I have eventually come to the end of the work for ‘Expressing Your Vision’. The only jobs left to do are post it off, and then wait for the outcome. What did I learn? I had previously done ‘The Art of Photography’ and passed it with an acceptable mark. At that time I hadn’t been able to go any further because of health and family issues. I was slightly concerned about repeating the initial part of the course, but, in practice, the two are so different that this was not a problem. I enjoyed the new course much more, and found the research parts of it extremely interesting. I find I can spend hours looking at other peoples work and thinking about it. This enabled me to work through the ‘barren days’ when I could not think of a single thing to do that was relevant to the question asked.
The various support groups were also helpful (sometimes):
the e-mail group for EYV – interesting to follow, and sometimes with very helpful suggestions and quick answers to technical problems – but also sometimes very negative, with a recurrent theme of ‘Why should I look at these images, I’m not learning how to take the sort of images I want, etc.’
Facebook groups – more thoughtful responses, both in the Year 1 group and in the Scottish Group
Scottish meeting in Glasgow – very helpful. I didn’t manage to get to as many as I would have liked to have – but will continue to try to attend when possible
OCA discuss forum – often fascinating, I haven’t yet had the courage to post any work for discussion but need to as a next step!
Don’t get bogged down
Think around the question, look at it sideways, leave it alone and go back
Re-do, re-do and do again
Print and hang on the wall for a month
You might like the image – but if it doesn’t fit the brief discard it (or use for something else)
All research is useful, follow random trails, you don’t know where they will lead
Visit as many exhibitions of any art forms as possible
You might not like a photographers work this week – but it may grow on you
Read other people’s opinions then make your own, but be prepared to argue for them
Liking is not the same as having a reaction to an image, or whether or not it is ‘good’
Write concisely (need to work on this one)
Many thanks to my tutor for his help, and the multiple other people who commented and gave advice.
Following a long discussion with my tutor I printed off all the possible images for this assignment, stuck them up on the wall in my workspace, and ended up going out and re-shooting several of them. I also tightened up considerably on the theme, and made it into a story about a year in the logging process in our area. This fitted better with my original thoughts on what happens in Scotland as described in my original short essay, however it is ironic that even though one of the main stated purposes of the Scottish Forestry Commission is use of the land for recreation there is a strong emphasis on ‘Keep Out’.
Arnatt was talking about his unsettled childhood – leading to difficult behaviour at school, (not thought of in a positive way). He developed an interest in art of the back of someone encouraging him to try for the local junior art school from age 13, he drew constantly then. He came across the work of Paul Nash as an art student (the image referenced above). Visited the Ashmolean in Oxford and became interested in landscape paintings. Moving to London he saw a wider range of paintings and explored more abstract work, he comments ‘became more visually aware’ and aware of idea of scale in images and that there are implications in what you are doing ‘a history and a future and a present’ – so where you are and where you are going becomes important. Notes how reading and exploring works of other artists (in all genres and places) becomes relevant to how you think leading to the thought that ‘Art is a tangible manifestation of ideas’ . It does matter what has been done – you may not be able to see it but could possibly see the ongoing effect (Earthplug and similar works). Eventually other people started making photographic documentation of his work so that people would know what he was doing – recording of ephemeral events. Then realised the importance of photographs – so what he did was with ‘the photograph in mind’ e.g. himself being buried (1969) ‘invisible art – art disappearing and the artist disappearing’ , also be aware that ‘your intentions and assumptions’ are not what occur to others. What narrative do other people impute to your work? Work on building boxes – all subtly different – made a collection of objects, you know they are different but may not perceive them differently. ‘Making works of art that depend on knowing runs against the kind of myth that works of art speak for themselves’. ‘Could the subject matter of art be about the difficulties of being an artist?’ – is that valid? He the developed an interest in photographing the people who visited Tintern Abbey – many people visiting there and taking the same images from the same spot – if you then photo them – how do people respond to the camera? Went on to series ‘Walking the Dog’ (associated with Sanders image of man with alsatian)- there was a behavioural element in taking the images – getting man and dog to comply at the same time – not knowing what would happen. ‘Things appear in image that you haven’t taken into account….editing process is the primary creative act’. – He became more uncomfortable with the idea of taking pictures of people and increasingly interested in landscape – so moved in that direction taking ‘documentary’ pictures of a place he lived, including the ‘tatty’ bits in an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’ – myth versus documentation of an area – related to changes in the world as it is now. What people get from images will differ depending on their experience i.e. photographic experts, or people knowledgeable in art history versus amateurs or people in the pub. Does that matter? Are you (am I) taking images for myself, for the ‘expert’ or for the (probably mythical) average person? Is a photographer an artist? Can photographers be ‘collectible’? Role of preconception – what you get might be very different from what you have planned. ‘I do something, then reflect on it and that might tell me where I want to go’. Used black and white because of reference to tradition of photographers from Walker etc, but colour references my interest in painting and important in some images eg golden light and red plastic (Miss Graces Lane) – the camera can transform eg rubbish to a fascinating image. (Howler’s Hill) – may, when looking at image in editing process, may find it references a historical painting – it is the accident in this that is interesting, less interesting when planned. Rubbish not equal to main preoccupation in ecological issues – but rather to what the image is pictorially – making pictures that are not chaotic out of chaos – ‘bring some kind of sense to it’. – reference to still life = reference to notion of vanitas and mortality. I look for things that are not traditionally photographed ‘the marginal slices of life’ ‘looking at the overlooked’. What is acceptable to photograph? And in what context – eg forensic, medical might be acceptable while not in ‘art’ world. Could you look at medical photography as metaphors? Where your work is shown will give a different context to it – it may be understood differently in different places – may not be under your control – other than by choosing the gallery, venue etc. Reasons for making photographs are the same (?) as in making any other pictures – is this true? Is there a distinction between art and life – ‘life is what we make of it’ through language and vision. = ‘when I recognise as stage photographs I tend to have lost interest’. ‘Photograph of something out there in the world that is not staged – its the product of a vision’ ‘various ways of photographing… bring a degree of attention and control…. I like perversity and playing with it’ ‘is now-ness important…. Different from what you can do in painting or sculpture; ‘I like things that we don’t value or need much – the last piece of paper on a bog roll’ Start with nothing with painting – different you don’t have to make references to the outside world (although you do) – so many choices. Photo is a fragment – a fraction of a second .
I had a long and wide-ranging discussion with my tutor David for assignment 5. I will try to summarise what I took from it here.
My title ‘Forestry in Scotland‘ was too broad.
Agreed! Am trying to think of something more descriptive that isn’t too wordy – that is the difficult bit.
Lighting is inconsistent
This is about having most of the shots in a fairly flat light, if not downright stormy while 2 images were taken in bright sunlight with vivid blue skies. I hadn’t even thought about this as a problem – but on looking at the series as a whole they do rather stand out and produce a jarring note. I do have some replacements already available – I hadn’t even considered using them as my brain went ‘sunlight- that’s better’ without thinking it though.
Looking at the final edit in detail
This was very helpful, and I have done as suggested – my wall is now covered with prints. I am definitely going to go and re-shoot a couple of the ones that I had originally discarded but fit better into the theme. There should not be a problem getting cloudy days in Scotland in winter.
How do you show changes in time and season?
This I’d something to think about further for an extended project – maybe mark a spot and re-shoot at monthly dates – showing the changes in the trees, which might be fairly subtle.
Overall the discussion was very helpful – and hopefully I will get an improved final edit. At the very least it gave me a lot to consider and made me think more clearly about what I was aiming for.
Paul Nash – an artist I had not come across before – related to the work produced by Arnatt. Destruction, here in the context of a response to WWI. Dead trees and land. Interestingly, the present push for re-forestation in Scotland was a direct response to the lack of wood available for military uses in WWI. So his horror in some way translates into the trees of today, and to their use as a resource for the community.
Images from Keith Arnatt – 2 of which are incredibly similar to some of the images I took for this assignment. If I had not taken them prior to seeing these I would have thought ~I would have been deliberately copying them. In reality it points up how the direct impact of forestry on the landscape leaves the same type of temporary destruction today as it did 30 years ago.
