Week 12 – Reflections on Finalising my Critical Review and Work in Progress Portfolio

I began work on my Portfolio and Critical Review several weeks ahead of the deadlines for submissions and as a consequence completed the work well ahead of schedule. These are some of my thoughts now that I have completed and submitted that work.

Portfolio

While I made a lot of work during this module, I had decided early on what type of work I wanted to make and was therefore able to create photographs with a mindfulness and clarity of intention that I had not before achieved.  I took many more photos than ultimately ended up in the final edit and I frankly left some very good work out of the final submission.  However, one of the things I have learned through the first four modules of this MA is the need to create a visually consistent, coherent body of work for the WIPP submission.  I think I did not fully appreciate that fact in prior modules and as a consequence, the work submitted had a bit of a ‘this and that’ character that detracted slightly from the way the work was viewed.  I can attribute this failing in part to a lack of clarity in my intentions in the prior modules and the fact the project I was attempting to take on was massive and diverse.  It was too big to distil and attempting to ‘cover the waterfront’ I diluted the visual impact of my imagery; good as they were technically.

So for this module, I intentionally reduced the scope of what I was trying to include in the portfolio and was very disciplined in the editing process as I worked to get to a set of photos and videos that were consistent with my intentions and had a sufficiently consistent and harmonious thematic and visual character.  It was difficult initially to eliminate good photos and I went through several iterations before arriving at a final decision.  I did also choose to incorporate three video clips taken from the same vantage points as stills either before or after the videos in the sequence.  I had not done that before, but felt it important to realising my intentions and conveying some key contextual concepts about the dynamic and transient aspects of nature.

Another important decision in the editing process came when I realised the normal landscape format was not conveying the feeling I was trying to achieve with this body of work.  I have been resisting cropping in post-production for some time now and on the rare occasions that I did, I always retained the aspect ratio that I shot originally.  However, the landscape format was not constraining the image enough to evoke the response from a viewer I wanting to elicit.  As I experimented with cropping to square, the photos suddenly had much more impact.  Making them smaller, more constrained actually made them spatially bigger; more universal and more timeless.  It amplified the integrity of what was visible in the frame and in some cases created more ambiguity, but also added more mystery and intrigue as to what was just beyond the frame.  It was these things that I believe will result in the viewer becoming more engaged with the photographs.

Critical Review

I wrote the initial two drafts before I had really narrowed my portfolio selections sufficiently.  While not a waste of time by any means, the first drafts were not as focused as they needed to be.  It was only after bringing my WIPP to the near final edit state, that it became a much more straightforward process to write my Critical Review.  With the clarity of what I had chosen I was able to zero in on the clearest way to convey my intentions and determine which of my contextual references were indeed most relevant to the work I had completed.  I wanted the CR to be clear, concise, cogent, and coherent and most importantly to convey without any question that I had made this work with, and from, a critically informed position.  As I was finalising the CR I was able in parallel to make the final cuts for the WIPP so the two submissions were completely in sync and mutually supportive.

Final Thoughts

I read a great deal during this module and I had to be as discerning about contextual references as I was about photo selection.  I took much better notes as I was reading this term and, that proved helpful when recalling references, particularly on things I read early on in the module.  I intentionally did not read CRJs or CR submissions from students further on in the programme.  I felt quite confident that I could properly interpret the requirements of the assignments and the LOCs to create a document that met or exceeded the standards.  I wanted to do it on my own and not be tempted to follow someone else’s path, particularly not knowing whether their work was really good or just okay.

I also completed work early enough to seek input from trusted peers and tutors and I am appreciative of both groups.  While I didn’t get any huge redirects out of any of the reviews, the combination of little things and my own desire to write a very tight and focused CR that supported the choices I made in the WIPP drove me to a series of revisions that I am very satisfied result in a solid submission.

Critical Review of Practice

Introduction

I have for the past 15 months been exploring Coul Links through my photography.  In the many hours spent traversing this land I have also discovered places interesting on a smaller scale, some hidden and some not, but which I could photograph in a more intimate way.  This new work is intended less to inform, but to rather evoke.  It is a way of saying something about a place without revealing where that place really is, of transforming place into space so the photographs acquire a universality, or a sense of familiarity tied to each viewer’s own experience.  By creating visual and aesthetic interest in the image and in some cases using reflections or the absence of horizon to create a bit of disorientation or ambiguity that requires the viewer to linger longer over the image to decipher it.  There is not generally intended to be a principal focal point in the images, and they are rather meant to be taken as a whole, with elements of interest across the entire frame (Figure 1).

Glade 1_02-0571Figure 1 – Rose 2019, Glade 1_02

My prior work was focused on providing the big view of the unique land forms that comprise the 850-hectare site.  It has been important to capture and catalogue the nature of the site as it exists before any potential development and the aerial views and broad landscapes were what was required (Figure 2). That having largely been shown in my previous WIPP, it was time to explore a different way of representing a place with which I have become so familiar.untitled-0282Figure 2 – Rose 2019, Culkin Burn South Coul Links

My landscape work, not uncommonly, is absent people and yet I as the photographer am always there, not in the final frame, but only just out of it.   It is in this creative space just behind the lens that the interactions of camera and photographer combine through the choices made to capture a moment in time and space.  It is in this creative space that I begin the dialogue with a viewer of my work.

