16-23 Sep – New Work and Unseen Amsterdam

I finally caught a break with some good weather at the right time of day and was able to make some new work with which I am very pleased and some additional sound recording.  In fact I am so pleased with the new work that two have been added to the edit of large format photos that I will be printing the first week of October.

The first part of the week was also spent doing proof prints after recalibrating the computer, both monitors and the printers.  Lots of prints with different print profiles were made to determine the most faithful rendition of what I see on my screens.  After about 10 prints of the same photo that had a particularly rich set of colours, I arrived at best my printer could produce and began the proof prints in A4.  I would be taking them to Amsterdam for the portfolio review.  The multimedia files were also refined some more and in the case of “The Changing Faces of Coul Links” reworked completely after some peer feedback.  I leave for Amsterdam feeling pretty good about the work so far, and am anxious for some tutor feedback on how I can make it better.

The opening exercise Gary McCleod conceived was very engaging and interesting and served as a great way to get to know some of the other MA students who were attending as well as facilitate some critical thinking about one’s own work and that of others through an interrogatory process.

An afternoon visit to Huis Marseilles, brought me my first exposure to the brilliance of Berenice Abbott.  As was not uncommon in that time here work spanned several genres, but that she was a woman pushing boundaries was.  Her portrait work had a way of feeling as though she captured the personality of her subjects, but her architectural and science work were fascinating.

I did a review of my FMP work with Gary McCleod and Paul Clements the first evening since I was commuting from outside Rotterdam and was hoping to not have to come in Sunday just for a portfolio review.  And a solo review turned out to be exactly what I needed since a group review would not have allowed the time to get to the depth we did.

There was no question about the quality of the work, but there were many questions about how I was presenting it and whether I had a clear narrative. Gary specifically noted that I needed to be bold and radical and elevate the sophistication of the exhibition.  While some of the ideas they suggested seemed quite radical redirects, they insisted they were only refinements. Some specifics were:

  • The Beyond the Noise video that I was thinking about as the centrepiece that set the tone for the exhibition Gary thought I should remove all of the images and just use the words. He suggested that it might be better placed as an introduction and that I should revisit the video considering the images and the pacing.  It would require some extra thinking and experimentation next week.
  • When I explained I would be doing the principal photos in large format A1 or A0 and some of the wildlife photos small in A4, I was informed that A4 is not small and rather these were ‘too loud’ in the overall context and that they were confusing the story. They suggested ‘small’ so people would stop and look so that too would require some rethinking, but I quickly warmed to the concept and have several ideas on how to execute.
  • On the Changing Faces video which I had reworked several times, Gary suggested I try synchronous view in PowerPoint; a feature of which I had not been aware. It is something I wanted to do but wasn’t able to make it happen with Adobe Premiere so far. Again back to the computer to see what I can make because this approach solves a couple of the nagging reservations I had about this particular video which I believe is important to my narrative, but needs to be captivating as it is shown.
  • The last major point Gary had for me was to think about the experience from the viewer’s perspective. Take them on a journey and don’t be tempted to spoon feed them along the way.  This was the essence behind his suggestion of removing the photos from the Beyond the Noise video.  He also enjoined me to be sure what was the ‘main meal’ I was serving and to not let the story get muddled with the fact that I am using various media to communicate it.

On Saturday, I visited the Unseen Exhibition and found it much more enjoyable than last year’s show. While there were quite a number of cyanotypes, they were different enough so as not feel like a trope and the rest of the work was sufficiently diverse to really keep my interest.  I thought there was a much better mix of genres this year than last and was happy to see landscapes represented.

I also took in the exhibit that was on at FOAM.  We had some intense and interesting discussions about the non-photographic work, but I found the Brassai work again quite interesting and was particularly amazed that there was a sharpness of focus that was not always common among his contemporaries using the large format cameras.  His night time Paris work is an especially good example.

