Week 9 – Guest Lecture with Welby Ings

I have attended or listened to the majority of the guest lectures during the MA to date and I have to say I found Welby’s lecture to be the most relevant, informative and practically useful one to date.  His discourse on methodology and methods backed up with tangible examples in his work made for a very well spent hour that helped me make more sense of what I am doing and how to proceed with further enquiry.  Some of my notes follow.

What is a thesis?

  • To position an idea.
  • A practice led thesis could be non-written work.
    • It cannot be objective because we are central to it and it is therefore subjective

Method vs Methodology

  • Research Methodology
    • Must show basis for moving knowledge beyond current state of your practice
      • Task completion vs. real research
      • Quality of research
    • Research Methods are merely your tools while methodology is the toolbox and how you use the tools
    • Practice led research is qualitative (action) research
      • Histiography
      • Narrative inquiry
      • Ethnography
      • Auto-Enthnography
      • Heuristic inquiry
        • Discover/ find using accrued knowledge to find your way through uncharted territory through trial and error. Relies on tacit knowledge. *Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (1967) and work by Clark Moustakas
        • Methods of heuristic inquiry
          • Observation and notation
          • Experimentation in materials and processes
          • Reflection in and on action
          • Critical feedback
          • Organizational and analytical matrices from the social sciences

In the end he encouraged us each to find the inherent research potential in ourselves.  It was an inspiring lecture and one I am very pleased I did not miss.

 

 

Week 8 – Reflections

This week was given to more experimentation and to finalising a venue for my exhibition in August.  While I feel strongly that the longer-term story based on my project is on solid footing and will be able to be told, it will take some time to get there.  So, I have been trying to find ways to make work in the interim that is more contemporaneously interesting as well as being a potential element in the ultimate story of Coul Links.

I also continued my reading after finishing Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography with two short books by Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, and I am reading Berger’s Ways of Seeing.  The more critical theory I read it seems that everyone has their own view on the topic and there isn’t any universality of thought.  Nonetheless, I am finding these reading somewhat thought provoking and they are providing me with a different vocabulary for thinking about and discussing my work.

Case in point, I asked two tutors for thoughts on some of the experimental work I had done this week.  While both were encouraging and supportive of my efforts to push myself, I got diametrically opposed opinions about the work itself and which of the test cases was most interesting and effective.  Fortunately, my own thoughts aligned reasonably well with one of the tutors.  On a related note, after a few weeks of working with tutors in Surfaces and Strategies I find myself looking at my photos during post processing wondering what I can take out of them.  While some of that can be done with cropping, some of it requires me to use Photoshop and I am seeing my skills and confidence with that tool improving as well, though there is still much room for improvement.

I revisited Sergey Larenkov’s work this week and was directed towards work by Richard Barnes in which he photographed Civil War re-enactments, and work by Deborah Baker.

Nothing in what I have done or read is changing my core methodology with respect to my project, but I believe aspects of the macro work I have been testing and the experiments this week with a model “playing” the course routing in its current natural state and repeat photographing the same perspectives when the new course is finished.

I am working somewhat in parallel in curating my WIP Portfolio, my Landings exhibition, my local exhibition(s) and a September one day speaking engagement where I have been asked to show my work.  I need to get this decided quite soon for the exhibitions so I can get on to the elements of this term that are graded. I have also been asked to leave some of my work on display for sale in the venue that will host my primary exhibit.  It is an entirely new thing to think about how to value my work.

 

Richard Barnes: http://www.richardbarnes.net/projects/#/civil-war-1/

Deborah Baker: https://www.crafts.org.uk/Makers-Directory/Baker,-Deborah.aspx

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

Flusser, V. (1983). Towards a philosophy of photography. English. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

Kleon, A. (2012). Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative. New York: Workman Publishing Company.

Kleon, A. (2014). Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered. New York: Workman Publishing Company.

 

Week 8 – Pushing Boundaries

After reading Vilem Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography and considering many of the comments from my tutor about my work being somewhat predictable and expected, I have been pushing myself to find photographs that have not been taken and that are unexpected, and to find my own unique voice as a photographer.

