Category Archives: Assignment 4

Mindful photography

Part 5 develops a theme that I started to explore in Assignment 4, that of the concept of mindfullness in photography:

Whatever it is, begin to notice how where you are influences you”

And

in the moment is where good photographs are often found”.

Harding Pitman clearly identified with what was happening in the would around him, the sprawl of LA Style urban paraphanalia acrcross the world making places less uniquem characterful and more ‘western normalised’ over time.  https://www.lensculture.com/articles/robert-harding-pittman-anonymization-the-global-proliferation-of-urban-sprawl

I’m realising that successful photography must be woven into the very life we lead, not just to be a passive, detached activity like Sontag warns of in Plato’s Cave, to “help people to take possession of a space in which they are insecure” (Sontag, 1977. P.9) speaking of tourists that use the camera to pry into the cultures of others while being safely protected from it by the lens they peer through.

Instead, photography with personal meaning is dependent upon living mindfully, fully in the present, so that we are receptive to:

  • What is happening around us right now and;
  • How we feel about it.
The photograph is a combination of these two things – the awareness and the personal artistic response.
 
As we consider this concept more fully, is becomes harder to separate out many of the basic tenets of, say, Eastern Buddhism from practicing any art.  Perhaps that is why religion has inspired so much art through the ages: Tibetan Thankga Paintings and Mandalas, Christian frescoes, Greek statues of deities and American totem poles amongst them.  They are artistic responses to a spiritual belief, rooted in, and inspired by, a connectedness to the world around thrm.
 
This opens the door to the practice and study of photography being part of a personal spiritual journey and not merely an academic pursuit, developing a deeper awareness of the world around us and our place within it.
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Assignment 4 – Self Reflection

Overview

In this assignment I tried to understand what Thomas intended the poem to be about and interpret that within the context of images of my own childhood landscape.

I have chosen photographs which might be interesting sights from nature which are transient in nature and so easily overlooked.  Hopefully the viewer will draw upon their own emotions and background as to what they mean for them – spiders, water, midges for example might carry happy or unpleasant memories for different people.

The sequencing of the images was chosen to simulate how the human mind tries to be in the present, but is then interrupted by memories of the past or other distractions.  Our minds do not work in a linear way.  Concentration is easily broken making it harder than it sounds to enjoy being in this moment for long.

 

Analysis of the images

Looking at the images in sequence with more information about my intended meanings:

  1. Flowing: An attempt to start the work by focussing the viewers attention on what is below his/her feet, grounding them in the ‘here and now’.  How often do we look at what is directly below us when crossing a bridge?  Looking straight down on a river from above the weeds in the flowing stream almost look like a willow tree taken from the side.  This changed constantly as the weeds moved with the flow – another photograph taken seconds later would look different.
  2. Mown: Taken back in the mind to a childhood playing field, the viewer might interpret this in different ways – happy memories of junior football prowess with friends, or perhaps abandonment, the pitch being apparently deserted and featureless.
  3. Blue Canvas: Clouds fascinate me for their unique and apparently infinite different formations.  Like an abstract painting in the sky, happening right above us.  But how often do we notice them?
  4. Anticipation: Once again back to a childhood pursuit, filled with wonder and expectation as to what the future might hold (i.e. might we catch a fish?  How big?).  I’m curious to know what the fisherman is keeping in the bag suspended in the tree.
  5. Hatch: Midges hatching on the river bank.  Living each moment to its maximum potential, unwittingly constrained by an incredibly short lifespan of possibly just one day.  How did they acquire the learning that there is safely in numbers so quickly? For me this raises questions about whether we can afford to waste large portions of our lives thinking about the past and the future rather than living in this moment like the midges.
  6. Full Time:  I find it interesting that the commemorative board for the ex-mine emphasises the gloomy blackness of the pit workers contrasted with the family happily enjoying the same space for recreation.  Is the loss of an entire industry progress? The quotation places the setting as DH Lawrence’s Eastwood in Nottinghamshire.  The grown man stands in another ‘goal’, perhaps reflecting on what has actually been won.
  7. The Silk Road: Another interpretation on how temporary and impermanent things are, to be cherished as they come into our lives?  Or maybe a warning not to get stuck in the past like a fly in a web?
  8. The Old Clock Ticks. The surrounding area has various stone circles from the neolithic era.  At certain times light will momentarily illuminate different stones creating questions about their significance and the transitory passage of time though our lives.  Shortly after taking this photograph the sun continued its trek across the sky and the moment was gone, throwing the whole area into dull shadow.
  9. The Rainbow Bridge: Some cultures have a concept of a ‘rainbow bridge’ that the deceased cross to an afterlife.  Following our dreams can indeed present a pot of gold for us but we cannot know what the future holds for sure.  Is being lucky enough to witness this phenomena the real prize?  What is really at the other end?  Rainbows only arise when good weather and bad weather exist in equal measure.