My last event of the day was a super visit with Liz Halls and Addie Elliot at the Elliot Halls Gallery.  Liz was very generous with her time and we had a lovely discussion about the work they had on exhibit and even a bit about how my worked related to it and Matthew Murray’s work.  I was very excited to find they had copies of Saddleworth as I had been looking for nearly a year for one.

 

FMP Week 6 – Proposal feedback

I had my proposal feedback session with my tutor.  Some of the key points included:

  1. Thorough and detailed
  2. Showed excellent scholarship and communication
  3. Felt that I may be hedging my bets too much and that I need to adopt a clear stance
  4. Title is not strong enough yet
  5. Noted the significance of the Liz Wells quote – “… our relation to the environment in which find ourselves, and of which we form a part, is multiply constituted: the real, the imaginary, the symbolic, memory and experience, form a complex tapestry at the heart of our response to our environment, and, by extension, to landscape imagery.” (2011: 2)

 

The questions and suggestions that followed included:

How, why and if people are in this story then how can they be contextualised. E.g. how have people used and abused; political conflict, etc.?

It was suggested that I revisit Feldman’s 9-11 work and Mathieu Asselin’s Monsanto

It was also suggested that I research news clippings  and consider rephotographing those and the history of the development proposal.

WELLS, Liz. 2011. Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity. London; New York: I.B. Tauris.

FMP Week 5 – Reflections and Progress

As I await the feedback on my proposal, I am continuing to explore narrative approaches to the project.  Recent political events have, in my mind, cast further doubt on the likelihood that development will be approved and that alters the calculus on a major element of the originally envisioned project.  On the other hand, underlying the subtle and not so subtle aspects of the controversy, most of which are not visible, lies the place, Coul Links, which goes on oblivious to the attempts to alter or preserve it.

So, I find myself asking; is the controversy about the potential development even important at this point or is it just noise hovering around the periphery of a more enduring story?  Or conversely; is the place only significant and on my radar because of the controversy of the potential development?  Would anyone notice or care truly about Coul Links had someone not proposed building a golf course there?  After all it has been a designated site for a quarter century, and no one really seemed to care that that the site was not being maintained as it was meant to be.  It is perhaps only because of the proposed development that anyone aside from local residents are even aware of the environmental designations assigned to the site.

And here is the crux of the issue with regard to FMP; which perspective to adopt and which chapter of the story to tell. I have begun the process of looking through all of my contact sheets and archives of the work done on the course and I have also started researching the print and on-line sources that addressed the Coul Links development. I can see potential narratives from several perspectives and yet I haven’t enough clarity or conviction to settle on one just yet.

I think perhaps the process of choosing photographs may help a narrative emerge.  Additionally, the archival research from the news coverage over the past 3 years will also support the narrative.  Time to get on with it.

FMP Pecha Kucha

The first task for Final Major Project (FMP) was to create a Pecha Kucha presentation (20 slides, 20 seconds per slide) to explain briefly the project I intend to undertake as an introduction for the Module Leader and other students.  I spent much of the interim period since the end of the last module wrestling with how I was going to approach FMP.  The original intent of the Coul Links project was to show how the natural state of the site was affected by development.  Since the development decision is now not expected until late summer at the earliest the FMP project needed to take a different direction.

For more information, please have a look at the following link.

Week 7 – Thoughts on Work to be Accomplished

Following the portfolio critiques of last week and recognising there was interest and possibility in the work I had shown from the glades at Coul Links, I now need to go back and continue that work to capture them in different light and as they change with the coming of Spring.  There are one or two other glades that I will also explore to see if they have sufficient visual interest.  Among the approaches I want to pursue is low light/ night work augmented by flash and/or hand-held lights to see what kind of effects are possible.  I hope to be able to shoot in the rain if it can be done safely.

