This blog was originally created as my MA Critical Research Journal in conjunction with an accredited educational programme – MA Photography with Falmouth University. It is being continued as resource for discussing photography and projects in which I am interested and engaged.
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.
The second image is underexposed so that it renders in pure black.
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.
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.
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.
Networking is second nature to me after over 40 years of work experience working in and leading large organisations, developing business domestically and internationally, consulting, and then owning two businesses. My photographic practice didn’t start with the intention of becoming another business, but I find myself, almost exclusively through networking, getting commissions, selling work and being as busy as I wish to be. I was invited to talk to another group next week as word had gotten around from the last group I spoke to had been very enthusiastically received. It was networking that allowed me to get the space for my physical exhibition last August and that led to my work being permanently on display for sale there.
I belong to the local camera club which meets every other week and holds monthly competitions as well as conducting educational programs and hosting guest speakers. I have learned a lot through this group and the people in it and have had quite a (sometimes humbling) education into the world of photo competitions and “what sells” with judges. I the most recent competition my entry in the colour category won and was featured in the local newspaper, which again generates interest in my work and prompts conversations and enquiries.
Social media is just another form of networking. Until recently I hadn’t used Instagram very much and I restricted posting of photos to my Facebook account, again largely because I wasn’t intending to promote a business. However, beginning to use Instagram and posting simultaneously to FB has increased awareness of my work. A recent commission arose from a viewing of the video I did last term on my project, Coul Links, that was shown at my exhibition opening and submitted as part of my Surfaces and Strategies WIP. I was asked to produce a video using my drone to promote the business where I held my exhibition. The owner posted the final product on Facebook and in one day had nearly 2000 views. I expect that as a result, more offers of work will be coming my way.
I have worked within my network in the past two weeks to secure commitments from two new outlets for distribution of my books; the one already in print and forthcoming projects. I have joined the RPS but have not yet been able to take advantage of the opportunities that presents to network yet. I do hope to submit a panel for distinction early next year and that may offer some additional networking opportunities.
I realise I am in a different place in life than some of the others on this course and while I find in person networking really to be just an extension of my day to day existence, others may find it more difficult. I think it is easy to conflate the term networking with “selling your work” and that is more difficult for most of us. Instead I think of “networking” as a way to get to know people, and for others to get to know you, and more importantly remember you. Your work will come up at some point, but that isn’t the prime focus going into the encounter. Learn something about the person you are meeting and what they do. It may be that in the end the secondary and tertiary connections that come from that initial encounter are the ones that will make a difference for you or for them. Maybe you know someone who can do something for that person and they might know someone who knows someone you should meet. Networking usually requires time and patience. You don’t have a jumper just after casting the yarn onto your needle; you must knit awhile to see what comes of your efforts.
My earliest recollections of taking photos was in 1964 during a family holiday to the western US. Dad, Mom, younger brother and me loaded in the station wagon (estate car) and headed from Cleveland, Ohio to St. Louis, Missouri where we picked up Route 66 and headed west. All of my monochrome images are still in an album in my folks house, but I recall very well images in the St. Louis Botanical Gardens, and National Parks including the Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, the Rocky Mountains and Continental divide, and cultural and travel photos in Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, and Denver. While there were of course the obligatory family snaps here and there, even then people didn’t figure prominently into my photography.
I graduated to more complex cameras inheriting my Dad’s hand me down rangefinder Pentax as I came into secondary school. My photographic interests were still slanted heavily toward nature and outdoor activities. It was when I came to university and got my first Minolta SLR that my interest and passion for photography really blossomed. My first trip to the UK in 1972 are full of photos of landscapes, birds, and cathedrals. It quite honestly hadn’t occurred to me that I have been doing what I do for a very long time and my preferred subject matter has remained remarkably constant through these may years. There were again the odds and ends photos of people but usually engaged in some sort of outdoor activity or sport.
