The Process for a Shoot

Having completed several shoots for this project a process is starting to develop and needs documenting.

  • Pre-shoot planning includes:
    • Weather, Tides, Sun position, etc.
    • Google earth, Street View and Google searches in general if it is a new location.
    • Images to re-take from previous visits using Reflective notes made.
    • A list of ideas for new images – point of view, composition, theme, etc.
  • On location
    • The Pre-shoot plan tends to be little more than a guideline as circumstances and other opportunities take over.
    • Image composition starts as intuitive but after reviewing the image it becomes more deliberate. However, usually by the 3rd or 4th attempt at a particular subject the ideas dry up. I really struggle to use the viewfinder/screen as a reflective tool. Real reflection only occurs back at home, on the computer.
    • Although rarely necessary, I usually bracket all my images with +-1stop of exposure. It is purely a safety measure.
  • Selection & Processing
    • Once at home I quickly scan all the images and select the few that will be processed.
    • All images are processed in Photoshop.
      • Often, these days, the processing is minimal – cropping, straightening, sharpening and some contrast correction to accentuate particular elements.
  • Reflection & Blog
    • This often feels like the most creative part of the process. It is where I deconstruct my images and try to understand what my intuition was telling me whilst on the shoot and determine what needs to be done next time.
    • I then write up my thoughts on the Blog, including the resulting ideas for the next shoot.

Philip Harris PhD prompted me to collate this after reading a similar description of his own processes in his thesis, “A Theory of the Experience of Making” (Birmingham City University 2011).

Also I find his comments on his own reflective experiences, versus image making almost exactly match my own. The following is a quote from page 258 of the thesis.

“The comments that I have made above, when I reflect upon photographing, are not in evidence in the voice recordings that I made when I was photographing. I draw out the significance of my decisions and my inclusion and placement of these objects in the process of reflection (the process I am involved in as I write this) when both the image and the annotation of the voice recording are before me. I do not reflect on this when I am photographing since the image is not yet visible to me. But to what extent does this reflection relate to the actual experience of making? Are these reflections authentic to the experience of photographing? My pre-shoot statement sets out a range of themes and objects that I will attend to. This image is only partly related to this…. As is evident in my voice recording taken at the close of making the image I only discuss the spatial organisation of the image through the camera frame. I do not discuss the significance of these objects and the relationship that I find between them (since my attention was arrested by this view it is not so much that the relationship between these objects was much found by me but that is was given to me). The recording shows that I am engaged with formal concerns related to the selection and arrangement of these objects within the image frame of the camera. Nevertheless in arranging the image there are traces where I seem to be aware of how these objects signify; why else would I move the pylon from the centre to the side? But this does not come to the surface in my voice recording. It is as though the conceptual themes related to image making are suppressed during the experience of photographing.”

Unlike Philip Harris, I do not use a voice recorder on my shoots. I would find such a tool very inhibiting rather than useful.

Cramond Island – First visit

In order to develop my image making practice into a consistent process, ahead of any field trips, I have chosen to make multiple visits to Cramond Island. It’s local and at the same time remote (being accessible only at low tide). It also has many WWII gun emplacements and a derelict house and so fits with my ideas of human constructions that become attractive focal points.

My plan is to visit Cramond Island regularly and review my work, the locations, the weather and tidal conditions, etc., in order to move from intuitive to deliberate compositions with meaning.

The first image shows the submarine traps and a gun emplacement both close to the island at low tide. Thoughts on this image are:

Weather – a good sombre sky but the lighting is too bright and contrasty thus giving the wrong mood to the image. There is also no feeling of isolation because of the path leading to the island. Another visit when the tide is still covering the path would both simplify the image and give that sense of isolation.Otherwise I think the composition works.

The remains of a jetty post on the west of the island. Usually Fife is visible in the distance which, for me, ruins the sense of isolation. In this image a storm is passing and effectively hiding Fife. The storm also lets the strong side lighting on the post have great definition against the background. I’d like to try this image again with softer light on the post and rocks. I will do that in Photoshop as I am unlikely to get such a good stormy background again.

Most of my images recently have the horizon at the mid point of the scene. Many would see this as a problem but I believe that the extra sky adds to the sense of isolation I am trying to achieve. Such images also seem to work better when in a square format too.

