Photography as Art – Why does it matter?

It seems from the outset photography has been locked into some apparent need to seek legitimacy by being acknowledged as art.  Does earning that moniker somehow change photography?  It reminds me of people who wish to argue whether golf is or isn’t a sport.

Photography is.  Photography is not going away anytime soon.  Photography is a form of visual communication that engulfs our every waking moment. Photography has value, whether as a cherished remembrance of a moment or a loved one, or a Gursky photograph of absolutely nothing for which someone was willing to pay $6 million.  It makes no difference to the reality of photography whether someone deems it art or not.

Why not stop arguing about what it is not and focus on the fact that photography is just photography.  And like everything else, some will be good, some will be bad, some will be both depending on who is doing the looking, some will sell, some won’t, some will be viewed as more important to more people than others which may important to only one person, some will last, and some will fade quickly.

Why some photographers seek to have their work considered art is frankly beyond me.  The definition of art has never been ironclad and the “art world” are a fickle lot anyway.  What was fabulous yesterday is passé tomorrow.  What is art to one person is rubbish to the next, and there are as many opinions as there are people, so why fight the battle?

Is photography art?  Who cares?  The best quote I have found to address this topic is:

“Do not call yourself an ’artist-photographer’ and make ‘artist-Painters’ and ‘artist-sculptors’ laugh; call yourself a photographer and wait for artists to call you brother.” (Peter Henry Emerson in Trachtenberg 1980: 100)

References

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

Dissecting Feedback and Commentary about Sustainable Prospects

I have taken time to digest the feedback received on the assignments submitted for the Sustainable Prospects module.  I confess to being as disappointed with the quality of the feedback as I was with the course material and its presentation during the module.

I recognise that at some point more definitive information on details of exhibitions and books will need to be developed and it is not as though I have given those topics no thought.  It is early in my view to begin to make definite plans as there is much yet unknown about the eventual outcome of the project I have been pursuing and furthermore the likelihood of this project being the subject of my FMP is diminishing with every passing day due to the delays on the development decision.  The OP was limited to 10 minutes and there were any more topics that also needed to be (and were) covered.  This topic could well have consumed a substantial portion of the 10 minutes if it was to be addressed in the detail suggested in the feedback and I took a decision to address all of the requirements with the balance being directed at other areas.  Perhaps I should have discussed the topic more thoroughly in my CRJ and I will accept that critique, however, it seems odd then that it should have been raised in the OP feedback.  I do not know what to do with a comment like this: We do feel there is still room for exploring a more creative approach to this project as you move forward – do look to expand your ideas and think a little outside the box and see where it takes you.  My approach the project has evolved quite significantly since its beginnings as a purely natural history and repeat photography project in its original inception.  I think I have shown both a willingness to adapt and take new directions and I certainly see that vector continuing.  Cliched comments such as “think out of the box” are neither informative or constructive.  Specifically, what box have I been in?  How is my thinking limited?  Perhaps looking at feedback in the other assignments provides a clue.

I agree the project has potentially greater significance as an example of competing imperatives.  I have had that in mind from the outset and have spoken and written of it.  It is not yet at that point and I am not willing to compromise my independence at this point to make the case for one side or the other.  I have approached the work with an eye toward the ability to tell the story from different perspectives further down the line as the story and its significance develops.  But the comment of potentially broader significance is not lost on me.  The comment: “Perhaps you may explore more how you might introduce community to your work on landscape and wildlife.”  strikes me as a desire to impose the tutor’s version of the story.  I have discussed at length how I do not wish to do a different version of Sophie Gerrard’s, The Dunes in the north of Scotland.  I am passionate about the place, not the people who may be associated with the story and therefor that is not the story I wish to tell.

And that then leads me to the recommendations made of other photographer’s work. First let me address Burtynsky.  I wrote in my CRJ and made direct reference to his work as a key influencer in my OP.  To have included him in the list of recommendations implies my OP and CRJ were not read or considered.  Sternfeld’s work, rather than exploring the Anthropocene as was suggested, reminded me of Robert Frank’s “The Americans” and I can find no relevance to my work.  Bialbowski’s work explored urban environments and while one might argue that as an exploration of the Anthropocene, they were more travel and social documentary in character.