Liz Wells proposes, “… our relation to the environment in which find ourselves, and of which we form a part, is multiply constituted: the real, the imaginary, the symbolic, memory and experience, form a complex tapestry at the heart of our response to our environment, and, by extension, to landscape imagery.” (2011: 2) I believe we are intractably connected to the world around us, and while it seems as more and more people move to more urban settings that they become disconnected from the wilder places, they remain part of Nature.  And yet for many, the only feeling of connection to the natural world beyond the cities comes from images and the responses those images stimulate in the viewer’s imaginations. I created images that are real, but that will also evoke memories and stimulate imagination.

My relationship with nature and place, as a person and as a photographer, is fundamental to who I am and when I choose to take a photograph, I do it because there is meaning for me.  But each of our journeys are unique and I want this work to trigger memories, inspire reflection and stimulate the imaginations of those who view it. As Allan Sekula states “The photograph, as it stands alone, presents merely the possibility of meaning”. (1982: 91)  My photograph is the opening gambit in a dialogue with the viewer, where it is now to each one to bring their own meaning to what they see as they ask questions such as “Where is it?”, “What is it”, “Have I been there or does it remind me of somewhere I have been?”, “What do I imagine lies beyond the edge of the photograph?”, and as they examine the emotions and ideas the photograph stimulates (Figure 3).

Glade 1A_01-0835Figure 3 – Rose 2019, Glade 1A_01

Context and Reflection

 “The Japanese have a unique understanding of landscape.  The term for ‘landscape’ in Japanese is fükei, which combines the notion of ‘flow’ or ‘wind’ (fü) and ‘view’ or ‘scape’ (kei) – hence ‘flowing view.’  Landscape is not considered static, but transient, ephemeral, never stopping. The flow of time is a vital part of this understanding in the Japanese arts, time’s passage in nature, and the changing seasons, are central motifs.” (Vartanian, 2006: 42) When I release the shutter, I am of course completely aware of time and place, of the before, the after, and the during that results in my photograph. This is yet another aspect of ‘flow’ inherent to photography. The photograph is but a momentary peek into constantly changing scene. By choosing to frame more closely, I take what is a known and concrete time and place and abstract for my viewer a space that is relatively timeless. The photograph in Figure 4 conveys a palpable sense of movement and flow caused by wind and a more subtle hint at the flow of the change of season without ever revealing precisely where or when it was taken.

Slack 1_04-0784Figure 4 – Rose 2019, Dune Slack 1_04

“A photograph shows only a single moment in time. Yet when viewing a photograph, one is strongly aware of the flow of time to which this moment belongs.  Even when viewing a still image time does not stand still. When we give ourselves to the act of seeing, incoherent memories and thoughts of all kind come to mind, accompanied by a swelling of emotion.  Herein lies the richness of seeing.” (Suzuki, 2015: 009) There is an unspoken distinction being made between the act of looking and the act of seeing. “In Zen philosophy the mind should be a window, rather than a mirror, so that the world is seen directly and not through the filters of the intellect.” The Zen monks “absorbed themselves in the activity rather than in their ego’s understanding of the activity.” (Juniper, 2003: 26) To me, this is the essence of true seeing and to which as a photographer I aspire. To be able to be fully absorbed in my surroundings and with the full scope of my senses, feel that it is time to release the shutter is when I have achieved harmony between myself, my camera and the world before me.

Axel Hütte, Daniel Gustav Cramer and Risaku Suzuki all inform my work.  Each has done a variety of prior work and each has done work quite similar to that which I am currently doing.  Hütte, a Dusseldorf School contemporary of Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth, brought me an awareness of a different way to represent a place, a way that made that place become “space”, somehow bigger than life, and that by reducing the frame the relevance expanded in both time and space.  Hütte’s early works were his night cityscapes which were striking, geometric and starkly absent the people that inhabited those spaces, but it was his later landscape work that caught my eye.  There isn’t any kind of story behind the pieces. The viewer is lost in time and space, sucked into the beautiful world of photography. He will sometimes use a reflection on the water just to irritate the viewers, so the flames of their imagination could shine brightly. There is no need for any detail in the photographs to be rendered or treated specially, as the image is viewed as a whole, without emphasis on any of its parts.” (Widewalls, 2018) This notion of no story is important and one which Suzuki, Cramer and I have also adopted. To caption or provide words removes the possibility for the viewer to create their own story for each photograph and the dialogue becomes instead a didactic.

Axel-Hütte-Aranjuez-02-2006-detailFigure 5 –  Hutte 2006, Aranjuez-02

This Hütte photo in Figure 5 could easily be mistaken for an Impressionist painting of Monet or others such is its painterly quality. It is clear to see in the Monet painting in Figure 6 how the Hütte work in Figure 5 could be compared to it, and while my work is less painterly it nonetheless builds from this heritage. Hütte for me embodies most of the qualities, framing, masking of place, visual interest across the frame and use

Monet (1897) - Morning on the Seine near Giverny

Figure 6 – Monet 1897, Morning on the Seine near Giverny

of beauty to create an image that stimulates imagination, that I am working toward.

Daniel Gustav Cramer’s Trilogy series is an even more contemporary and superbly representative example of my intentions; “images shot through with story and place, but which demand we ignore both place and story. This is what we are, they say, but what are we?” (Darwent, 2007) It happens by coincidence that I have been working with my own trilogy of the dunes, glades and dune slacks.

