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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Referenced Books:

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

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

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

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

Kleon, A. (2012). Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative. Steal Like an Artist (Vol. 53). New York: Workman Publishing Company. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

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

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

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

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

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

Referenced Web Pages:

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

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

Week 11- Do too many cooks spoil the broth?

Perhaps the same is true with tutors, or not.  I have simmered this stew for a couple of weeks now as when I initially conceived it I was reeling from all the completely different flavours that had seemingly been dumped into my pot.  It seemed everyone had a different view of my work and not always did I get a clear understanding of how it might be made better; only that it wasn’t right.  There were exceptions thankfully, like when Cemre took several of my proposed WIP photos and arranged them in a particular sequence in a horizontal grid and then explained why she thought that worked.  In other cases, one tutor would like a particular photo while the next thought it was rubbish, and in other cases, I was told what I was trying to communicate wasn’t clear but without much more in the way of explanation of why or what sort of things might make it better, other than try arranging them differently.

To be honest I felt confused and lost, and even at moments a bit angry.  It was clear something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how to fix it.  With advise sometimes so diametrically opposed, I didn’t know which direction to go.  I had to in the end, step back, lose the emotional attachment to my work and reaction to the criticism and figure out how to sort through the various comments to determine if there were any common elements among them, discard the outlying and off the wall remarks (there were some doozies) and integrate what was left to something I felt I could action in curating and editing my portfolio.

The first insight I was able to distill was that what I was showing was too diverse and divergent in theme and aesthetic.  It was said in different ways and it took some time to understand that “I can’t read your visual language” was similar in meaning to “the macro work is distracting and disconnected from the larger scale work”, or “photos in this series have a very different feeling.”  I had to admit, I didn’t really know what I was trying to “say” with my photos.  My project is big, maybe too big, and it contains a number of different aspects at this point.  I have so much to say that I ended up saying nothing because the breadth of this story from a final project perspective (and yes, we are a long way from that point) cannot be told in 18 photographs that I have now.  At the end of the FMP, it may be possible to tell this story in a relatively small number of carefully curated photographs.

I also had been “hung up” by the fact that I got into this programme as a natural history photographer, even though it has never been the only thing I have done, and it is not the only thing I want to do.  It was clouding my judgement in curating my portfolio.  It is somewhat ironic, because I have always hated labels and I have spent my life defying norms and expectations.  Why should I allow myself to be pigeon-holed now?  So once again something else to let go of.

I did finally work it out on my own I think.  At least I took a decision, cut away a lot to arrive at a portfolio that is I hope worthy of submission.  It is a few paragraphs in a chapter of what might eventually become a novel or perhaps a short poem, but it seems to be coherent and cogent.  That I got there is a testament to the progress I have made thus far in the course.  I couldn’t have even had this discussion several months ago.  When I felt I had the pot on with no recipe, thankfully Cemre slipped me a couple of key ingredients that allowed me to decipher the rest.  Photography, like cooking after all is art and the flavor combinations are limited only by one’s imagination.  Baking is science and there isn’t much latitude in the recipe. I didn’t want tutors to hand me a recipe after all.

Do too many tutors spoil the broth?  At first, I thought so, but each was bringing their favourite spice to the kitchen and in the end it was up to me to understand the implications of using that particular spice and make a decision whether or not it belonged in my stew.  There were times when they made it tough to get around the kitchen to be sure, but once I cleared them out, and some of the inappropriate spices in my cupboard, I was able to put together a pretty tasty offering.

Week 11 – Breakthrough

During last week’s webinar with Cemre Yesil, she noted how the photos I showed her as part of my WIP portfolio that included people were more powerful.  Now several days later after working through the selections for my portfolio and exhibitions and trying to find the story, it suddenly occurred to me that I may have been approaching this story from the wrong angle entirely.  I started this journey thinking of the Coul Links project as principally a natural history project and that I would observe and document how the landscape and its inhabitants changed due to natural and in response to anthropogenic changes.  And there is some merit in that yet, but that approach doesn’t speak to the root of the controversy that has dogged the site and the planning application for development over the course of the last three years.