The other three recommendations were photographers whose work was exploring community.  I found the work of Pannack, Davey and Mitchell all to be fundamentally environmental portraiture and that of Davey and Mitchell to be oriented predominantly toward family and personal subjects.  Pannack’s work explored a few topics, but only the Naturists project even remotely seemed to address community as I understand the term.  I could again find little relevance to my work, nor could I take constructive lessons from reviewing their work.

I honestly feel once again this is an attempt to force my work in a particular direction that is consistent with the tastes of the tutors and which suits their sensibilities with regard to contemporary photography.  I undertook this course to find my own voice and I certainly recognise I may well need guidance to find that voice, but I object to attempts to homogenise me into someone else’s view of what contemporary photography is or should be.

 

Feedback Excerpts

WIP

You also comment on the local nature of your issue and therefore conclude that it will have a rather small audience – we could encourage you to reflect more on the fact that this is a local matter but it reflects a greater one – a global issue of environmental protection, local community, rural landscape and the balance between man and nature, this is far from a local issue when you step back – it’s a fundamental and universal one. We feel with more thought put into contextualising your work and presenting it you may further explore these universal themes and make them prominent in your work. You may enjoy looking at the work of Joel sternfeld, Peter Bialobrezki, Ed Burtynski – who all explore the greater impact of the anthroposcene – and then to look closer to those photographers who explore community – such as Lauara Pannack, Sian Davey, Margaret Mitchell. Perhaps you may explore more how you might introduce community to your work on landscape and wildlife.

 

OP

You identify your audience and address the concept of a book and also an exhibition. You would benefit from exploring further how the book would be made, how it would be designed, who you would be pitching it to and where it might be published. You might work to expand on this – and explore how you can take this from the local audience you describe to a larger one. Also in terms of presentation in an exhibition – more thought and exploration and research would be beneficial to you here. We do feel there is still room for exploring a more creative approach to this project as you move forward – do look to expand your ideas and think a little outside the box and see where it takes you. Best of luck with this project!

 

CRJ

It would be interesting and useful to hear more on your reflections of your own work – you do include it but more would be helpful as you move forward. Your CRJ reflects well on your progress through this module, both in terms of process but also in terms of theoretical approach and metaphorical exploration of your subject.

 

Cindy Sherman Case Study

As part of the assessment period preparatory work for Informing Contexts we were asked to look at a case study on Cindy Sherman and respond to the questions.

Questions for reflection.

  1. How do you feel about this more inclusive and anti-intentionalist approach to producing work?
    Sherman’s self-portraits call attention to female stereotypes. Berger Ways of Seeing addresses this topic. I question whether Sherman’s work is anti-intentionalist.  Is that even possible as a photographer?  Sherman goes to great lengths to create costumes, do make up and create sets or find locations.  Are these not all done with intention?  Whether she admits it or not she is trying to depict a particular thing with each photo and with that is an intention however conscious or subconscious that might be to communicate something to a viewer. To be truly anti-intentional one would have to close one’s eyes and take random snaps, do no editing and publish whatever came from the camera.  Otherwise there is always some level of intention in a photographer’s work.
  2. Do you give your viewers this openness of interpretation and do you think Sherman is successful in this regard?
    My work is predominantly documentary in character and focused on landscapes and nature. When humans are included it is usually to show how they interact with a place and what is around them.  Because I am not generally trying to impose an interpretation, and more importantly, because interpretation is almost solely in the realm of the viewer regardless of the photographer’s intention, I would argue my work is open.  Sherman, I suppose does succeed to a degree as there are those who argue her work is feminist and challenges the stereotypes by which women have been viewed, while others argue that her work reinforces those stereotypes. I think though because she is the model it is difficult to argue her work is exploitative of women.  I do find it difficult though to understand how she can claim no intention as I discussed above as her work is among the most intentional I can think of, and seems that it must have some purpose beyond a decades long documentation of her ‘performance art’.
  3. With respect to the Brisbane exhibit: How do you feel the curators theoretically position her work, and how do you respond to this work being shown in a gallery context?
    The curators state Sherman is a conceptual photographer not concerned with technical aspects of photography but rather with using photography as a tool to tell a story. The also state her work is an exploration of how identity and imagery are constructed. It seems to me entirely appropriate that this work is presented in a gallery, because it is only there, or perhaps to a lesser degree in a large format book, that one can see and experience the body of work and appreciate the photographs in relation to each other. The tie in to films and their relation to Sherman’s work was another important curatorial move that brings more context to the show.  It is also interesting as Sherman’s work is essentially performance art and she as the central character in this decades-long effort are captured like single frames from a film and subsequently displayed on the wall as a series of frames from that movie of her life as a photographer.