I realised how significant Risaku Suzuki’s work was while doing further research after I had begun my current work.  His 2017 book Water Mirror is a lovely expression similar in many ways to that of Hütte and Cramer.  Like them, there is no desire to reveal a specific place or advance a particular narrative, but rather to evoke a mood, revive a memory or stimulate an imagination.  Yuri Mitsuda at the end of Water Mirror describes Suzuki’s approach: “Just as with a mirror, the trees are captured in the water that reflects them.  The result is a simulacral mime that exists only within the photographs. These scenes would not exist without the intervention of the camera and the lens.” (Suzuki, 2017) (Figure 7)

Suzuki WM_653 2016

Figure 7 – Suzuki 2016, WM-653

Mitsuda continued: “When the photographer tosses a rock into the water, the rock creates rifts and turns the water inside out, rustling the surrounding trees.  A fluid image resembling an abstract painting appears in the photograph…When the water surface is cut up by a fallen tree, moving water is juxtaposed against still water, bringing disparate temporalities of the material in contact with each other and producing details that fascinate endlessly.” (Suzuki, 2017) My photograph in Figure 8 illustrates the abstraction effect of the rippling water to which Mitsuda refers. There is indeed an interesting departure from the still water reflection that in the series provides a visual counterpoint and adds an additional layer of abstraction and interest across the frame, and it is an example of a photograph I thinks successfully captures my intentions.

Glade 1_04-0719Figure 8 – Rose 2019, Glade 1_04

Nature’s nearly endless array of subjects exist in transitory states dictated by light, dark, weather, seasons, time, elements, life, patterns of growth, and death. These phenomena are universal and every person on Earth is aware of them.  Photographs that capture fragments of these elemental truths resonate with viewers because it reminds them of similarities to their own experiences.  Hütte, Cramer, Suzuki and my current work all abstract from reality just enough to create in the mind of the viewer questions. Are Hütte’s or Cramer’s mountaintops in Europe, Asia, America?  Are my glades along the eastern US coast, a tropical island, or Scotland?

 

Portfolio – Approach to Work and Editing Choices

I always try to do my compositions in camera to minimise cropping in post, but something seemed wrong, like there was too much in the frame (Figure 9). By moving to a square format, it constrained the space more effectively and removed the traditional landscape format from a landscape photo making it feel like something else entirely (Figure 10).  I think it gave the photos a stronger sense of something beyond the frame at the same time enhancing the integrity of what was in frame. Cramer’s work in Trilogy successfully employed the square format, constraining the image and adding to the intrigue causing the viewer to need to linger longer with the image to decipher it. I believe this has been equally effective for my work. Additionally, I included several short video clips either before or

no post-0800Figure 9 – Rose 2019, Slack 2_01wide

Slack 2-0800Figure 10 – Rose 2019, Slack 2_01square

after stills to emphasise the transience of the moment I choose to release the shutter and make a point just how dynamic the environment can be. 

Position of Practice and Audience

The fundamental nature of this portfolio is in some ways more impressionistic and occasionally moderately abstract than any of my previous work, which of course changes the potential audience from that of my earlier more documentary and science-based work that aligned more with the Modernist aesthetic.  This work, while still very much about a place, has successfully masked its actual location and could easily be abstracted to a place in a viewer’s memory or imagination.  This work is well suited to larger scale prints that on a wall would allow a viewer to almost feel if they were in the place.  I have also incorporated a few short video clips to give an even more complete sense of place which could be looped on video screens or projected nearby the large-scale prints. As demonstrated by practitioners like Hütte, Struth, Suzuki, Cramer, Murray and others like Southam, there is clearly an interest in and a market for this type of work, when and if it can garner the attention of a gallery or publication, and subsequently a buyer. It is also work that could be adapted to a book.  It would be done with full page or double page prints and no accompanying titles or captions.  Possibly a short essay at the end could be included to talk about the making of the work along with a table of the plates and their catalogue numbers for reference.  But remembering that my intent involves allowing the viewer to create their own narrative is the reason behind minimizing any influence on their interpretations.

Conclusion

Peter Henry Emerson wrote “The value of a picture is not proportionate to the trouble and expense it costs to obtain it, but to the poetry that it contains.”  (in Trachtenberg, 1980: 102) In my introduction I noted the photographer is always present if only just out of the frame and it is in that creative space just behind the lens that the interaction between the camera and photographer combine through the choices made to capture a moment in time and space.  Risaku Suzuki wrote: “When we give ourselves to the act of seeing, incoherent memories and thoughts of all kind float to mind, accompanied by a swelling of emotion”. (Suzuki, 2015) My interactions and choices have resulted in photographs that reflect my unique journey through the world and my way of seeing and representing a place. It is my hope that I have indeed created some visual poetry and thereby stirred the memories and imaginations of others with this work.

 

List of Figures

Figure 1 – Rose 2019, Glade 1_02. 1

Figure 2 – Rose 2019, Culkin Burn South Coul Links. 2

Figure 3 – Rose 2019, Glade 1A_01. 3

Figure 4 – Rose 2019, Dune Slack 1_04. 4

Figure 5 –  Hutte 2006, Aranjuez-02. 6

Figure 6 – Monet 1897, Morning on the Seine near Giverny. 6

Figure 7 – Suzuki 2016, WM-653. 7

Figure 8 – Rose 2019, Glade 1_04. 8

Figure 9 – Rose 2019, Slack 2_01wide. 9

Figure 10 – Rose 2019, Slack 2_01square. 10

 

List of References

‘Biography of Axel Hutte | Widewalls’. 2018. [online]. Available at: https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/axel-hutte/ [accessed 24 Nov 2018].