The images were selected from the following ‘contact sheet’ and were shot on both full frame and APS-C digital cameras over a series of walks during the past four weeks (longer walks of 10 miles+ necessitated the carrying of a smaller camera).

Lightroom (_IMG0453.DNG and 34 others)

To ensure consistency of colour rendition when using different cameras for the same set, custom colour profiles were created for each camera using a Colour Checker Passport:

http://xritephoto.com/colorchecker-passport-photo

 

Self assessment against the course criteria:

  • Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – In this assignment I’ve tried to ‘see the less observed’, the everyday magic of life that we overlook in our obsession for being in either the past or future.  Hopefully the viewer will see these mundane things as worthy of more of their attention.  The final version to be submitted for Assessment will probably take the form of a photobook so the viewer can take a journey through a photo album in a very physical sense too.

    Mundane items have also been used as signifiers for the past as well – fishing, goalposts, mines – but have metaphorical ‘hooks’ (literal in the case of fishing!) to playtime, miners strikes, etc. that many of us will recollect.

    For the future element, I initially looked to provide more obvious signifiers of death and inevitability – there’s a dead bird on the contact sheet, for example.  But the point is that the future is not determinable.  ‘The Old Clock Ticks’ intends to convey a sense of mystery and uncertainty (what is hidden in the deep shadows with the stone circle?) while also signifying the ‘shaft of light’ that many who have experienced near death experiences speak of.  ‘Rainbow Bridge’ hint at this, ruined dreams and disappointment in less obvious ways too, leaving room for the viewer to find their own interpretations.

  • Quality of outcome (20%) –  I agonised for some time as to the order in which to present the individual images before deciding that I wanted to reflect the way the mind flits between past, present and future, finding it hard to just be in the present moment for long.  The risk is that the viewer might find it random or incoherent how the images have been sequenced.

    I debated whether to include the poem at the beginning or end.  I even considered breaking it up into sections, interspersed throughout the images.  Finally I considered coupling sections of the poem as titles for each image, which forced too literal a link.  I eventually opted to place the poem at the beginning but I’m still not sure that I’ve fully settled this debate in my mind yet.  So this could change again before submitting a final printed version for Assessment.

  • Demonstration of creativity (20%) – The pursuit of this assignment required walking more than 30 miles in and around the landscape where I grew up to re-discover places and the drivers for my personal nostalgia.  As suggested by the course materials, I also understood to study more deeply around creative writing and poetry in particular to tease out what Thomas was trying to get at in Bridges.

    Looking back over the this course, Context and Narrative and this Assignment in particular, I feel that I have an emerging personal voice centred around themes of how we relate to our landscape and fellow humans.  Like Keith Arnatt, or Tillmans have inspired before, I see a beauty in the mundane – the shape of trees, the flow of water and a sense of melancholy in all of it based on the way we treat what is all around us.

  • Context (20%) –The course materials coupled with the Text chapter in Context and Narrative (Short, 2011) have opened up new ways for me us use test in my work, both as content and as inspiration.  I have sought to dig deeper into the less superficial meaning of a poem and re-tell the same story through photographs.  I’m pleased with how I feel the work urges the viewer to consider what they are missing in the present moment, to be honest about whether they spend their time in the past or future with all the emotional attachments that come with it.  Equally, I don’t think it tells the viewer what to think.  It gives room for their own memories and fears.  This Assignment has opened up the potential for using poetry to inspire photography.  A close friend is a published poet and we are already discussing how we can take this further as a joint project.