The mid-80’s saw my Minolta kit stolen and I migrated for a time to compact cameras, film and then digital until 2003 when I got my first Canon DSLR, though to be fair I also got an analogue SLR at the same time. Once immersed in the wonders and flexibility of the DLSR for the subjects I prefer I have found I have left the world of film far behind.
Over the Falls
Examples circa 2003 -2004
The following few years between 2005 and 2013 were consumed with work and high level golf competition. That combined with the ease of using the mobile phone camera and a compact digital saw the DSLR kit coming out a bit less frequently. Nevertheless, similar themes recurred and there was added interest in action sports when those opportunities were available. Travel and nature photography were also mainstays in those years.
Examples 2011- 2013
It was coming to Scotland in 2014 that really reawakened my photographic passions as I found the scenery and the light so extraordinary. My senses were overwhelmed and no matter where I looked I couldn’t not be making photographs again. Upgrades to my Canon kit brought me more capability and also made me realise I had so much more to learn. Post processing was something I had rarely done since my university darkroom days. Joining a camera club, having work critiqued, studying and most importantly taking photographs, lots of them and exploring the capabilities of my camera and my eye took the quality of my work to new levels quickly. Learning the power and necessity of post-processing produced another quantum leap. I was beginning to produce very good quality work, but what to do with it? And this is where the decision to pursue the MA Photography was taken.
Aiken Polo Grounds
It has been interesting to look back over my many years of photography and to see how much more continuity in subject matter there has been than I realised. It is evidence the camera looks both ways and does reveal both the diversity and consistency in my interests. Also noticeable is the general absence of people except when they are engaged in some activity. It has also been interesting to see how the quality of my work has changed. Looking back now at the earlier work which was almost exclusively just what came out of camera, I see all sorts of minor imperfections that could so easily have been corrected with post-processing. I see another exponential leap in the work of this past year of studying for this MA. It comes from a combination of more skills, more thoughtfulness, more familiarity with where I am working, and I am sure (though reluctant to admit) from reading theory and looking at the work of others. I can’t describe exactly how the last bits are affecting my work, but it seems to be operating at a subconscious level in the realm of tacit knowledge as described by Polanyi in The Tacit Dimension (1966/2009).
Polanyi, M. (1966). The Tacit Dimension (2009th ed.). Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
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.
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.
I belong to a local camera club which has some excellent and highly knowledgeable members and which has been a good resource over the past few years. Guest speakers, technical workshops, and peer and outside judged competitions have been helpful in increasing my knowledge, inspiring work in different subject areas, and learning about how others see photographs. Monthly competitions, some with specific themes and others open to all subjects, are conducted with colour, monochrome and creative categories. The latter requires manipulating a photo in a way to create an image that could not be seen in the real world and have been useful in increasing my skills with Photoshop. This month’s topic was “Road Vehicles” and while in Rotterdam a couple of week’s ago, I spotted this row of “hire bikes” inside an architecturally unique building. The scene caught my eye and lent itself to a really interesting composition. It is one of the best photos I have ever taken. The photograph below titled “Geometry Lesson” was selected as the winning photograph in the Colour category.
In the Creative category I entered a heavily manipulated photo of a Sunbeam Supreme taken at a Classic Car Rally stopover in Dornoch, titled “Smile for the Camera”, which placed second a close one point behind the winning photo.
Smile for the Camera
While neither of these photos have anything to do with my project work, they actually speak volumes about me as a photographer and the diverse interests I bring to my practise. Yes I do a lot of natural history work and I do really like photographing wildlife, but when I have a camera in my hand I am drawn to interesting movement, colours, shapes and light like a moth to a flame. Even in my wildlife work, it is these same underlying factors that draw me to trigger the shutter. And I want to have fun with my photography, even if it brings income, it can never be a drudge or I won’t take the work.
This week’s forum looked at the issue of appropriation and the court case involving Richard Prince and Phillip Cariou. Below are my thoughts and posting.