This location has potential but not this version of it. I need to have everything from the foreground to the pillbox to be in sharp focus which is not the case here.The sky is too bright as well. Also maybe a view from slightly further back and to the right would lengthen the path (isolation again) and add more interest from the other buildings. Perhaps and wider angle lens to further emphasise the distance would help?

Here I was trying to capture what appears to have been a derelict lane with pollarded trees either side. Both forms of human construction. It hasn’t really worked as I haven’t captured the sense distance so it is not obviously a lane. Further back, with a longer lens might help.

I like the plastic bottle bottom right. Reminds me of a Robert Adams image from “From the Missouri West”. I should make more of it.

Next visit requires an overcast sky and arriving at mid tide going towards low tide.

Is it the “Sublime”?

My research is about constructions, built by man for survival (or for a small improvement in quality of life) in remote landscapes. Why and how do these become attractive focal points in the landscape?

And now I’m wondering whether size is a factor. The small farmstead in a remote valley looks insignificant and vulnerable. Are we attracted to it because of the history, the social significance of people managing to survive here or is it the sublime. By this I mean the overwhelming power of nature that makes the farmstead’s existence look fragile. Is it the possibility of disaster that attracts the photographer’s eye?

Now looking at a construction at the opposite extreme.

This image, by Olaf Otto Becker is of the slipway for the Karahnjukur Dam, one of the biggest in Europe. Unlike the farm, the slipway does not look fragile in any way. It looks like a giant children’s slide with a deadly drop at the end. So here the construction has become an integral element of the sublime rather than apart from it. Both the cliffs and the slipway look threatening and overwhelming to the human viewer.

Both the above images evoke the emotions of the sublime in the viewer but in one the human construction is the subject of the threat (the farm) and in the other it is the source of the threat (the slipway).

Another aspect of this construction and the way it has been photographed is the possibility that it could be an art installation rather than purely functional. Is that really concrete or could it be the work of Christo?

Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California by Christo and Jeanne-Claude



Mount St Helens, Gohlke and myself

I recently came across Frank Gohlke’s images of Mount St Helens and some of them fired memories of my own visit there in the late 80’s.

Mount St Helens erupted in 1980, Gohlke visited in 1983 yet little seemed to have changed between his visit and mine.

 Photograph by Frank Gohlke 1983

Gohlke photographed from the air. Here is my version taken from the ground but from a similar location and direction.

This is about as near to photographing the “sublime” as I have ever done. The forces that stripped all the trees and them combed them into fluid shapes around the curves of the hills are unimaginable and certainly fit with the words of Edmund Burke:

“The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature . . . is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.” [Burke, On the Sublime, ed. J. T. Bolton. 58]

Personally, I have rarely felt as relaxed and so completely absorbed in the landscape as I did on this day and that is a feeling I am constantly trying to recreate. It was a calm, windless day with no-one else around and just the roads remaining as signs of former human occupation. I think this day was the start of my quest to find similar locations (Iceland, The Hebrides?) and to try and recapture those all-consuming feelings again.

Here are 2 more of my images. Both, unusually for me, in Portrait format.

Regarding their composition, in those days it was always intuitive. I did not have the knowledge to plan or to understand why I felt a particular composition worked.

Most of my compositions include some human construction. In these images, although not the work of man, the trees look as if humans might have caused the damage. Also the scale is such that this damage could be the remnants of forestry work rather than of a volcanic eruption.

Note, in the second image, there is a tiny car and a small section of road included near the centre.

What are Reflexive Practices?

My process is Practice as Research and this requires “Reflexive Practices” where I (and others) reflect, deconstruct, criticise my work in order to better understand and redirect it.

The following ideas about what constitutes “Reflexive Practice” comes from Graeme Sullivan’s book Art Practice as Research, Sage Publications 2010. See page 110

There are 4 types of Reflexive Practice:

1, Self Reflexive – using personal interest and creative insight informed by discipline knowledge to inquire.

2, Responding to empirical understandings – review the conceptual strategies used and considers other approaches. e.g., curating a body of work in order so as to present a new reading of the artworks included.

3, Openly dialogue with the information – means discussing the significance of the meanings derived from the inquiry with oneself and with the wider community.

4, Question the contents and contexts – as problematic situations are revealed within particular settings. This will identify problems and open up areas where participants can become open to change.

I am already performing reflexive practices 1 and a little of 3 & 4. I am still trying to fully understand and how to practice 2.

I think this will be a useful checklist to question my research as I perform each sub-project within it.