    How is the intent of the work achieved in the way the photos are presented?
    If one of the intentions is to show the effects of ageing, then the sequential display of work is able to accomplish that effectively.
    Are there paradoxes for you?
    As discussed above the whole intent bit seems to me paradoxical.  Also I cannot resolve whether the work chips away at or reinforces stereotypes and I suspect that it will continue to be interpreted both ways depending on the biases, filters, and the personal and cultural experiences each viewer brings to their viewing of her work.

  4. Do you read Sherman’s work as feminist?
    I do not. There is no questioning she is clever woman who has parlayed a theme into a career. Her allusions and tributes to a bygone era of cinema are brilliantly done for the most part, but they do not strike me at all as standing for women’s rights or in any way attempting to break stereotypes.  One might argue by making contemporary photos in a style and with sets and costumes reminiscent of the past and with the grandeur of the early work of Cecil Beaton makes a statement about how different things are now, but I don’t think it is a very substantive argument.  It is for me egocentric performance art and it does that very well.
  5. Do you invite any critical or theoretical lenses by which to consume your work and are multiple readings possible?
    I guess in a way I hope not on the question of critical or theoretical lenses.  I think of my work as being simple expressions of places at a particular time, and frequently including the beings that inhabit those places.  The intent is mostly to present a view that may not be readily accessible to most of the viewers of my work, whether that comes from seeing the dynamics of a bird on wing or breaking free from the from or returning to the bounds of earth, or the details of a plant or insect not visible to the naked eye, or a landscape with visual interest.  Will that stop someone from trying to apply a critical lens; probably not.  It is just that all too often doing so causes far more to be read into work than was ever intended by the photographer.

    Can these photos be read in multiple ways?  Of course, as I stated earlier, the reading of every photograph is subject to the limitations of the cultural and personal experiences of the viewer and while in some cases the standard deviation in interpretation may be smaller than others, each person will have their own take on any work put in front of them.

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.

TLG_34_96_big Burtynsky

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/

 

Contemporary Photographers – Axel Hütte

 

Axel Hütte, a German photographer born in 1951, and a student of the Becher’s at the Dusseldorf School of Art, is recognised for his land and cityscape work.  He works in large format film.

Hütte’s landscape work is based in emptiness.  All evidence of humans is absent.  His work isn’t intended to convey any story and in fact seeks to blur time and space in order to revel in the sheer beauty of the scene.  Hütte also seems to eschew detail preferring his landscapes to be viewed and considered as a whole without any particular emphasis in the frame. Though he has photographed around the world, it is quite often impossible to discern from the photo itself where it was taken.  Even after reading a caption one doesn’t truly have a sense of place in most instances.

Hutte from Terra IncognitaTerra Incognita, Axel Hütte

This approach is quite the opposite of the direction I have generally taken in trying to achieve detail and clearly depict time and space in context.  And yet I am drawn to Hütte’s work.  I have done quite a lot of past work that is more like Hütte’s, though even in my recent work there are examples.  It seems in those cases, I find myself less concerned with showing a particular place in a way that it can be recognized than I am with depicting a mood or a texture that observe in that place.  Where it is and even when becomes unimportant.

untitled-11Lichen and Gorse, Ashley Rose 2018

Over the past 9 months, I have been so focused on the project work in which time and place are essential elements that I have not done as much of this sort of work.  However, these photos would have broader commercial appeal precisely because of their universality and a succumbing to the idea of simple beauty for its own sake.  There is total ambiguity about the place in the above photo.  While it happens to have been taken in Scotland and the yellow flowers are gorse, it could have just as easily been taken in a wetland in South Carolina in the USA and the flowers forsythia or wild honeysuckle.  This scene might be found in many places around the temperate zones of the world and that is why it acquires a universality to which viewers can relate.

Therein lies the appeal and success of Hütte’s landscape work.

