Category Archives: Assignment 1: Beauty and the Sublime

Reflection on Assignment 1

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I’ve found it very useful to look back over Part I and see how much the Projects and Exercises contributed to this Assignment in leading me into the world of colour, particularly red.

Tracing the links between the conventions of painting and early photography (Ex 1.3) I realised that it was intense colour I was drawn to in 19thCentury painting and the drama it could add drama to more intimate scenes.  All the elements of composition were there but the use of colour worked to loosen this and produce more expressive scenes. So far as mid-20thCentury photography is concerned, whilst I appreciate the artistry of photographers such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and their use of leading lines in perspective and layering of tones, I have to admit that I am much more inclined towards colour photography than I am black and white, even though I grew up surrounded by the latter.

The Mind-map I completed during Ex.1.6 was particularly useful in enabling me to keep a hold of all the strands in Morley’s view of The Sublime and, again, it was colour that stood out for me most.  I think that was because earlier I had been so struck by Tacita Dean and her search for the green rays of the sun during my reading around her Exhibition visit. I followed the colour theme through the work of Olafur Eliasson and Anish Kapoor and was pleased to discover Caroline Jane Harris whilst working on my eventual chosen Assignment topic.  Whilst writing this now I am reminded that the assignment I most enjoyed at Level one was based around a photograph of a girl with red-gold hair 

My tutor suggested I look at the work of Lauren Jury (Aldridge) and Helen Sear during our email exchanges regarding my first idea for the Assignment (Ex 1.7). Although I’ve parked that first idea for now, it’s interesting that these photographers used colour (particularly red) as contrasts in landscape photography and to draw the eye to the female figure – as do Elina Brotherus and Susan Trangmar. “Seeing red” as it were confirmed my decision to take the leap fully into the ‘red’ world of infrared before it’s processed and to use this and the forest as metaphors for the wild and unknowable – a place where we more directly meet ‘other’. I’ve long been interested in the ‘uncanny’ aspect of the Sublime so it was a good fit for my idea. Oddly, the unexpected did happen as well in reading the story about the place of execution and then coming across the piece of rope hanging from a tree.

So far as the technical is concerned, I could have used a red filter I guess but this would have given a different quality. Infrared photography has a quality all its own which contributes towards creating an atmosphere of ‘otherness’. All-over red could easily become a blur so I was careful to choose more structural elements in a scene when this was available and then chose the photopaper that seemed the most appropriate. Although prints would be a first choice I’ve also thought about other types of presentation that could be used., such as printing on transparent film as an overlay, or printing on tracing paper.

Reading the above, and thinking of assessment criteria I think I’ve met all of them to a reasonably competent standard. It took me longer than I’d anticipated to complete the Assignment, partly because I became side-tracked into experiments with alternative photography such as cyanotypes and leaf prints – still to be written-up – and also because I abandoned my initial idea after realising from the direction I was heading in that it would be a longer-term project.  Thinking back over my previous Modules, my creative process does appear to be one of following different strands at the same time.  In this case, I think I hung onto my first idea for too long which is why I got in touch with my tutor for advice, yet, at the same time, I felt more energy from working with two ideas at the same time.  How do I get the balance between hanging on grimly to an idea that doesn’t seem to be working and being like a butterfly seeking nectar all over the place. I’ve written above how creating the mind-map helped me to keep hold of the Sublime strands but does the structure of a mind-map actually increase my tendency towards lateral thinking because I can see lots of strands that interest me?

I’m also aware that I enjoyed the research into the Sublime and extended both my understanding and knowledge regarding artists who reflect it in their work.  However, I didn’t refer much to the Sublime itself in the write-up of the Assignment. Maybe I was taking it for granted that viewers/readers would understand my approach when I should have been explicit.

 

 

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Assignment 1 – Looking Beyond the Light: An Uncanny View of a Familiar Landscape

Assignment 1 – Looking Beyond The Light : An “Uncanny” View of a familiar Landscape

Brief: Produce a series of 6-12 photographs that convey your interpretation of beauty and/or the sublime within the context of landscape. You may choose to support, question or subvert accepted definitions of these terms.

