This was an extremely challenging Assignment for me; not least because I was coming to realise, with landscape, more than other genres in photography for me, it is important to have some sort of plan or purpose before committing to a certain way of landscape photography practice. It also made me wonder: at what point does photography become more reliant upon semantic rhetoric than photographic vision/practical skills in terms of final output?
My first initial instincts for Assignment 3, culminated in something called ‘Ghosts of the City’ – a project which I felt (theoretically) would be very aesthetically pleasing but which, try as I might, I could not construe to have much semantic meaning; other than that it incorporated figures within the landscape; an intrinsic element in my opinion in turning Space into Place (the assignment brief), in a surreal manner.
Since this project (Ghosts of the City), which I had kind of set my heart on, didn’t have much merit apart from aesthetically (at least that I could see), I began to drift away from this idea but was at a bit of a loss concerning what new project to convert to. One possibility I considered, was some sort of virtual reality project, where I took a critical stance on an issue I felt was very topical – that of virtual reality ‘taking over’ actual reality. I was sure this topic had a lot of artistic possibilities in regards to how I chose to represent this in a photograph but I couldn’t quite arrive at any ‘concrete’ ideas for representing such a topic as incisively as I had hoped. I thought perhaps I could incorporate these loose ideas into a future project.
I decided to revert back to ‘Ghosts of the City’, while simultaneously photographing Covent Garden as an historical place. It was here that I managed to stumble upon a way of photographing a project similar to how I had envisaged ‘Ghosts of the City’ would turn out but with an interesting (and crucially, a semantically strong) twist. I was looking at the time for a way to add context to the space of Covent Garden (so it was still discernible as Covent Garden), while at the same time recording a flow of people moving in multitude through Covent Garden. The location I eventually chose was a small corridor leading from inside Covent Garden’s main square interior (The Apple Market) to the outskirts of the square. I chose this at the time mainly because it offered context – the lantern overhead was evidently quite old and had a distinguishable shaping that was fairly unique, I felt, in London. As well as this, there was a kind of ‘found frame’ evident, where the sides of the corridor were almost black from lack of light and then this contrasted with the view out of the corridor onto the (light) square and beyond, where the multitude of people were moving.
However, it was the inclusion of a street performer (a silver ‘statue’) inside the ‘found frame’ that caught my eye. The reason he caught my eye was simply because he was not moving, while everyone else was. I recognised this added interest, if I were to capture the scene using a long exposure. Here the ‘statue’, would remain sharp and still in the photograph, while the people flowing in multitude, would appear in motion and blurred; thereby creating a contrast.
This realisation made me query whether I could repeat a similar contrast of the still and the moving figures in London but in other locations, with other ‘still’ people.
The obvious juxtaposition of moving with still would suggest a contrasting relationship between them. While doing this, the viewer’s eye would linger in the frame for a longer duration; a key aspect of a photograph’s success, in my opinion. Not only this and perhaps more importantly for this assignment, I would be turning space into place, because of this very relationship between still and moving. The still people were integral parts of the landscape I’d chosen (similar in some ways to the architecture around them) and often with some kind of historical relevance, while the moving were only fleeting but arguably equally important elements; representing tourists. If only one of the aforementioned aspects (still or moving), were present in the photograph, the space would have been less of a place, because there would be no order in the photograph, which represented the space. The reason order was a necessary aspect, would be for the reason that it reflected the viewer’s eye looking at the photographs and their ‘relationship’ with the figures represented within each photograph. It not only gave the viewer longer to think about their relationship but also had the potential to open another ‘reality’ within the photograph; by reflecting the familiar in the form of other discernible (and less discernible) people in the same photograph.
If neither still nor moving people were present in the space, it would have remained exactly that; a space, as there was no ‘familiar’ to relate with, other than the buildings. In order to create a ‘familiar’ to relate with, I incorporated figures in different ways. The still figures in each photograph for the assignment created a ‘familiar’ for the space and the moving figures created a context for the space. Going one step further than this – including either the still or the moving creates a semi-reality – and finally using both simultaneously creates a place.
This was also true aesthetically, where the still could be seen as ‘pure’ and this was then offset by the experimental long exposure elements of each photograph; as pictorial (more contemporary ironically). The fact they appeared within the same photographs however, showed for me a place in photography practice, which fused two contrasting kinds of photography to create an imbalance of reality, from a juxtaposition of styles.
One potential issue I came across technically, while photographing for this assignment, was the necessity for exposure blending with different subject matter to be utilised in order for me to achieve the desired effect I was looking for in the photographs. My original thoughts regarding exposure blending with different subject matter, were along the lines of ‘exposure blending with different subject matter doesn’t work, because photographs are supposed to be real/represent reality.’
However, photographs are usually, maybe even consistently, deceiving. This is especially true of digital photography, with ‘an intrinsically fluid and malleable digital code.’ – (Wells, 2009). Additionally, ‘With this code in place the photographic image becomes manipulable to a fine degree.’ – (Wells, 2009). Digital images are often heavily processed; sometimes adding or removing elements of the image, with the intent to provide a different aesthetic and/or alter to the meaning of the eventual photograph. The extent of this processing varies greatly; from subtle dodging and burning to adding/removing people.
The question I asked myself as I began to realise I might have to do the latter extent of processing was: ‘does adding/removing people using a different image but from the same position a few moments later, make the eventual photograph any less of a representation of reality?’
The answer, for me was, photographs aren’t real anyway but by adding/removing people (even if they appear blurred from a long exposure and the result is ‘natural-looking’), then that particular rendition of reality has been altered, regardless of how natural it appears.
Having said that, this kind of treatment of an image as described above (exposure blending with different subject matter), can add meaning/beauty to the eventual photograph and since a camera can’t ever truly capture reality, it is perfectly acceptable, in my eyes. In other words, as long as the eventual photograph appears natural or as intended by the photographer and is ‘accepted’ by the viewer, then the photograph works in my opinion; regardless of whether exposure blending has been implemented.
Wells (2011), Land Matters – Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 6 Salem Road, London, W2 4BU.