Contemporary Photographers – Simon Roberts

Simon Roberts is British photographer whose landscape work explores the relationship people have with the land and issues of identity and belonging.  Much of Roberts’ work evokes for me a reminder of the landscapes of Monet or Renoir which depict people going about their activities as integral to the landscape they were painting.  Like the impressionists, for Roberts the individual is rarely the primary focus of a photograph, but rather he adopts a more pulled back perspective that clearly shows “people” in a space doing something.   Roberts work is also reminiscent of work by of David Hurn, Martin Parr and Robert Frank and others of that generation.

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Simon Roberts, National Property, Sheringham 2014

Another aspect of Roberts work is that he has found benefit in a slightly elevated perspective using the roof of his camper van as a platform. This affords a view which allows the scene to be ever so slightly “decluttered” achieving a degree of separation between elements of the photograph that would not be possible from ground level, and yet is not so elevated as to seem a different perspective to that which a viewer might experience from the ground.  It makes a scene seem clearer and yet familiar at the same time.

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Simon Roberts, Normandy 2014

I think it is also a technique that allows Roberts to almost disappear from the surroundings in a way that results in better, more natural photographs than would be achieved from the ground.  It is my experience, as counter-intuitive as it may seem that people in busy places don’t look up, and while he might seem conspicuous atop a camper van, the likelihood is that he is actually less so.  People therefore would be more likely to go about their activities in more normal and natural ways allowing Roberts to capture people as they truly are in the places he chooses to photograph.  As in the example below, although he is quite nearby, nobody seems aware of his presence.

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Simon Roberts, Normandy 2014

Roberts work provides some examples and insights for my work at Coul Links.  I too use elevated perspectives tending to “perch” on the higher ground where I have more commanding views.  My more recent work in trying to include people engaging in normal activity within the landscape also uses a more distant perspective and I am conscious of trying to not be noticed by my subjects, human or wildlife.  The more invisible I am the more likely I am to get a photograph of “normal” behaviour.

Work – Simon Roberts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2018, from https://www.simoncroberts.com/work/

And from personal notes taken during Simon Roberts Guest Lecture

Contemporary Photographers – Edward Burtynsky

Edward Burtynsky is a Canadian photographer, who has spent 40 + years documenting the impacts of humans on nature.

Burtynsky wrote “[we] come from nature.…There is an importance to [having] a certain reverence for what nature is because we are connected to it… If we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves.”  His work has always looked more specifically at residual landscapes, those impacted by the activity of humans and he seeks to explore how nature is transformed through industry.  He often employs elevated perspectives and people also do not feature in his photographs, but rather the aftermath of their actions.  Mines, quarries, water, air, agriculture, oil fields and refineries have all been subjects for Burtynsky, and each have left their scars on the earth as humans knowingly trade the better lives they seek for the irreparable damage they inflict on the place they live.  These contradictions which rarely seem to find the delicate balance point they require are the underlying theme and source of tension in Burtynsky’s photographs.

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Edward Burtynsky, Nickel Tailings, Sudbury, Ontario, 1996

He also uses a lot of elevated perspectives and employs a variety of tools from large format cameras to drones and helicopters which allows him to tell the story in a way that can not be done from the ground.  His most recent work “The Anthropocene Project” has been done using a variety of media including stills, video, and virtual and augmented reality.

I find a lot of common ground with Burtynsky from a basic interest in how humans and nature interact, to the use of elevated perspectives to tell the story.  Until his most recent work he has generally shown what humans have done without showing humans.  There is no ambiguity in how the scars on our planet were created.  His work is powerful because the viewer finds herself somewhat torn between the ugliness that is shown in an often beautifully created photograph, and we too are left with a sort of scar of collective guilt about what mankind has done.  In “The Anthropocene Project” Burtynsky is much more direct in the way he shows people as essential elements in the scenes that mankind has created.

ANTH_TFOS_DAN_02_16_SRC_iPF_KdkGlossy_alt1_WEB Burtynsky

Edward Burtynsky, Dandora Landfill #34, Plastics Recycling, Nairobi, Kenya 2016

 

My work has a long way to go to reach the significance or quality Burtynsky has achieved and he sets a worthy bar to which to aspire.  There is much to learned from looking at his work as I move forward with my project.

