Critical Review of Practice - April 2018
Photography is the recording of an occurrence from the past, and all photographs, when used as memories, give us something to hold on to, something to remember. In this review I shall be discussing the progress of my work titled Memoryscapes. I shall talk about the influences and how they have critically informed my making along the way, as well as an evaluation. Most of my photographic work has used the photograph as a reference for memory. However, recently my work has started using the photograph as a trigger for memory rather than a reference (CRJ, 18.04.2018). As Chen posits, “…all the images we take, and post provide a sort of window to the past…” (Chen, 2017). JM Colberg talks about the process in which we use photographs as these triggers for memories, when he says, “In the case of photographs, we have more power over the process of retaining and forgetting” (2012). Referencing the photograph as object, Colberg is comparing these photographic memories to those we keep encoded in our conscious.
Chino Otsuka is one of my first influences of using photography as a tool for memory, and here she recalls the process of making an image to record a snapshot in time:
“The earliest memory
I remember it clearly.
A photographic memory,
I didn’t want to let it go
So, at that moment,
In my mind
I released the shutter. (Otsuka, 2006:25)
Otsuka’s constructed realities of both past and present self-portraits comment on her cultural identity, as well as offering the viewer to consider their own past and present self. These images clearly reference the machine printed snap and the aesthetic of the snapshot which have informed my image making.
At the start of my photographic journey, my grandfather showed me a Kodak Box Brownie and some family photographs from my mother’s childhood. However, it was not until I read Charlotte Cottons essay on Intimate life, that I understood the existence of the snapshot as an aesthetic in itself, and related this text to the pictures by Otsuka I had seen previously: “What is important is the presence of loved ones at a significant event or moment that prompted the taking of the image… Out of kilter framing, blur, uneven flashlight, the coloration of the machine printed snap.” (Cotton, 2004:57)
Since my first project Sarah, this theme of the family, and snapshot have been a constant influence in my personal and commercial work. In previous modules, I have attempted to adapt these ideas to work with the still life images in [My Grandmothers] Cabinet of Curiosities(See Fig.3). In this project, the collaboration and conversation were essential components which made me think about adding audible content to my work in its exhibition setting. More recently in the Sustainable Prospectsmodule, I was dealing with my approach to editorial commissions. The latter dealt with the family albums of my collaborators and not so much with the element of memory itself.
So, for this next stage of development I wanted to reflect on critical, conceptual and aesthetic ideas around memory in the context of the landscape, a new area of exploration for me. The memory of landscape is associated with feelings. Those of pleasure, belonging, identity, pain and loss. Everything we do in our life is associated with this landscape. Therefore, according to Taylor, “landscape is the nerve centre of our personal and collective memories.” (Taylor, n.d:4)Taylor continues to discuss the role the landscape has in our conscious when he says how the “… Landscape therefore is not simply what we see, but a way of seeing: we see it with our eye but interpret it with our mind and ascribe values to landscape for intangible – spiritual – reasons.” (Taylor, n.d:1) These values consolidated my interest in memory and the landscape.
Further to this interest, is the reaction and engagement of the viewer. What is perceived by their own memories when looking at my photographs? In relation to my work, this idea is best reflected in the words of Tagg as discussed by Wells when considering the gaze: The viewer is “invited to dream in the ideological space of the photograph” (Collins, 2003:357)
In a recent peer review of practice, I had briefly discussed using portraits to act as natural pauses in the landscape. One of my colleagues reflected upon how my work had triggered memories of his childhood. He said, “I particularly like how you mixed your landscapes and portraits, something while sat watching your video I can think of in my own childhood but haven't until now...” (Moore, 2018).This highlighted and confirmed that photographs trigger memory.
I was influenced by Alec Soth’s work (CRJ, 03.04.2018)in the editing process. Soth seamlessly puts landscapes, portraits and still life images together to document the dynamic between people and places in and around Niagara. I started to make some portraits as part of my own work (Fig. 4),however, I realised they were not adding value, nor fitted into the narrative I wanted to achieve. I intend to return to this, as it did highlight to me how the viewer would interpret their own memories through my work. This then informed my thinking into how this project would be disseminated. Soth’s influence in editing, encouraged me to revisit this work in progress series. I decided to remove 2 images (Fig.6-7)as they also do not fit with the aesthetic and detracted from the remaining images in the body of work.