DARWENT, Charles. 2007. ‘Weblet Importer’. [online]. Available at: http://danielgustavcramer.com/infotxt.html [accessed 1 Apr 2019].

JUNIPER, Andrew. 2003. Wabi Sabi – the Japanese Art of Impermanance. First. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing.

SEKULA, Allan. 1982. ‘On the Invention of Photographic Meaning’. In Victor BURGIN (ed.). Thinking Photography. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

SUZUKI, Risaku. 2015. Stream of Consciousness. Tokyo: Edition Nord.

SUZUKI, Risaku. 2017. Water Mirror. Tokyo: Case Publishing.

TRACHTENBERG, Alan (ed.). 1980. Classic Essays on Photography. Sedgewick, ME: Leete’s Island Books, Inc.

VARTANIAN, Ivan, Akihiro HATANAKA and Yutaka KAMBAYASHI. 2006. Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers. New York: Aperture.

WELLS, Liz. 2011. Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity. London; New York: I.B. Tauris.

(Figure 5: Available at https://d2jv9003bew7ag.cloudfront.net/uploads/Axel-H%C3%BCtte-Aranjuez-02-2006-detail.jpg [accessed 25 Mar 2019]

(Figure 6: Available at https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437125) [accessed 17 April 2019]

(Figure 7: Available at https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjpifb2w7bhAhXmAGMBHe36CNYQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.galleriesnow.net%2Fproduct%2Frisaku-suzuki-water-mirror%2F&psig=AOvVaw2Q0glROmLtqJuF5ArzTyPw&ust=1554470477743726 [accessed 25 Mar 2019])

 

 

 

APPENDIX 1

Informing Contexts Bibliography

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TRACHTENBERG, Alan (ed.). 1980. Classic Essays on Photography. Sedgewick, ME: Leete’s Island Books, Inc.

DARWENT, Charles. 2007. ‘Weblet Importer’. [online]. Available at: http://danielgustavcramer.com/infotxt.html [accessed 1 Apr 2019].

PARISI, Chiara. 2010. ‘Essays and Interview with Daniel Gustav Cramer’. Klat Magazine #04 [online]. Available at: http://danielgustavcramer.com/infotxt.html [accessed 1 Apr 2019].

SUZUKI, Risaku. 2015. Stream of Consciousness. Tokyo: Edition Nord.

BARKER, Emma. 1999. ‘Introduction [IN] Contemporary Cultures of Display’. In Emma BARKER and Open UNIVERSITY (eds.). Contemporary Cultures of Display. New Haven: Yale University Press in association with the Open University, 8–21.

MURRAY, Matthew. 2017. ‘Saddleworth’. [online]. Available at: https://www.matthewmurray.co.uk/saddleworth [accessed 25 Mar 2019].

KEMPTON, Beth. 2018. Wabi Sabi – Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life. London: Piatkus.

SUZUKI, Risaku. 2017. Water Mirror. Tokyo: Case Publishing.

JUNIPER, Andrew. 2003. Wabi Sabi – the Japanese Art of Impermanance. First. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing.

‘Saddleworth — Matthew Murray Photography’. 2019. [online]. Available at: https://www.matthewmurray.co.uk/saddleworth [accessed 25 Mar 2019].

SONTAG, Susan. 2004. ‘Regarding the Torture of Others’. The New York Times Magazine (23 May 2004), [online]. Available at: ttps://goo.gl/PwSVZ.

SOLNIT, Rebecca. 2001. Wanderlust: A History of Walking. London: Penguin Books.

ROSLER, Martha. 1982. In, Around and Afterthoughts on Documentary Photography in The Contest of Meaning (1992). Edited by Richard Bolton. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

EWING, William A. 2014. Landmark: The Fields of Landscape Photography. New York: Thames and Hudson.

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BARRETT, Terry. 2000. Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images. New York: McGraw Hill.

VARTANIAN, Ivan, Akihiro HATANAKA and Yutaka KAMBAYASHI. 2006. Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers. New York: Aperture.

RITCHIN, Fred. 2013. Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen. New York: Aperture.

DUPRE, Ben. 2007. 50 Ideas You Really Need to Know- Philosophy. First. London: Quercus Editions, Ltd.

TRACHTENBERG, Alan (ed.). 1980. Classic Essays on Photography. Sedgwick, ME: Leet’s Island Books, Inc.

HEIFERMAN, Marvin. 2012. Photography Changes Everything. First. New York: Aperture.

RITCHIN, Fred. 2009. After Photography. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

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DAY, Andy. 2019. ‘Every Photograph You’ve Ever Taken Is a Lie: Steve McCurry, Tom Hunter, and the Problem With Visual Storytellers | Fstoppers’. Fstoppers [online]. Available at: https://fstoppers.com/documentary/every-photograph-youve-ever-taken-lie-steve-mccurry-tom-hunter-and-problem-334178 [accessed 13 Feb 2019].

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SNYDER, Joel and Neil Walsh ALLEN. n.d. ‘Photography, Vision and Representation’. Critical Inquiry 141–69.

HAND, Martin. 2012. Ubiquitous Photography. Cambridge: Polity Press.

SHORE, Stephen. 2007. The Nature of Photographs. 2018th edn. London and New York: Phaidon Press.

