Positions and Practice – Week 7

Strategic Choices – Reflection.

I may possibly have fallen in love a little this week with William Eggleston; not so much for his work, although that is to be appreciated, but more for his attitude. In an Independent article by Michael Glover in 2013 where a variety of photographers, critics and fans put questions to him, his ‘tongue-in-cheek’, or genuine, replies have helped bring a sense of empowerment to my own work. One of my favourite responses being, when asked by Martin Parr, “What is the difference between your current shooting and that of the 1970s?”, Eggleston said: “The subject-matter is different.”

Earlier this week we were set a peer commissioned brief and in my previous post I stated that I didn’t think I had done the brief (which was well-suited to my interests) justice. Reflecting back I find this had been the most challenging aspect of the week. Given that my usual practice tends to uses alternative processes that may require lengthy exposures, and that the project was, in theory, not meant to take more than two hours but my brief was set over a 72-hour period I decided to opt for a more immediate option and use my mobile phone. Without other commitments to attend I may well have done something differently, but given the circumstances I now look upon this work as my “I photograph life” moment, another example of a pithy quip Eggleston has made.

The work I aim to do with my overall project will probably be quite abstract, potentially camera-less and using a simplistic process. From Eggleston I am galvanised to have the courage of my convictions and push my self-doubts aside.

In his colour work, Eggleston chose to use a specific process – dye transfer – which enables the photographer to manipulate and play with colours, while the actual content reflects simple moments in time and chance observations. My technical choices are mostly fuelled by my preference to work with processes that have minimal impact on the environment, while my results are very much open to chance.

Take for instance my Lumen print of tomatoes, before and after fixing (only the little issue of silver removal to overcome here unless I don’t fix):

Tomato – Two Hours – October 2016

There is control but no exact control. I have always, photographically, struggled to work in a way that dictates a specific photographic routine – probably why I didn’t remain a medical photographer. The freedom to experiment and embrace a “happy accident”  is more rewarding to me than a precisely executed image. Don’t get me wrong, the dedication of people such as Ansel Adams whose work is inspiring but are known for their precise working practices I find admirable. And yes, I too want my work to be technically proficient – but not at the cost of serendipity.

A question posed this week has been around what arbitrary parameters might you impose upon yourself to expand the creative possibilities of your own work. This perplexed me somewhat. I wasn’t quite sure what I was being asked. The idea of setting a boundary on personal whim feels a tad alien but I came to this MA to find focus in my work. I have described myself as photographic magpie, flying from one shiny new process, book, film etc. to the next. Now I aim to be a wiser owl and gain a thorough knowledge of my subject. My parameters will lie in training myself to have a more “tunnel vision” with my work, allowing time for research and development and to consider the outcomes.

The surprise this week for me has been the positive response from my peers to the image I shared to represent a photographic faux pas – as below.


I stated that it was definitely not perfect nor intended but, for me, it seems to combine an energetic edge with a soothing feel. It certainly doesn’t follow usual landscape photography dictates.

Peer comments included, “I love this shot! So different! It’s something between a painting and an apocalyptic landscape” and “It offers that apocalyptic expression of biblical dooms day! A great image of the earth that is in ash and still burning. The foreground shrubs would have had their day in the furnace. Rare great picture”.

They really picked up how the image makes me feel and that was very rewarding.

From this week, I take most a sense of it’s okay to not always get things right. You may love your “mistakes” or you may learn from them and change.

My practical work this week has focussed on trying out some Lumen printing (as above) and creating some preliminary cyanotypes that are starting to play around with ideas on image content. My research proposal has changed quite a bit and I am now considering the use of geology as inspiration. For my cyanotypes I created circular images – as below – as a way to represent the spheroid shape of the earth and the cyclical timing of nature. I used freshly picked flora and soil to emulate the environment and the earth as seen from outer space. I have so many ideas I want to try out – as the days get shorter it may be a challenge as I’m not keen to revert to my UV lamp for exposure; it would feel as if I’m going against the grain of my proposal. At least if the rain stays away…or bring on serendipity.