Introduction

Having decided not to proceed for the time being with “Viewpoint”   I returned to my interest in colour. I have already written here  about Olafur Eliasson’s Sun (The Weather Project (2003)) and his colour experiments, and  Anish Kapoor’s Maroon Trumpet (Marysas(2002) and Dismemberment(2009))  and its links with Greek myth and Titian’s painting The Flaying of Marysas. Also  here  regarding Tacita Dean’s search for the Green rays of the sun as it sunk below the Horizon in Madagascar and her belief that it is not an illusion.

In America they call it the green flash. When the sun sets, in a very clear horizon, with no land mass for many hundreds of miles, and no moisture or atmospheric pressure, you have a good chance of seeing it. The slowest ray is the blue ray, which comes across as green when the sun sets in perfect atmospheric conditions. It’s the last ray as the sun recedes with the curvature of the earth. Like a pulse on the horizon. It’s totally fractional, though it can last longer.
(From interview of Tacita Dean by Jeffrey Eugenides 1stApril 2006 Bomb Magazine )

I have also recently looked at the work of Caroline Jane Harris, an artist whose work encompasses photography, printmaking, drawing and poetry.  Harris is inspired by the natural world whilst conscious of the links between humans and natural life forms. Her series Anatomy of the Arboreal (2014) consists of hand-cut layered prints in different colours and reflects geometric, linear and circular motifs found in all levels of existence. I was fascinated by the delicacy and individuality of each but the red ones particularly drew me. The colour red captures attention, maybe because of the way it focuses behind the retina of the eye. It has so many associations, being the colour of passionate love, violence, danger, anger and also connected with religion and magic. I thought of the recent blood moon and total eclipse in July this year and the “red sun” in October 2017 event, created due to remnants of Hurricane Ophelia which dragged with it tropical air and dust from the Sahara.  The dust caused shorter wavelength blue to be scattered, making it appear red.  I have wondered how experiencing those phenomena and not understanding the causes might have been a terrifying experience in earlier centuries. For some reason I began to think of infrared light and wondered what it might be like to use my converted infrared camera to photograph the landscape and how it might evoke a similar sublime, “uncanny” effect. I wrote further on this here.

The photographer Jitka Hanzlova  Is mostly known for her portraiture as she explores an individual’s immediate surroundings and the landscape in which they live – often approaching sites of her own childhood – “the path that I take is a path back to look into the future”.  In her series Forest (2000-2005) she portrays the forest as a visual metaphor – a place where the line dividing reality and fantasy becomes thin and as a symbol of memory and loss.  Her forest can be anywhere, anytime, revealing aspects of itself in dusk, dawn, all seasons and soft light.  Hanzlova’s book of the series (2006) is accompanied by an essay by John Berger Into the Woods (2006) which also appears in the anthology The Sublime (Ed. S. Morley: 2010:125). One phrase encapsulated for me the attraction I feel towards trees:-

A forest is what exists between its trees, between its dense undergrowth and its clearings, between all its life cycles and their different timescales…. A forest is also a meeting place between those who enter it and something unnameable and attendant, waiting behind a tree or in the undergrowth. Something intangible and within touching distance. Neither silent nor audible(J. Berger 2006)

Looking Beyond the Light

I actually began using my Infrared camera at the same time as I was searching for a “Viewpoint”. During July and August I took around 123 IR photographs – beginning in a park near to the local Hospital, then moving through the local Church to arrive back in Ether Hill Wood. It takes a while to get used to using the converted camera as the amount of near-infrared reflected by various subjects differs considerably so scenes that can look visually similar can demand different exposures.  My camera has a polaroid lens fitted to get the best skies for black and white processing in bright sun.  That was fine in some respects for producing deeper tones but less good on duller days so I had to make decisions at the time regarding whether to use it or not. The white balance meter was tricky as well so in the end I decided to stick with auto white balance but then changed this to ‘shade’ in Adobe Bridge Camera RAW so that I could achieve the same tones overall. Then I felt worried it was all ‘too red’ until I reminded myself that the Assignment only requires 6-12 photographs.

