Monday, 31 March 2008

Contemporary works

Red rock, green rock, Northumberland, March 2008
(I'm clearly no geologist)

Doug Stockdale's has been on the search for the definition of "contemporary landscape photography". There are interesting posts on he subject at Rich Gift of Lins and The Landscapist.

There is still a lot of the big boulder, big scene, Velvia saturation school of photography (the wow crowd). A lot of it is very successful, commercially. But I think this debate is about those that are getting away from the pictorialist styles. It was interesting to hear that many Digital Dawn participants regard Joe Cornish very highly ("a genius", "wish I could do work like that"). Personally, I don't care for it, although I recognise the quality of the work.

I think there is a move (back) to more naturalistic, low key, intimate work in reaction to this. I say "back" to this style because Eliot Porter (a pioneer in colour landscape photography) doing this work decades ago.

There is also a branch looking at the man-made landscape and presentation of juxtaposition of the natural and the artificial. This is where all of those urban landscape photographers fall, especially the large amount of work looking at urban decay. (On a side note, I coming to the view that urban decay photography is actually uplifting: it shows Nature taking back her own.)

I think it is about artists finding many ways to present many aspects of the world around us, not jut the "great outdoors" and the National Park visions. The "contemporary" aspect is about creating tension in the work to provoke thoughts about the environment, rather than the old method of showing the glory in the hope it would be revered.

Processes of Nature

Rock cascade, Northumberland, March 2008

Yet another thing from the workshop experience (although something to do with my advance thoughts on it). I understand now what it is I want to show in my landscape work.

It comes from having to articulate what I am trying to achieve and I boiled it down to a single phrase: the processes of Nature.

The world around us is constantly evolving through the persistent processes that nature exhibits: wind, wave, deposition, erosion, birth, growth, decay etc etc. there are big processes (mountain formation) and small ones (the budding of a flower) but these come together to form the world in which we live.

That is what causes my response to the natural world and I hope is what I can convey over time in my photography. Having just received a copy of the book "The Color of Wildness" of Eliot Porter's work, this quote resonated:
"To most people, I am sure, the beauty of nature means such features as the flowers of spring, autumn foliage, mountain landscapes, and other similar aspects...They are the peaks and summits of nature's greatest displays. But underlying and supporting these brilliant displays are slow, quiet processes that pass almost unnoticed from season to season...Yet how much is missed if we have eyes only for the bright colors."
Of course, there are also human processes of construction at work but that is not my forte, photographically. Plus, over time, we are a mere blip compared to the constancy of Nature's workings.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Due consideration

Ripples in pool, Northumberland, March 2008

On this post, Colin Griffiths left a comment that included:
This particular picture looks very considered!
about my shot of the rocks and lobster pot.

This offers a dilemma between the well constructed & considered shot versus the "grab shot". It seems that my best work in Northumberland coming from handheld, walking about shots, rather than the ones I spent ages scoping and then crouched over the tripod. Maybe it comes from the though process being the difference between "that should be a good shot" and "let's try these things and see if they work".

One excuse I could offer is to do with the small format view-finder. Having worked for a while now with large format, I find the VFs on small format SLRs squinty for static work, not helped by less than 100% coverage. I find it harder to properly compose. My hit rate with large format is much higher for the same effort.

Maybe I'm an instinctive photographer.

It's not that the more instinctive shots are not considered it's just that the period of reflection is minimal and there is little faff. And yet I seem to prefer the results. What does that say about me as a photographer?

Dawning realisation

Dunstaburgh Dawn 2, Northumberland, March 2008

I've realised that my best work is coming from the "intimate landscape" - this is where I am most pleased with my own work and seem to create a better connection with viewers. As I work through the results of the workshop this is what I am finding. It also connects to what I most like in others' work. It's why i particularly like Eliot Porter's work. This is what I have mostly taken away from the workshop experience: a greater understanding of my own work and what gives me the greatest pleasure in photography.

The shot above is an example of the sort of thing I should be avoiding. A bit cliched and never quite right. Below is a good example of the closer range.

Pool shore, Northumberland, March 2008

I think that I may well concentrate more time on shooting landscape subjects at closer range than I have done in the past.

Slightly related, another comment I got on the workshop:

"someone who can produce a range of work like this is clearly going to get a lot of enjoyment from their photography."

I think that is true for me, and hopefully evident in my writing here.

Blog Birthday: 1 year on

Going around, Northumberland, March 2008

It's a year since I started writing to the blog. Like many others, here's a bit of a retrospective.

I'm finding that writing this stuff down better helps me think about photography and has helped me realize that I want to pursue this as more than the usual holiday snaps hobby - it provides something meaningful (that word again) in my life.

Also, the notion of blogging and reading others' writings makes me feel like I'm part of a larger group, a community if you will. That is helpful. Sometimes it can be quite an isolated existence, photographically, with no one immediately close to interact with.

And so it will continue.

A by the way: plenty of blogging over the next day or so as I catch up on my thoughts after a couple of weeks away.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Reaching the audience

Rock and lobster pot, Northumberland, March 2008

There's been quite a lot recently in blogland on meaning in photography (and art for that matter) - one of those recurring themes. I particularly liked the ideas that George Barr was discussing.

This brought me back to a comment I received on one of my prints at the recent workshop I attended:

"I would spend time looking over this image and come away thinking that it wasn't really worth the effort"

I decided to take something positive and something negative from such a comment, which gets to the whole idea of meaning an meaningfulness.