 

Axel Hütte | artnet. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2018, from http://www.artnet.com/artists/axel-hütte/
Biography of Axel Hutte | Widewalls. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/axel-hutte/

Week 7 Reflections – A Week in Paris

Paris Photo is an expansive show almost to the point of being overwhelming for a one-day visit.  Should I attend in future I shall be sure to schedule at least two if not three days to take it in properly.  It was thankfully far more diverse in its offering than Unseen Amsterdam, and there was a pleasant mix of old and contemporary work.  Even at that, there was very little representation in the genres in which I work, either in the photos displayed or in the books offered at Paris Photo or Polycopies.  I found the contemporary work to be strongly weighted to the “fine art” end of the spectrum which is clearly where money is as that is what the galleries chose to represent.  There is probably a lesson in that.

That is not to say there wasn’t plenty of inspiration to be had.  The quality of printing was something to behold and it was interesting to see the different choices in mounting,framing and display.  There was a lot of very good work displaying excellent technique and creativity.  A fair bit of the contemporary work wasn’t to my taste or was beyond my ability to comprehend without further explanation.  I really enjoyed seeing work of the some of the arguably most significant and influential photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Andres Kertesz, Joel Meyerowitz and women who defied the stereotypes and limitations of their time such as Dorothea Lange and Martine Franck.  They all had great influence on photography, yet it is interesting to contrast their work in terms of composition and technical quality with current standards of excellence.  Clearly each has brilliant work that has stood and will continue to stand the test of time, but many also had work that would likely today be considered poor work.  I reckon though that resulted in large measure from the limitations of the equipment they were using. 

A minor digression is required to lay the basis for what follows.  While in Paris and in addition to visiting photography galleries and the Paris Photo exhibition, I visited several art museums; Musee D’Orsay, Musee de L’Orangerie, the Louvre, and the “OnAir” installation at Palais de Tokyo.  It prompted me to think more about the similarities between traditional art and photography and the evolution of each.  While greatly accelerated in the case of photography, there are similarities in the trajectories of their respective histories and parallels to the trajectories in music history as well.  Recognising this has caused me to look upon contemporary photographic trends with a little less aversion than I have tended to in the past.

HCB and the others mentioned above along with many of their contemporaries not mentioned endure because they, to use an Art History analogy, were members of the school of Realism. Their subjects while being specific carry a universality to which viewers can readily relate.  Contemporary practitioners like Susan Meiselas, James Nachtwey, Lynsey Addario and LauraHenno carry on those traditions and I believe their work will endure as well. 

Just as art evolved from Romanticism and Realism to Impressionism,Dada and Surrealism, photography has followed similar trajectories, but on a less unified path: i.e. many genres are still being produced simultaneously even though they may have been under-represented at Paris Photo. As I walked around the Paris show, and it was even more pronounced at Unseen Amsterdam, that a lot of contemporary “fine art” photographers have moved into (again using Art History terms) the realm of Magic Realism and in some cases Surrealism.  I do wonder how many or which of them will be recognised as Picasso or Dali in the world of photography, or whether the work will just be a footnote somewhere in the archives of Photographic History.  Only time will tell.

There was so much to see at Paris Photo and it is impossible to sort out and write about everything I experienced there.  It has helped to have waited a week and reflected on what I saw and how I reacted to it. There were a few photographers, none of whom of which I was previously aware, whose work stopped me in my tracks; Lynn Davis, Jean-Baptiste Huyhn and Axel Hutte.  Lynn’s extraordinary cultural landscapes, Huynh’s stunning portraits, and Hutte’s utterly unique prints on glass were for me “best in show.” In further investigating Axel Hutte I discovered his landscape work and how some of his philosophies are very similar to approaches I have been taking. But more about that in another post.

Lynn Davis
Jean-Baptiste Huynh
Axel Hutte

Edward Burtynsky’s aerial environmental work resonated strongly with me and the aesthetic captured in some of Todd Hido’s work, particularly Rivers at Night, made me think about how some of that technique might be applied to my practice.

Visits to other galleries and museums also proved helpful.  I was struck by how differently I looked at art and photos.  I was particularly intrigued at the Musee D’Orsay by how many of the landscapes included indistinct images of people going about their days in harmony with the landscape.  This also resonated with me as it is what I have been trying to do during this module.

Claude Monet
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

In the end it was a week well spent seeing things that are not readily available to me in NE Scotland or in South Carolina when I am in the US, interacting with cohort mates, exchanging ideas, deepening friendships and being thankful for the opportunities that life has brought me.