Since my entire project was fundamentally “predictable” in that it was focused on repeat photography and wildlife photography, two areas where it is exceedingly difficult to be particularly unique, I thought I might have to consider ways to be more creative in my approach.  One of the interesting aspects about the planned golf course at Coul Links is that it is already largely there and while different grasses will be planted in specific areas, the topography of the land will not change dramatically.  The teeing grounds, bunkers and greens along with most of the fairway contouring have been formed by nature over centuries.  In fact it is entirely possible that people have already played golf on this links land just as they have been doing on the Dornoch Links 3 miles to the south for over 400 years.  What if the ghosts of golfers past are lurking and just waiting for their links to re-emerge and be again uncovered from the overgrowth that has occurred in recent decades?

In a radical departure from my normal “indexical” (Sontag, 1977) and ontological approach to my work, I wondered “What if a ghost of a golfer were wandering this ground today along the proposed routing of the new course?”  An idea for a variation on repeat photography formed in my mind; “Could I photograph a golfer in traditional garb with hickory clubs of 100 years ago on the Coul Links proposed routing today, before any changes are made and then come back after the changes are made to take the same perspective with a golfer in contemporary kit?”

First Tee-8224
The First Tee

In this first photograph I desaturated the colour about 70% to give the photo a feeling of being in the past.

First Tee2-
The First Tee

In this and the following photo, I left the colour levels as shot and dissolved portions of the golfer’s image to  create a ghost-like effect, but left the feet and hands in the present as if the ghost were enjoying walking and playing a game on once familiar ground.

Second Tee2-
The Second Tee

 

Second Green Approach-
The Second Green

In this photo I used a combination of the dissolved golfer’s image, again keeping the hands and club in real time and desaturated the image slightly.

Tenth Tee-8226
The Tenth Tee

In this last image, I used the desaturation technique again to a slightly lesser degree to preserve a better feeling of the landscape while conveying the aesthetic of an older photograph.

I am not certain yet which of these techniques carries the most impact, though the surrealism of the dissolved images feels perhaps too much a departure from my practise.  The desaturated images when paired with the future images on the completed course will convey a lovely sense of the Links (the sand based stretches of ground that serve as the link between the sea and the arable land beyond) then and now, as well as the links to the history of golf in Scotland which has been played on this type of land for more than 500 years.  It is a departure from the strict natural history dimension my project has had, but I believe it has merit in the ability to show the landscape in a some way other than the “postcard” photograph and convey the story of the transformation of this place in a different way.

 

Flusser, V. (1983). Towards a philosophy of photography. English. London: Reaktion Books Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0031-9406(10)62747-2
Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. Penguin Books. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13398-014-0173-7.2

 

Week 6 – Inspiration

In trying to ascertain the species of some of the insects I had photographed with a macro lens, I stumbled across the work of John Hallmen and was utterly awestruck.  I couldn’t understand how it was possible to obtain such clarity across the entire depth of field without diffraction.  As I read an interview with him and subsequently visited his website I learned he uses photo stacking and uses sometimes over 50 images to obtain one.   The image below is an example of extraordinary work Hallmen does in the field and in studio uses both natural and augmented light sources.  He then uses Zerene Stacker to process the series of images.

8601273688_5ba52a2694_o.jpg

 

Completely fascinated by this process and the prospects for my practice I obtained Zerene Stacker and set about experimenting.  As luck would have it on this rainy day, I found a dead moth on one of my window sills and it was a perfect subject for experimentation as it was not about to move.  Tripod, flash, cable release and a 100mm f2.8 lens on my Canon 5D MkIV and off we went.  A total of 18 images in minutely different focal planes were taken at a slightly oblique angle of this moth which is about 2cm in length.  Results of my first attempt are below and quite impressive.

Moth Stacked-17

My experiments continued with flowers and a fly.

Elm Stacked-55Fly Stacked-01White Flowers Stacked-43

This is definitely a valuable technique to employ along with macro photography.  I am looking forward to experimenting with it in landscape work as well.  There might be some interesting effects possible with ND filters and longer exposures at various focal depths and then stacking.

John Hallmén. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2018, from http://www.johnhallmen.se/2016/4/25/morning-stretch

Week 5 – Reflections on One to One Tutorial

I found this a productive session and frankly altogether too short to really discuss all I might have liked to discuss.  Nevertheless, Michelle provided a lot of encouragement and offered some insights and opinions about some of the work I showed.  I was a bit surprised by some and would at some point like to delve further into the “whys” behind the comments.