 

Edward Burtynsky. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://www.edwardburtynsky.com/

 

Week 3 – Reflections

Social Media:  I have used Facebook for a long time mainly to keep in touch with friends and family and occasionally to feature photographic work I’d done, but as  had no aspirations to making it a proper business, I never pushed that on FB.  I have had an Instagram account for some time as well, but had rarely posted anything there.  Despite that, I had over 50 followers when I began posting current work this week.  I don’t see Instagram necessarily as the vehicle that will bring me work, but I know the added exposure and distribution of my work is a generally good thing.

I was not keen on the Viral Image task either as an on or off line exercise.  I live in a very small Scottish burgh and the idea of plastering an image around town even on the few proper boards let alone across the breadth of the conservation district seemed to me to be an act of defacement that I couldn’t bring myself to, particularly since I am already well known within the town and I think it would raise more issues than benefit.

Webinar with Sophie:  I had the luxury of a one on one with Sophie this week as I was the only person signed up in that slot.  I sent a link to some of my current work to Sophie so we could discuss where I was and where I needed to be going.  I was a very helpful discussion.

First Sophie was encouraged by the non-project specific work as she sees it as useful to training my eye as a photographer and keeping the fun in the work.  She asked if I find it easier or more difficult to do project work and my reply was qualified.  I have diverse interests photographically as I mentioned in an earlier post.  I also find it quite easy to turn those interests, whether on an afternoon’s shoot or across a longer span of time into projects.  That is something that has changed dramatically with this course.  Previously I rarely saw my photographic work as anything other than the individual photographs I made.  Now with almost every photograph I make I can see an outcome; how it fits or might fit into a larger body of work or end product.  Each photo inspires me to bigger ideas because I always if there is one scene that captures my attention and my camera, there are more to be found.

The qualification was with respect to my MA project work which has been a bit more difficult due the circumstances associated with the planning application.  I am a bit stalled on the repeat photography elements of the project since little is happening after the project was called in by the Scottish Government for additional review.  On the wildlife side however, it is the beginning of the “Highland Gathering” of birds that winter on Loch Fleet and the north end of Coul Links.  While it is early in the migration and only a small fraction of the birds have arrived, I have had some really successful shoots already.

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Sophie then asked how I feel about photographing people and I replied that I have always been a bit uncomfortable with it, but that I had been making an effort, with some good results, at doing more; particularly outdoor environmental portraits.  Sophie challenged me to set a target of  8 or 10 portraits as part of my work and as we were talking I realised how many people use the north end of Coul Links and the perimeters of Loch Fleet every day their dogs, enjoy the outdoors, or watch the birds and marine mammals that inhabit that patch of land and sea.  In fact, I missed an amazing opportunity last Wednesday because right where I set up to photograph birds, a gentleman and his wife were encamped behind their estate vehicle with two chairs a wee tea table and a spotting scope.  When I arrived the gent was intent on birding while the lady sat comfortably in her chair reading her Kindle.  It would have been a perfect photo and because I just do not think about photographing people I missed it.  At least four other people came up to me for a chat about what was out on Loch Fleet and likewise never thought about asking if I could take their photo.  So lesson learned and in response to Sophie’s challenge I will be looking for those opportunities over the coming weeks.

I am re-energised about my project and really appreciated Sophie’s encouragement and advise.

Week 12 – More Thoughts on Surfaces and Strategies’ Influences on My Practise

This module has seemed something of a whirlwind of activity with so much new each week that it has sometimes been difficult to get adequate perspective on what it all means.  Books, Zines, no camera photography, exhibitions, dummy books, workshops, video trailers, project work and trying to continue research proved to hardly be a part-time endeavour.  I read quite a lot this term and though I didn’t write about it as much or as often as I perhaps should have, there were a number of those books that drew me back to places I had bookmarked over and over.

I find myself going back to and re-reading bits of Sontag, Flusser, Berger, Kleon, Bate, Bear and Albers, Tagg, Webb and Muybridge.  Some of those works had bits that struck me straightaway, while others may have gone right over my head at first reading.  What I found though in many cases, those things that may not have resonated at the beginning have managed to find purchase in the dark recesses of my mind and like a jigsaw puzzle are starting to form a picture that I can understand.  It is not that there is anyone definitive bit that unlocked the mystery nor am I sure yet that I can clearly articulate what about any or all of them is most meaningful and relevant to me and my practise.  I do know that I feel far more comfortable with the idea of critical theory and that it has made a difference at how I view my work.