During August I read the following comment on a Facebook post for the local weekly Park Run

Did you know that Ether Hill (the official name for Achilles Hill) is believed, in the 14th century, to have been the site of the local gallows. It was chosen as it was visible for miles around to act as a deterrent for others to not commit crime. 

Next time you run up Achilles Hill and mutter to yourself that it’s killing you, you might be a bit closer to the truth than you think

That may or may not be correct, I certainly couldn’t find any mention of this on an initial web search although I did discover that this part of Ottershaw used to be called Chertsey Lane End.  Even so the information unsettled me  to think that people might have been executed in the place where I enjoy walking.

At the end of August I participated in the Landscape Hangout on the OCA student forum for the first time, presenting some early contact sheets for feedback (one of them below)

I also mentioned the story about the gallows. Feedback was very positive with reference to a ‘haunted forest’, that the photographs worked well with glimpses of people and trees needed to be interesting in themselves rather than just being red. There was interest in the tale about the gallows and Nuala suggested I could hang a rope somewhere as a reference to this. I thought about that afterwards, even began to look to see if we had a spare rope in the garage but then changed my mind as I wanted to remain as ‘authentic’ as I could be.  I was very surprised, therefore, at the beginning of September to actually spot a rope hanging from a tree in the nearby Copse whilst I out walking with the dogs so I went back the next and photographed it.  Now this is odd, because when I went back a week later the rope had disappeared!

After much thought I had reduced the set of photographs down to 22, including one where I had composited an image of a deer downloaded from Wiki Commons although I had decided that the latter wouldn’t be suitable because it was difficult to change the normal colour tones of the deer to match the tones of the infrared image. It was interesting to experiment though. I concentrated on choosing images which had interest in themselves in terms of composition, structure and content.

There was a meeting of Thames Valley group on the 15thSeptember where I presented the contact sheet plus a couple of A4 prints I had created using Permajet Titanium Lustre photopaper  which I thought complemented the colour and tones with its textured finish.  Again I had a positive response with a suggestion from Jayne Taylor, our presiding tutor that I should stick to landscape as such.

Final selection

I have now chosen eight images that I think represent the atmosphere I wished to convey – an environment almost parallel to the one we see but not quite – a place which contains traces of other people and events, floating in light that exists just beyond our vision.

At this stage I’m not entirely sure about presentation.  Certainly Permajet Titanium Lustre photopaper works well with these images if I’m thinking of prints and/or a book. I also created some short iPhone videos of people on the memorial fields below the wood and am wondering about combining these with the infrared photographs in some way.  I’ll work on this pending feedback from my tutor as well as reflecting more fully on the overall process in a separate post.

Notes on Infrared and Near-Infrared photography

I wrote about my early explorations into Infrared Photography here https://catherinebanks.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/early-explorations-into-infrared-photography/ (2012, so long ago and in my earliest days as an OCA student!).  On a re-reading I realised that I’d included most of the technical information there, so I ditched the lengthy notes and draft new blog post, so please do read about my early explorations if you’re interested in the process. That post produced quite a lot of comments and very useful discussions on whether infrared photographer should be considered ‘tricksy’. Two of the comments pointed to elements of Infrared that are of particular interest to me at the moment:-

Keith Greenough (OCA graduate) referring to one of my black and white IR images on Flickr and how the pylons stood out strongly:-

….This made me think about whether it might be possible to use IR in a project/assignment to highlight elements within landscapes or urban scenes which would normally be overlooked. The idea would be to make the viewer conscious of these previously unseen elements.
Just a thought…

Norma Bellini (OCA graduate)

….. What is ‘reality’? Is it what we actually see, or what is really there, but we don’t see? If it is the former then ‘reality’ is a variable because we see, and interpret what we see, in different ways. If it is the latter, we are being misled by what our eyes see.