I can take a technically good photograph, but my usual subject matter is one in which it is somewhat difficult to distinguish one’s self from the other many fine professional and amateur natural history photographers in the world without resorting to gimmicks or excessive manipulations, both of which strike me as antithetical to whole point of natural history photography.  So we return to the question of what makes my work unique and identifiable?  I do not yet have the definitive answer to that question.  My work is becoming more focused on outcomes; that is to say I take fewer photos just to take a photo of something that catches my eye or interests me and consider what will I do with the photo and how does it fit or support an output in some form.  I am much more aware of the need to tell a story with my work.  In some of my projects I begin with with a clear idea of the story line and am able to capture images to support that narrative.  In my research project though, it is impossible to determine how the story will end at this time, and it may be many years in fact before we know the true outcome.  So while there are clear elements to the plot, it is somewhat of a mystery story: who is the villain and who is the hero, do either exist, can nature and man work together in harmony in this instance?

Michelle suggested I look at the work of Stephen Gill and Susan Derges.  I found Gill’s work unappealing, uninspiring and largely uninteresting, both in subject matter and technique.  He is an experimental photographer and he does unconventional things to make his art, for which he is to be commended, and he obviously has attracted an audience, but his art does not resonate with me.

On the other hand, I was fascinated by the work of Susan Derges.  I didn’t realize at first that she specializes in cameraless photography and I found myself wondering how she managed the perspective in many of her photos.  Her work dances along the border between realism and abstraction, and contains just enough of each to capture and hold my attention.  When I then learned that much of her work is constructed in a darkroom I was completely gobsmacked.  Michelle has urged me to consider whether there is a place in my project for something along the lines of the photograms I did in last week’s activity.  Derges work is far more sophisticated than my simple cyanotypes, but it has shown me there are perhaps possibilities of which I was not aware and had therefore not considered.

So the search for Ashley Rose’s unique perspective continues.  Under every rock and leaf there seems another possibility.  Perhaps this is another journey with no final destination, but rather one of exploration, discovery, experimentation and reflection.  Yet another story with an uncertain ending.  Stay tuned for future episodes.

 

Derges, S. (n.d.). Susan Derges. Retrieved July 6, 2018, from http://susanderges.co.uk/
Gill, S. (n.d.). Stephen Gill Portfolio. Retrieved July 6, 2018, from https://www.stephengill.co.uk/portfolio/portfolio

 

Making sense of multiple photographs over time

20180628_223953

I just finished reading most of this book and found it quite thought provoking.  There seems a great muddle even amongst the “experts” in the epistemology and ontology of photographic practise that includes more than one photograph taken of the same subject.  Is it “before and after”, rephotography, repeat photography, a series, or “then-and-now” photography?  Depending on which source one might choose to use, it could be any one, all, or none of these labels.

Albers and Bear write in their opening chapter:

“Among the most significant orthodoxies in the recent historiography of photography is a shared conviction that a single, authoritative account of the medium is both impossible and undesirable.  A tenet of much of the most innovative scholarship since the 1970’s, this commitment to a plurality of histories is summed up in the scholar John Tagg’s haunting disavowal: “Photography as such has no identity…its history has no unity.  It is a flickering across a field of institutional spaces. It is this field we must study, not photography itself” 

And precisely because of photography’s lack of identity outside of specific discursive and institutional contexts, the art historian, the climatologist and the sociologist have no common idiom for discussing their photographic research.

As such, we focus on before-and-after photographs as a strategy so commonplace that virtually every disparate photographic discourse has enlisted it.” 

It seems to me the ubiquity of photography and its employment across virtually every social, scientific and artistic discipline renders photography in some ways a tool of the discipline in which it is being employed rather than an end unto itself.  I think this is the point Tagg was trying to make and the argument Bear and Albers put forth that there may be strategies employed across those disciplines that provide a basis for a common framework.  However, the distinctions they make between the related tropes that share in common the employment of more than one photograph are less than clear cut as evidenced by the essays that comprise the remainder of the book.

In the afterword, James Elkins writes:

“Because I am not sure how to distinguish rephotography from before-and-after photography, or before-and-after photography from individual photographs, I prefer to think of those odd experiences as extreme cases of the sorts of seeing that are provoked, unexpectedly and in general, by photographs of many kinds. If seeing photographs involves self-indulgent, myopic, or even anascopic seeing, and if it elicits subjunctive, reparative mediations on what was, what came between, and what came after, then before-and-after photography may be more an extreme kind of photography, a limit or test case, than a separable genre or mode or practise.  It may be a kind of photography that helps us to understand what some photography can be.”