Aside from the concept of memory, the work of John Spinks and in particularly his project The New Village(CRJ, 22.02.2018)inspired me and gave me some direction of how to start my own landscape photography. Similarly, to my earlier idea of mixing both landscapes and portraits, Spinks’ quiet photographs of an unnamed mining village in Lancashire, invite the viewer to become the voyeur of these people and places that exist where Spinks was born.
The soft colour palette that exists within these large format photographs and the unsure appearance of the people stood before the camera along with almost eerie scenes from the outskirts of the village show a sense of journey through this work, which spanned over 15 years. Aside from aesthetic and technical excellence, I am mostly inspired by Spinks’ continued investigation over such a long period of time. David Chandler describes this as “… not only as a search for certain characteristics in the subject but also as a mining of the photographer’s own psyche.”(Chandler, 2017)I was very encouraged when researching Spinks’ commercial work to find that his personal work was of a very different kind of style. This connection between personal and commercial practice is something I shall talk about later in my evaluation.
In a recent symposium presentation at Falmouth University (Alexander, 2018)Spinks talked about the urge he felt to return to the village where he grew up. Furthermore, Herbert Read said, “But it was the very essence that now impelled him to return to the place where his personality had first been liberated...” (Cited in Spinks, 2017). These reflections by Spinks made me realise that I had a similar draw to the town in Devon where I grew up. So now the location for this project was clear, I needed to resolve which photographic processes would be most suitable for the landscape.
Without access to, nor the financial backing to use the large format used by Spinks, I decided to explore the Fuji 6x9 rangefinder. Chosen for its large negative size, this camera is as close to the large format mentioned previously as possible. I found the rangefinder rather complex to focus at first as I had never used this focusing system before. I had also not used a spot meter for determining exposure outside of the studio environment for many years. I wanted to use the same large negative for the best possible details as well as to work at a slower pace to all of my previous work. The choices detailed above came from a need to experience the full analogue workflow as used by the majority of my influences. However, during my image making in this particular body of work, and although I was very much enjoying these analogue techniques, I felt very confined by time and finance. For this reason, nearer the end of the module I did incorporate some digital images. As the final output of this portfolio is an online platform I did not feel the need to have all final images printed as traditional C-Types which had been my original intent. Fig.9 is a 12x10 C Type print made by a local printer, who talked through the work with me to acknowledge the ideas behind it and to identify the best aesthetic look for the photograph. Compared to an inkjet print, this C Type has more depth of tone, and gives a truer representation of the actual place it was made.
It is now to Jem Southam I looked to for further inspiration on subject and process (CRJ, 06.04.2018)As Chandler writes:
“Tangled woodland spaces have long served as durable metaphors for unspecified human energies and states of mind in modern British Art and Photography, from the drawings and paintings of Graham Sutherland to the colour photographs of Jem Southam”.(2017)
His slow approach using what he calls a “big bulky camera” (Southam, 2013)interested me. Gerry Badger describes the process Southam endures to gain the knowledge he passes onto the audience: “whilst in part being about change, photography’s perennial subject – are also about continuity, connection, memory and history” (Badger, 2005). These elements now being at the forefront of my practice, and a crucial point in the definition of this work in progress series. (CRJ,24.04.2018)
After trying this slow approach, I realised that I was moving in a direction away from the snapshot I had been so informed by up to now. It was in some ways too slow. I was spending too long on each image and was losing the essence of my work. I wanted to try and keep some of the characteristics of the snapshot in my scape work, for example the addition of out of kilter framing, blur or the use of some flash.
When reading an interview with Laura Letinsky (Farstad, 2014), I was compelled to compare the contents of my framed image to that of a practitioner in another medium. My intention being to clarify my own landscape aesthetic (CRJ, 11.04.2018). Figure.11 shows the painter Sam Heath, who focuses his eye on the colour and form within the landscape scene. I have noticed when framing and focusing the camera on my own landscapes, I was similarly drawn to the change of colour and form that lies in front of me, rather than the wider landscape. I feel these close-up images have refined the memories produced, whilst also giving the viewer more space to reflect.