These aspects have been occupying my mind lately in considering ‘The Sublime”, particularly “The Uncanny”.  There are elements in the landscape of our lives that can’t be seen even though they exist; radio and microwaves; feelings and emanations.  How is it that we can walk into a room and sense an atmosphere or feel a cold shiver down our spine before we even know that a place is said to be haunted or that something bad once happened there.  History and memory are layered into our landscapes along with the ravages or depradations of time. Infrared photography could be used as a visual metaphor for these perhaps – just as Richard Mosse used it in his project The Enclave  (2013). Remembering of course that he used a different type of infrared and infrared film (16mm colour infrared film,discontinued film stock developed by the United States military as a reconnaissance tool during the Second World War). This film turned the landscape deep pink and the rebels’ camouflage uniform bright green – making them stand out instead of hidden. As I mentioned in my original blog post there was much debate at the time as to whether this was appropriate.

In his latest project The Castle (2018) Mosse used heat as both metaphor and index by using a military-grade thermal video camera to document refugee camps and staging sites along mass migration routes into the European Union from the Middle East and Central Asia .  Also, in her project Dan le Noir (2017) the photographer Lynda Laird used infrared film to photograph the remnants of Normandy’s bunkers, accompanying these with a diary entry from 6th June 1944 written by Odette Brefort who was a member of the French Resistance . In an interview here   Laird talks about her use of the film and how it fits with her ongoing work concerning memory and a sense of place “trying to look at what’s invisible in a landscape – what you can feel and what you can sense”.

There’s precedent, therefore for my use of infrared, although I won’t be using infrared film but a digital camera converted to use the reflected light from near-infrared. An unprocessed infrared image tends to be brick and cyan but it can be converted to other looks in Photoshop. The images below show original image; conversion using  the channel mixer (plus some work in Nik Silver Efex Pro) and the gradient filter (blue/yellow).

I doubt I would ever use the gradient filter, even though the psychedelic effect is intriguing, but it was interesting to try. The more usual black and white can be very effective but, in the case of this particular Assignment, I intend to use the original red tones because they fit my concept.

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Busch D.D. David Busch’s Digital Infrared Pro Secrets (2007) Boston, MA, Thomson Course Technology

http://www.lyndalaird.com

http://www.richardmosse.com/projects/artist-statement

A Possibility for Assignment 1

Viewpoint: The Disappointed Sublime

Morley describes the ‘disappointed Sublime” as thwarted transcendence, particularly in relation to mass culture where sublime effects are routinely produced in the form of “consumerist pseudo-sublimity which may often seem to place the sublime beyond the reach of authentic experience.” My own experience has been more than being disappointed in the expectation of wonderful view and awe-inspiring experience but of experiencing the awe and then not feeling anything on a second visit – as happened to me in Venice. There’s also this perceived inability to ‘capture’ the wonder of landscape – indeed how can the gestalt of that experience be conveyed in a 2D print?

“You can’t possess a landscape and you can’t possess a place” – I identified with this statement  in an interview in Lens Culture  with Ana Samoylova   an artist who is interested in how we process and internalize images. She describes how she had never visited America before moving there so her main visuals of it came from photographers like Ansel Adams. When she visited Yosemite she was shocked because she had imagined ‘grand, high-contrast, black and white mountains, but what you see is more like Stephen Shore or a Roger Minick photo’. Photographs of places like Yosemite, ‘start to repeat each other’s compositions, which solidifies an idea of the place in your mind, even if it doesn’t actually look that way in person’. In her series “Landscape Sublime”  Samoylova builds a new landscape constructed through her own experience, using fragments of unfamiliar photographs to construct abstract sculptures which glow with colour and light. Interestingly, she also describes being in Provence recently which was so beautiful that she couldn’t distance herself enough from the pleasure of the experience, “So I ended up with a bunch of postcard-like pictures of lavender fields that simply fall short of transcribing the dizzying aroma of the humble little flowers, the buzzing of bees, or the fading amber sun”. So reassuring for me thought that even an experienced professional photographer can fall into the same trap!

