This week I was in Ardnamurchan with my photographic friends. At one location, behind Sanna beach, we found an old water tower and three of us proceeded to photograph it.
This was definitely, my kind of subject, a man-made construct in a remote environment. However, it was not a typical subject for either Neil Patton or Eric Robinson, so it was interesting to compare results. We did not consult at the time, only later when reviewing our images.
Because of this being “my kind of subject”, I had a vision of how I would portray the tower long before arriving at my chosen viewpoint. Later, I would realise that this “vision”, or perhaps it is now just a habit, was restricting my own creative approach to the scene. Here are two examples of my images.
My attempt was to make the water tower dominate the scene, to look out of place but powerful. I was reminded of the large, black bull silhouettes that are found on hills in Spain.
Of these two the first one (which was also my first, “intuitive” composition) captures more of the atmosphere I was hoping for. The darker sky and water tower make it look more foreboding. The second image looks too cheerful. It is bright, more like an advertising hording than a powerful icon.
I was trying to show the details in the water tower structure but in doing this I have lost the mood I wanted. I think I need to darken the tower to be more reminiscent of the Spanish bulls.
Here is Neil Patton’s version.
He called this “Requiem for a Croft”, emphasising the religious, crucifix like, appearance of the water tower. The “death” of the croft is obvious from its dereliction and, although very small in the frame, the tower appears both dominant and controlling as it sits on the crest of the hill. The croft certainly looks to be subservient, almost prostrate, relative to the tower.
The fact of the tower being darker, less detailed, than in either of my images helps increase its power within the image.
This is Eric Robinson’s image.
Eric has taken a very different approach.
As with all our images, the tower is placed on the crest of the hill to give it significance. Yet, whereas in Neil’s image and in my first image the tower appears very grounded, in Eric’s image it is reaching for the heavens. This effect is enhanced by the movement, skywards, implied by the portrait format, the blurring of the clouds, the dynamic perspective of the tower and its relatively small size in the frame. The dark foreground also helps.
The tower still appears religious in nature but, perhaps, much less powerful, than in the other images, as it is set against the large expanse of dark blue sky. The tower here is, perhaps, a supplicant rather than the source of power in the image.
Three photographers and three very different interpretations of the same subject.
In addition to the Spanish Bull and Crucifix analogies others talked of the tower reminding them of the Angel of the North. Again, it has religious overtones.
The common feature is that we all saw the water tower as a form of public art rather than the reality of a piece of very functional engineering that was never designed to either fit with or respond to its surrounding environment.
In comparing our three interpretations I have learned several things about my own “intuitive” processes. They are:
- I have fallen into a new set of habits when it comes to composing images and this is restricting my creativity. I have become used to portraying man-made constructs as quirky, out of place objects or art installations in remote environments. Consequently, as I approach a scene with these in mind, I am already limiting my potential choices:
- I go too close, too quickly and this prevents me seeing the wider possibilities.
- I usually take the subject face on rather than at an angle. I do this to give it strength and dominance within the scene, however I am then missing the possibilities of making the object appear subservient to or insignificant within its environment.
- I tend to focus on a single man-made structure rather than trying to reveal the relationships between different man-made structures within the same scene.
- I have become fixated on using the Landscape, or occasionally the square format for my images and rarely think of trying a Portrait format. Again, this limits my creativity.
So, thanks go to Eric and Neil for participating in this exercise and for allowing me to use their images. These learnings have been valuable. The difficulty is that I now need to find ways to rectify the limitations of my processes.