Bear and Albers try to distinguish before-and-after photography as two photos punctuated by a singular unseen event that causes the change observed in the photographs, and which requires the viewer to imagine the nature of that event.  Rephotography, such as practised by Mark Klett and others, is likewise two photographs temporarily separated by an undefined period of time in which the viewer is still required to discern the changes and imagine what cause or causes effected the changes.  Both before-and-after photography begin from a single photograph and often with no intent to necessarily take a second photograph of the same place in a different time.  Occasionally, one might have foreknowledge of an impending event that would lend itself to a before-and-after trope.  The only way I can distinguish then-and-now photography from rephotography in either method or intent is rephotography necessitates taking the photos from the same place with as close as possible replication of the original perspectives.  Jem Southam’s work The Painter’s Pool is more of a then and now piece of work giving a feel of a place over a period of time without trying to recreate an original photograph.

Repeat photography, on the other hand, begins with intent to observe changes in a place over time by taking two or more photographs from the same place over some again undefined span of time.  It begins also with a belief that observable changes will occur by known or unknown single or multiple causal factors.  And herein comes the rub.

If I know that a hurricane is about to hit or a volcano about to erupt and I take photographs of the area to be affected by the event with the intent to return and photograph the aftermath, am I engaging in before-and-after or repeat photography?  Does it matter? If I stay and take photographs during the event it is no longer unseen and therefore does not fit the definition of before-and-after photography, but is it repeat photography with a relatively short temporal displacement or is it a series?  Again, does it matter?  If I take a series of photographs that captures the full sequence of an event, but then choose to only show the first and last in the series and leave the event unseen, is that before-and-after photography, or have I just made an editorial or curatorial choice?

Aren’t all of these distinctions somewhat arbitrary and vague?  Are they not in fact a continuum of sorts with boundaries that overlap as a function in part of the epistemological perspective of the project?  Perhaps what matters is that all the photographs provide some level of information imbued by the apparatus and the choices of the photographer that remain to be decoded by the viewer.  Furthermore, what seems common among virtually all of the examples described in the book, regardless of which trope one might assign, is none seem be approached by the photographers with an agenda, and rather are largely indexical in character.  The assignment or interpretation of significance seems to come in part from the editorial and curatorial choices made by the photographer, and from the viewer and whatever perspectives and biases they bring to viewing.

What relevance does this have to my project?  I am in large part observing a place over time.  I entered the project with the idea this was a classic repeat photography project in which I would observe and record both natural and anthropogenic changes on a landscape over a period of approximately two years.  However, I have foreknowledge that a major anthropogenic event will occur that will cause dramatic changes in the landscape.  Has this become a before-and-after project or because I will photograph the changes as the event occurs does it become a series?  Does the trope to which it is assigned depend on what and how I choose to show the results?  Can it be everything and none of these things depending on those choices?  And, does it matter?  Can it not just be what it is? Can I not just use photography as epistemological and ontological tool to understand my world?

I think I can.

Tagg, J. (1988). The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Bear, J., & Albers, K. P. (2017). Before-and-After Photography; Histories and Contexts (1st ed.). London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Critical Research

I have spent a great deal of time these past months reading and trying to understand what I have done, what I am doing and what I want to do as a photographer.  I at first found reading the paragons of photographic theory both difficult and cumbersome, and I struggled to find the relevance.  I have also been researching sources on techniques such as repeat photography and related scientific fields that have employed repeat photography as an aid to understanding.  I have looked at more works of other photographers in the field of natural history photography and other genres than ever before in my life to see if and how their work is different from mine and what I might learn from those who are considered among the best in the field.  I have allowed myself the freedom to pursue personal projects that are not related to my MA project proposal, because I enjoy other genres and because those each teach me something about photographic technique and story telling; the area which I considered a great weakness entering the MA course.

What I have not been doing heretofore is adequately documenting this research in my CRJ and now I must begin to rectify that shortcoming.