As I thought about Cemre’s comments and looked at hundreds of photos, I realised the crux of the controversy is a difference in opinion about how the land should be used and by whom it should be used.  This land has seen many uses over time.  It was home to the Dornoch Light Railway for many years.

Skelbo Crossig Gatehouse 1950 12304

Until 1989 it was a fully working farm when the displenishment sale relegated it to grazing land and haylage harvest.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0020.JPG

It had a tree plantation which was harvested many years ago and the remnants of which can still be seen today.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0011.JPG

It has been used by the landowners to hunt deer and waterfowl, though under the proposed development that will cease.  The abandoned light railway bed is a walking path, and myraid path and trails from the village of Embo are frequented by walkers and their dogs.  The beach ahead of the foredune is spectacular and draws locals and the many visitors who stay in the caravan park just to the south of Coul Links. The northern end of the property along the Loch Fleet estuary is home to tens of thousands of wintering birds.

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So it is clear that this land has seen many uses over the centuries.  Now there are many who would see the landscape altered slightly to allow yet another use as a golf course without denying the current uses, except for the hunting.  The developers intend to preserve and enhance access for walkers and nature enthusiasts.  The wintering bird populations will not be impacted as the golf course will close in October and not reopen until April each year and the majority of the birds are not actually on Coul Links proper in any case.  Grazing will continue.  The opposition groups however fear the introduction of a golf course on a small fraction of the total acreage will irreparably harm the site and I believe they are also afraid non-golfers will be excluded from the site as they have been at the Trump golf course in Aberdeenshire.

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So, though I am somewhat surprised to admit, the heart of this story is actually about people and their interactions with this land.    Yes the landscape will change with the seasons, the weather, climate change and inevitably with some form of man-made change.  Wildlife, flora and fauna, will be affected by natural and anthropogenic change in any case and it is only a matter of degree as to when and how much, but they will adapt in almost all cases.  Natural succession is evident across the landscape and land ungrazed quickly returns to wild and overgrown state.  There will still be those interested in seeing the bird populations that will use the land.  At the end of the day though, who uses it and how will it be used in the future is where the broader interest in the story lies.

So while it is a bit too late to alter what I have done for this module, I will be shifting my approach somewhat going forward to capture more of the aspects of how people are currently using the land and how that changes along with the landscape in the future.

Week 10 – Finalising Exhibitions

There was a bit of wrinkle in the plans for the local exhibition at Grace of Dornoch Deli and Cafe and we have had to delay the opening one week.  There was a misunderstanding on the original dates and there was a conflict with another artist to whom the owner had committed.

So no real bother.  All the work for the exhibit is mounted and ready to hang.  I will be allocated space in three principal areas as previously discussed and it will show along with the other artist’s work that will be installed in the prior week.  The owner’s were very keen on my work when I first approached them and even more so when I brought in the mounted work that would comprise the exhibit.  We are planning an opening reception on 27 August and the exhibit will run for at least a week, though the owners have expressed and interest in having some of my work on a longer term basis.

Social media announcements will go out shortly on the venue’s Facebook page as well as mine.  Word of mouth has also been generating some excitement and I believe the opening and exhibit will be well attended.

My selections and preparation for the Landings online exhibition were completed just in the nick of time as it went live a few days earlier than I had expected.  I found myself wrestling with different ways to order and organise the photos I selected.  Originally I had some of the macro work in the selection for both the Landings exhibition and my WIP portfolio, but last week’s webinar with Cemre and peers strongly suggested that those photos detracted from the rest of the work I selected and was not consistent enough in style to hang together with the rest of the work.  Though I spent a good bit of time this term on the macro work I understood the comments and took them to heart.  It is still solid work and can stand alone, but it didn’t mix well with the bigger landscape and wildlife work.