The downside is that the audience isn't taking something away from my work. That is frustrating: either I'm not executing the work correctly, or my message (if any) isn't clear enough. I'm not connecting with others, despite enjoying the work myself.

The positive note is, however, that there is the notion that an audience is at least considering that my work is worth the effort. At least they are encouraged to spend time with the work even if the voyage is eventually fruitless. I think this is probably one of the most positive things that can happen - that viewers feel our work is worth putting effort in the first place and we can hope that over time (or multiple works) that they then start to take something away.

it is something like the way I approach art galleries & museums: I only maybe spend significant time with a few works but always feel rewarded for having put the effort in to find them. If my work has a similar effect on others, then it isn't in vain.

There is another aspect to all this, that I will discuss in another post.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

SoFoBoMo gear

SoFoBoMo gear

Following on from Paul Butzi & Colin Jago, I'm running down the how:

1 camera, 1 lens; my EOS 20D & the 28-135 IS. A nice combo for the close & wide that I'll need for my project. Also quite lightweight to carry around all day. This was, until my 17-55 IS purchase, my regular all-day set-up.

I'll be putting together my book using Scribus, which I get on quite well with. there will be little text except an introduction. If I put a couple of sections into it, then each section will have a text intro, too. This is going to be about the pictures and I'll have no need of spreads.

Only a certifiable loon would try Paul's 2 SoFoBoMos in one year.

The workshop: the review

Wind and wave, Northumberland, March 2008

So having completed my first workshop, what did I think?

First the details: the workshop was given by Garry Brannigan of The Digital Dawn - one of his Advanced Landscape courses in Northumberland. 3 days, including image reviews, 2 early starts for dawn and a host of coastal locations. I'm not going to go into a blow-by-blow account, suffice it to say that the "instruction" was very much tailored to the individual with plenty of one-to-one through the days, helped by the fact that there are only 5 participants on each of his workshops.

The weather was windy much of the time, which in some ways helped: it was hard to pull off the cliched grand scenics of the area and so we were forced to look for the less obvious pictures. This is exactly what I needed.

I had been looking for a workshop that would get beyond the technical camera/Photoshop stuff that most seem to offer and move towards helping me produce better work.

What did I think? In a word, excellent. Through the discussions and reviews I picked up a number of extra aspects of composition that I don't give enough attention. It was useful to have the discussions about what does does not work in a print and therefore how to go about representing the world we see effectively in a flat image.

Garry has a broad appreciation of photography and is able to guide each participant based on their own goals and vision. It is always from the question "what do you want to achieve?" that advice stems on how to better achieve it. There is no agenda and no style being pushed. The whole thing is run ins a relaxed, easy-going atmosphere that meant I never felt rushed and could get whatever help I needed, whenever.

It is certainly easy to see why there are 75% repeat bookings and I will be looking to add myself to their number next year.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

I'm back in business

Got back late last night from the workshop trip. A good week, all round, more to come on that in due course. There is a ton of frames to go through from the past few days (I've just finished the cataloguing), with a load of large format in for processing at the moment.

I've also got some other posts lined up for the coming days so stay tuned...

Friday, 7 March 2008

Off to my first workshop

In a couple of hours I'll be jetting off for my first ever photography workshop. This one is based in Northumberland in the UK running most of next week. Plus I'm getting in a few extra days of my own shooting.

This should be good - it's a course specifically aimed at the creative aspects of photography rather than the technical which was the attraction for me.

When I get back, I'll post my thoughts and comments on the experience.

It's also going to feel good getting out with the camera again. I don't think I've picked mine up in about 4 or 5 weeks.

This also means no posts for about 10 days.

SoFoBoMo: setting some dates

Things have quietened a bit on the SoFoBoMo front recently - maybe everyone is all geared up and waiting for the starting gun.

I had been hoping to SoFoBoMo from 1st April, in the truest spirit of the thing but then life intervened. My schedule now means that my time at home for April will be measured in hours. So, looks like I'll have to delay for a couple of weeks - I'm going to target 17th May as the completion date, which means 17th April as a start date.

With this crazy schedule I've even come up with a back-up theme, one that I can complete the shooting in a couple of hours. Maybe I'll even have a crack at both.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

True wonderment of Nature

Flowing clouds, Alberta, September 2007

I made some comments to this post at the Landscapist that I want to elaborate on.

The piece was about the notion of our losing the sense of wonder in the world around us as culture becomes more rational/scientific and whether art has a part to play in shaping our culture.

It is an oft heard argument that the loss of the spiritual in society, as we turn more to science, decreases our sense of connection to and wonder in Nature. I disagree. For me, turning to spiritual or metaphysical arguments for explanations is merely scratching the surface. Seeking for answers to "why" without cause to the "how" seems to me so superficial.

As an engineer who deals in scientific explanations every day, it is the search for "how" that makes the natural world so much more wonderful: rich deep and complex. Seeing crude human attempts to mimic or recreate Nature shows how clumsy and awkward we are in comparison. We are neither so powerful nor so subtle. It is through the appreciation of the layers of "how" that leads me to feel the wonderment of Nature.

Art-making then becomes so much more difficult. I see all of this complex yet subtle interaction and process going on around me which is impossible to truly capture on a flat print. This is what I strive for when I say I'm looking "to demonstrate the ways in which nature shows beauty." It is not just the form, but the process that brings it into being.