Six years on

It is pretty hard to believe that I have been working on this project now for six years. Time has flown by.

So what back in 2013 did I want to achieve? I knew I wanted to do something different with my photography. Learning a new skill was part of it. But to be honest, at the beginning, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say with the pictures.

As the days became weeks and the weeks became months, I have learnt a lot. Not just about the technical side but also about the world around us. Coming up with creative ideas and making interesting photographs from those ideas is not easy. I am very much in awe at the photographers who make the process look so simple.

Many thanks to all the people who I have had the pleasure to meet and work with over the last six years. Thanks also to you for your interest in my journey and I hope you continue with me to wherever it leads me next.

Form and Function

I first heard about the project Form & Function from a tweet by Photofusion who were displaying Chloe Rosser’s images on their walls for an exhibition. And just before Christmas a copy of the book landed on my doorstep.

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Look what came in the post today. Thanks @chloe_rosser_

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The best way to describe the pictures are that they show people’s backs in while they tuck their heads and sometimes their arms in. What this results in is a Henry Moore sculpture type look to the human body. A similar approach to the human body that Bill Brandt did in his images. These photographs do somehow capture the person behind the body while a Moore sculpture or Brandt photograph does not.

We are so used to seeing images of people without any blemishes or marks and it does take you a bit by surprise seeing these on the walls of Photofusion.

I was lucky enough to go to an evening talk by Chloe Rosser at the exhibition and it was an evening to remember. There was a member of the audience who insisted that the photographs should not be considered nudes or portraits and that everybody should agree with him. When he was challenged about his opinion he had enough by that stage and stormed off. He certainly was passionate about his art.

When I started this project I wondered what “art” meant in terms of photography. And the more I work on this project the greater the understanding I have in what it means.

I like my art to surprise me and make me think in ways that I would not have considered before viewing it. Regurgitating the same ideas is not a fresh way of looking at the world around us. Chloe Rosser’s work is surprisingly simple yet very thoughtful.

On Photography

When I started this project I was pretty naive. I’m not ashamed to say it. I knew that I wanted to work on pictures for me and not for someone else but had no idea about what I wanted to say in the pictures. If I had read Susan Sontag On Photography back in 2013 for inspiration I don’t think I would have appreciated as much as I do today.

I had heard of Susan Sontag before getting this book but all I know about her was that she was an American writer on “intellectual” subjects. This book, I have to say, is like a succinct summary of the mess inside my head for the past five years. There is so much that lines up with the things I have either been thinking or have posted about.

Looking back on what I have said on here has been a really good exercise. And here is a chronological run down of what I have learnt from it.

  • In Privates on parade I asked why we view a piece of art differently if it was displayed in a gallery or an adult store. Sontag explains how often the same photograph is used in different contexts without us even noticing. You might have seen an example of this over the last few weeks of a photograph of Dr Christine Blasey Ford in news articles before her Senate hearing. The photograph appears to be a happy holiday snap taken from the Internet. When Dr Christine Blasey Ford posed for that picture I am sure she did not dream that it would be seen around the world by millions but was just a record of a happier time.
  • I explained in Half Time the reason why I choose to photograph people rather than landscapes. In the book, Sontag manages to make a connection between people photography and landscape photography, a connection I would never have made. And how similar they are. In landscape photography the photographer pays a vist to a part of the planet earth and the photographer is a visitor to a part of a person’s life in people photography. Being a tourist and a photographer go hand in hand.
  • When I questioned in Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2013 if it was worth going to a photography exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery as I thought there is no difference between viewing the image in a printed book seeing it on a wall, the book argues that all photographs are just facsimiles. Compared to a painting it is true that there can only be one original. It is true that photography is a mechanical process. Multiple prints can be made from the film the image is recorded. In the electronic age it is even easier to replicate the file. To be fair, having been to some photographic exhibitions recently there is definitely a different feeling seeing an image printed big on a wall compared to squinting at the same image on an electronic device.
  • In Time for your close up I explored the idea of taking photos with a new micro lens. After reading the book, it seems like I’m not the only one taking advantage of advances in camera technology to see the world in ways beyond what our eyes can do by themselves.
  • And finally, in Is this art? I wrote about how photographers were searching for aesthetic perfection and in this quest were moving further and further away from reality. The book makes a very similar argument about the language used in photography to communicate an idea or a feeling.

The text for this book was written in the 1970s before the social media culture had even been invented. I have to say that Susan Sontag was ahead of her time. There are clues throughout the book about what the future would hold.

I will leave you with this quote from the book

It is not altogether wrong to say that there is no such thing as a bad photograph – only less interesting, less relevant, less mysterious ones.