I'm still at it. The still life photographic project. I spent so much time researching the theoretical discourse, the histories and contemporary practice that I'm invested in the form. And because I find it difficult I embrace the challenge. Although I'm not wholly attached to originality above all else it would be desirable to find some kind of niche in my practice. Recently I changed locations, from the back garage studio to a room in the house. The summer light was too high and harsh and also too extreme in dynamic range over the course of a day with the arc of the sun. So I moved to room where there's a large window, a good north light and more space to set things out. There's quite a lot of clutter involved in still life photography, at least the way I do it. As it happens this is the start of the season for excellent light back in my garage space. The frosted glass window is smaller but as the sun lowers lightly and is less intense there are some wonderful casts of light at certain times. When it's too dark is a good time for long exposures using the pinhole camera.
I started tethering properly with this tentative new series. This is where you hook up the computer to the laptop so you have a generous view of your composition. I have to say it helps to judge lines, margins, light and of course depth of field. The two images I'm showing were taken with a Sony A7r3 and a Voigtlander 50mm F2 APO-Lanthar lens which is by far and away the best lens I've ever used. This is a manual lens which has excellent fine-detailed focusing capabilities in combination with the Sony body. With these tools I've been working to define compositions either by a thin sliver of focus, the circle of confusion, or by defining an accurate hyperfocal distance (using a phone app and a tape measure) to try to get the whole show in focus.
This is called The Boat and the Lighthouse. Initially I had no intention of seeing these simple compositions as anything other than studies in form - shape, colour, light, distribution - but on my first attempt at juxtaposing various objects I began to see the overall composition as something else, a representation of a narrative, however tenuous or abstracted. The other thing is that the objects are taken partly from the domestic environment (in this case a handbell) and partly from the forest, these being the environments in which I work from day to day. I'm very pleased with the concept and ideas behind this this though the challenge from now on is to find enough domestic objects with sufficient 'resonance' to create some kind of secondary representation along with the woodland found materials. As you can see the point of focus is at the stern of the 'boat'. With these wide aperture images there's a huge difference in how an image can speak to you depending on whether the out-of-focus field is towards the front or the back of the frame. This particular choice the direction of travel with respect to the boat. I leave the viewer to judge. A minor point is that I'm pleased with the high key nature of this photograph. It wasn't intended or post-processed as such. I don't tend to do very much in post production because I want to get as close as possible to what I want in-camera. Not much point in having a good lens if you're not going to put it to best use.
These are two takes on what I've called Eve and the Serpent, based on the same narrative concept as the previous image, though here the reference is Biblical or even mythical. I think that in both cases the use of composition (obviously) and depth of field (less so) help to offer entirely different readings of the image. The first has Eve, another small handbell, somewhat sheltered by what might be read as a cave or a tree. She's perhaps unsure or afraid of the serpent . Here I would say that the serpent is the protagonist, approaching. The tree or cave is not entirely in sharp focus but it's defined enough to make it and Eve the combined subject. In the second image Eve has emerged from the shelter to confront the serpent. Both shelter and serpent are more or less equally out of focus which places Eve clearly at the centre of the narrative. Which works best? Let me know your thoughts. Maybe both would sit well on different pages in a photobook. Decisions, decisions. Finally I think that such readings become more evident or welcome because of the introduction of what we might call a human figure, albeit in in the form of a brass bell.
There'll be more on this as I work my way through other combinations and narrative ideas. Thanks for reading.
There are five or six forest walks that I do regularly. These are the primary sites of my landscape art. I carry out my inspections, have a quiet word with the trees as befits my position, track the wildlife, keep a keen eye on the state of the paths, formulating various punishments for horse riders, make notes of littering and so forth. The forests have become more interesting the more I walk them and ever more intriguing when I leave the path and head into the depths, which I do more frequently, to take pictures, to film, to think. They're all within less than an hour from my house but I'm not going to say precisely where in case I'm forced to go full redneck on hordes of idiots with camper vans who find out and decide to drive around like plague zombies, choking up the back roads or dumping their litter.
One such walk I call the fairy walk because children and their parents have decorated the trees along the lower half of the walk with small wooden house shapes. These have painted-on doors, windows and other features My daughter tells me that this is also done in and around parts of Galway in the west of Ireland. I can see how young children might imagine their hand-made houses to be a way for the fairies to get in and out of the tree. I used to imagine such things when I was very young.
But now I'm old(er) and before me lies the serious business of making something photographic out of this walk, a walk with its own baked-in narrative. Further on we find small bridges, swings, a gnarly tree, a hut with other wooden structures and enclosures for kids to play. Sadly the hut will have to go because people were making fires - never a good idea in a forest. I mentioned narrative and this is the key to such a project. It's not really about telling a linear illustrated story as such with its plot or dramatic action. In a photographic series the trick for me is to tell a different kind of story by means of the play of forms or colour or depth of field (which are forms themselves), along with the techniques of the photobook learned from accomplished artists. For example, what should follow this image? Should it be on the same page, double spread or overleaf? Then there's the question of getting the framing right, or mixing formats - landscape with square with nearly square because of the need to crop. You'll get the idea from some of the test shots I've gathered together into small groups. Did I ever say that I find photography difficult? Maybe it all falls into place with experience.