It is challenging to step back from one’s work and look at it with a dispassionate eye and think about how differently viewers will see the work, and how the selections are both meant to be read and likely to be read by viewers.  I found that the story I hope to tell is both early in its evolution and not fully formed in my own mind.  And at the same time it is a big and complicated story that is not necessarily easy to tell.  “A lot of us go about our work and feel like we have nothing to show at the end of the day. But whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to what you do, and there are people who would be interested in that art, if only you presented it to them in the right way.  In fact, sharing your process might actually be most valuable if the products of your work aren’t easily shared, if you’re still in the apprentice stage of your work, if you can’t just slap up a portfolio and call it a day, or if your process doesn’t necessarily lead to tangible finished products.” (Kleon, 2014)

I believe that not trying to determine the outcome before sufficient data are collected can be in part attributed to my training in science and perhaps personal proclivity, but that adds to the challenge of trying to make a narrative hang together at this point.  I hope I have chosen well enough to give some sense of scale, process and context to the beginning of the story and at least pique the interests of people enough to cause them to look forward as I do to seeing the remainder of the story unfold over time.

I am fortunate to have talented peers in this course and they have been very helpful in the process of choosing what and in what order to show my work.  Despite taking photographs for over 50 years I rarely showed my work and never before exhibited or published until beginning this course.  The feedback from peers and tutors has been invaluable in helping me to begin to understand how others see, often differently, than I do.  I have much to learn yet about editing, curating and presenting my work, but it is a path down which I have begun to journey and one I look forward to continuing.

I have a third opportunity coming up as I have been asked by the local chapter of the Scottish Women’s Institute to come speak and display my work on 18 September.  They are expecting me to speak for about 45 minutes so there will need to be some extensive curation to fill that amount of time.  That push will have to wait until after the assignments for this term are complete.

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

 

Week 10 – Overall Reflections on the Surfaces and Strategies Module and Critical Analysis of My Progress in the MA

To my few devoted readers, I apologize in advance for the length of this post.  It is one I have been contemplating and working on for some time now, and it reflects the integration of much of my research to date and how that research has influenced my thinking about my practice.  It also is intended to provide context to my Work in Progress portfolio and the choices I have made and additional background and context for my Oral Presentation.

When I began the MA programme, I would have characterised (had I even been aware of her writings) in “Sontagian” terms as indexical  (Sontag, 1977), and that I was most concerned with depicting reality.  As I have progressed through the first two modules of the MA, I have come to realise my work is only my interpretation of reality within the limitations of the camera program’s ability to capture a moment is time and space, and my rendering of that image in post-processing.

In Ways of Seeing, (Berger, 1972) Berger writes, “Photographs are not…a mechanical record.  Every time we look at a photograph, we are aware, …of the photographer selecting that sight from an infinity of other possible sights.”  In Towards a Philosophy of Photography (Flusser, 2000), Flusser writes “The possibilities in the camera’s program are practically inexhaustible…The imagination of the camera is greater than that of every single photographer and that of all the photographers put together: This is precisely the challenge to the photographer…pursuit of the informative, improbable images that have not been seen before.”  This is indeed a daunting challenge particularly in light of the billions of photographs being taken every day around the world and the ubiquitous distribution systems enabled by the internet.

As a photographer, I and my practise are evolving, but I am not yet evolved and mature as a practitioner.  In Steal Like an Artist (Kleon, 2012) Austin Kleon posits “Nobody is born with a style or voice…We learn by copying.  We are talking about practice here, not plagiarism – plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own.  Copying is about reverse engineering…First, you have to figure out who to copy. Second you have to figure out what to copy.  Who to copy is easy.  You copy your heroes…What to copy is trickier.  Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.” I have endeavoured to embrace this philosophy.

This term has afforded me opportunities to explore new photographic techniques, different approaches in post-processing, and new ways to display my works from books, zines, social media, and physical exhibitions in addition to enhancing my on-line galleries. I have also stretched myself by photographing subjects out of my comfort zone in some cases and in others subjects I had not photographed before within the genre I typically work.  I have also begun to appreciate that what happens to be in front of my lens sometimes contains elements that detract from the real intent behind the photograph.  Whereas in the past I might have left something in the photo because it was really there, I am now making efforts to crop more artfully or remove specific distractors from my photos in post-processing.  Sometimes, less is more.

The Ed Ruscha challenge proved to be inspiring, motivating and confidence building.  It required conceptual development, planning, execution, editing and curation and resulted in a published book, 19 Sutherland Bridges, of which I am proud, and which sits for sale in the Bookshop below the flat in which I live.  It was the first time in all my years of photography my work was contextualized in a way that resulted in a tangible, physical product; and it was thrilling.