I know I have further to go in this journey and I expect ultimately it will have been and evolution and not a revolution.  The quality of my work has improved even though the focus of this course is not on the technical aspects of making photographs.  It has improved in part because of more disciplined regular practise, in part because I have obtained or improved upon technical skills, in part because I now have an eye toward what will become of my work once it completes post-processing, and in part due to a better appreciation for and understanding of what photography has been, is and could be through my research and readings of critical theory.

I am still searching for my voice in the photographic world.  While I came into the programme as a natural history photographer, and it is something I quite enjoy I am not convinced it is where (or rather the only place) my future practise will reside.  My past photographic work has been as eclectic as the rest of my life which has included several different successful careers.  I have broad interests and it comes as no surprise then that my photographic work might reflect that.  I believe there will be touchstones that will tie together work in different genres as they are the same things that sit at the core of my value system and worldview.  My natural history work is borne from those perspectives, but so too is the sports and action photography work I have done and do.

The first two modules of this course have forced me to think about my practise as I have never had to before, and has begun to give me the tools to analyse and vocabulary to better articulate it.  The framework is starting to take form, but the details are yet to be resolved.

I have for sometime been researching photographers who work in golf.  There are those that work in the more journalistic end and photograph tournaments, and there are those who work more in the advertising and public relations end of the spectrum doing landscape work that in many cases falls into the fine art category.  And there are a few that cross those indistinct boundaries as well.

Why have I been researching this?  Coul Links, where I have been doing my project work, is proposed to have a golf course of world class stature built within and adjacent to environmentally designated and protected land.   I have also been working on a personal/ commercial project at the Royal Dornoch Golf Club which is situated 3 miles to the south of Coul Links and of which I am a member.  Golf has been a not unimportant part of my life for 60 years.  I have been highly ranked internationally as a competitor and I derive great pleasure from the game itself, the ground on which it is played and the people who are part of it.  Why wouldn’t it be natural that my passions should intersect?

Kevin Murray is among the best in the business and while his work is largely in the advertising and PR category, he does fine work also photographing professional golfers and events.  His work can be seen at http://kevinmurraygolfphotography.com/ .  Paul Severn is another well respected golf photographer whose work covers an even broader spectrum of the game.  His work can be found at https://www.severnimages.com/index.  There quite a number of other excellent practitioners whose work I have reviewed, but these two serve to illustrate some key points about the genre.

What makes a good golf course photograph and is it different from normal landscape photography?  To answer the second part it isn’t that different from good landscape photography in that it requires attention to the lighting and choice of angles to reveal aspects to render the scene in a way that draws out the most interesting elements.  There are additional aspects that seem common to the best work such as the inclusion of the flagstick somewhere in the scene.  A certain amount of elevation adds dimensionality revealing contours and features such as bunkers.  The best courses in the world, and hence the most photographed, have holes or cultural attributes that make them iconic and instantly recognisable to followers of the game.  Augusta National during the Masters with all the azaleas in bloom or the clubhouse at the end of Magnolia Lane; views of Ailsa Rock from Turnberry; the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse behind the 18th green on the Old Course at St. Andrews.  Inclusion of these iconic elements is standard practise.

How does photographing golfers fit within the practises of environmental portraiture or street photography?  I would argue that it is not that different at all.  Photographing at a tournament or just golfers playing a casual round is very much like street photography in that you are looking to capture a particular moment that will be fleeting because it is either based on getting a specific action sequence or emotion and while it requires anticipation and planning to be in the right position, the actual moment isn’t always controllable or predictable.  Getting a photo of a golfer in his or her environment with purely natural lighting is again in my opinion just a variation on environmental portrait work.  The photographer is attempting to see the subject in their environment and capture some attribute of personality or emotion that is distinctive and recognisable.

The photos below are some of my work in this genre.  Why?  It bears on my project work if, and I believe it will, Coul Links development is approved.

 

 

Referenced Books:

Bate, D. (2016). Photography; The Key Concepts. The Key Concepts (2nd ed.). London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

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

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

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

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

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

Muybridge, E. (1979). Muybridge’s Complete Human and Animal Locomotion, Volume III. New York: Dover Publications.

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

Tagg, J. (1988). The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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

Referenced Web Pages:

Kevin Murray Golf Photography | Golf Photos | Top Golf Photographer. (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2018, from http://kevinmurraygolfphotography.com/

Paul Severn Golf Photographer /Golf Course Images/Golf Tournaments/Golf Picture Library. (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2018, from https://www.severnimages.com/index

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?”