 

References:

Short, M. (2011) Basics Creative Photography: Context and Narrative (Basics: Creative Photography). Worthing, UK: AVA Publishing

Sontag, S. (1979) On Photography. London. Penguin

Thomas, E. (first published 1917) The Bridge. At: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-bridge-33/ (accessed on 10.09.17)

Assignment 4

Brief:

Create a series of work (aim for 7–10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place that you’ve looked at so far in this course. Use the written word to play a part in its creation.

You may be inspired by a poem, song or a novel or decide to write your own fictive piece. You may draw upon other people’s words via eavesdropping or another source or use extracts from journals. You might find interesting textual accounts in archives in libraries that could inform this assignment. Allow your creativity to be spurred on by spending time with these words and reflecting on them.

Be wary of illustrating your text with pictures and vice versa. Allow for the viewers’ interpretation to be opened up rather than shut down by the pairings. You may decide not to include the actual words in the final production; that’s fine, as long as they have in some way informed the research and development of the concepts and have pushed the imagery further as a result.

Write a short reflective commentary (around 500 words) describing how your chosen ‘words’ have informed your series of images and make this available to your tutor alongside your images.

Create a series of work (aim for 7–10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place that you’ve looked at so far in this course. Use the written word to play a part in its creation.

You may be inspired by a poem, song or a novel or decide to write your own fictive piece. You may draw upon other people’s words via eavesdropping or another source or use extracts from journals. You might find interesting textual accounts in archives in libraries that could inform this assignment. Allow your creativity to be spurred on by spending time with these words and reflecting on them.

Be wary of illustrating your text with pictures and vice versa. Allow for the viewers’ interpretation to be opened up rather than shut down by the pairings. You may decide not to include the actual words in the final production; that’s fine, as long as they have in some way informed the research and development of the concepts and have pushed the imagery further as a result.

Write a short reflective commentary (around 500 words) describing how your chosen ‘words’ have informed your series of images and make this available to your tutor alongside your images.

Assignment 4 – The Bridge

“The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality,

and eventually in one’s own” (Susan Sontag, 1977)

The ex-mining town landscape where I grew up carries a special affinity and nostalgia.  As I walk these paths again in later life, I reflect on how much this place and the people around me at the time have shaped my own identity.  When reminded of our past we have to come to terms with the fact that it is a lost time that will never return. We only have our memories for company when we walk those paths again in later life as once favourite play areas might now be overgrown and covered in graffiti, friends and family may have passed away, someone else might now be in our once favourite fishing spot.

Similarly, the future remains just as impossible to grasp.  Clouded with our own hopes and fears – which often have no material bearing on how things will actually work out – the future is always an enigma.  None of us really know what the future holds yet we constantly try to force it to be as we would wish it.

If the past and future are not really ever within our reach (however we might kid ourselves to the contrary) this just leaves the wafer-thin and elusive segment of time that we call ‘the now’.  The present moment.  We rarely pause to consider that this is actually where we spend all our lives.  Most of us are mentally re-living the past (the meeting that went badly, the driver that just cut us up) or imagining the future, driven by our goals, to-do lists and plans.

The poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) recognised that the present moment is rather like a bridge.  Either side of the bridge lies part of our life: ahead our future, behind us our past.  We might argue that there is nothing of value on the bridge itself, being just a means of safely crossing from one side to the other.  But Thomas saw that it is only in this brief period we are actually free to experience life fully, without any of the emotional baggage that comes from past pain, relationships, hopes and fears.  From this separate place – the link between two places where we can never really be – we are free to experience life without unclouded by our own minds.   We may notice things in nature that we normally walk past – shapes, colours, patterns and sounds.  Arguably, to experience the very things that make life worth living.

Although most famously remembered as a war poet, much of Edward Thomas’ work explores the pathways around his home in southern England and his relationship with the land.  In this sense, Thomas’ relationship with his own local landscape feels very close to my own.

This work sets out to invite the reader to step onto their own bridge, to completely in the now, while tempting us to notice the ephemeral past and future that constantly beckon to us from either side.  The work is comprised of 9 images and 1 poem.

