Reflection on Assignment 3 prior to Tutor Feedback
I’ve already reflected on the editing process as I documented it but I thought it would be helpful to think more about the references I used, potential presentation strategies and what next.
Photographer references – original and subsequent?
In his project Painters Pool Jem Southam actively referenced the work of Mike Garton, the painter and his friend who was driven artistically by a determination to try to render, through the act of painting, complex visual and spatial fields perceived by immersion in this dense woodland, My subject was a pool, overtaken to some extent by ‘commerce’ yet still retaining, for me, a fascination to look, to gaze to imagine what it might have been like centuries ago. Before men took possession of it. Garton actually created a pond from a stream that had been partially blocked by a stream. Garton made a dam from the tree, e-directed the stream and dug out a shallow pool which he quietly maintained for many years. He rarely painted it until just before he died.
Southam wanted to see how the photographic medium might be used to deal with a similar set of concerns. Whilst doing so, over time, he also documented the growing ‘absence’ of Mike Garton’s presence. Southam’s camera peered through trees at the pool, saw it through the seasons as trees grew, shed leaves, changed colour in Autumn. I’m aware that I also have a tendency towards peering through trees with my camera.
John Gossage is one of the New Topographics photographers. His approach is quite downbeat in portraying reality yet evocative in portraying the edges between woodland (almost scrubland) left to creep its way back to nature and the outreaches of urban sprawl. In his book he directs our view in a certain way – as I have attempted in my own sequence – but leaves us to form our own opinions on what we see. Gossage’s “The Pool” has been described as a foil to Walden’s pool. There are several definitions of ‘foil’, but I’m assuming that, in this case, it means something associated with another to provide a marked contrast – something like an ‘anti’ referencing then. I can’t find anywhere that states that Gossage intended to do this but I’m guessing he probably did because the intention of New Topographics was to challenge the Picturesque (see here)
Thinking of the Picturesque takes me to Keith Carter who also referenced Walden’s Pool. The more I looked at Carter’s image the more I could see the similarity with some of the coloured postcards I had collected whilst working on Assignment 3. These were more idealised than some of the monochrome ones – or is it just the colour that makes them ‘pretty’ and more picturesque. I felt concerned that my images would be too picturesque which was why I was so determined to find a different approach.
I played around with the inspiration from the work of Esther Teichmann and Noemie Goudal. I’m not a painter and so my route towards Teichmann was to experiment with a composite. I think I probably should have persevered more as a way to layer fictive past and present but know that I prioritised and chose a more nuanced approach. Goudal’s work, again, concerns layering reality with fiction and she uses installation in the landscape to achieve this. My interest in her work led me to have an image printed on fabric and I haven’t yet let go of the idea of creating something pondlike for myself, or a hanging background, as I do like the effect.
As I’ve written before, I’m very interested in this. Many of my experiments are on my Instagram page which I use as a place for them. Somehow or other, though, I never really to get to use them in an actual Assignment. Cyanotypes might have been a good approach and, again, I haven’t let go of the idea of wet-cyanotypes but the main problem for me is that cyanotypes are a very different shade of blue from the blue of Silent Pool. I’m not going to say it’s time wasted because it isn’t as the experiments do help me to think in a different way. Perhaps this allows my imagination to just take over and lead me somewhere else. Which it did – to go gain further inspiration from other artists and photographers.
Widening my explorations really did work for me because through doing so I was able to clarify an approach that might suit my aim. I wanted my images to be impressionistic of Silent Pool whilst still retaining recognisable features in the series itself. I’m becoming more and more aware of the varieties of repetition in artists’ work whether photographing the same sites through the seasons – showing the effects of time and nature – or adding layers of paint to portray shifting effects. Clare Wilson’s work encouraged me to photograph Silent Pool in ways that showed more subtle changes of light and reflection in its waters. Of course, I had to choose between images for the series, but I hope I was able portray the changes without the images together seeming repetitious.
I did feel that I was taking a risk in trying something different but gained reassurance from seeking peer feedback at both a meeting of OCA Thames Valley Group and also recently in a Hangout with “Bridge” a recently formed group. “Bridge” was created by fellow student Anna Goodchild, with the aim of supporting students who are near the end of their Course or have graduated to continue to maintain a supportive network. Anna commented that to photograph ‘silence’ is a challenge and how my project has given ‘Silent Pool” a voice.
This was important, firstly because it situated Silent Pool through time and, secondly, because this showed me how I’m linking themes. Similar to Assignment 2 and the Basingstoke Canal, the story of the pool concerns the way in which man has harnessed natural resources originally for commercial gain and then how this changed through time. I was actually able to imagine the real events as they occurred and also gain insight into Martin Farquhar Tupper who must have been quite an unusual person. Looking at the postcards was very useful as well in enlarging my understanding of those early photographers who saw opportunities there as well as linking them with Coursework and views on the picturesque.
I’m also pleased that I didn’t get too absorbed in the research even though I enjoyed it. It was an aid to my photography work as opposed to taking it over. However, I would like to spend more time reflecting on ‘magical thinking’ or, perhaps, ‘suspension of disbelief’, because this plays such a large part in our lives even now. I’m still surprised, although impressed, at the way in which Martin Tupper got people to ‘believe’ in his story even though its literary quality was poor plus they knew the story wasn’t true.
One thing I didn’t do
My tutor suggested I could use a model and portray the story. I wasn’t too certain about that – given that the story is fiction, melodramatic and essentially about what could be termed as manslaughter. If I did then Tom Hunter’s work would be an obvious reference point. There is a sequence there – Thomas Hardy utilised stories in newspapers for his novels and Tom Hunter referenced both aspects. Alternatively, I could reconsider using a model but in a different way – something like Helen Sear’s work in Company of Trees (2015) (video on Vimeo). Remembering as well that Sear also created a video installation of Pond (2011) and on You Tube. Maybe that would be too ambitious at the moment though.
At the moment I have a series of photographs, sequenced in a specific way. They could be individually printed and exhibited, again with the sequencing in a particular way. Should there be captions and/or titles? What about a photo book? If so, I’m thinking of something handmade rather than printed – again there’s the questions of captions/titles and also whether other information should be included. Some historical information could be appropriate. I’ve noted that Jem Southam used captions followed by the date/s in his book of the Painter’s Pool. John Gossage has no captions to the photographs in his book, but it does have an introduction and essay.
I would like to do more with the postcards – they’re such a good resource. Should I do a layered sequence with my own images? I could also create my own Postcards, even ‘stamps’, although I did that for my final Assignment of Digital Image & Culture with photographs of my Second Life self. I wouldn’t want to be seen as repetitious.
I still have that hankering for something on fabric.
In terms of continuing themes, as I’ve referred to above, I know I’m interested in layers of time and how Culture operates with us. In a sense the water of Silent Pool was acting as a mirror for this in reflecting it back and also as a window to gaze through and reflect on history and also borders, edges, liminal spaces.