He also suggested a link to a fascinating and very long (2 and a half hours) audio interview with Keith Arnatt – this doesn’t finish – but cuts off mid sentence – so no concluding words of wisdom.
What narrative do other people impute to your work?
Could the subject matter of art be about the difficulties of being an artist?
Is the editing process actually the creative act?
Who are you taking the pictures for (and where are you displaying them)?
What is the role of preconception?
The photograph as an instant versus the painting/sculpture over time?
Does it matter what you photograph as long as you pay attention to it?
In reality all these questions are the ones that this degree is exporing, at one point or another. There are clearly no absolute right or wrong answers to any of them. It is something to consider .
Michael Lange – another photographer I had not seen before. Some stunning images of deep in a forest, dark, minimal changes of tonality and colour. Lange started work as a photojournalist and has moved to fine art work. The images are redolent of the pine forest, not partially cut down, but what appears to be old wood. Again, these are the images I wished I could have taken to show the forest as it might be – although we have less major forests in Scotland than there are in Germany. His title – Landscapes of Memory – is relevant to the type of work I would like to move on to if I can extend this project.
Jem Southam – is a photographer who is exploring how memory and knowledge changes how we respond to the places we see. He looks at the same place over different times, different seasons and over several years – showing how a place will echo the season. There are more changes where he is taking images in the South West of England’s than there are in the pine woods in Scotland – but links into the idea of extending the project – possibly for the landscape module.
Bloomberg and Chanarin – only managed a very quick glance at their work – but will be perusing this in more detail at a later date.
Paul Mortimer’s degree show for the OCA was at the Dundas Art Gallery in Edinburgh. He describes Land Values as his photographic investigation of how important land is in your life. The exhibition consists of three parts:
Engagement and play
Transformation and conservation
Engagement and play is a fascinating look at Mortimer’s own environment, comparing an area in Yorkshire where he grew up with the part of Glasgow he now lives in. Mortimer asks the question- are there similar places to play and grow in as a child nowadays to those he found in his own youth? His answer seems to be no – but why? In a conversation about this with Paul we wondered at length whether it was because of the lack of perceived safety outside at present, or was it because what was wanted now by young people was more ‘sophisticated‘ than the activities we engaged in as children.
Transformation and conservation looks at the coastal area between Hartlepool and Sunderland where a piece of land that was used by the coal industry and heavily exploited has now been allowed to regenerate and is used for the almost opposite causes of recreation and tourism. The land still shows the traces of what was there before in the form of piers and fences, but is gradually returning to its natural state. These images are stunning, vibrantly coloured and reminiscent of the work of Fay Godwin and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen.
Environmental contribution looks at the role of trees in our present urban areas, these were taken within the grounds of a hospital within the city of Edinburgh and show some stunning examples of trees against the somewhat incongruous signs in the area. The site is being considered for redevelopment, at present the grounds form an informal park for the local people and are taken for granted. Will this change with the changing use of the site? Mortimer hopes to be able to continue this project as the site changes its use and to follow the environmental changes here.
This is an interesting tripartite look at how we engage with the land. Do we value it for what use it is to us – or does land have an intrinsic value, that is more than just its monetary worth? Why do we go to places? How does memory effect what our understanding of a new place is and our visions for the future?
some interesting images of a van that caught fire and burnt out at the end of our road
using the Instax to get summary pictures of the week – this is hard! – partly to find an image that summarises what we have done, and partly because it goes against my need to fiddle!
Mark Cousins – The Story of Looking – a fascinating spin though the types of images and what you would have looked at over the history of mankind, also about the different ways people look at things
Professional Photography – talking about this years Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize – I found the 2nd place portrait of the Iraqi girl on the bus particularly haunting – I would never have considered focusing on the dirty window in this way. (Abbie Traylor-Smith)
The Way We Were: Photographs of Childhood from the National Galleries of Scotland – interesting exhibition of images of children from the very early days of photography up to today, both monochrome and colour. Some very interesting pictures taken in an early special needs school – not exploitative at all – just tender contrasting with modern images.