BENJAMIN, Walter. 1931. Selected Writings 2, Part 2 1931-1934. Edited by G. Eiland, H., Jennings, M.W., and Smith. Cambridge, MA and London: Belknap Press.

BARTHES, Roland. 1981. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang.

‘Matthew Murray — Elliott Halls Gallery’. 2019. [online]. Available at: https://www.elliotthalls.com/matthew-murray [accessed 4 Feb 2019].

MILLER, Johnny. 2019. ‘Unequal Scenes – Locations’. [online]. Available at: https://unequalscenes.com/projects [accessed 4 Feb 2019].

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‘Safety in Numbness: Some Remarks on the Problems of “Late Photography’’ – David Campany”’. 2019. [online]. Available at: https://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/ [accessed 30 Jan 2019].

‘Aerographica – About’. 2019. [online]. Available at: http://aerographica.org/about/ [accessed 30 Jan 2019].

STERNFELD, Joel., Adam. GOPNIK, John R. STILGOE and FRIENDS OF THE HIGH LINE. 2009. Walking the High Line. Steidl.

STERNFELD, Joel. 1996. On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam. Chronicle Books.

SZARKOWSKI, John. 1966. The Photographer’s Eye. 7th printi. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

‘Axel Hütte’. 2019. [online]. Available at: https://www.zingmagazine.com/zing3/reviews/034_hutte.html [accessed 11 Jan 2019].

‘Axel Hütte’. 2019. [online]. Available at: https://www.deutscheboersephotographyfoundation.org/en/collect/artists/axel-huette.php [accessed 11 Jan 2019].

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‘Aerial Photographs Convey Humanity’s Devastating Effects on Nature’. 2019. [online]. Available at: https://hyperallergic.com/474175/burtynsky-anthropocene-project/ [accessed 9 Jan 2019].

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‘Edward Burtynsky – The Anthropocene Project – Photo Review’. 2019. [online]. Available at: https://www.photoreview.com.au/stories/edward-burtynskys-anthropocene-project/ [accessed 9 Jan 2019].

‘Sprawling Anthropocene Project Shows Humanity’s Enormous Impact on the Planet | The Star’. 2019. [online]. Available at: https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/visualarts/review/2018/09/30/sprawling-anthropocene-project-shows-humanitys-enormous-impact-on-the-planet.html [accessed 9 Jan 2019].

‘The Anthropocene Project — Edward Burtynsky’. 2019. [online]. Available at: https://www.edwardburtynsky.com/projects/the-anthropocene-project/ [accessed 9 Jan 2019].

BURTYNSKY, Edward, Jennifer BAICHWAL and Nicholas DE PENCIER. 2018. Anthropocene. Gottingen: Steidl.

PAULI, Lori. 2003. Manufactured Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky. 7th (2014. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada.

DURDEN, Mark (ed.). 2013. 50 Key Writers on Photography. First. Milton Park: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

DELEUZE, Gilles. 1997. Essays Critical and Clinical. University of Minnesota Press.

DELEUZE, Gilles. 1997. Negotiations. NYC: Columbia University Press.

DELEUZE, Gilles. 2002. Desert Islands: And Other Texts, 1953-1974. Los Angeles: Semiotexte.

ADAMS, Robert. 1994. Why People Photograph. 1st edn. New York: Aperture.

STANFORD UNIVERSITY. and CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF LANGUAGE AND INFORMATION (U.S.). 1997. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/deleuze/ [accessed 21 Dec 2018].

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MA Bibliography as of 10 April 2019

SEKULA, Allan. 1982. ‘On the Invention of Photographic Meaning’. In Victor BURGIN (ed.). Thinking Photography. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

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Week 10 – Daniel Gustav Cramer Trilogy (2003/2013)

I first encountered Cramer’s work some months back and was taken with it then.  I found it was quite similar in overall character and aesthetic to work I hade begun pursuing in the winter.  It reminded me of the work of Axel Hutte, about whom I had written extensively in past modules.  I also think Cramer’s Trilogy work bears resemblance to that of Risaku Suzuki.    Thomas Struth’s Haptic Green also bears some resemblance the Woodlands portion of Cramer’s Trilogy, but it seems to be much more intensely about colour while Cramer’s work is more about form.

We were asked to comment on the edits Cramer choose and whether we would have done it differently.  I happen to like the photos he included and while some may be stronger than others it is important to have some distinctions.  Also, I am certain those that I might think strong are not necessarily the ones someone else might choose.  And that is I think one o f the key points of Cramer’s work, as well of that of Hutte and Suzuki, that there is no intent to dictate the narrative to the viewer.  The mystery, masking of location and even to an extent subject, force the viewer to engage with the photograph to figure out what it is, where it might be, what is in the frame and what might be just out of the frame.  So, to that end, and because there is no real overall intention to Cramer’s work beyond the three broad categories, the photographs are not intended to hang together in a linear fashion to create a narrative and therefore can be viewed in any order as standalone images, each waiting for the viewer to create their own story.

Darwent noted of Cramer’s work they are “images shot through with story and place, but which demand we ignore both place and story. This is what we are, they say, but what are we?” (Darwent, 2007) Cramer’s images are tantalising, looking familiar and foreign at the same time, clearly of something almost recognisable, but what. He presents the viewer with a puzzle to which the solution will be based in the knowledge and cultural experiences of each viewer.  For example, the underwater photos were to me as a scuba diver immediately recognisable as such, but to someone who had never dived, may have been quite confusing and disorienting.  The woodland photos were likely more familiar territory for many, and I liked how Cramer choose to include a mix of photos, some of which seem to invite the viewer in and others that seemed to want to hold the viewer out.

