Week 7 Reflections – A Week in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynn Davis
Jean-Baptiste Huynh
Axel Hutte

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

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

Claude Monet
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

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

Week 3 – Some non-Project Work

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.

Geometry Lesson-104357

Geometry Lesson

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-2

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.

Week 12 -Wrapping Up Surfaces and Strategies

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

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

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

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

 

Austin Self Portrait small-8626.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Referenced Books:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referenced Web Pages:

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

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

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.

Work in Progress Portfolio

My work in progress portfolio took quite a lot of editing and went through several incarnations before it came to its final version.  I began working to compile the portfolio several weeks ago reviewing the hundreds of photos I took during the module; both those that were direct project work and those that were not.  I undertook several side projects that included field trips to other places for wildlife photography, a commissioned project for a breeder of dressage horse, projects that were prompted by the curriculum, and projects related to organisations I support.  I undertook experimentation particularly in macro and super macro work as a way of capturing the smaller inhabitants of Coul Links.  I also began trying to become more comfortable photographing people as I have come to realise that my project work will ultimately require it.

The first iterations were organised around a conceptual framework that included looking at the land from a bird’s eye perspective, a human’s eye perspective and then a bug’s eye perspective.  The idea was using a very broad views from above, flatter views from the ground and then very close up views of the world beneath my feet.  I also tested a Powers of Ten type concept where I had photographed the same view with increasingly longer lenses and narrowing perspective intending again to ultimately get to the world beneath my feet since I had spent a fair amount of effort on the macro work during the term.

I had also continued my repeat photographic work at Coul Links throughout the term and there were discernible changes in the landscape, however, I was struggling with a way to condense a sizable amount of work over 4 months into something meaningful in 18 or fewer photos.  So the second iterations attempted to show some of the landscape work intermixed with some of the normal wildlife and macro work.  When I showed those compilations to tutors and peers, there was almost universal agreement in one form or another that the breadth of perspectives was not communicating a clear story or a consistent visual aesthetic.

Along the way late in the term, I tested a concept showing a golfer “playing” the proposed routing of the new course as it is today.  I had the idea that I would desaturate those images to give a historical feel to them.  That concept got both good and bad reviews and, in the end, I decided the desaturation was too heavy handed and essentially a trope that wasn’t setting the groundwork for my ultimate story.  Tutorial comments and some additional research into social landscape photography that led me again to Dorothea Lange’s work revealed to me though that my project needed something more than just the natural history approach I had been taking.  I realised that what was being argued and what was at stake for the future of Coul Links is about how people have and will interact with this land.  That caused me to pour back through my aggregated work again and find those few photos where I had managed to incidentally capture people on the links.  At this point I still had some wildlife photos in the mix.

My project is complex with a number of different elements that in the end could potentially comprise distinct independent stories, or could be combined in different ways to create one or several stories.  However, all that complexity and diversity in the type of images I am capturing makes creating an interim portfolio that stands on its own thematically and aesthetically a challenge.  I had to overcome the inclination to try to show it all, because I was ending up showing nothing.  I had to let go of emotional attachments to my work and any pre-conceived notions about what type of genre(s) I fit in as a photographer.  I had to begin looking at my work in a completely different way than I ever had prior to this course.  Fortunately, the critical theory readings that seemed in many ways beyond my understanding during Positions and Practice when augmented by the many additional readings during this term had somehow begun to coalesce into something comprehensible and even useful. I was moving in the correct direction, but I still wasn’t there as I learned when reviewing drafts of my portfolio with tutors.  While I had come closer on selection of work there was still a sense that it was not yet organised and displayed in a way that communicated effectively.  My last one-to-one with Michelle left me utterly confused at first and feeling lost as to how to proceed.  I was limited by the structure of my SquareSpace website that wouldn’t allow me to organise my photos in grids or groupings and I didn’t know at first how I was going to overcome that limitation.  Ultimately, I found my way back to Abobe Spark as it allowed me the flexibility to create a layout that would allow me to communicate more effectively.

The final iteration integrated elements of the repeat photography with a twist, and was also intended to introduce the exploration of how people are interacting with the land.  The twist was packaging work that looked at the same areas of the landscape but from different perspectives rather than the traditional repeat photography approach of identical perspectives, and which included photos made in different months.  I did do the classic repeat photography work taking all the identical perspectives at different times, but chose not to show them that way.  I also made a conscious decision to not include wildlife in this portfolio.  I have shown the quality of that work in past submissions and was able to show examples of what I had done in the Oral Presentation.  It was time to do something different.  I hoped that approaching the portfolio this way would begin to show how the landscape changes in subtle ways throughout the year, would illustrate my various methods of image production while at the same time carrying an aesthetic that was cohesive and introduce ideas about how I might move forward in showing how various people use this land now and might use it in the future.

My portfolio can be found at the following link:

S&S WIP_Coul Links Perspectives

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.

Sanderling-0947

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.

First Fairway Bunker-8228.jpg

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.