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Creating and publishing 19 Sutherland Bridges had a significant impact on my thinking going forward causing me to be more purposeful about when, where and what I photograph, and to plan how I want to use what I capture.

I used this term also to learn and experiment with additional methods of capture and post-processing, and with added subjects sets than had been my norm. While using and investigating macro photography and how it could potentially complement and add additional dimension to my project, I encountered the work of John Hallmen and the technique of focus stacking. I was stunned by the detail and clarity he was able to achieve which far and away beyond anything that is possible with mere depth of field management and I felt compelled to learn more about his process.

 

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Photo: John Hallmen

It is quite exacting and difficult to achieve in situ if the environmental conditions are anything but quite still air and reasonably stationary subject because between 20 and 50 frames with minute focal plane changes are required.  I was able to manage a few good results from the field, but I had even better success bring the subjects into a more controlled environment.

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Given the subtleties of the natural changes in the short time in which I have been photographing Coul Links, I was looking for away to represent a sense of time in the place that could be contrasted with the anthropogenic changes that are anticipated.  In addition to the “standard” natural history repeat photography techniques I have been employing and having the foreknowledge of a significant event to come, I sought to also approach the project from a Before and After Photography (Bear and Albers, 2017) perspective.  I captured images along the planned routing of the golf course with and without a model dressed as and using equipment from 100 years ago.  I then desaturated the images to imply a sense of age to the photos.  Richard Barnes in his Civil War series took contemporaneous photos of Civil War re-enactments in monochrome and deformed the edges of the negatives to create a sense the photos were taken during the war and to achieve a Matthew Brady type aesthetic.  Barnes work, however, is often cheekily betrayed by the presence of anachronisms such as power pylons or observers of the re-enactments in clearly modern attire.

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Photos: Richard Barnes – Civil War

 

 

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In anticipation of the possibility that my Coul Links story might not be able to be told without the inclusion of the human elements of the story, I took opportunities to do some environmental portraits and documentary photography.  The inshore lifeboat crew on which I serve proved to be an excellent subject, because I am also responsible for managing most of the team’s social media presence, internet fund raising and for photographs provided to print publications for news reporting and promotion.  Photographing people, something with which I have always been a bit uncomfortable, and publishing to social media and newspapers has been a good, practise expanding experience and shown me how much reach and influence social media can have on the organisation.

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In these genres, I am actually inspired by two of my peers; Danny North and Mick Yates.  Danny’s portraiture has a soul penetrating quality and yet conveys a deep and abiding empathy for his subjects.  There is never a hint of exploitation, but rather a real sense of emotional connection and care for his subjects and their feelings.  I find much of Danny’s non-commissioned work very intimate and intensely personal.

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Photo: Danny North – Jenna

Mick Yates work also shows great respect for his subjects but conveys something more in a sense of time and place than soul penetrating.  There is often a slight distance and detachment that puts the person and place in perspective giving it more of a documentary and formal character than an emotional and very personal one.

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Photos:  Mick Yates – Cambodia

Lastly, I continued working to improve and refine my wildlife photography skills.  I went even bigger, working with focal lengths up to 840mm, which presents challenges with dynamic subjects, but the results when I got it right are extraordinary and I was able to record some very special images.  It gave me the reach necessary to get the kind of detail on subjects that were often quite far away, but to which I could not physically approach any closer.

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I encountered some technical challenges in my aerial repeat photography work which I have not fully resolved.  I have been very successful in using a mission management application that allows me to fly the exact route and take photographs of the Coul Links from identical perspectives each time I fly.  However, since it is a third-party application, it appears to not be as good at controlling the camera as the manufacturer’s proprietary application.  The resolution is adequate to detect change, but it is not at the standard I would like to show detail.  The proprietary application cannot do the multi-waypoint mission profile around the perimeter of the nearly 800-acre plot of land, so I am faced with something of a dilemma to resolve.  I am continuing to explore means of improving resolution in the third-party application.

 

Barnes, R. (n.d.). Civil War — Richard Barnes. Retrieved August 9, 2018, from http://www.richardbarnes.net/civil-war-1/

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

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

John Hallmén. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2018, from http://www.johnhallmen.se/2016/12/8/emus-hirtus-1

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

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

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

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