“Viewpoint”

This project began when I paid closer attention to a signpost in the woods pointing the way to ‘Viewpoint’. I’ve already written here about my original thoughts on assignment 1 and the beginning dialogue with my tutor.

Here is an early contact sheet of some of the original photographs:-

A bright day with pale sky over darker, dappled woods – a challenging dynamic range.  Two ladies agreed to maintain their pose as they and I were looking for a viewpoint. The viewpoint bench was installed at the beginning of last year at a time when the foliage had been trimmed so there was a view of the grounds of the private golf club below. Now the foliage has grown back and the view is of wispy shrubs in the foreground.  My first idea was to have a large print of what could, hopefully, be considered a ‘sublime’ image so on my next visit I took an A2 size piece of card to see if there was a way I could fasten a print with string and clips. However, the shrubby foliage was too weak for this.  The ground directly in front is rocky, uneven and variously sloping as well so not entirely suitable for some kind of frame (especially bearing in mind my previous ‘accident’ in our garden with the backdrop frame.

The next idea was to use a Claude Mirror . This type of mirror is more identified with the Picturesque Movement, but I was at a stage where I was prepared to compromise.

You can certainly see the form/structure of the trees but it really is too dark.  I could just have well as used my variable ND filter over my lens again even though that wouldn’t have brought my hand into the frame.

I also tried a prism which gave some interesting results and almost-rainbows. I used a touch of high-pass filter with a soft-light layer adjustment to add more punch but, again, I was disappointed with the results.

 

My next thought was to provide my viewer with a different ‘viewpoint’ through composite layers. At first I attempted to do this including my spectator but it proved too complicated for me at this stage so I concentrated on introducing just a different view using images of waterfalls. For this I used a blended image created to balance out the high-dynamic range on a summer’s day in the wood.

 

A dramatic Alaskan waterfall:-

 

 

The more sedate Cascade in nearby Windsor Great Park here in the UK.

It was at this point that I decided to get in touch with my tutor to give her an update on my (non) progress because I didn’t feel as if I was getting anywhere. Encouraged by her suggestions I decided to change tack, as suggested and see if I could discover more ‘interrupted’ viewpoints and/or viewers with the thought that Windsor Great Park might provide inspiration.

I couldn’t believe it! I know it’s been hot, but it had rained recently. The Virginia Water Lake is still there but the Cascade was dry.

 

I thought I’d try the Roman Ruins instead.  I’ve only been there once before and was amazed at the gall of ‘stealing’ from antiquity and not only that but mixing the remains in with stones from elsewhere. Completely fabricated just to provide a ‘picturesque view’.  Why should that bother me though – we’re always making something out of nothing to provide spectacle and entertainment.

 

 

With hope in my heart, and after some more rain, I went back to the Cascade a couple of weeks later. Still dry!

 

My final attempt was to create a ‘little planet’

web.V.Water.littleplanet

Interim Hiatus

I am still interested in the idea of ‘back’ portraits within landscape but there needs to be more to them – a closer view, something more enmeshed.  I do feel inhibited about taking such photographs – it seems sneaky somehow and I felt better about it at the beginning when I actually asked someone if they could stay in place so I could take a photograph.  That could well be a good way forward for me as and when I’ve devised a more complete strategy.  This won’t be for Assignment 1 though as I need to get this completed as soon as possible. My fail-safe has been to begin another project on an entirely different subject which doesn’t depend on the weather or people.

 

Exercise 1.7: Assignment Preparation

extract from an email to my tutor of 1stAugust

“So far as Assignment 1 is concerned I may have gone off on a tangent – I’m not sure. What happened is that, as I was out in our local small wood I really took notice of one of the signposts that has recently been erected there.  One of its arms points towards “Viewpoint” so I followed it with more intention than I have before.  When I arrived at the “Viewpoint” it struck me that, although it has two benches for spectators the only view is of some shrubs because there has been so much growth there in recent months.  A stranger I met kindly agreed to sit on the bench with her back to me, to admire the ‘view’ although I may direct my husband to photograph me.

