Week 6 – Inspiration

In trying to ascertain the species of some of the insects I had photographed with a macro lens, I stumbled across the work of John Hallmen and was utterly awestruck.  I couldn’t understand how it was possible to obtain such clarity across the entire depth of field without diffraction.  As I read an interview with him and subsequently visited his website I learned he uses photo stacking and uses sometimes over 50 images to obtain one.   The image below is an example of extraordinary work Hallmen does in the field and in studio uses both natural and augmented light sources.  He then uses Zerene Stacker to process the series of images.

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Completely fascinated by this process and the prospects for my practice I obtained Zerene Stacker and set about experimenting.  As luck would have it on this rainy day, I found a dead moth on one of my window sills and it was a perfect subject for experimentation as it was not about to move.  Tripod, flash, cable release and a 100mm f2.8 lens on my Canon 5D MkIV and off we went.  A total of 18 images in minutely different focal planes were taken at a slightly oblique angle of this moth which is about 2cm in length.  Results of my first attempt are below and quite impressive.

Moth Stacked-17

My experiments continued with flowers and a fly.

Elm Stacked-55Fly Stacked-01White Flowers Stacked-43

This is definitely a valuable technique to employ along with macro photography.  I am looking forward to experimenting with it in landscape work as well.  There might be some interesting effects possible with ND filters and longer exposures at various focal depths and then stacking.

John Hallmén. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2018, from http://www.johnhallmen.se/2016/4/25/morning-stretch

Week 5 – Reflections on One to One Tutorial

I found this a productive session and frankly altogether too short to really discuss all I might have liked to discuss.  Nevertheless, Michelle provided a lot of encouragement and offered some insights and opinions about some of the work I showed.  I was a bit surprised by some and would at some point like to delve further into the “whys” behind the comments.

I can take a technically good photograph, but my usual subject matter is one in which it is somewhat difficult to distinguish one’s self from the other many fine professional and amateur natural history photographers in the world without resorting to gimmicks or excessive manipulations, both of which strike me as antithetical to whole point of natural history photography.  So we return to the question of what makes my work unique and identifiable?  I do not yet have the definitive answer to that question.  My work is becoming more focused on outcomes; that is to say I take fewer photos just to take a photo of something that catches my eye or interests me and consider what will I do with the photo and how does it fit or support an output in some form.  I am much more aware of the need to tell a story with my work.  In some of my projects I begin with with a clear idea of the story line and am able to capture images to support that narrative.  In my research project though, it is impossible to determine how the story will end at this time, and it may be many years in fact before we know the true outcome.  So while there are clear elements to the plot, it is somewhat of a mystery story: who is the villain and who is the hero, do either exist, can nature and man work together in harmony in this instance?

Michelle suggested I look at the work of Stephen Gill and Susan Derges.  I found Gill’s work unappealing, uninspiring and largely uninteresting, both in subject matter and technique.  He is an experimental photographer and he does unconventional things to make his art, for which he is to be commended, and he obviously has attracted an audience, but his art does not resonate with me.

On the other hand, I was fascinated by the work of Susan Derges.  I didn’t realize at first that she specializes in cameraless photography and I found myself wondering how she managed the perspective in many of her photos.  Her work dances along the border between realism and abstraction, and contains just enough of each to capture and hold my attention.  When I then learned that much of her work is constructed in a darkroom I was completely gobsmacked.  Michelle has urged me to consider whether there is a place in my project for something along the lines of the photograms I did in last week’s activity.  Derges work is far more sophisticated than my simple cyanotypes, but it has shown me there are perhaps possibilities of which I was not aware and had therefore not considered.

So the search for Ashley Rose’s unique perspective continues.  Under every rock and leaf there seems another possibility.  Perhaps this is another journey with no final destination, but rather one of exploration, discovery, experimentation and reflection.  Yet another story with an uncertain ending.  Stay tuned for future episodes.

 

Derges, S. (n.d.). Susan Derges. Retrieved July 6, 2018, from http://susanderges.co.uk/
Gill, S. (n.d.). Stephen Gill Portfolio. Retrieved July 6, 2018, from https://www.stephengill.co.uk/portfolio/portfolio

 

Making sense of multiple photographs over time

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I just finished reading most of this book and found it quite thought provoking.  There seems a great muddle even amongst the “experts” in the epistemology and ontology of photographic practise that includes more than one photograph taken of the same subject.  Is it “before and after”, rephotography, repeat photography, a series, or “then-and-now” photography?  Depending on which source one might choose to use, it could be any one, all, or none of these labels.

Albers and Bear write in their opening chapter:

“Among the most significant orthodoxies in the recent historiography of photography is a shared conviction that a single, authoritative account of the medium is both impossible and undesirable.  A tenet of much of the most innovative scholarship since the 1970’s, this commitment to a plurality of histories is summed up in the scholar John Tagg’s haunting disavowal: “Photography as such has no identity…its history has no unity.  It is a flickering across a field of institutional spaces. It is this field we must study, not photography itself” 

And precisely because of photography’s lack of identity outside of specific discursive and institutional contexts, the art historian, the climatologist and the sociologist have no common idiom for discussing their photographic research.

As such, we focus on before-and-after photographs as a strategy so commonplace that virtually every disparate photographic discourse has enlisted it.” 

It seems to me the ubiquity of photography and its employment across virtually every social, scientific and artistic discipline renders photography in some ways a tool of the discipline in which it is being employed rather than an end unto itself.  I think this is the point Tagg was trying to make and the argument Bear and Albers put forth that there may be strategies employed across those disciplines that provide a basis for a common framework.  However, the distinctions they make between the related tropes that share in common the employment of more than one photograph are less than clear cut as evidenced by the essays that comprise the remainder of the book.