(495 words)

 

The Bridge

I have come a long way to-day:

On a strange bridge alone,

Remembering friends, old friends,

I rest, without smile or moan,

As they remember me without smile or moan.

All are behind, the kind

And the unkind too, no more

To-night than a dream. The stream

Runs softly yet drowns the Past,

The dark-lit stream has drowned the Future and the Past.

No traveller has rest more blest

Than this moment brief between

Two lives, when the Night’s first lights

And shades hide what has never been,

Things goodlier, lovelier, dearer, than will be or have been.

Edward Thomas

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1. 1/90th at f6.7.  70mm ISO200

 

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2. 1/500th at f/8 50mm ISO250

 

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3. 1/750th at f8. 24mm ISO200

 

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4. 1/1250th at f5.0 35mm ISO500

 

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5. 1/30th at f4.0 70mm ISO200

 

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6. 1/320th at f10 21mm (crop sensor) at ISO320

 

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7. 1/125th at f3.5 70mm ISO200

 

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8. 1/45th at f6.7 31mm ISO400

 

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9. 1/125th at f11 50mm ISO200

 

 

Assignment 4: Developing the idea

Project 3 of Part 4 introduces the concept of Open Narratives (in preference to closed narratives, as often used in movies to make the plot ‘self contained’ within the movie itself). Like a soap opera this approach works well for photograpy wher it allows room for the viewer space to create their own conclusions and outcomes.

A second key idea is that of using text in a semi fictional way, working in partnership with the visual image to invoke a deeper, more serious message.

I’ve been drawn quite heavily in recent weeks to rediscover the landscape I walked and played as a young boy, with now lost family members and old friends. An inspiration for this has been the books of Robert Macfarlane, especially The Old Ways and the writings and poetry of Edward Thomas (The Road Less Travelled). I also have discovered an old diary from when I was a young boy.  This approach gives me the freedom to make the diary excerpts semi-fictional to work in partnership with the images to raise questions about our relationship with the landscape that forms our character.

Comfortable in the environment

We live in this landscape and constantly make choices that determine how our future lives turn out.  Like Thomas’ poem, we never know how our lives would have turned out should we have taken the other path.  At the time the decision may have seemed trivial and of no consequence.  It may have felt dramatic.  We will never really know which is true.

I’m inspired to explore this question further using photographs that suggest choices and decisions from the landscape of my youth while inspiring the viewer to reflect on how this might be a factor in their own lives.

By re-walking these paths I, in a sense, have an opportunity to explore ‘the road less travelled’.

 

Assignment 4: Initial Thoughts

I have recently been drawn to walk the landscape of my maternal-side family.  This is a landscape of quiet countryside and East Midland mining towns.

It occurred to me that this landscape has great meaning for me – where I played and was educated, where my ancestors lived and worked. It shaped me as a young man.

However it probably means something completely different to most people.  Maybe they have never even heard of place names like Eastwood, Ilkeston and Cossall. If they have, there is likely to be nothing more than a vague awareness that this was the place where the controversial author D H Lawrence once lived or the location of a large Ikea store.

The inspiration to explore my childhood environment was inspired by Tom Hunter and Liz Hingley’s work at Format 17 for the Flâneur film and photographic installation.

At this stage I am exploring three possibilities for accompanying words.  The first is quotes from DH Lawrence.  How can his words and my images work together to inspire a viewer to create their own personal interpretation of this place?  To form a view of my identity without having met me?

The second option is to use extracts from an old diary some 40 years ago.  The content is often quite factual ‘went to school today’, but concise, making it ideal for titles.  It provides an insight into my thoughts, motivations and priorities when I was a child. How can these words rekindle a memory within me that I can relay to a more contemporary audience using a camera?  This appears to be the only year that I kept a diary so it seems a shame not to give it a new voice through the language of photography.

The third option is an inspiring book about pathways and our relationship with the landscape: The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane.  The book chimes very closely with my own feelings about walking the land, and so presents an opportunity to explore his text with my landscape.  Hopefully this gives enough space between my images and Macfarlane’s text to guide the viewer on  meaning while still leaving room for explorations of their own.

 

References:

http://www.formatfestival.com/format17-conference-more-info

 

Macfarlane, R.  (2013) The Old Ways: A journey on foot. Penguin, London.