Week 2 – Appropriation and Context

This week’s forum was a discussion centered around the controversy over “The Rights of the Molotov Man” and the case known as Joywar.  In 2003 Joy Garnett used an image taken in 1979 by Susan Meiselas of a Sandanista rebel in Nicaragua as inspiration for a painting in a collection called Riot.  Garnett did not acknowledge the original author which was in my opinion an ethical breach.  While Meiselas claimed copyright infringement, Garnett in fact created a unique, derivative work based on Meiselas’ photo.  Meiselas later stated her principal objection was the loss of context of the original photo and the appropriation of its subject for a different purpose.

Sontag wrote “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed.” (Sontag, 1977) She goes on further to say “The photograph a thin slice of space as well as time.” “Anything can be separated, can be made discontinuous, from anything else, all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently.” “Any photograph has multiple meanings: indeed, to see something in the form of a photograph is to encounter a potential object of fascination.” “Photographs, which cannot by themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation and fantasy.” (Sontag, 1977)

While Garnett should have acknowledged Meiselas’ photo as her inspiration, I find Meiselas’ argument about Garnett having stolen the context of the original photo to be specious and frivolous.  Someone standing next to Meiselas taking a photo of the same original event might have had a very different interpretation of the event if they had been on the other side politically and may have seen a riot instead of a rebellion.  As soon as a photo is published its author’s context is lost to that of the viewer.  Garnett simply chose to accept the invitation to deduce, speculate and fantasize about the image to create her new version.  I can see Meiselas’ point about the subject, Pablo Arauz, having his story misappropriated as he had a specific history, a piece of which that was captured in Meiselas’ photo, but that image was also appropriated by the Sandanista government and showed up on walls and matchbooks with intent to use it in a different context than when it was originally taken.

Context is a tricky business and as Sontag says photos do not stand alone.  We each view the world through the filters and biases resulting from our unique life experiences and those are applied to one degree or another to every image we see, to every word we read, and to every story we hear.  How then as photographers can we ever hope to control the context we saw when we made a photograph?  Sontag again wrote ” Photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it.  But this is the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks.  All possibility of understanding is rooted in the ability to say no.  Strictly speaking, one never understands anything from a photograph.”  (Sontag, 1977) Our cameras can provide evidence of something existing or having existed, but understanding requires more than can be captured in a single photograph.  Perhaps only through a collection of photographs or with words of explanation we can hope to convey to a viewer that which we originally intended when we chose to record an image.  And even then, there will remain those who are unconvinced.

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. Penguin Books.

 

Contemporary Wildlife and Nature Photographers

I has become very apparent to me that I don’t know very much about other practitioners in the field and while I have seen work done by many of them over the years, I never paid much attention to the photographers or their stories.  The National Geographic series “Tales by Light” brought to focus a handful of well known practitioners.  I have upgraded equipment and have been working diligently to improve my skills with great success. Watching Tales by Light again I was able to appreciate it on an entirely different level.  Now undertaking the MA programme I find it necessary to be more rigorous  and “academic” in developing my research.

I have complied a list of photographers to investigate further.  As I look more closely at their work, technique, and presentation I will compile additional notes on things I feel are relevant to my practice and the field of nature photography in general that will contribute to my research.

  • Darren Jew
  • Richard I’Anson
  • Krystie Wright
  • Art Wolfe
  • Peter Eastway
  • Jonathon and Angela Scott
  • Eric Cheng
  • Stephen Dupont
  • Michael Aw
  • Martin Bailey
  • Karen Lunney
  • Jon Cornforth
  • Annette Bonnier
  • Jess Findlay
  • Mathew “Matty” Smith
  • Connor Stefanison
  • Stefano Unterthiner
  • Frans Lanting
  • Suzi Eszterhas
  • Will and Matt Burrar-Lucas
  • Andy Rouse
  • Joel Satore
  • Moose Peterson
  • Christopher Dodds
  • Mike Cavaroc
  • Ole Jorgen Lioddenn
  • Craig Jones
  • Charles Glatzer
  • Chris Packham
  • Peter Cairns
  • Richard Peters
  • Austin Thomas
  • Elliot Neep
  • Audun Dahl
  • Staffan Widstrand
  • Daisy Gilardini
  • Rathika Ramasamy
  • Gabriela Stabler
  • David Lloyd
  • Hideo Kisimoto
  • Neeta Madahar