While the court found that for all but 5 of the 30 appropriated works Prince had sufficiently transformed them, I find it difficult to agree. I also find it difficult to swallow that because Cariou only made $8000 and Prince made over $10 million that somehow factored into the evaluation that made it all right for Prince to have appropriated the work of Cariou.
At the risk of straying slightly for a moment from the principal question being asked, I personally find it sad and unfair that someone like Prince can be so lazy in the creation of his work, and I have to say that I am amazed that there are people with more money than sense who will pay more than $1 million for this (in my opinion) tripe. But then this is the world we have come to in which style often trumps substance and that monetary value somehow bestows legitimacy as good art. As many art auctions in recent years have shown, the price paid for art is more often a reflection of the ego of the buyer and their desire to “one-up” the last obscene price paid for a piece of art so as to have bragging rights; until the next auction at least. The link below is to a Guardian article article titled “Art prices at ‘obscene’ levels as Chinese join high-spending elite.”
And now to bring the discussion back to the original question; Prince, the galleries that display his work and the buyers of his work basically have by their actions condoned the misappropriation of Cariou’s work. Ignorance, the allure of money and an overall erosion of ethical behaviour are evident in my mind and the fact that a high court has also given its blessing still doesn’t make it right.
For this week’s forum activity we were asked to discuss project work produced during the break by:
Introducing the topic of your project
Introducing the area of concern or your angle
Summarising work made in previous modules
Describing the intentions you had for the break
Sharing work produced during the break: three – five images is enough
The topic of my project is a unique piece of land in northeast Scotland; how it changes over time in response to both natural and human influences, and how that land is used by humans and other species. Coul Links has served many purposes over the centuries and it borders one of the most important wintering sites for a number of species of birds. It is a designated site under Scottish, UK and International law and there is a pending proposal to use relatively small portions of the land to build a golf course.
In the prior modules I began the repeat photography survey work to establish baselines and watch how the land changed through the seasons using both a drone and terrestrial methods. I have also been observing and photographing flora and fauna to get a sense what is there and how it changes through the year. Most recently I have also begun to pay more attention to the current limited human use of the land and traces of past human use.
There has been some controversy about the use of a designated site for a golf course and environmentalists have mounted campaigns (mostly based on out of area support), but the golf course project has strong local support and was approved by the Highland Council over the objections of the Planning Department. At the beginning of August just before the final approval would have been granted the project was “called in” by the Scottish Government for additional review delaying the project decision by anywhere from 6 to 18 months. As a consequence, I scaled back my direct project work during the break and used the time to work on some commissioned work some of which has direct relevance to the Coul Links project. Royal Dornoch Golf Club (full disclosure – of which I am a member) and the burgh of Dornoch lie 3 miles to the south of Coul Links. RDGC is ranked as the 4th best golf course in the entire world and number 1 in Scotland and serves as part of the reason the developers wish to build the course at Coul Links. I was asked to create a limited edition book in support of a charity event hosted by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland at RDGC in support of the Dornoch Cathedral building fund. So much of the break time involved getting the final images needed for the book and completing the design, layouts, text and publication of the book.
Below are examples of the images I made during the break.
I have no plans at this point to necessarily start a “traditional” photography business, however, I recognise that if I sell my work I am a professional photographer and I am running a business. While those statements may seem at odds, and perhaps they are to a degree, I think they are clear enough to articulate my intentions. I am 65 years old and in the enviable position of not needing to use my photographic practise to pay the bills. I have managed large organisations with multi-million $ budgets in the past and have started and owned two businesses, so I am familiar with the requirements of running a going concern.
