Today (9/4/2015), I visited an exhibition called ‘Scarcity Waste’ at Somerset House, London and I found it very inspiring, particularly because it fortunately had a lot of landscape based photographs included. This was either in sets of photographs or singular photographs by different photographers.
Mustafah Abdelaziz’s powerful use of figures in most of his landscape photographs creates a suggestive contrast between the background landscape and the people. The juxtaposition varies greatly, from the one, small and (very) missable figure in ‘Freetown city dumpsite’, Freetown, Sierra Leone (2012), placed on the extreme left of the frame to the extremely dominant three women pulling water from a well in ‘Pulling of the Well’, Tharpakar, Pakistan (2013). Also, the obvious presence of a defiant mother and her child in a hybrid between landscape and portrait in ‘Marium Bakaule’, Jarso, Ethiopia (2013), suggests there was a profound relationship between the mother and her child and the background behind: this was confirmed when reading the synopsis. There, it stated that the barren background behind was in fact where the mother ‘digs with her bare hands to reach the water’. I gathered from this varying usage of figures that it was possible to include figures in landscapes in order to convey profound messages to the viewer.
Rasel Chowdhury (2010) attempts to portray the surrounding area of the Buriganga river in Bangladesh by using often high, objective viewpoints to create suggestive compositions concerning the ‘Desperate Urbanization’ of the Buriganga river. The high viewpoints work well in my opinion; contrasting the natural river as it is being overtaken by urbanisation.
A prime example is ‘Desperate Urbanisation’ Gabtoly, Dhaka, Bangladesh (2010-2014). Here, the foreground is dominated by development works, while the river is contrasted above. The use of small figures (in this and many of the other of his works on display) implied to me their apparent insignificance in comparison to the huge river, although they were the prime protagonists behind the urbanisation.
The finish of the photographs was very pictorial, possessing a very painterly look. While the photographs were ideally composed and had an almost ‘dreamy’ finish, the subject matter (or at least the meaning I inferred behind the subject matter) starkly contradicted this.
The thing that struck me most about Richard Allenby-Pratt’s set was the obvious and deliberate composition. Specifically, the horizon was daringly placed every time in the middle of each photograph. The one rule I had adhered to most in my landscape photography and what I understood to be commonly taught was: not to place your horizon in the middle of the frame, especially when there is no foreground interest! Well, he categorically misses both these points of that rule and yet, the composition, for me, worked extremely well each time in conveying what I thought he was trying to say.
I thought he was attempting to contrast the ‘previously untouched Emirati landscape’ with the garish, obtrusive and synthetic objects that were products of economic growth in the area. By placing these objects in the middle of the frame like this, he was deliberately drawing attention to them to be a topic of debate. Coincidentally, I observed the man-made objects in the middle of the frame were taken from such an angle that they appeared small in the frame and also formed triangles – ‘Tyre Incinerator Facility’ United Arab Emirates (2012-2014) being a prime example. Also, the sharpness of the photographs, I felt was very impressive and lended to the impact of the man-made objects – perhaps the most salient objects that took up a relatively small part of the frame.
Pierpaolo Mittica (2013), with: ‘Slag Mountain’, Karabash, Russia (2013), Riadul Islam (2013), with: ‘We Had a River Named Tista’, Tista River, Bangladesh (2013), Marcus Doyle (2008), with: ‘Red Chair’, North Shores, Salton Sea, California, USA (2008) and finally Michael Hall wit: ‘Mountain of Plastic’, China (2012), all possess the compositional trait where their main subject is placed centrally, in the middle of the frame. Each time, this is done to powerful effect in my opinion; without the detriment to the overall photographs’ compositional strengths.
In contrast to these four photographs, Pedro Armestre, with: ‘Neumaticos’ Seseña’, Toledo, Spain (2009), chose to place the main subject in line with the rule of thirds in the bottom left corner of the frame to a similarly powerful but different effect for the viewer. However, I felt the reason for these differing compositional placements could be because of what the photographers were trying to convey to their viewers. The latter example – ‘Neumaticos’ Seseña’, Toledo, Spain (2009), I thought effectively showed the vastness of the secondary subject (the tyres) in contrast with the insignificance of the main subject (the man). Meanwhile, the previous four photographs aimed to grasp the viewer’s attention more obviously, by pulling them into the main subject in the centre of the frame. This meant the eye fell to the main focal point(s) more naturally, while still making an obvious (and powerful) connection between them and the rest of the photograph(s).
Lasse Bak Mejlvang, with ‘Smokey Mountain 10’, Manila, Philippines (2012), employs a low, subjective viewpoint to provoke an emotive reaction to the obvious poverty and only-basic amenities on display for a citizen of Manila. In contrast, he shows a much happier scene in ‘Smokey Mountain’, Manila, Philippines (2013), where a boy smiles while floating on a board that also (tellingly) is a piece of waste; the kind of waste prevalent in Manila. This piece of waste and the multitude of waste in the water around him hints at a much grimmer story. This is backed up, I felt, by an extreme composition, with the main subject (the boy) at the bottom of the frame and the horizon right at the top – a device I saw as used to show disharmony or conflict.