I love photobooks (did I mention I have a couple of zines for sale?). I also love visiting photographic galleries but the two experiences are entirely different. On the one hand a day out to the gallery, a social experience, a chance to be sniffy about curators, a coffee and a cake afterwards. On the other hand you get all the prints from an artist's project in one book, often with text (for better or worse) and layered on top of the art in the photography is the art of sequencing which in the best photographers can be as pleasurable as the images themselves. It's an aspiration. So at some point I'd like my Inspector series to find its way into print but there's still a way to go.
Patience or rather time is important in a project like this, whether it comes from virtuous patience or less virtuous procrastination. In my case it has meant that I've seen the walk from all angles and in all weathers and now I can risk saying that I know what I want.
Here's an excerpt from my photography log earlier this year.
..then I went on a very good walk to put into practice some of the ideas I picked up from bits of research, eg photobooks. I did the whole circuit which is a lot (100 photos). Got everything I wanted and more, though I could do more on the ‘empty subject’, for example a fence with background, then something busy in the vicinity, then back to details around the fence, as if the eye was roving (this type of photobook sequencing will be understood better if you watch Alex Soth on his YouTube photobook series)..
There’s always a problem with something when I do photography (actually when I do anything involving decision-making and creativity) and here it’s primarily the depth of field. For these initial shots I used a Fuji X-T3, an excellent mirrorless camera which has a cropped sensor. The lenses are sharp with excellent rendering and they offer some fine distant blurring as you can see from some of the shots but now, having seen the work of some of the large format photographers and some who use very good lenses on a full frame digital cameras, I want to be able to get a sliver of the overall deep field in focus and to move this back and fore till the subject or subjects has the prominence required within a well structured photo. To this end I’ll re-photograph the entire walk, or most of it, using a recently acquired Sony A7riii with a Voigtlander 50mm F2 APO-Lanthar (manual) lens which is probably the most excellent photographic experience I’ve ever had. I wanted initially to replicate some of the shots using a Zenza Bronica ETRS which is a medium format film camera but might wait till late autumn or winter to make my own monochrome prints in the darkroom, possibly as gifts or for round the house. Of which more later.
Yes I know, everything's on the left. Some need reversing.
I continue with my photographic practice and research alongside the usual fretting over the live performance of electroacoustic music. I thought here that I'd tie together these two practices by referring to an excellent interview I read the other day. Tim Carpenter is a photographer, a writer, and a co-founder of the photography book publishing imprint TIS Books. In this era of fast and dirty results in photography, and to an extent experimental music, his work might not be to everyone's taste because it eschews single image impact, focusing instead on the series, which requires a slow appreciation, a deep understanding of form and a respect for the history of the medium, three approaches which, as I've said, are not much in evidence these days. But his work and ideas have much to say to someone (like me) still learning the craft of photography and also to someone like me who spends most of his life managing the emergence of form in musical composition.
The article can be read here.
I'm simply going to take extracts from the article which mirror very well (and articulate far more effectively than I could) my own notions around artistic practice, formal considerations and even beauty, yes that. Finally he talks of 'new rurality' which, although reductive, wraps up very nicely most of what I'd consider myself to be doing as photographer from day to day in and around the Scottish Borders.
As I’ll explain more, my primary goal is to use a camera not as a recorder of thought, but as the instrument of thought.
I do think photography is the medium of the walker.
When one seeks to illustrate ideas, there’s rarely (never? maybe) any friction from the real world; nothing is transformed and nothing refuses to be transformed.
So, no, I’m not simply taking photographs; I’m calibrating the inside against the outside. And every once in a while, through constant shooting, I come upon a way of calibrating – a form – that seems true to both self and not-self.
..form IS the underlying pulse. We are form-making creatures; it’s the way we manage the chaos outside and are able to live moment by moment. We abstract from both inside and outside to create something in the middle, which is meaning. We are in a constant state of poesis – “the activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before.” This constant meaning-making could also be called “thinking.” Form-making IS thinking, the epistemological act. It’s also the calibration I was speaking of before. The problem is that the gap is unbridgeable and our desire for formal coherence is unquenchable. The longing for completion will never be satisfied.
When a person makes a thing that expresses the process of form-making, we have an aesthetic object. My belief is that the primary objective of a work of art is to communicate the ineffable from one idiosyncratic self to another. That which is effable – politics, economics, science &etc – can be adequately communicated outside of art. Which is to say that subject matter can be adequately communicated outside of art. So for me, the aesthetic object is to be judged a success or failure based on its formal ability to evoke cogency. Coherence. Beauty even.
The successful poem or song or picture is a fleeting connection between self and world. And it helped me immensely to calm that external flux in at least one way, by looking at the same streets and buildings and fields throughout the days and seasons and over the course of years. I really noticed when small things changed: a tree cut down, a house painted. But I also was made to focus more on the internal flux: what made me different on one day versus the next, or the next year.