I plan to photograph when I want to and what I want to, and I reserve to right to photograph something some one else asks me to photograph if I have the time and the interest in pursuing that work. For my personal work, I will pursue subjects and projects that interest me, and I expect the output to take the form of books and work for sale locally. I will always endeavour to produce a high standard of work, whether for personal projects or clients, that is technically and aesthetically worthy of the time and effort I invest. I will always approach my work ethically and with sensitivity towards my subjects and will never intentionally create work that is harmful or demeaning to individuals or the environment. I will use photography as a tool to express my creativity and interests, and to show others the world through my eyes if they wish to see it.
I produce photographs and books for my personal projects, and for my client work will deliver aerial or terrestrial photographic work in the format they need for their specific project. My personal project work has mostly local interest though it appeals to tourists visiting the area as well. My wildlife work, birds and macro work in particular, is strong and my North of Scotland country life regularly generates interest.
I have already one shop/gallery that is exhibiting my work for sale and have had several sales resulting from my August exhibition. Books are available online and in local shops. My market is at this point is predominantly local, however, when I move toward monetising my website I believe there will be an opportunity to sell prints further afield. Word of mouth has resulted in several new commissions.
I attended Unseen Amsterdam last Friday and the visited the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam on Saturday.
From the Unseen Amsterdam programme:
“Welcome to the seventh edition of Unseen Amsterdam, the leading annual event for contemporary photography showcasing artist, both emerging and established, who are pushing the boundaries of the medium.”
Perhaps I am a philistine, but I must admit to finding much of what I saw on exhibit unintelligible and frankly trope ridden. If this was meant to be artists pushing the boundaries of the medium there were certainly many pushing in the same directions. There were a number of different photographers that obscured the faces of their subjects with masks, others that photographed the backs of people’s heads, several who put things over the heads of their subjects, super unnaturally coloured photos, and the last trope, drawing random lines over the photo for no apparent reason. While the quality of the work was of a very high standard and some of it visually pleasing, a great deal of it struck me as people trying to be different by resorting to gimmicks. I found that work to be unappealing to my eye and tiresome after seeing the same tropes over and over.
If I were to make a generalised statement of my impression of Unseen it would be that it was a good art show, but not so good a photography exhibit. Yes there were photographic elements in all the work, but there seemed to be such a focus on the artistic that the fundamental beauty and nature of photography is lost. Bill Jay in Occam’s Razor wrote “I am sure you will agree the contemporary photographer is easily seduced, even obsessed, by the love of Art, which emphasizes personal glorification at the expense of artisan functionalism. The logical conclusion is a hierarchical structure even within the photographic community – fine artist at the apex of the pyramid, artisans at the base. In such an atmosphere festers neurotic insecurity and false pride, as well as an alienation from the medium’s intrinsic characteristics that have made it the most relevant social art of our age. I view with concern the empty genuflections associated with Art’s blessing.”
What I did find useful and interesting at Unseen were the different ways photos were mounted and or framed and displayed in the exhibit, and even more interesting and useful the book section of Unseen. I spent a good bit of time wandering around the book section looking at the different ways artists had their work published and collecting cards from various publishers and graphic designers. Although here also I found some trends repeating, such as the accordion book which I thought in some cases was very appropriate to the subject and in some others not so much. Nevertheless, I was able to see a much broader range of photobooks than anywhere I have ever been and certainly more than I have access to in the remote village of Dornoch in the north of Scotland.
In contrast, my visit to Nederlands Fotomuseum was brilliant. A special exhibition of the work of Cas Oorthuys was on exhibit.
One of the most renowned 20th century Dutch photographers, Oorthuys’ work was very much influenced by the avant-garde and Bauhaus movements with high and low perspectives and compositions along diagonal lines.
His wartime work, much of which had to be made covertly with 35mm cameras provided important documentation of the German occupation and the last year of the WWII.
His post war work earned him a reputation as a “reconstructionist photographer” as he documented the rebuilding of Rotterdam and Dutch industry.
He was the lead photographer in the creation and publication of travel books for over 40 countries and took commissions to capture images of all the different traditional regional dress of Holland in the time before modern influence caused much of it to disappear.
