If photography is allowed to stand in for art in some of its functions it will soon supplant or corrupt it completely thanks to the natural support it will find in the stupidity of the multitude. It must return to its real task, which is to be the servant of the sciences and the arts, but the very humble servant, like printing and shorthand which have neither created nor supplanted literature.

Charles Baudelaire, 1859.

Photography is a young Art, with a history of less than 200 years. It immediately became under fire from the artistic establishment and was widely reviled as shown in the quote above, by French poet, Charles Baudelaire. Every art form needs tools of some description to produce, but because photography needs carefully constructed, mechanised boxes and a degree of scientific application, it was seen as merely as a method of recording reality and certainly not an art form in its own right.

Photography has endured and evolved over time, and with the arrival of digital imaging equipment, smartphones and the internet, it can be argued that it is now possibly the most widely practised and democratic art form on the planet, where (almost), everyone has an equal opportunity to have their work viewed by a global audience.

More Artists are using photography as a way of expressing themselves and showcasing their art, from conventional forms, including land and seascapes, to work that truly pushes the boundaries of what constitutes  ‘good’ photography. Artists such as William Klein and Uta Barth are notable proponents of a style in which focus (arguably one, if not the most important principle of what constitutes a ‘good’ photograph), is used as a method of encouraging the viewer to look more deeply at their work. Barth says “I value confusion, it underscores the activity of looking.”

In her book “Why it does not have to be in focus” (1), filmmaker and journalist, Jackie Higgins looks at 100 images that on first view, appear to be badly composed and exposed, or out of focus and explains why these works are so powerful and demonstrate an artistic integrity that should be lauded.

The work of Artists such as Barth, Klein, Dan Flavin and others has had a profound effect on me in my own work. Before attending university, I would describe myself as a solid, technically competent and proficient photographer, with a good eye for what constituted an appealing picture.

In a word, my work was ‘conservative.’

Whilst there is nothing incorrect about producing work that is safe and comfortable, I knew that I could do more. See more. Be more.

Taking the step into ignoring convention was so refreshing: I ceased to be fascinated by collecting the latest, greatest piece of technology, the fastest lenses and counting megapixels and began to truly look and observe for the first time in my artistic life.

I have mentioned before a conversation I had with my course tutor, Karen Heald, about ‘looking for the Art within the Art’ and with her advice and the outside influences I have discovered all playing a vital role in helping to shape my creative urges, I have embarked on a new and exciting direction, that of ‘finding poetry in the mundane.’ I am drawn to colour, texture and tone. Bold shapes, shadows and grain. Wherever we are, from our bedroom to the high street, mountain pass or a concrete box, there is art to be observed, if we look closely enough.Working on a series of images taken through my living room window at various times of day and night, I have tasked myself with producing work that is abstract, colourful and rich in tone, from the dreariest of source materials-some tarmac, a set of traffic lights and some steps to a railway station. My intention is for the viewers of my work to truly look at my work, both with their eyes and their imagination.

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References:

1: Why it does not have to be in focus, Higgins J. London. Thames and Hudson, 2013.

 

Tangents.

As an Artist, I definitely tend to wander off at tangents. This is a good thing, the creative process is definitely non-linear and cannot be quantified according to a set of rules or by following an instruction manual.

I have always been fascinated by shadows and by the shapes that light (especially the natural, fresh from the Sun type),  can project.  The effects of reflection, refraction and diffraction give us an infinite array of materials to work with, the very building blocks of our craft. I think it was capturing the effects of shadows and altered light that first made me realise that my interest in photography was something other than merely recording a scene in its’ entirety, as it would appear to the naked eye. I have become increasingly absorbed by the minutiae, the small and  (often), quite difficult areas of a scene that many photographers struggle with-extreme contrasts and highlights that can send a light meter off the scale and can dominate an exposure. I seem to have gone off at a tangent…

Back to the subject:

During my final assignment, I have been working from the window of my home, photographing the comings and goings of the street below me and the people who live and work there. I have shot at all times of day and night, from sunrise to sunset, in pretty much every weather condition apart from blizzards and have used a range of different cameras and lenses (from expensive and precision ‘glass’ to experimental rigs I have invented, using scrap and faulty optics from telescopes, binoculars and microscopes, held together with gaff tape and lollypop sticks), to capture moods and tones.

Whilst looking out of my window one morning, waiting for an interesting shot to present itself, I noticed a beam of light projected on my cupboard door, having been filtered by partially closed Venetian blinds. The fleeting shapes and shadows projected onto the wall   were truly mesmerising and changed shape constantly, as the angle of the sun changed and clouds drifted across the sky, creating an abstract lightship for an audience of one, absolutely unique and unseen by another living soul on the planet and never to be replicated.

Being able to witness and capture such displays is the reason why I pick up my camera every single day-a chance to see and share the unrepeatable.

I have mentioned my influences many times in my writing, with Uta Barth being a particular favourite. Her observational studies of light and texture within her home have struck a particular chord with me and her work has been truly inspirational to me.

30785217_10156317464511575_1952098095_nSunset.

spine011Skeleton.

morningshadows01Reflected Sunrise.

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Future Tangents.

Like many other creative types, I am constantly scribbling ideas into a notebook. Some projects will take a while to organise and plan, whereas others involve getting up early and hoping for the best. I am confidant that my future practice is heading very much in a conceptual fine Art direction, with the ultimate goal being exhibitions and gallery sales, but as with all directions, there are many tangents to wander off in.

