Reflections on Assignment One

I have now received my tutor feedback on my first assignment, and on the whole it was positive. The feedback is much more focused on examination of my ideas than on the images themselves – whether this is because this is a level two course or is simply the way this tutor works I don’t know, but I found it very helpful. Below are some of the comments I particularly wanted to reflect on, together with my thoughts.

there is frequent mention of the Sublime in your submission. However I would like to have seen a concise paragraph or so on what your thoughts in relation to this concept are based on your direct experience with the subject matter.

Interestingly I did’t really think of my assignment as addressing the sublime – though the visits I undertook to create the images certainly did. I started out this section of the course questioning whether the sublime can really be captured in an image, or whether is something that has to be physically experienced. When I first approached each of the sites of my images I suppose I had a sublime experience – the sheer scale of the views took my breath away momentarily – and although I think this began to lose its impact with repeated exposure I still had a emotional response to every site I visited. My images don’t capture that experience, and the repeated obscuring of the view through the inclusion of the bench and the framing of the image reinforces how far the image is detached from the experience. I have just started reading about land art, in particular Richard Long and Hamish Fulton who consider themselves “walking artists”; this attempt to make art from the experience rather than the view is the direct opposite of my assignment – more on this to follow.

I did however find a form of imagery in my alternative assignment one (here) which I think does begin to capture the sublime. These images aren’t about a view, they are about immersing ourselves in a consideration of the scale and impenetrability of nature, and in that I think that they create something close to a sublime experience. They are almost meditative; one cannot look at what is there because there is nothing there, one can only contemplate. This is very different to my assignment images where we look at what is there and also at what we know must be beyond the bench – we are investigating the image rather than the experience.

Later in his feedback my tutor notes: “In fractal geometry we are told that we can know the tree from the leaf. Can we find the sublime in the leaf or at a quantum level?” I think this is what my water images expose – that the experience of the sublime is not necessarily about wide open landscapes but about a contemplation of the enormity of the creation which is world around us, which can be seen in all creatures great and small (to coin a phrase). Funnily enough that has just reminded me of an experience I always consider sublime, that of singing in church (something I do only at Christmas or special occasions). The sound produced by a large group singing uplifting spiritual songs in what are usually grand and acoustically impressive buildings stirs the soul, whatever one’s religious beliefs.

Consider a future when you will be able to visit any dangerous environment taming it to your needs and gaze. Then take your VR headset or sensory suit off and contemplate if
you have experienced the sublime.

Some sources suggest that the sublime requires an element of fear, which would be absent from such an experience, but I don’t believe that is true in any literal sense. I have been terrified by 3D or 4D cinema in the past and I don’t consider that to be a sublime experience, it is more like the excitement generated by a theme park ride. I see the fear needed for the sublime to be more a fear triggered by a realisation of how small we are in relation to the scale of the universe. When I approached my views, it was their scale that caused my immediate reaction, the knowledge that I am insignificant in the face of such a landscape. My ability to control the landscape with my camera, and the knowledge that I can sit on a bench where others have sat moderates this reaction and hence any sense of the sublime is only momentary. Similarly I think it would be possible to momentarily experience the sublime through virtual reality, but the knowledge that it is only virtual would ultimately detract from this experience.

In visual terms the bench is dominant in most of the images and this implies that we should contemplate this object. As an object the bench can signify a number of things – wood, decay, sculpture, intervention, dedication, rest, meditation, ownership,
communication and transience.”

When I was making these images the bench was a signifier of the assignation of a place as a viewpoint and the prescribing of a particular view. I didn’t think about the other things that a bench can symbolise, which is odd as I have been taking pictures of benches for quite some time. My usual interest in benches is as spaces which are simultaneously public and private; where we rest and contemplate in full view. I am sure this influenced my decision to include benches in my assignment, although I didn’t fully consider this. Something I didn’t reference in my assignment is the fact that several of the benches had plaques dedicated to someone; they are places of remembrance. I am going to explore this idea of remembrance as part of my transitions work.

“I particularly like the idea of images within images and this has potential to be extended. One scenario could be the photograph of the view photographed in the frame and then frame or photographs returned to the original site and the process start over again with
these additional elements.”

This got me thinking about the role of the notional viewer on the bench – could the viewer be viewing the image rather than the landscape? I wouldn’t want to achieve this with photoshop, I would want to physically return the frame to the landscape. I am envisaging placing the frame on an artist’s easel in front of the bench – practically this will only be possible in a couple of the locations as in several it will either be impossible to drag a heavy easel to the viewpoint or there is no space in front of the bench to position it. However it is something I would like to have a go at if possible.

The other consideration is about timing. Thinking partly about my transitions work, and also about the fact that I was scuppered in this assignment by the weather (as I felt that I needed sunny or moody days to achieve the desired effect) I am tempted to try returning the frame to the locations on a dull winter’s day. The implication being that we use the pictures of the “ideal” to counteract the very many less perfect days we experience, the days which do not conjure up the same positive emotions. This again poses accessibility problems as I’m not sure how easy these sites will be to get to in poor weather, but I will try to explore on a potentially suitable day. One of the things I am most enjoying about this course is that its increased length gives me more opportunity to wait for the best conditions for what I want to achieve.

“You are very good at bringing all of these elements together yet I have a little nagging doubt that this may simply be coursework and not your own voice. I would like to see you develop your own analysis and critique directly connected to your work. To allow for this I would suggest that in the future you limit your research in at least one brief to one or two specific areas connected to the assignment and expand your own thoughts on the subject.”

I always struggle with limiting my research, and particularly where this was the first assignment and covered such a broad range of topics. I also have a compulsive need to record what I’ve done so that I can get recognition for it – I realise that this is both unnecessary and a somewhat immature way of studying but it is hard to break free of. For my second assignment I am focusing on the impact that children’s fiction has on the way we view the landscape – although this potentially brings in a great many areas of discussion, I am planning on also using it as the basis for my critical review (assignment four) so I intend to try to keep assignment two quite focused as my tutor suggests, and pick up all the loose threads when I come to assignment four.

I am also aware that my writing style is quite professional (too long as a lawyer) and probably gives the impression that I am not voicing personal perspectives. I will try to loosen this up and recognise that the blog is a repository for my own ideas rather than for summarising the work of others.

“Another statement that you made that raised interesting possibilities was “the final indignity, it is presented as an electronic image, easily reproducible and lacking any physical identity.” I would like you to have developed an argument for this as it raises many interesting issues in connection with how we consume images with modern technology.”

My thinking behind this statement was one of detachment; if the sublime is triggered by the original experience, then each layer of detachment takes us a step further away from the sublime. For as long as an image in a frame has a physical identity it is an object in its own right, it has a physical presence which gives it a sense of importance, particularly in an age where most images do not achieve this status. It is displayed on a wall (not necessarily a gallery, although a gallery turns it into a different sort of experience which is itself capable of being sublime), it is put forward for others to view. Once it becomes an electronic presence it loses that distinction, becoming instead a part of the mass of images with which we are confronted every day. We consume electronic images, whereas we worship images hung on our walls (though perhaps this distinction is blurred in the case of our electronic “wallpaper”, chosen from the mass of images available to us). I confess this was a throwaway line because I have previously examined our relationship with digital imagery here.

 

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