Thursday, 23 February 2012

Facing the abyss

I’m looking at a print, not one of mine but one of Adrian’s. It is a warm toned monochrome image of a thicket on a common not far from where he lives. It is quite heavily post processed. The vignette is strong and there is nothing quite rigid about the image, in the sense that nothing is visually in focus; blur and diffusion have long been an artistic tool that he has worked into his photographs. I seem to remember Adrian saying that he was using a Holga lens onto a compact digital camera. The tones are quite compressed. There are a few completely burned out specular highlights and areas that are fully “blocked”.
I had been asked by him to look at it and some others and I specifically asked if I could retain this and “study” it for a while before we meet up again and discuss prints and photography, as we have been doing for many years. It’s a matt print on, I think, Hahnemuele photo rag 300gsm paper. There is no doubt that the image was thought worthy of such treatment, along with the twenty or so others that he brought to our last session.
I didn’t find any immediate compulsion to the image, there is a tree that crosses the diagonal from bottom right to top left which appears to bar entry into the image from a visual and metaphorical sense; the brightest part of the image, the natural draw to the eye, is “closed” to us by this tree. So why does this image compel me to come back to it on a regular basis? Well I suppose it could be that I said I would look at it and let Adrian know what I felt; which is true in an of itself. But if I didn’t find anything to draw me back to it, I know I wouldn’t offend by saying that it didn’t move me. However it does draw me back to it, it’s absence of apparent narrative compels me to think about what it might mean, what might be contained as I fight my way through the undergrowth. The photograph has engaged me.
In our discussions about photographs Adrian often bewails his lack of imagination, we will discuss some photographer or other and he will say things like, where does the imagination come from to be able to get to that image (I paraphrase)? We were looking at Susan De Witt’s work at our last conversation and both agreed about the beauty of her work and he wondered about how to begin that sort of  “journey”. Well I think he is on the journey, his train left the station some time ago – this print, which lays here beside me, is testament to that fact. His freedom to express himself and commit his ideas through the medium of print has long been a quality of his that I have admired. Adrian's website is here

Whether it is because I have largely been a photographer ploughing my own furrow for so many years, whether it is because I have this engrained mode of thought when it comes to imagery that I can’t seem to break out of, that when I look at my own work I see only conformity. A rigidity of composition, of static and sterile imagery that doesn’t pose a single question, let alone profess to answer any. I feel I need to generate some meaning through this medium and I feel the need to make some jump, cross a divide, make a leap of faith. Let go. The more I study photographers in this course, the more I read, the more I feel that I am at a crossing point. My tutor said, amongst many positive comments that I was largely very pleased with, that with the images I had provided, I had taken “quite a traditional route”. I know I wasn’t being damned by faint praise, the other comments that made in the report were very positive, but I feel I need to produce work that draws me back to it, to question the intent of the work. Whether that is possible with your own work I am unsure. I know that with my best work that I detest it for a while after completing it – only to come back to it after a while. The need to let go and take a leap into the abyss is not one I’m frightened of, but it is more what I should let go of and in which direction to jump that is holding me back.

Some pictures from last week. Pretty aren't they!

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