When writing the dissertation for my degree, I argued that increased levels of access to the internet and smartphones had created a global democracy; Anyone with web access and a phone is now a potential broadcaster of content, either good or bad.

Another aspect of this digital democracy, is in the hybridisation of art forms. Admittedly, protagonists such as Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol were adapting photographs by applying paint as early as the 1960’s, but now we have the option to create these effects electronically.

If photography is allowed to stand in for art in some of its functions it will soon supplant or corrupt it completely thanks to the natural support it will find in the stupidity of the multitude. It must return to its real task, which is to be the servant of the sciences and the arts, but the very humble servant, like printing and shorthand which have neither created nor supplanted literature.

Charles Baudelaire, 1859.

Photography is I believe, ‘coming of age’. The once hard and fast opinions that were espoused by people such as Charles Baudelaire are being eroded and broken down by a succession of artists who have embraced the art form and who are keen to experiment and push the boundaries and capabilities of the photographic process. We are now in a time where there is no clear demarkation between ‘art and photography’, where the lines have blurred and like an eddy in a fast flowing river, interesting and truly unique patterns are being created consistently and constantly.

Having arrived at University with the mindset of a ‘traditional’ photographer, the discovery of different styles of art and the encouragement to explore and experiment has been profoundly influential in my latest (and I believe, most interesting), work. Although not a painter, I am starting to think like one in my approach to creating an image- colour, texture and form are now massively important to me, as is the need to capture an element of how I feel in my work, rather than an absolute copy of what I see through my lens.

Art is and always will be, an ever changing melting pot of ideas, concepts, observations and self expression. As artists, I feel we have to be somewhat selfish, but also altruistic; There is an interesting dichotomy in our need to create and self express, but also in our desires to share our experiences with a wider audience. By inhabiting the blurry state between pixels and paint, I hope my work will appeal to people in both camps.

The ‘waterscape’ sees to be a staple in the arsenal of pretty much anyone who owns a camera phone, or professes to be a landscape photographer. I very much enjoy taking this type of image, as if it is done well, there is a ready and consistent market from which to make some reasonable income. I am also keen to explore the possibilities of producing a more abstract and artistic statement from this kind of work, admittedly with a much reduced commercial impact, but far more aesthetically pleasing to myself as an Artist, and hopefully to others who appreciate a variation on a theme.

Often simplistic in composition, with minimal ‘clutter’ within the image, I enjoy exploring the textures within the skies and water and have become fascinated by using a tripod and slow shutter speed to allow the image to take on an almost ethereal feel, with blurred clouds and vague, almost misty water.

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Method:

Many of the waterscapes I produce are taken around and after sunset, allowing me to use longer exposures to create movement and flow in my work (the concept of ‘flow’ is one that I have visited several times in various projects and I am a great believer in the dramatic effects that movement can add to an image when trying to convey a feeling of drama and life), often combining a tripod mounted camera set to a small aperture, slow shutter speeds, various strength neutral density filters (which reduce the amount of light entering the lens, allowing very long shutter actuations, even in broad daylight), and a cable release, to keep the camera as steady as possible and only introduce the blurring and movement that I want in an image.

I have always worked on individual projects, in order to keep myself busy, but studying at University has brought some semblance of structure and thought to my work, and given me a mental checklist to measure myself against, which has now become second nature and is always at the back of my mind when working:

Research and design development.
Conceptualisation of ideas.
Critical analysis and communication of design solutions. Appropriate use of media and techniques.
Managing workloads and meeting deadlines. Presentation and critical evaluation of finished work.

Conclusions:

As stated earlier, I am more than aware that this type of work has a much less broad appeal to the general viewing audience, but it nurtures my creative urges, allowing me to develop my own style and hopefully appeal to others who are interested in a different slant on an often recorded theme.

As a visual Artist, everything I do is concerned with light and how to best capture it. During the course of my degree, experimentation in my Art has become of great importance to me. Being immersed in an a multi-practise Art School has been a wonderful and truly enlightening time for me, both personally and creatively. the sheer level of support from both tutors and fellow students has allowed me the freedom to embrace my Art as never before, to really push on and see where my imagination will take me.

Freed from the constraints of trying to create ‘proper’ photography, I have discovered a real interest in creating abstract images, using all sorts of light sources as subjects, from colour changing LED bulbs, to the rear lights on cars and trucks, fairy lights swung around my head on a piece of string and pretty much anything that creates bright, colourful light trails.

Researching others who have gone before me has opened my eyes to the works of Artists such as Ola Kolehmainen, Angie McMonigal and Dan Flavin, who’s work with bright and colourful neon signs has been of particular interest to me.

I have also embraced to power of Photoshop, discovering the power of compositing various images into one using layering techniques-somehing i’m not too proud to admit that I had never really explored before, considering myself a bit of a ‘purist’. I can now see that this almost snobbish attitude and unwillingness to embrace the creative power of technology has (to some degree), held me back as an Artist.

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This new found interest and direction has been both a shock to me, but also a massively interesting and exciting discovery-I almost feel that I am discovering Art all over again and am certainly enthused and brimming over with the creative possibilities that an open mind and fresh perspective bring.

I will be continuing to produce ‘Commercially viable’ work, such as my Land and Seascapes (which I now supply to a number of galleries and sales spaces), but will also be  exploring he possibilities of holding an exhibition of my abstract work and trying to gauge the popularity of my new direction, via honest reviews from my tutors and peers within the Art School and beyond.