Week One – Surface and Strategies: Strategies of Looking

It’s funny how sometimes in life you realise you have been doing something all along but never realised it. This week we have considered repeat and rephotography. We also considered re-enactment.

To clarify (loosely), repeat photography is the returning to a location over a regular period of time to produce images that will show the changes, while rephotography is more akin to using images already taken and recreating them. Re-enactment sort of does what it says.

My mini-projects Litter and Ocean would both sit under the repeat photography heading – having a photographic label for this style of working was not something I was aware of. As much of my work relates to the passage of time during its continual march, this week’s examples have been interesting.

We have reviewed the works of photographers such as James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey; Camilo Jose Vergara; William Christenberry; Toshiya Watanabe; Micheal Marten; Jem Southam; Nicholas Nixon; Mark Klett; and Shingo Kanagawa.

All have used the process of returning, whether to a place or person. I have been most drawn to Marten’s Sea Change work. Perhaps because it includes images of areas I love in the South West, and in particular in Cornwall, and because of the ideas I have had for my own Ocean project.

©Micheal Marten: Hayle river mouth, Cornwall. 18 March 2010. Low water 12 noon, high water 6pm

Marten’s project focussed on his fascination with the ebb and flow of the tides, taking pictures from the same place at high and low tide.

Robert Macfarlane is quoted on Marten’s website as saying, “… a sense of threat as well as one of miracle attends Marten’s images. The people who fill his beaches at low tide seem often still to be there at high tide, invisibly in their fixed positions, fatally swallowed by metres of sea.”

The comment about being “fatally swallowed by metres of sea” struck a chord for me. A task this week has been to provide an example of a previous image you had taken and revisit it.

As my work with alt processes tends to create images that are hard to replicate, I decided to show the photographs I had started to take for my Ocean project. The idea behind this was to take an image of my local beach from the same place over a year to show the impact tourism has on a place.

In the example below, I show the two individual images (taken one month apart), and then to align the viewpoint a digitally manipulated combination of the two.

©Josie Purcell. 2017

Although I had put this project on the back burner ( not wanting to sound like a broken record but I feel out of the four topics I had in module two, I need to streamline my options to be able to achieve worthy MA results in the time I have available to me at present) I may try to reignite it. This is in part due to the interest it seemed to spark from my peers in our weekly webinar and comments on the shared image. But also because I live in a very popular tourist destination it is fascinating to see the human impact on my village during a year.

In our webinar I suggested that rather than display images side-by-side I would look to layer each image on top of the other, perhaps using differing opacity to enable an element of the one below to peek through.

My tutor made the point that figures in the landscape are important as they give an understanding of the relationship between the natural elements and place. As I have a tendency when photographing environments to choose those that are devoid of humans this is an interesting point. This is very much an anthropocentric view of the world – we create our own ‘sense of place’ – but it is still what it is when we are not there. We bring our own preconceptions to a place and perhaps try to make it fit our own ideals.

That is why I think the words of  Macfarlane struck a chord. In the third image the people are being swallowed up by the waves. If I create subsequent images that are layered on top of each other any human life will seem to be being devoured by nature. This for me would perhaps symbolise the human tendency to want to conquer and control nature being ultimately inconsequential.

Mark Klett wrote that “The photographs act like bookends to the time in between, and the combination raises questions about what is not seen as well as what is seen in either photo” (2011: Page 114). Bookends to the time in between seems a wonderfully poetic description, while it reflects Macfarlane’s comments on Marten’s work and my tutors words.

As I have been feeling in a state of flux about which topic to concentrate on perhaps this is now the one I should spend more time with. Whether there would be some merit in utilising my passion for alt processes is something I will need to consider too.

I really thought I had committed to my Nature’s Goddesses work but already in week one my ‘magpie’ nature is being challenged. Perhaps I will look at how this methodology can be used in that project instead, or if I need to use it at all.


KLETT Mark, MARGOLIS Eric and Pauwels L. 2011. The SAGE handbook of visual research methods. London, Los Angeles, California: SAGE