To date I have attempted to provide a view in several ways, including compositing other views within it – ones taken by myself in the past – and views I considered at the time to be beautiful or sublime. I can analyse these because I actually follow the view that the Sublime is an emotional response on the whole, is in the eyes of the beholder and so difficult to evoke.  I have also acquired a Claude mirror and experimented with this – which was a failure – and used a prism to see if I could provide a rainbow.  The prism didn’t provide a rainbow because it’s difficult to get a clear view of sky and the sun does not shine directly on that location at the times of day I have visited.  However, it provided some interesting photographs.  I have also been thinking about some kind of video of a Google Earth view of this landscape or creating a video to evoke the slight giddiness/vertigo which can be experienced when riding in a hot air balloon. Something I experienced a few years ago over the Valley of the Queens in Egypt.

Having written all this I’m now wondering whether I’m flogging a dead horse and sticking too closely to an idea.  On the other hand, I’m certainly exploring the concepts of Beauty and the Sublime.  Please let me know what you think and whether you think I should continue along these lines or not.”

Extract from my tutor’s  reply of 3rdAugust

“That’s a lot of ideas! Which is great, but I can imagine quite overwhelming!
I think the ‘view’ image you talk about is interesting… the ideas of manufactured beauty spots or viewpoints that are then ironically overgrown… might be difficult to get source a few of these to make a series of obscure portraits (or back portraits), although if you can, it could be a neat submission.
Whilst coming from different ideas, your description made me think of these works:
Lauren Jury (now Aldridge) http://www.source.ie/graduate/2008/newportart/jurlau/jurlau1.xml#pagedown (these are self-portraits)

Helen Sear – works Inside the View and Beyond the View http://www.helensear.com/works (albeit close ups, and photomontage, the compositional elements of the figure looking out at the landscape is more what I was comparing here) There’s good reading on Helen Sear.

I am less interested in the Google Earth idea as expressed in this email, but that’s my personal opinion. If the prism images have created a coherent set of images that you are pleased with technically, whilst not exactly what you were hoping for, they potentially could provide a solid basis for the A1 submission….
It really depends on what you would prefer, I would urge you not to worry too much about the first assignment if it is hindering your progress, if you make sure you reflect on your decision making process and ideas then it gives us plenty to discuss in feedback.”

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I looked at the work of Lauren Jury/Aldridge on the Source website which I found very appealing.  Square images of a small, lone feminine figure in the landscape; looking up into or searching amongst very tall trees, with the red of her jacket singling her out for attention – film I think.   Unfortunately the website link on Source no longer works, although I found a little more here 

The colour red or orangey-red clothes seems to be used quite often in photographs of women in the landscape. During Context & Narrative I looked at the work of Susan Trangmar  In her series “Untitled Landscapes” (1985) a woman gazes into the landscape with her back to it, which encourages us to think we are looking at it through her eyes at the same time as she obstructs our view. I’ve alsopreviously written about Elina Brotherus and her similar approach here.

(Google image search screenshot. 12.09.2018)

Helen Sears is one of my favourite photographers. She puts us “Inside the View”  (2004-2008) here and also in her video work such as “Company of Trees” with the girl in the red dress

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/128667308″>Company of Trees 2015</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user40407595″>Helen Sear</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I’m presuming using red is to link us with the story of Red Riding Hood. Also, of course, If we have red blue and green we have primary colours and RGB colours. Red, particularly an orange-red is like Autumn – ripeness, almost past its peak, the colour of change into Winter. Green leaves also reflect near-infrared light – the light which is just beyond our vision. I’m pleased my tutor reminded me of Helen Sears because she has been very much in the back of my mind for her approach to landscape photography and her video work.

I have been searching for more ‘back’ views and viewpoints to photograph, albeit pretty unsuccessfully so more to come – including y concurrent search for that which we cannot see with our naked eye.