Including these personal photographic characteristics and contrary to the traditional approach of landscape photography, I started to use the shallow depth of field which focuses the viewer’s eye on a particular detail. Shore talks about the frame as a consideration of the depictive level when describing the nature of the photograph. He explains, “A photograph has edges, the world does not. The edges separate what is in the picture from what is not...” (Shore, 2007:54). I suppose my subconscious aim was to get closer to the land and to focus in on smaller details (See fig. 12). This shallow focus would isolate these smaller details within this frame and create a stronger relationship between me, the detail and the camera. Similarly, Szarkowski talks about the relationship between people within the frame when he said, “If the Photographers frame surrounded two figures, isolating them from the crowd in which they stood, it created a relationship between those two figures that had not existed before.” (Zsarkowski, 2003:100) (CRJ, 26.02.2018). Whilst also considering the aspect of the frame, in figure 12 above I wanted to reference both the out of kilter snapshot and the image as object. I achieved this by leaving in some of the negative which should have been cropped during scanning.
Fig. 13 is one of the first pictures I made as part of this investigation. It was taken by a lake that I spent a lot of time at as a child. Unlike traditional landscapists, I use a shallow depth of field, to imitate exactly what the eye can see, as a “naturalistic representation”(Allen, 1975:144). As Emerson continues, this representation of a scene should be, “as much as possible, identical with the visual impression an observer would get at the actual spot from which the photograph was made”(Allen, 1975:44)(CRJ,15.04.2018)
In these still and almost silent representations, I wanted there to be enough information so as to recognize what the image was, but also enough left out to allow the viewer to reflect on their own memories produced by the scene.
Daniel Shea has been another constant influence for me, especially his ideas around the cinema (CRJ, 09.02.2018).He is interested in what happens before and after the image was taken like the frames of film on a cinema projector. Fig.14 shows three of my images where I was interested in the moment before and after the initial photograph was made. I was determined to break the boundary and restrictions of the frame that Shore defined, so as to show what was happening in the world outside the frame. These three frames, although individual images, would be displayed as a triptych in the context of the gallery or a publication.
As shown in figure 15, the idea of memory within the landscape is in contrast to 19thCentury photographer Roger Fenton. Being of the Picturesque tradition, Fenton focused his lens also on the landscape. These picture-postcard images of the countryside gave me further inspiration to look at my home town in Devon in a very different way to his “idealized and touristic” view(Clarke, 1997:56). I wanted to show places that held memories as a characteristic of the postcard, but from a personal approach.
I have realised my practice is being pushed and pulled between the conceptual and the commercial. Sometimes working on projects investigating memory through artistic endeavour, and other times, I am developing my personal style towards editorial commissions. This constant state of flux in reaching separate outcomes through my work has a negative effect on both practices and has stifled the development of my own photographic style. However, using aesthetic influence from Spinks, as well as being informed about the editing and ordering of images by Soth, I have compiled a series of images that are both aesthetically pleasing and critically engaging. Badger defines the aspects of Southam’s knowledge as that of “…connection, memory and history” (Badger, 2005)which are now interlaced into the development of my own photographic voice. Letinsky (CRJ, 12.03.2018)has led me to realise I have too greater focus on photographers for aesthetic influence and I should take more from text-based sources.
Dr Emily Orley talks about how, “JamesJoyce scribbled the words 'places remember events' in the margin of his notes for Ulysses.”(Orley, 2012:1)I hope to explore in the future the intriguing notion that the places I have photographed could have multiple memories.
Anthony Prothero, 2018
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Table of Figures
Fig.1 Prothero, A 2018 Memoryscape
Fig.2 Otsuka, C 2005. Imagine Finding Me 1982 and 2005, Imagine Finding Me, Trace, Dorset, 2012.
Fig.3 Prothero, A 2017. FromGrandmothers Cabinet of Curiosities.
Fig.4 Prothero, A 2018 Memoryscape
Fig.5 Soth, A 2006 Niagara, Steidl 2008
Fig.6 Prothero, A 2018. C Type 12x10 example from Memoryscapes.
Fig.7 Southam, J 1996 July 1996 from the Upton Pyne series, Landscape Stories, Blind Spot Books New York
Fig.8 Heath, SL 2016. August Morning, (Online) Available at http://www.samlukeheath.com Accessed April 2018
Fig.9 Prothero, A 2018. Memoryscape
Fig.10 Prothero, A 2018. Memoryscape
Fig.11 Prothero, A 2018. Memoryscape
Fig.12 Prothero, A 2018. Memoryscape
Fig.13 Prothero, A 2018. Memoryscape
Fig.14 Prothero, A 2018. Memoryscape Triptych
Fig.15 Fenton, R 1859. Mill at Hurst Green, The Photograph, Clarke G 1997