to explore means of improving resolution in the third-party application.

 

Barnes, R. (n.d.). Civil War — Richard Barnes. Retrieved August 9, 2018, from http://www.richardbarnes.net/civil-war-1/

Kleon, A. (2012). Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative. Steal Like an Artist (Vol. 53). New York: Workman Publishing Company. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

Flusser, V. (1983). Towards a philosophy of photography. English. London: Reaktion Books Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0031-9406(10)62747-2

John Hallmén. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2018, from http://www.johnhallmen.se/2016/12/8/emus-hirtus-1

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. Penguin Books. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13398-014-0173-7.2

Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

Bear, J., & Albers, K. P. (2017). Before-and-After Photography; Histories and Contexts (1st ed.). London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Webb, R., Boyer, D., & Turner, R. (2010). Repeat Photography: Methods and Applications in the Natural Sciences. Washington, DC: Island Press.

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