Friday, July 20, 2012

Songs of Travel: A new project in the making

Songs of Travel is a new project in the making, it was conceived as a project specifically for film photography, rather than digital, something that would utilise films' serendipitous nature in double exposures. The idea is to celebrate the joys of walking aimlessly along our myriad footpaths, the title comes from a Robert Louis Stephenson poem that was adapted musically by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Unlike my Skirrid Hill project it isn't directly influenced by the words or the music (if I'm honest I dislike both) but I have taken the idea of an almost plodding rhythmic romanticism that infused the text and musical sequence, it is after all a eulogy to an almost mystical experience rather than a translation into pictures.

I haven't used film for nigh on 20 years and before the day I'd made the images below I hadn't been out for any landscape photography for three whole months, I just knew I'd be a bit rusty, so like a coward I just took the digital and experimented, as a way of piecing together my somewhat fragmented ideas and expectation. I'm starting to get a clearer idea of what I want now, so may be ready to actually commit some images to emulsion. But the freedom of playing around in digital  has helped frame the finished look more in a way that I think will alter my approach in the use of film.

What I found in the digital edit was a combination of black and white and colour (digital layers rather than double exposure) had a dramatic effect. The ghostlike black and white seemed entirely in keeping with the metaphorical past, the sensory retreat of a long walk and yet the colours, even if subdued stand out like flashes in a dream or memory. Footpaths, like all long journeys are remembered piecemeal, certain aspects come to predominate while others shrink into the background. It is this memory like effect that I'm seeking to replicate, something transient, where one image in the mind sparks or leads strangely into another. It's something that is honestly quite difficult to put into words which I suppose is where the images come to find a purpose.

So instead of a traditional film double exposure I am considering a mixed media approach (sorry!) of digitally combining a black and white film image with a colour film image. This allows greater control over which image to combine with which and the relative density of the layers. I guess I'm still too driven by my digital workflow to see any other way. Although I'll admit it lacks the serendipity of a direct film double exposure, you'll have to allow me my 'breaking in' period with film.

John Berger quote

"The aim must be to construct a context for a photograph, to construct it with words, to construct it with other photographs, to construct it by its place in an ongoing text of photographs and images." John Berger Ways of Remembering.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Why Tree Line should come to a natural conclusion

It is cold, for the past few hours I have been completely absorbed in photographing one remarkable tree. I hadn't noticed the growing chill of evening. Throwing on my coat, I turn to retrace my steps, wading through knee high bracken, clouds touching the hills, the valleys a fading blue. I am alone on the hillside and in a contemplative mood, in a land of sheepsong and thickening light. As I head over the protecting hill that shelter these last few high trees from exposure I begin to realise that in the two year gap since my last visit to the tree line something has changed within me, I suspect it's a profound realisation about my motivations as an artist, but not really fully formed until days later when I sit down to write and examine my thoughts more closely and the consider work I'd produced that evening.

Before I'd even stepped out that day I'd been thinking back almost two years to what my motivations were in undertaking the Tree Line project and why it needs to find a natural conclusion. Some of you may realise that Tree Line sprang directly from the Memories, Dreams and Reflections project which was an artistic response to the death of my mother. MDR was all about grieving, it was revisiting the haunts of mine and my mother's childhood. It was an exploration of memory and time - intentional camera movement indicating the blurring of these strange functions of our consciousness, the passing of an epoch and the importance of place in our development and perceptions of self.

Tree Line was about emerging out of that shadow, coming both emotionally and metaphorically from the dark into the light, it was direct in both time and in geography. MDR was predominantly set in the foot hills of Abergavenny and Tree Line on the higher slopes of Sugar Loaf mountain. It's not quite that geographically clear cut if I'm honest, in fact many of the images in TL were taken within view of the tree which makes up the final image in MDR; the last tree, alone on the slopes, looking out from on high over Abergavenny and where I scattered my mothers' ashes. 

Incidentally, I don't believe in an afterlife, heaven, hell or all those trappings of traditional religion, but it was even now a peculiar experience seeing that tree. I felt an acute confusion. How should respond? Do I wave? Say hello? Go through some sort of confessional? That's not for me, practicing my creativity would be the one thing that would have made my mother proud and happy, so that is what I do, not just for her, but also for myself. I find it completely satisfying to be immersed in the "zone" creating images, forgetting time and place and not noticing the growing cold of dusk.

So, getting back into the point in hand, why do I feel Tree Line should come to a natural end? Most simply my motivations aren't the same today as they were 2 years ago. To put it bluntly I'm over it! (At least as far as we ever can be.) I'm no longer searching for the light, fighting through a strange world of ghostly forms. I returned this week and realised I had attained the light so to speak, it was the beauty of the tree in all its strange forms that entranced me, I found myself looking for a more balanced composition, like a "proper" visual artist, more of an abstract concept, more remote from the emotional force the was the green fuse for the projects' inception. In many ways it's a successful conclusion, I am back in the world of beauty, back to appreciating things for what they are, especially in nature and landscape, I have fought off the darkness.

Before you all jump to the conclusion that I'm rejecting a conceptual approach, that I'm going to go out and take saturated sunsets (the horror!) I can reassure you that I'm most certainly not! I do however feel my future work will have matured, the ideas will be less forced, more motivated by the art instinct. I have changed, I have grown artistically, my understanding of the world has developed, but one thing I now realise is that my art may in fact be beyond explanation, even to myself and it is that mystery that will provide a further motivation to create in the future, there's plenty to explore here. As I enter middle age I may just become more abstract in thought and deed.

It is good to remember, to examine the lie of the land, to realise that life contains good times and bad, for if nothing else they help contextualise where we are now. As I leave the tree line for good, knowing that my artistic and emotional aims have been realised I shall hold within myself the thought that I have come to know intimately two beautiful trees for two very different reasons. One from darkness and another from light. And yet as I conclude tears run down my face, art you see has meaning.