It is very moody and atmospheric work.  It defies time and place merging both into the space of heady dreams and fantasy.  I wish it had been published as a book as it is one I would enjoy owning.

 

References

DARWENT, Charles. 2007. ‘Weblet Importer’. [online]. Available at: http://danielgustavcramer.com/infotxt.html [accessed 1 Apr 2019].

 

Week 9 – Reflections

The guest lectures were especially good this week.  I found it really interesting and informative to here Liz and Addie from Elliot Halls talk about how they decide what to display, who to represent and how to strategically approach building a relationship with a gallery.  I was not surprised to hear how competitive the marketplace is, but I was a bit surprised at how patient one might need to be to attract the attention of the gallery world and how many years Elliot Halls had taken before deciding to bring someone in.  Not sure I have enough years left to hope to find my way in to a gallery.

I was also very intrigued by the work of Lewis Bush.  I was familiar with some of his work, but it was really good to hear him talk about it and the incredible depth of research he went to on each project.  It was also fascinating to see how far afield from photography he went to do research and stimulate inspiration.  While the subject matter he deals with is quite different than mine, what I found of interest was the similarity in the idea of revealing things “hidden in plain sight”.  This was true to a degree in Metropole, but even more so in Shadows of the State.  Many people go through life not seeing, really seeing, things that surround them every day.  My work on this course has focused on showing places to people in ways they had not been shown or in ways people had not seen for themselves.

Current Work

I managed to despite still running a fever to get out for a couple hours of shooting on Friday.  It completely exhausted me, but I came back with a range of good and not so good work.  My approach to work has definitely changed since the beginning of the course.  I now work virtually exclusively in Manual settings and there is a much more deliberate attempt to get the framing and exposure completely right in the camera.  I also go out with specific intentions of what I want to shoot.  I had been wanting to get better images of some of the dune slacks as well as some additional video in the glades and slacks to show the movement.  I was successful yesterday with the video as it was very windy, and the results were very dynamic in contrast to the stills.  I was not satisfied with the still images in the slacks between the wind disrupting the stillness of the water and the time of day, I felt the photos were soulless and uninteresting visually and they did not evoke any emotion.   A few of the detail shots did work out as did the glade work.

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Dune Slack (unsuccessful as it fails to spark emotion or interest)

 

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Dune Slack (successful intriguing above above, on and below the surface)

Coursework Reflections

On this week’s coursework and whether photography is art.  As I have written in a prior post, I think it is a something of a ridiculous question when it is phrased that way.  Is all photography art? Of course it is not. As Merry Foresta noted in the foreword to Photography Changes Everything, “most of the billions of pictures that are taken with cameras every year are made for purposes that have nothing to do with art.  They are made for quite specific reasons, some exalted and some mundane, and their value is dependent on how well they serve a purpose that, more often than not, has nothing to do with photography itself.” (Heiferman, 2012: 7)

Can photography be art? Again of course it can, though that judgement lies in the hands of the consumers and promoters, rather than with the photographer.  I cite as a relevant current example the documentary work of Don McCullin who never considered himself an artist, nor was his work made with the thought of it being viewed as art, and yet it sits today on the walls of the Tate Modern.  The art world and art buyers are fickle.  Sometimes its trendy, sometimes its rare, and sometimes there is just no accounting for taste.

References

HEIFERMAN, Marvin. 2012. Photography Changes Everything. First. New York: Aperture.

 

Week 8 – Additional Reading and Research

I have recently acquired a copy of Risaku Suzuki’s book Water Mirrors.  It is not only a beautifully constructed book physically, but the imagery is very much related to recent work I have been undertaking. There are no introductions to the book and no captions, just photo after photo.  At the end is an essay by art critic Yuri Mitsuda which I found equally interesting with regard to informing my work.

Mitsuda writes “What’s mirrored in the water are the trees surrounding lakes and marshes.  The relaxed density of the branches extending toward the lakes form something like a nest that surrounds and protects the quiet water.  Just as with a mirror, the trees are captured in the water that reflects them.  In water, the leaves are shown in utter verisimilitude, making it impossible to distinguish the reflections from the actual trees standing in the soil and air. The result is a simulacral mime that exists only within the photographs. These scenes would not exist without the intervention of the camera and the lens.”

“When the photographer tosses a rock into the water, the rock creates rifts and turns the water inside out, rustling the surrounding trees.  A fluid image resembling an abstract painting appears in the photograph…When the water surface is cut up by a fallen tree, moving water is juxtaposed against still water, bringing disparate temporalities of the material in contact with each other and producing details that fascinate endlessly.” (Suzuki, 2017)

Suzuki WM_653 2016
Suzuki WM-653 2016

While there is more that could be quoted, I think for now it is enough to show how my work has taken a similar turn.

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Rose Coul Glade 2019

Paul suggested I also look at the work of fellow Falmouth student Isabella Campbell and I discovered she too is pursuing similar subjects and aesthetics.  An example of her work shows the link between Suzuki and my recent work.

