Cramond 9 – Fragments

 

It was a bright, high contrast day so I decided to focus on “fragments”, small indicators of human presence rather than the larger view. To emphasise these fragments, I found myself using very shallow depths of field.

This pot was lying in the remains of a circle of stones that had been a “camp fire”. Unfortunately, the leaves have covered any signs of the former fire. I could have taken a wider view and included some blackened rocks but then the pot would have disappeared, becoming insignificant in the surrounding leaves. This lack of context has limited the narrative potential of this image.

This image includes a wider view and so, suggests a degree of remoteness to the building. The graffiti, the missing brick and the bush growing up the side of the building all imply dereliction, which is, in fact, the case.

Overall, I feel this image attracted me more because of its design than for any meaning or narrative. Consequently, this is unlikely to be an image with any long-term appeal for me.

As above, this image includes a wider view that implies a degree of remoteness. There is also an encouragement to narrative with the rust (implying great age) and the rope, also the second, out of focus pole seen in the distance, raising questions about the purpose and who might have installed the pole into the rock.

However, the lighting is such that the image lacks any mood appropriate to the potential narratives. The bright, high contrast, light seems to contradict the messages of the content. In itself, this is not a fault, but it raises questions about whether this image fits with most of my other Cramond images. I think it probably fits better with the following two Icelandic images which were taken in similar light.

This final image is the most pleasing for me.

Probably, because it is the most mysterious. Why is the rope there? Why is it frayed?

The rope is the only sharp element in the image. Also we are looking up at it. These factors give the viewer has an intense focus upon the rope and this could suggest it has a sinister purpose. The overarching of the trees adds to this impression by seeming to enclose and look down upon the viewer. Yet the quality of light implies a playfulness that contradicts these ideas. Hence the mystery.

I wonder how the loss of the leaves as we approach winter will affect the mood of this image? It would be interesting to try it again on a bright winter’s day.

Conclusions

I chose to photograph fragments because of the bright light draining the wider shots of colour. This decision has not enabled me to achieve my usual mood as the lighting is still in control. However, I have achieved shots with added mystery as the lighting appears to contradict the narratives implied by the content.

The detail shots, without distant views, do not suggest the remoteness I normally look for as they lack the usual context.

The idea of light qualities opposing the content narratives is a possible path to follow to add mystery to my images. Limiting the field of view adds to these effects.

 

Image Purpose and Audience define the Content

In an article for the Art Journal, volume 42 (4), Rosalind Krauss discusses the legitimacy of Photography as an Art-form. She opens the article with this image, made by Timothy O’Sullivan in 1868, she compares the original with a photo-lithographic copy of the original made for the “King Survey”, in 1875.

Krauss celebrates the original as “a model of the mysterious, silent beauty to which landscape photography had access in the early days of the medium”. The water and sky blend into each other and the distant land is almost invisible whereas the domes “have a wealth of detail”. The “rocks seem unreal and the space dreamlike, the Tufa domes appear as if suspended in a luminous ether.” “The mysterious beauty of the image is in this opulent flattening of its space”.

In the lithographic copy, the barely distinguishable details such as the clouds, the distant land and the ripples in the water have been enhanced. Additionally, reflections of “the rocks in the water have been carefully recreated”. Consequently, the perspective is no longer flattened.

Krauss goes on to describe that the differences in the two images is determined by their different audiences and usages;

two separate domains of culture, they assume different expectations in the user of the image, they convey two distinct kinds of knowledge.”

The lithographic version is made for the empirical science of Geology and so required the topographical elements to be made clear and for the perspective to be restored, in order to show “coherent recession”.

Conversely, the original photograph belongs an Aesthetic discourse of “flatness, graphic design and ambiguity”. This made it very suitable for exhibition spaces of flat walls designed for the purpose of display and critique. She notes that landscape paintings from the 1860’s onwards started to show a flattened, two-dimensional perspective that mimics the space in which they will be displayed. Krauss is not saying that O’Sullivan deliberately chose the flattened perspective because it would work well in the traditional art gallery space. However, his original image does meet these aesthetic requirements whereas the lithographic version is far more representational, and so, lacking in aesthetic qualities.

The two images, made from the same source, are reproduced differently so that they can appeal to very different audiences, with very different requirements.

How does this work for my own compositions? My images are fundamentally designed for display, and certainly not for their documentary qualities. If landscape artists deliberately flatten their perspectives so as to work better on the two-dimensional gallery walls then perhaps, subconsciously, I have also been flattening perspectives in order to make my images more like the paintings I admire in galleries. I hadn’t realised this before starting my researches, but it now seems obvious. Certainly, paintings that have most influenced my photography tend to have little perspective.

Andrew Wyeth – Alvaro and Christina – http://www.jssgallery.org/Other_Artists/Andrew_Wyeth/Alvaro_&_Christina.html

Edward Hopper – Early Sunday Moring – http://artsnfood.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/closely-looking-at-edward-hoppers-early.html

These two images and artists have often been in my mind when composing images and both use very shallow perspective in many of their paintings, as is also seen in my images that follow.

Krauss also discusses:

“landscape painting counteracted perspectival recession with a variety of devices, among them sharp value contrast, which had the effect of converting the orthogonal penetration of depth – effected, for example, by a lane of trees – into a diagonal ordering of the surface.”

As shown here in an image by Samuel Bourne, A Road lined with Poplars.

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/51509989466051566/

Here the contrast enables the sky, the road and the trees to appear as a set of flat, geometric shapes, rather than the reality of a landscape with great recession.

In my images I usually use large, bland skies as a canvas upon which the image sits, rather than the sky, itself, being a significant element of the scene. This effect also promotes a flattening of the image into geometrical shapes with a “diagonal ordering of the surface”, rather than a scene with great depth. See below.

Conclusion

I knew that I have always enjoyed composing images with a flattened perspective but, until reading Rosalind Krauss’ article, I had not understood why this might be. Now, when composing an image, I can question my motives in choosing particular perspectives and so, become more deliberate than intuitive, in my actions.

I now understand that my use of a large, bland skies is not just to make the focal point seem isolated and small in the scene, as I had assumed. Additionally, its contrast with the darker subject matter also encourages a more two dimensional, shape focused, rather than representational viewing of the image.

Bibliography

Krauss R.  Photograph’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View, Arts Journal vol42 (4) 1982 pp311-319