Among his last works was the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam exhibition “mensen people” in 1969 which was a collection of 120 photographs depicting people in all their behaviours and emotions but emphasised laughter and its liberating quality.
I was struck and inspired first by the the breadth of Oorthuys’ work and then by the quality in every genre in which he worked. He was able to capture the soul of individuals in his portraiture, the souls of cities and nations in the cultural, architectural and industrial work. I have in the past never allowed myself to be restricted to a particular genre and in seeing how splendidly versatile Oorthuys was, I have to ask myself why is it necessary to specialise or restrict oneself to a particular genre.
Again Bill Jay from Occam’s Razor; “The crucial question is this: What relationship does a personal life have on an individual’s photographs – and vice versa.” “The answer, …life and art should have everything to do with each other. In practice, as I view the medium of art photography, from my outsider position, art and life have very little connection.” “A photograph is the end product of someone caring about something ‘out there’. The best photographs exude this caring attitude in a manner which is not definable but which is very evident.” “If a photographer is communicating a personal passion for something, anything through pictures then the images are also revealing, incidentally, a great deal about the photographer as well as the subject. His or her attitude to life is evident.” Cas Oorthuys’ passion for his subjects was evident and his work was in no way diminished by his wide range of subject matter over time. So it is possible to be versatile and diverse in one’s practise as long as there is true interest, passion and connection with the subjects.
Jay, B. (n.d.). Occam’s Razor: An Outside-In View of Contemporary Photography (Third). Tucson, AZ: Nazraeli Press.
Note: Apologies for the quality of some of the photos as they were taken quickly with a mobile phone under less than ideal conditions and primarily as a set of visual notes for me to remember key aspects of the exhibit.
While not directly related to my Coul Links project work, I had been working on project in support of a charity function that would result in a book that would be a very limited edition and which could be auctioned at the event as part of the fundraising activities. The work involved photographing Dornoch Cathedral and all of the holes of Royal Dornoch Golf Club as well. I then need to write the copy, edit and publish the commemorative book. So while not directly project related, it did provide valuable experience in photographing golf course landscapes and using the drone to capture perspectives of the course and cultural structures that would not otherwise be possible. It also provided another valuable opportunity to produce a publication.
I was able to use the process of a dummy book for the initial concept and editorial reviews which proved very useful to me and to the committee for which I was producing the book. The next stage of review was accomplished with a PDF version of the book created directly from Lightroom. The need for fresh eyes and plenty of them cannot be overemphasised. I used three separate individuals in series to review the PDF. I made corrections after the first review so the second reviewer had a “clean” version to review and yet the second and third reviewers each found additional and unique things that needed to be corrected. Did something slip through the cracks still? Perhaps, but I will be surprised because my editors were so competent and thorough. So great thanks go to Jerry Horak, John McMurray and Roger Boyce for their time and efforts.
It was a very short time frame to produce a quality publication and it was a challenge to get all the photos of both venues with weather and limited time for best light. I was able to make photos with a combination of drone and traditional DSLR work. Fortunately the golf course and Cathedral are frequent and favourite subjects so I did have work in my archives that could be used to augment what I took in that past few months. Some technical challenges with the drone resulted in at least one day’s work having to to be largely scrapped because the photos were not sufficiently sharp despite having had extraordinary light quality during the shoot of the photos taken that day had to be scrapped. This put additional pressure on as the deadline loomed.
I began the book design in the Adobe CC InDesign and completed the publication design in Blurb using their proprietary design software. I did learn a great deal more about publication design than I did with my first book and was able to produce a far more sophisticated layout. I was able to explore far more features in layout and design that I didn’t even know were there when I did 19 Sutherland Bridges. In the end the book totalled 60 pages. If I had another few weeks there might have been an opportunity to get additional photos that may have been even better than the ones I chose to use, but then that process too could be infinite. At some point one always has to say, it is time to publish.
A PDF version of the book can be viewed via the following link.