Assignment One – Crystallising my thoughts

When I last wrote about this assignment I was juggling four completely different ideas (1). Below are pages from my notebook where I formulated and in some cases tested those ideas.

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Dealing first with the two ideas I have dismissed:

  • libraries: although I had some interesting responses to the test shots I posted on the OCA forum, I don’t feel that the images came close to representing how I feel when I I walk into a library. Probably that is my failing; I created images which I think are graphically interesting but would quickly become repetitive because they are not creating an atmosphere which draws in the viewer. I could photograph in a much grander library, where the vast space and intricate architecture create the feeling of awe that I want, but that feels like cheating, using the building to create the image rather than the books. I think part of my problem is that one key aspect of the impact of a library is silence – as photographs are by definition silent, that feature doesn’t come across.
  • front doors: for my test shots I focused on doors of properties for sale, my hope being to show how we all use similar ideas of “beauty” to present our homes. However I found the shots too voyeuristic – I felt like I was spying, waiting for someone to come out of the door. A wider angle would have reduced this effect, but would have resulted in shots that just look like those in an estate agents window (and would have introduced problems with cars, for sale boards etc). I drove round a new housing estate (not yet occupied) as an alternative idea – each of the homes was immaculately presented with neat plants outside the front door, but they were all very similar and I think this would simply have been a meditation on how boring modern domestic architecture can be.

The idea that attracts me most after my test shots is shooting from designated viewpoints. My original plan had been to visit these locations from which we are supposed to be able to gaze out at the beauty of the landscape, but instead focus on the trappings of tourism: rubbish bins, signposts etc. However, when I visited my first location I found that viewpoints designated by Ordnance Survey maps can be much less touristy than I expected, and I found none of the mess and commercialisation that I was intending to photograph. I can’t say I thought much of the view either – it was far reaching but very flat and uninspiring. However, I found myself attracted to the bench placed for the enjoyment of the view – it seemed to symbolise the fact that this is a designated point, we are supposed to stop and contemplate this particular perspective on the world. I took a selection of shots in which the bench became the subject – my contact sheet is below:

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I have been shooting benches for some time, usually with people on them (see an example here) – there is something odd about a space which is very public and yet a site of private contemplation. Looking at an empty bench is different – it invites us to occupy the space. Yet looking at it from behind we are prevented from sitting – instead we are watching, considering the use of the bench. The bench also interrupts our view of the scenery; it is almost a barrier, we are aware that the subject of the gaze is “supposed” to be the view, but we cannot access it through the bench. To my mind that makes us consider the controlled nature of the “view” in the context of viewpoints, but also the nature of photography (or any two-dimensional art) in representing the view. We cannot walk around the bench, we have only the information we are presented with.

This is the direction I am going to take my assignment – visiting various viewpoints and photographing the benches set out for our appreciation of the view. I have also been trying to research how these viewpoints came to be designated, though so far I have drawn a blank despite the vast resources of Google, which surprised me.

When visiting the Tillmans exhibition I found myself thinking about the way images are displayed, and in particular the fact that the sort of views I am photographing are usually displayed on our walls in attractive frames (though flicking through interior design magazines recently there is a trend towards turning them into full wall murals). Framing the view, much like photographing it, is a way of imposing control (see Berger – I need to review this as part of my contextualisation of this assignment). I began to wonder whether it would add an extra dimension to this assignment to print and frame the images, hang them on a wall, and then photograph the result. The “view” would then be secondary not only to the bench, but also to the frame – reinforcing the way in which we consume these generic views rather than truly enjoying them. Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder, or in the eye of the postcard manufacturers?

I am also still toying with the idea of sky, water and reflections as representing the sublime (see previous post here). What I find interesting about these images is that the scenes in which they were shot weren’t particularly sublime, but carving out these small details turns them into striking abstract images which allow us to ponder the depths of nature and its impenetrability – unlike my bench images, here the act of capture actually creates the feeling of the sublime. However I’m not sure how to take these images further – I’m not convinced that 6 images wouldn’t be simply repetitive and boring.

(1) https://emmapocockslandscapeblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/exercise-1-7-assignment-preparation/

 

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