Campbell LANDINGS-11 2018
Campbell Landings -11 2018

I have also begun reading Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers and two different books on Wabi Sabi, one by Andrew Juniper (2003) and the other by Beth Kempton (2018).  I have long held an affinity for Japanese culture, philosophy and aesthetics and I am finding as I research more how much my work and the subjects I photograph resemble what I am reading in the writings and observing in the photographs.  I have mentioned before that the house I designed and built in 2006 contains a great deal of Japanese influence and features normally only found in Japanese houses. That influence runs strongly in everything I do.

Shigeo Gocho in his essay Photography as Another Reality, in Setting Sun writes: “Things that some people can see, other people cannot. Things that some people can hear, other people cannot.  I once wondered if such a thing was possible, but now I understand it as a matter of distance between reality and fantasy.  It is also a matter of how each specific person places himself in this temporal world, as the image of the world is dependent upon this relationship…No matter how much one might say that it presents pure fantasy or delusion, photography is about capturing an image of the outside world, which means that a photograph is only possible if it uses reality as a go-between.” (Vartanian, 2006: 52-53)

Setting Sun is filled with so many gems that absolutely find a home in my head and heart.  I have found myself needing through the course of this module to be far more introspective about my photography and the reasons for than ever before.  I truly never thought much about and just did what I did. Reading and researching has certainly provided a framework for examining what I do and why and while it is still evolving certain elements have begun to gel in my mind. I asked myself the question “Why do I photograph nature?”

Out amidst nature was always the place that I could go to be myself and exist without judgement.  I look at Nature and Nature looks back at me and says “welcome, we are.”  People on the other hand judge and seek to separate and categorise.  They look at me and say “you are X.”  All the people who have ever existed are a single mere speck of dust in geological time.  It is very likely humans will not endure as a species and Nature will reclaim them as geological time moves on.

I suppose that this is one of those areas of difference in Western and Eastern philosophies.  The West has long held a man versus nature philosophy where nature must be conquered and tamed. It for that matter extended to the idea that “civilised white” people were at the evolutionary pinnacle and anyone who did not fit in that box was just another animal to be conquered and tamed.  In contrast, the Eastern philosophies address the art of being in the world beginning with Tao and flowing with the watercourse way and evolving in to Zen which teaches we are part of everything we perceive.  There is something at my core that recognises the latter and that is part of what continually draws me away from most people and to the untamed places where I can best be my untamed self.

References:

VARTANIAN, Ivan, Akihiro HATANAKA and Yutaka KAMBAYASHI. 2006. Setting Sun: Writing by Japanese Photographers. New York: Aperture.

JUNIPER, Andrew. 2003. Wabi Sabi – the Japanese Art of Impermanance. First. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing.

KEMPTON, Beth. 2018. Wabi Sabi – Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life. London: Piatkus.

SUZUKI, Risaku. 2017. Water Mirror. Tokyo: Case Publishing.

Week 8 – Work Accomplished

After being quite ill all last week, it was good to feel well enough to get out with my camera, and a long day it was.  I attended the Coul Links Public Inquiry meeting in person for the first even though I had been following the proceedings on-line.  It was a particularly significant day with one of the principal objectors due to give his testimony.  I wanted to get some photos of the proceedings for the record in my long term Coul Links Project.  I am not as skilled in portraiture and indoor ambient light photography, but in light of that the following three photos were reasonably successful.

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Since 20 March was the Vernal Equinox and coincided with another supermoon even, the Full Worm Supermoon, I was fortunate to have weather conditions that allowed some work at Coul Links as well. Nearing the close of the day, I undertook to accomplish some of the things I spoke about in last week’s post about planned work to be accomplished.   I went back to the Glades in different light and also attempted to use flash to control the ambient light.  I then proceeded to the area around the Great Dune just prior to sunset and was treated to a remarkable rate of changing light as well as success in capturing the rise of the supermoon.  I also experimented successfully with the use of multiple flash units and some light painting in concert with longer exposures. I also decided to explore the use of video to convey the beauty of the movement and sound resulting from the wind.

I think the glade work was successful in ambient light, and while I demonstrated proof of concept with the artificial light, I didn’t execute as well as necessary technically. It was, however, essentially a test of a technique that I intended to use at the dunes later and so from that perspective was instructive and useful in making the later work much more successful.

The first example at the Glade demonstrates the intent of visual interest across the frame with no specific focal point and as an exploration of place without revelation of location.

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The second photo here from the Glade was taken when there was still considerable ambient light and I was attempting to control it with shutter speed and then to augment the subject area with a remote flash.  The lighting effect was very much along the lines of what I hoped to achieve, but the focus was not sharp enough.

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At the dunes, I was looking to again create images with visual interest across the frame, without a necessarily significant focal point and which again didn’t reveal its location.  I regard this series as successful and was pleased with the ambient light work in the changing conditions as well as flash and light painting work in low light.

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The experiments with the flash units and then the rising supermoon and a combination of longer exposure with handheld torches also were successful. Though the positioning of the flash units in the following photo could have been improved.

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The following photo was an 8 second exposure and just ambient light.

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The last photo was also an 8 second exposure with the addition of light painting with torches.

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In summary, there is good correlation with my intentions and general success technically while I acknowledge there is room to improve always in that regard.

 

Week 7 – Thoughts on Work to be Accomplished

Following the portfolio critiques of last week and recognising there was interest and possibility in the work I had shown from the glades at Coul Links, I now need to go back and continue that work to capture them in different light and as they change with the coming of Spring.  There are one or two other glades that I will also explore to see if they have sufficient visual interest.  Among the approaches I want to pursue is low light/ night work augmented by flash and/or hand-held lights to see what kind of effects are possible.  I hope to be able to shoot in the rain if it can be done safely.