Week 6 Reflections – Truth: Photographic and Otherwise

In his book, On Being a Photographer, Bill Jay recalled being told by philosopher-poet-artist Michel Butor, one of his teachers, that “truth was like a photograph in which thousands of shades from black to white, and including both extremes, were necessary for full revelation. But of course, most people in this day and age insist the truth is black, or white, and deny the beauty of the whole.”

I began to think about the realities of that statement, and its applicability to my photographic practice and more broadly to the current every day world.  I find the assertion that many people want only to think in terms of truth being black or white to be quite true in the United States and particularly in the part of South Carolina where I spend some of the year.  When considered in photographic terms the absurdities of that notion are quite evident.

What follows is a series of four images; all the identical image as the starting point.  The first is overexposed to render the result pure white.

Nov18-0098-4

The second image is underexposed so that it renders in pure black.

Nov18-0098-3

The third image properly exposed in monochrome begins to reveal some of the “truth’ that was absent in the prior two photos. In this photo we begin to see the complexities and intricacies of the scene in the subtle shades of grey and the small bits of pure black and white.

Nov18-0098-2

 

And finally, as originally captured in full colour we find “truth” that was not apparent in any of the prior rendering of this image. The full complexities of the scene are revealed when considered in colour.

Nov18-0098

Here it is possible to see the scene of people lining the Champs Elysees in Paris in the rain for the commemoration of the Centenary of the Armistice ending World War I on 11 November 2018.

Is it the total “truth”?  No, because the image cannot reveal the sound of the guns falling silent and the bells beginning to chime and depth of emotion felt in that crowd as that happened, but it is far more truthful than any of the white, black or even shades of gray photographs.

My photographic practice is fundamentally documentary in character so the reality of the “thing itself” or the “truth” of the image is very important to me.  Can an image ever reveal the total truth?  I am not convinced a single image alone can ever do that.  Perhaps a series or images with associated text can come as close as possible, but truth is an elusive animal.  Very few truths are absolute.  One though is that wee live in a world filled with colour.  To ignore that and attempt to see it only in black or white is to deny truth entirely.  Truth is intricate, complex and inseparable from its whole.  It can only exist in the context of the full range of colour of which it is comprised.

We all, and especially our leaders, be they political, religious, or otherwise would do well to remember this.

Hurn, D., & Jay, B. (2009). On Being a Photographer (Third). Anacortes, WA: LensWork Publishing.

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.

untitled-9114untitled-9300

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 -Wrapping Up Surfaces and Strategies

As I have said in prior posts this module has helped me to evolve in a number of ways.  It has definitely helped my confidence soar in my ability to create work and show my work.  It has deepened my understanding of photography overall, and is beginning to help me understand my place in the world of photographers.  I have miles to go on the journey, but I am well down the road and on the right path I think.  More time to read and more exposure to other practitioners is part of what has been building the foundation of understanding.  Being pushed to make work in ways I have never done, or in ways I had not been comfortable has taught more about my craft and open my eyes to other possibilities for work and ways of accomplishing that work.

I have in the past looked upon my work as quite solitary as I had been making work for years, but never sharing it.  I now find myself interacting with others on a daily basis about my work whether it is sharing it with friends or strangers, or interacting in mutual support with my wonderful cohort mates.  They have been an invaluable source of advice, support, humour, fun and without them this would have been a very different experience and not nearly so rich and rewarding.  So thank you in particular to Mick, Gem, Danny, but also to the other in Cromarty who frequent our chat group.

It feels quite good to have the assignments done and dusted.  I feel as though I made a pretty good job of it on the whole, though the assessors may not agree.  I know I have made progress and I know I will continue to do so.  I know too there are some areas that need additional focus and effort.  I am getting more attuned to research, but I need to be more disciplined  about documenting it as it occurs.  I tend to take a while to integrate what I have read and then don’t always get back t write about it.  It is there informing my work, but isn’t always adequately documented.

The parting shot from the module leader was one last assignment to create a self portrait that was reflective of the time spent in the Surfaces and Strategies module.  I have to say I enjoyed this module far more than the first for a number of reasons.  It seems only fitting that as the final task in Surfaces and Strategies that I should do something unconventional and completely different from my normal work..  At first glance you may miss it, but trust me, my image is there on a surface and in a way you might not expect to find me.  Truth is I am something of a motorhead and I had an unfortunately brief opportunity to photograph some pretty cool classics last Saturday.  This particular Austin had been once owned by King Farouk.

 

Austin Self Portrait small-8626.jpg

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