In the afterword, James Elkins writes:

“Because I am not sure how to distinguish rephotography from before-and-after photography, or before-and-after photography from individual photographs, I prefer to think of those odd experiences as extreme cases of the sorts of seeing that are provoked, unexpectedly and in general, by photographs of many kinds. If seeing photographs involves self-indulgent, myopic, or even anascopic seeing, and if it elicits subjunctive, reparative mediations on what was, what came between, and what came after, then before-and-after photography may be more an extreme kind of photography, a limit or test case, than a separable genre or mode or practise.  It may be a kind of photography that helps us to understand what some photography can be.”

Bear and Albers try to distinguish before-and-after photography as two photos punctuated by a singular unseen event that causes the change observed in the photographs, and which requires the viewer to imagine the nature of that event.  Rephotography, such as practised by Mark Klett and others, is likewise two photographs temporarily separated by an undefined period of time in which the viewer is still required to discern the changes and imagine what cause or causes effected the changes.  Both before-and-after photography begin from a single photograph and often with no intent to necessarily take a second photograph of the same place in a different time.  Occasionally, one might have foreknowledge of an impending event that would lend itself to a before-and-after trope.  The only way I can distinguish then-and-now photography from rephotography in either method or intent is rephotography necessitates taking the photos from the same place with as close as possible replication of the original perspectives.  Jem Southam’s work The Painter’s Pool is more of a then and now piece of work giving a feel of a place over a period of time without trying to recreate an original photograph.

Repeat photography, on the other hand, begins with intent to observe changes in a place over time by taking two or more photographs from the same place over some again undefined span of time.  It begins also with a belief that observable changes will occur by known or unknown single or multiple causal factors.  And herein comes the rub.

If I know that a hurricane is about to hit or a volcano about to erupt and I take photographs of the area to be affected by the event with the intent to return and photograph the aftermath, am I engaging in before-and-after or repeat photography?  Does it matter? If I stay and take photographs during the event it is no longer unseen and therefore does not fit the definition of before-and-after photography, but is it repeat photography with a relatively short temporal displacement or is it a series?  Again, does it matter?  If I take a series of photographs that captures the full sequence of an event, but then choose to only show the first and last in the series and leave the event unseen, is that before-and-after photography, or have I just made an editorial or curatorial choice?

Aren’t all of these distinctions somewhat arbitrary and vague?  Are they not in fact a continuum of sorts with boundaries that overlap as a function in part of the epistemological perspective of the project?  Perhaps what matters is that all the photographs provide some level of information imbued by the apparatus and the choices of the photographer that remain to be decoded by the viewer.  Furthermore, what seems common among virtually all of the examples described in the book, regardless of which trope one might assign, is none seem be approached by the photographers with an agenda, and rather are largely indexical in character.  The assignment or interpretation of significance seems to come in part from the editorial and curatorial choices made by the photographer, and from the viewer and whatever perspectives and biases they bring to viewing.

What relevance does this have to my project?  I am in large part observing a place over time.  I entered the project with the idea this was a classic repeat photography project in which I would observe and record both natural and anthropogenic changes on a landscape over a period of approximately two years.  However, I have foreknowledge that a major anthropogenic event will occur that will cause dramatic changes in the landscape.  Has this become a before-and-after project or because I will photograph the changes as the event occurs does it become a series?  Does the trope to which it is assigned depend on what and how I choose to show the results?  Can it be everything and none of these things depending on those choices?  And, does it matter?  Can it not just be what it is? Can I not just use photography as epistemological and ontological tool to understand my world?

I think I can.

Tagg, J. (1988). The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Bear, J., & Albers, K. P. (2017). Before-and-After Photography; Histories and Contexts (1st ed.). London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Some final reflections on Positions and Practice and the reactions of classmates to marks and the future

I have to say that photography, while it has technical aspects which can be evaluated relatively objectively, is in the end an artistic endeavour and as such is subject to people liking or not liking your art, but they really have no right to judge whether it is correct as an artistic work. Yes this course is supposed to push and challenge us to explore beyond the current bounds of our comfort zones and we should venture forth into uncharted territories if only to discover those are not places we would like to work in the future.

Those of you who are more established professionals are in something of a more difficult situation it seems to me, because you have in part made a statement as to who you are and what your practice is about and it represents your current livelihood. If that is working for you I don’t think you should be changing on the basis of the first modules grades or comments. I do think what has been evaluated is worth considering how it relates to your current practice and whether there may be things that could enhance that practice. I think the MA is an opportunity to explore different directions and alternate perspectives as a way of confirming past decisions about your current practice or informing paths to expand, enhance or redirect your practice. For those of us with a cleaner slate and no reliance on current practice for income, it is wee bit easier I think because we only have the future to concern ourselves with for the most part.

I firmly believe what we get out of this course is in our hands. The coursework is only the barest minimum of what is required to earn the degree. Everything else you put in and take away is entirely up to you and should be directed at satisfying what you hope to achieve from the course. Except for certain genres of photography where the briefs are completely restrictive, we otherwise have the latitude to do whatever we please and create something with which we are satisfied. If others happen to like it, it is a bonus and if then they want to buy it, jackpot. But I doubt most of you are doing this to just hit the jackpot and suspect that if you produced something that was commercially a success but in your mind a poor piece of work that did not express you as an artist, you wouldn’t be very satisfied. So I have to believe if this is a credible program the tutors ultimately want each of us to be certain who we are as practitioners and confident about what we do. In these early stages they will poke and prod, challenge our assumptions, make us doubt ourselves as steps on the road to self discovery and establishment of certainty in our own minds of who we are and what we want to do. So explore, test your boundaries, but when you know yourself and are 100% committed, stand up and fight for those convictions as artists.