This post combines the week’s reflective task with my work in progress in order to avoid two posts which would largely repeat each other.
First, the reflective task is about the intent of my practice. My intent has changed since I started this course. My original intent was simply to portray a city at night. Then the intent became to portray a particular kind of city in a particular kind of way, which was the substance of my research proposal at the end of the first module. Since then my intent has changed again and I expect it will continue to change. I am deliberately experimenting at the moment, trying things I have never tried before, and I have also been obliged to modify my approach because exceptionally bad winter weather for a very long time has made night photography alone problematic – so I am now also experimenting with daytime photography in order to keep shooting.
My current intent is based on looking at the work of four photographers, mainly: William Eggleston, Todd Hido, Rut Blees Luxemburg and Stephen Shore. What has emerged is fairly simple:
- They do not privilege any particular object or kind of image. Everything falls within their view because they are looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary. This is Eggleston’s ‘democratic forest’.
- They are interested in the colours and tones of the night and particularly those created by modern lighting such as neon signs. This can often produce quite soft, saturated fields of colour in their photographs.
- They are very aware of space or emptiness and seem to compose very carefully with this in mind.
- They are generally not trying to freight any one image with an obvious sense of place. An image may be taken in say Memphis or London but it is not saddled with the symbolic or indexical baggage of trying to say ‘this stands for the whole city’. These artists travel light and allow their images to float free.
What I am trying to discover is whether the second point – night-time colour and tones – when combined with the third point – space and emptiness – produces the quality of the uncanny.
So my current intent is whether I can combine points 1, 2 and 3 to express the uncanny in my images of a city at night.
The ambiguous comes in at this point. The uncanny is ambiguous because one has an eerie sensation of not being at all sure what is really going on. I think that photography is inherently ambiguous anyway, which is the source of its power. This is the tension and interplay between the two sides in a remark attributed to Jeff Wall: there are two myths about photography, the myth that it tells the truth, and the myth that it doesn’t. It is the old debate about representation versus reality.
Do I think my attempts so far are successful? Sometimes, but generally not often. I tend to get in too close and my images would benefit from my stepping back and allowing more space. I have often used a 50mm equivalent lens, but I intend to switch to a 35mm equivalent lens because I think this would add more space again. In addition, digital is sharper and resolves more detail than the 35mm films of old. This can be an issue because detail and sharpness can produce an indexicality among objects one doesn’t necessarily want. I may need to alter my post production to introduce flatter colour planes and an uncertain, even dreamy air more conducive to the uncanny.
Finally I think I need to be more disciplined and more selective in what I choose to photograph. I need to make more effort to look for those empty and uncanny scenes and more effort to notice the extraordinary in the ordinary. Both come with practice and more shooting, I hope. In an appallingly wet February in England, this is not easy but I intend to keep going. I know that what results will change my intent again. This is an interactive process. The whole point of doing this course is discovery.
My work in progress here is preceded by two ‘key’ images from Blees Luxemburg and Eggleston. They are the intent, what I tried to lodge in my mind before going out and making images.
BLEES LUXEMBURG, Rut. 2009. Commonsensual : The Works of Rut Blees Luxemburg. London: Black Dog.
EGGLESTON, William. 2002. Ancient and Modern. London: Jonathan Cape.
EGGLESTON, William. 1989. The Democratic Forest. London: Secker & Warburg.
HIDO, Todd and Greg HALPERN. 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York, N.Y.: Aperture Foundation.
SHORE, Stephen, David CAMPANY, Marta DAHO, Sandra S. PHILIPS and Horacio FERNANDEZ. 2014. Stephen Shore: Survey. New York, N.Y.: Aperture.
SUSSMAN, Elisabeth, Thomas WESKI, Donna M. DE SALVO and William EGGLESTON. 2008. William Eggleston : Democratic Camera : Photographs and Video, 1961-2008. New York : Munich: Whitney Museum of American Art .
Figure 1. Rut BLEES LUXEMBURG. 1998. Narrow Stage. From: Liebeslied. Rut Blees Luxemburg [online]. Available at: https://rutbleesluxemburg.com/liebeslied-2.html [accessed 21 Feb 2020]; William EGGLESTON. c. 1973. Untitled.
Figures 2-13. Mark CREAN. 2020. Oxford at Night. Collection of the author.