I also need to reconnoitre the local area for additional Abandonment and Reclamation prospects.  I know of a few already, so I will need to get out and photograph them as soon as possible.  One of the things Cemre picked up on was the way that the lower edge of the buildings in two of my existing photos lined up perfectly across two separate locations.  This is something I need to be mindful of in capture so I leave myself some latitude in post processing to adjust the frame to get similar placement.

The Path Forward – Charting a Course toward FMP

As I mentioned in a prior post, I have concerns that the project I have been pursuing for the past year and had hoped to take into FMP is looking less and less suitable for that purpose due to delays in the development decision.  While there was always a risk the development would not be approved, I didn’t view that as a problem initially as I saw the project at the outset as a natural history focused endeavour.  A year of taking photographs at the site has informed me that even a full two-year span is insufficient to truly reveal dramatic enough change from a natural history (repeat photography) perspective to create a story that would garner much interest.  Consequently, my approach to the project evolved through each term and moved away from a purely natural history project to one that considered how the land was, is and could be used in the future.  If the development is not approved, then there is not much of a story beyond that which I have already captured.

Had the development been approved as originally planned in June of 2018, the anthropogenic changes would have been well underway, and they would have been nearing completion as I approached the end of FMP.  The current timetable would not see the development complete (if it is approved) until 2021 at the earliest.  I intend to continue work on the project, but I need to consider alternatives for FMP and I intend to use the Informing Contexts module to explore possibilities.

I have been compiling a list of possible projects for some time as things to do after the MA and as I had time during the MA course.  These ideas align with my interests and passions and are consistent with the description of my practice as my understanding of it has evolved.  However, none of the ideas are fully developed and some are less so than others.  Among the candidates under consideration are the following which is comprehensive, but by no means exhaustive.

Bridges

Last May I published a book based on a short-term project completed as part of Surfaces and Strategies.  That book, 19 Sutherland Bridges, focused on a very few of the many interesting and beautiful bridges in the north of Scotland.  Bridges connect people and places and they are, for the most part, taken for granted by the many people that use them each day.  Many people have no idea what those spans look like except from the roadway they traverse.  I took a different perspective to show the bridges and how those structures connected what stood on either side of the span to show them in a way many will have never seen despite the fact they used the bridge many times.  There are hundreds more bridges in Sutherland; old, new, large, small, pedestrian, rail, road, in disrepair or daily use, each connecting one place to another.  This project is achievable in the FMP window and discrete enough to be accomplished.

Windmills

Following on to my interest in interactions between humans and nature, the significant move to cleaner, renewable energy production has resulted in a proliferation of windmills.  While windmills have been used in many countries in many forms for hundreds of years, this new generation of turbines are cropping up offshore, on mountainsides and hilltops, where once the vistas were unhindered and purely natural.  While there is no question our planet needs to find alternatives to fossil fuels, cleaner energy, like everything, comes with a price.  This project would explore from a neutral perspective, like Burtynsky, the landscapes and seascapes that have the mark of human activity imposed upon them.  Once again, this project is manageable in scope and could be accomplished in an FMP.

Fly Fishing in the Highlands

Fly fishing for salmon and trout in the Highlands of Scotland is important as both a pastime for many and as an economic source for some.  In keeping with my interest of how people interact with nature, and as one who enjoys fly fishing, I see this project having possibilities along the lines of David Chancellor’s work.  Capturing the dynamic world of fly fishing in the beautiful settings in which it takes place perhaps along with stories of the ghillies and fisherman interests me as a project and is again one with manageable scope and achievable as an FMP.

I plan to further research and explore these ideas during this module and experiment with some locations and methods of approaching each in order to test their viability as projects and visual interest as subjects.  I see each in my mind’s eye, but I will need to determine if I can translate that vision into meaningful work.

 

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.

 

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/

 

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.

Publications – Closing out Surfaces & Strategies and transitioning to Sustainable Prospects

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.

Moderators Tourney Commemorative Book_Final

I must say I really enjoy to idea and the process of creating books and I look forward to doing it again soon.