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The First Tee

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

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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.

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The Second Tee

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My experiments continued with flowers and a fly.

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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 2 – Project Trailer

As part of the week’s activities we were to create a video “teaser” trailer about our project according to the following instructions.

“Making a trailer may initially seem an unusual activity in a photography course, but trailers have become a useful tool for blockbuster exhibitions in recent years, with varying approaches and budgets. Furthermore, making a trailer is a great way to step outside your comfort zone and refine your sense of storytelling, as well as being a good way to explore the fundamental time-based relationship between images and words.  Think about which images of yours (or others’) can help express / reveal key parts of your project. Think about how to get your audience interested in the images, how to build tension (or not) and how to release that tension.”

Suffice to say this task did push up against the boundaries of my comfort zone, but not as severely as creating the Positions and Practice Oral Presentation.  Having scaled the steepest part of the learning curve then made this time seem much less overwhelming.  During P&P, I tried to use Adobe Premier, but just couldn’t seem to make it do what I wanted it to do in the time frame I had  for the OP.  I ended up using PowerPoint and converting the presentation to video, but I did gain a bit of experience with Premier that made jumping back in for this exercise much less about “which buttons control which functions?” and more about turning a concept into a reality that met the brief within the prescribed limit of 2 minutes.

It also is clear that I am becoming more comfortable with the idea of using my images to tell a story; an aspect of my photographic practice that was always noticeably absent.  There has in fact been a distinct shift in the approach to my practice and while I will still  photograph something because it appeals to my eye, the majority of my work now is far more purposeful.  I start a shoot with a much clearer intention and sense of what I will need to tell the story I have in mind.

The result was successful overall, though I wish I could have gone a wee bit longer to allow for a better ending on a natural break in the music track.  I believe I used images and music to convey a dramatic tension and the overall sense of the project.  The result can be viewed in the link below using the password Falmouth.

Coul Links Project Update

After the oral presentation run through with the tutors a couple of weeks ago, there were some suggestions which prompted some rethinking of the project parameters.  These ideas were further cemented in the 1 to 1 session with Gary and the discovery of some relevant work by others.

The most significant modification is that the project can and will go ahead regardless of the outcome of the Highland Council decision on the planning application.  The land at Coul Links is in it’s our right an ever changing landscape that supports a rich and varied biodiversity throughout the year.  It is a site subject to dramatic changes through the various seasons of the year, both physically and in terms of the wildlife that inhabits it.  It is subject more subtle changes on a day to day basis with weather and light, which depending on the direction and angle reveals characteristics of the landscape not necessarily visible at other times.  It is a dynamic ecologically with plants that appear and thrive at different times of the year, and with the ebbing and spreading of native species, as well as the encroachment of invasive species.

Should the planning application to build the golf course be approved, Coul Links will undergo a rapid and dramatic change that is man-made and documenting those changes as they occur and how those changes affect the surrounding areas directly and indirectly.

Although I was essentially planning a large rephotography effort, I had not been familiar with the term.  Learning that vocabulary opened a rich bibliography of relevant resources upon which to draw, such as Repeat Photography (Webb), Mark Klett’s work on the “Rephotographic Survey Project” and  “Yosemite in Time”.  I was also introduced to Sophie Gerrard’s project “The Dunes”, which while different in focus, bears some resemblance the circumstances in my project.

Now that I have arrived back in Scotland I will be able to capture some of the imagery I will use as the reference bases.  The particularly harsh winter NE Scotland experienced this year has flooded the area behind the fore dunes quite extensively and considerably more than in recent memory.  It gives the appearance of one enormous dune slack rather than the typical isolated ephemeral dune slacks.  It is a glorious example of how dynamic and ever changing the Coul Links are in the face of the forces of nature.

 

GERRARD, S., , The Dunes. Available: https://www.sophiegerrard.com/work/the-dunes/ [Mar 15, 2018].

KLETT, M., 2003-last update, Yosemite in Time. Available: http://www.markklettphotography.com/yosemite-in-time/ [Mar 15, 2018].

KLETT, M., 1979-last update, Rephotographic Survey Project. Available: http://www.markklettphotography.com/rephotographic-survey-project/ [Mar 15, 2018].

WEBB, R., 2010. Repeat Photogrpahy. Island Press.