BP Portrait Exhibition: I see this every year and oddly enough am not usually very enthusiastic. I can see the technical skill of the painters but the rarely move me – this year the winning image – Breech – of a mother and child by the child’s father was very tender.
Land Values – Paul Mortimer – Final exhibition by an OCA 3rd year student
mainly concentrating on finalising the work for submission and getting things printed off.
I feel that this was reasonable for my stage. The selected images are in focus, and correctly colour balanced. They show a range of details from close up to distant focus. I have tried to keep the design and composition straightforward and simple enough to show the point without overcomplication.
Quality of Outcome:
I think that I have communicated my idea about the forestry work in Scotland. It was difficult to keep it simple and within the confines of 10 images and a very short introductory paragraph. This would have been easier as a longer piece of work – and could have then included images of other woodlands.
Demonstration of Creativity:
I am not sure that there is a great deal of creativity in this! The idea is simple, taken from my surroundings.
I spent a reasonable amount of time reading around various other photographers work on woods, forests and the impact of man on the natural environment. Reading the websites on the National heritage of Scotland and the Forestry Commission Scotland , although not directly linked the photography, was especially useful as it made me aware of the historical implications of what I was seeing.
Again a combination summary. Life rather got in the way!
some images in the garden taken under heavy frost
images for assignment 5 of the local woodlands, unfortunately the particular image I wanted was not available – someone had removed the large pile of logs
Edinburgh at Christmas – not very successful pictures of the fun fair – too much distraction
Edinburgh Botanics light show
still Barrett on criticism
Robert Adams – Beauty in Photography – interesting alternative take to Barrett on criticism especially in essay ‘Civilising Criticism’
Photoworks 23 – I particularly like the Folio on Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber with the contrasting works ‘ on the street’, with the contrast of the shaven headed ‘Cry Minami’ images posted in cities across the world versus the Sieber images of people shown from the back.
Futureproof 2017 – at Street Level Glasgow, a compilation of works from last years degree shows in Scotland
Robin Gillanders retrospective – Still in Edinburgh – I liked the images from ‘A Lover’s Complaint’ which shows images based on haiku by Henry Gough-Cooper which are based on the ‘Fragments’ written about love and philosophy by Barthes.
spent a lot of time considering which images to put in assignment 5 – and, more crucially, which to leave out!
I have realised that over the last year while taking a vast collection of images – very few of these actually talk about what I am doing in my life. So, I splashed out on an Instax camera with my Christmas money and am planning to take an image every week that says something about what I (and the family) have been doing. I will then make this into an album.
‘There were so many things a tree could do: add color, provide shade, drop fruit or become a children’s playground, a whole sky universe to climb and hang from; an architecture of food and pleasure, that was a tree’ (Bradbury, 1950).
When most people think of Scotland they think of heavily wooded areas, either replete with ancient forests or full of forestry commission pines. In reality it is neither. At present only about 17% of the land area of Scotland is covered by trees, which, while lower than most other European countries, is a significant improvement from the 5% it was in 1919 when the Forestry Commission was started to increase the amount of timber available in Britain following shortages in World War 1. This initially led to the planting and harvesting of vast areas of soft wood, often non-native species, leaving desolate tracks, but since the 1980’s there has been a change towards planting of mixed species and use of the woodlands for a wide range of activities including timber production, biodiversity, carbon capture and social uses. (Nature.scot, 2017).
In Scotland most of the forested land remains under private ownership, but some is also owned by the government and managed by the Forestry Commission Scotland. (Scotland.forestry.gov.uk, 2017) There are complex planning agreements in place to make efficient use of the land that is suitable for forestry, as much of Scotland is too high and with too poor soil for tree plantations. There are still areas of land stripped of trees awaiting soil regeneration, and replanting and these look desolate and unwanted. Other areas are full of new growth and light.
This is the land I live in and travel though on a daily basis. It changes over the years but also remains eerily the same.
Bradbury, R. (1950). The Martian chronicles. New York: Doubleday.
