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.
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.
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.