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.

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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.

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 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.

 

Week 6 – Reflections

This week’s work was focused on the preparation and presentation to the tutors of our oral presentations.  I took the time to look at the exemplars that were posted and found them diverse and revelatory.  There were things I liked and disliked about each, but all displayed impressive depth and critical analyses of their influences, motivations and inspiration.  These are things I have not given enough thought before.

In the tutor review I got some very valuable feedback on the presentation content and the project which allowed me to think about the project in a different and more sustainable way.  It pointed out deficiencies in the depth of my research that I need to rectify.  I have been so focused on trying to decide what I wanted to do and how I might go about it that I hadn’t focused enough on critical analyses and research.

After the review I had a better frame of reference to re-examine and understand the exemplar presentations which helped a great deal in preparing the next draft of my oral presentation.  I have been struggling a bit with technology trying to find a platform to make the presentation come to life as I envision it.  I believe the content is now nearly nailed and the project Coul Links in much clearer in my mind and in the presentation.  A couple more tweaks on the presentation platform to improve the polish and I will be there.

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Coul Links Dunes and Dune Slacks (Dec 2017)

Coul Links

A great deal of time these past two weeks has gone into deciding upon which project to pursue and how to go about it.  Ultimately I returned to the concept I had when I applied for the MA programme, and began preparing the draft outline for a proposal and the oral presentation on the project titled Coul Links.  Once decided, it was relatively straightforward to pull references and begin researching those documents and sources to compile a bibliography of relevant sources and data that would support execution of the project.  The Oral Presentation is complete and form to submit following this week’s review with the tutors.

In the Coul Links project I have found an evolving story that allows me to blend photographic skills and interests with knowledge and experience in biology, project management, construction and one of my other life passions, golf.

My research for this module and hopefully through into the Final Major Project will be centered around this extraordinary parcel of land in North Eastern Scotland which is embroiled in controversy over the primacy of the economic needs of the region vs. the desire to preserve and protect from development a unique natural environment.

The developers have submitted their planning proposal to the Highland Council to build a world class golf course on one of the last untouched parcels of links land in Scotland. The site lies within a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area, a RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands of International Importance site, and within the Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve. The site also has potential historic and archaeological significance.

The application has been extremely controversial sparking strong debate and heightening emotions on both sides of the argument. Highland Council are meant to take a final decision on 17 April.

In this project, I will use documentary, landscape and natural history photography to document the construction of the course and buildings, to assess impacts to the landscape, flora and fauna of the area, and any archaeological discoveries.

Still photography, and aerial still photography and videography will be used to document the base state and change states over time in the landscape overall, specific habitat areas, as many species as possible’ steading and other buildings on site that are to be repurposed, and the construction process itself and the people undertaking it.

I plan to do archival research through the History Links Museum and Cambusmore Estate from when the property operated as Coul Farm.

Ultimately I hope to span the proposed 18 month construction cycle (assuming approval of the planning application)

There are some factors which weigh on the success of the project. On the plus side I have established relationships in the community and with the developer, from whom I have received permission and support to undertake the project.

The principal concerns lie in the approval of the project and the timing of that approval. If the plan is rejected I will proceed with the work for this module, but will probably rethink the Final Major Project. If the approval is delayed it could impact my ability to complete the project as my Final Major Project and that too may require adapting the plans or pursuing a different subject.

For the work in this module and prior to my return to Scotland, I will be continuing to hone my skills in natural history photography and post processing. I will be using the Planning Application documentation, in particular the Environmental Statement to further research the planned development. I will use mapping resources to identify candidate fixed sites with adequate ranges and angles of view to capture the baseline and change states. I will also be practicing with the drone to refine the flight and mission planning processes to ensure repeatable perspectives for the aerial photography.

Upon returning to Scotland at the end of March I will be coordinating with the Project Management team, confirming and selecting the fixed point locations and beginning the baseline state image capture. I will establish the drone mission profiles and begin the baseline state capture from the air. I will also be photographing the native species and areas of primary environmental concern. And lastly I will be starting on the archival research.