I also need to reconnoitre the local area for additional Abandonment and Reclamation prospects.  I know of a few already, so I will need to get out and photograph them as soon as possible.  One of the things Cemre picked up on was the way that the lower edge of the buildings in two of my existing photos lined up perfectly across two separate locations.  This is something I need to be mindful of in capture so I leave myself some latitude in post processing to adjust the frame to get similar placement.

Week 8 – Responses and Responsibilities

Are we desensitised to images of conflict today?

Can imagery provoke change – can it be the catalyst between thought and action?

Desensitisation has resulted as much through censorship and editorial acquiescence to perceived ‘sensibilities’ as it has to saturation of images.  It is the rare photograph of the burning Jordanian pilot or the burned Iraqi soldier that makes publication. The outrage after 9/11 of the photo of the severed hand is an everyday occurrence in a conflict zone.  Landmines, IEDs, and cluster bombs are just some of the horror inducing factors that prey not only upon the combatants, but the innocent.  How often have you seen a disembowelment or a dismemberment other than in a Hollywood movie where we all know it is nothing but special effects and no one was harmed in the filming?  Well look around and see how many soldiers have come home missing limbs. We are shown the aftermath and we all feel sorry for the poor soldier, but we don’t really know and therefore do not really care about the actual event that tore limbs from that person’s body.  How many children have been destroyed by landmines left behind?  We don’t know because no one takes or will show those photos and so we don’t care because it is not in our back garden and we don’t have to worry about where we walk or dig to plant our flowers or tatties.

An article in the Washington Post from 14 Mar 2019 is a perfect example of the censorship that goes into keeping people from seeing what really goes on in conflict.

“The Marines don’t want you to see what happens when propaganda stops and combat begins”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2019/03/14/marines-dont-want-you-see-what-happens-when-propaganda-stops-combat-begins/

 

“The true horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken.” (Sontag: 2004)

Perhaps the true horror is that photographs that should be taken or published are not seeing the light of day.  Perhaps we, particularly in Western society, have become too comfortable and complacent.  It is only when terror touches our lives directly that anyone sits up and takes notice, for a minute.  There are horrible things happening in every corner of the planet every day, example after example of man’s inhumanity to man, people suffering from overpopulation, disease, famine, lack of opportunity, social and racial oppression, war while we sit home and complain when our internet signal is too slow.  Yes, these are all big issues and they require political solutions on a massive scale such that no single one of us could buck that tide.  But if everyone buries their head in the sand there is no hope for anything but the status quo, while on the other hand if everyone went from a momentary “too bad for those poor people” to getting into the dialogue, then perhaps finally ‘thoughts and prayers’ could really become actions and results. And I am as guilty as the next person.

I suspect the question of whether a photograph can provoke action is actually a somewhat specious linkage of cause and effect.  Western societies have become increasingly egocentric in character, and while there are many even within these societies suffering, the inertia associated with comparatively comfortable lives is difficult to overcome.  My experience tells me that any stimulus, photograph or otherwise, is most often dismissed as “other” until the event in question directly touches the viewer.  Many of us live in cocoons of familiarity and believe there is more than enough to do to maintain the integrity of those cocoons, rather than reaching out to right wrongs we can see but can also easily ignore until they penetrate our cocoons.  And in fairness, the amount of strife, suffering and injustice is overwhelming.  Just thinking about it is enough to drag most people in the depths of despair and depression.  No one person can solve it all.  I don’t know how we motivate enough people to each do just a little bit to make a difference, but as much as I would like it to be so, I don’t think photographs, at least the ones allowed to go to print today, will do it.

The problem of malappropriation and the ability to reshape the meaning are equally significant problems inherent to the photograph.  Written essays are more difficult to reshape to a different purpose.

“The photographer’s intentions do not determine the meaning of the photograph, which will have its own career blown by the whims and loyalties of the diverse communities that have use for it.” (Sontag, 1977: 3)

The well documented example of the UKIP Brexit refugee photo is a perfect example, but also it is not difficult to see how the ISIS “execution” photo in this week’s course material could be used by someone of a different political persuasion to illustrate their point of view.  The fact that ISIS did not execute these people and their purpose was to make an argument they were not criminals (true or not) could certainly have been (and probably was) used to claim ISIS are savage by simply claiming the executions did take place.  Since no editor in the Western press would likely ever print a photo of 10 heads simultaneously spewing blood and brain tissue toward the camera, we are forced into ambiguity that can be easily manipulated to different purposes.

“In these last decades ‘concerned photography’ has done at least as much to deaden our conscience as to arouse it.” (Sontag, 1977: 21)

I would argue that photographic and editorial censorship and violence as entertainment have done far more to deaden our collective conscience than ‘concerned photography’.  How frequently have we heard the statement, war is okay until the public start seeing the body bags coming home?  How much effort has been put into shielding the public from the realities because the leaders are afraid of the political fallout?  Most of the US Congress have never served in the military and many of their children will not either, so there is little personal risk to them in sending someone else’s children into battle.

 

References:

SONTAG, Susan. 2004. ‘Regarding the Torture of Others’. The New York Times Magazine (23 May 2004), [online]. Available at: ttps://goo.gl/PwSVZ.

SONTAG, Susan. 1977. On Photography. Hammondsworth, UK: Penguin Books Ltd.