I started with the premise from Robert Adams essay ‘Truth in Landscape’. ‘Our discouragement in the presence of beauty results, surely, from the way we have damaged the country, from what appears to be our inability now to stop, and from the fact that few of us can any longer hope to own a piece of undisturbed land’(Adams,1996).
When you think about images of forests they are broadly divided into two camps, with photographers who have celebrated the beauty, solitude and wonder of woodlands and those who have shown the devastation that mankind has performed. Some photographers have taken both types of images.
An example of this school of photography that concentrates on the damage we have done is the work of Wendelski who has taken a series of images in Germany based on the destruction of ancient forest during the process of open cast mining for brown coal and the activist that set up camps in the forest to protest this.
From this idyllic picture of sunlight though the trees
to the destroyed countryside and swathes of mud
A similar piece of work has been carried out by the Magnum photographer Koudelka. He has done a vast photographic report on the coal mining industry in the Black Triangle in Czechoslovakia. I was lucky enough to see this when it was on show in Edinburgh. The images are graphic, black and white, very sombre. In the Edinburgh exhibition relatively small individual images, approximately 1m x 30cms were laid out in a line, so you followed the trail of disaster around the room. The destruction here has been going on for much longer than the damage in Wendelski’s pictures in Germany but is startlingly similar.
Godwin is particularly interesting in that her viewpoint and type of images she took changed over time. Her earlier work as shown in the ‘Secret Forest of Dean’ (Godwin, 1986) exemplified the beauty of a natural environment and how people could live in harmony with it, while in later work such as ‘Our Forbidden Land’ (Godwin, 1990) talks about how landowners limit access for their own use, and specifically, in reference to Scotland, talks about the environmental challenges caused by the widespread forestry work in the 70’s and 80’s, again many of her earlier pictures are simply beautiful.
Arnatt was also involved in the work about Dean Forest that was commissioned by Forestry Commission at the same time as that of Godwin. His work is difficult to track down, but the images I have seen ( in ‘I’m a Real Photographer‘)seem to fall more into the camp of the land is for use by industry, in contrast to Godwin’s more bucolic images (Arnatt, Hurn and Grafik, 2007).
and so we reach right around the circle to the original quote
Adams is the quintessential American photographer showing the beauty and wonder of the forest. A good example of his work is shown in the book ‘An Old Forest Road’ (Adams, 2017) which concentrates on barely visible paths in woodland, lit by seemingly random gleams of light. These pictures make you want to wander endlessly, exploring for no purpose other than to see the trees.
Interestingly, with the exception of Wendelski, all these images are in black and white. Some of this is because this was the accepted use when there were taken (Godwin and Arnatt) but some, like those of Adams are very recent. Is this because of the general idea that ‘art’ images should be in monochrome, because the more recent photographers are paying homage to the older ones, or simply because the colour green does not always print well? Certainly, monochrome does give some stunning images and shows the detail well. It also becomes difficult to tell simply by looking at an image of a forest when it was taken, this century or earlier. Monochrome tells the mythos of a forest well.
I started by taking images of forestry works when travelling around Scotland. Most have been taken close to me in Fife, but some were taken as far north as Fort William. In spite of this it is difficult to identify the place from the images and they become a generic series of Scottish forest images. The majority of the images were taken in the summer and early autumn, some taken in winter, again this is difficult to tell from the images, as although the light is different the dark green of the pine trees does not vary much across the year. This would not have been the case if I had been concentrating on deciduous trees.
I spent a considerable time deciding on whether to go with monochrome images, as was prevalent on the examples above, and discussed this at length with both my tutor, and the Scottish OCA group at our December meeting. Eventually I decided to use colour images, as some of them, such as the cut logs, stood out in colour and gave more information, and, even though the work was influenced by Godwin and Adams, I felt that colour was best for telling my own story.
Adams, R. (1996). Beauty in Photography. New York, NY: Aperture, p.14.
Adams, R. (2017). An Old Forest Road. Koln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter Konig.
Arnatt, K., Hurn, D. and Grafik, C. (2007). I’m a real photographer. London: Chris Boot, pp.38 – 41.
Godwin, F. (1986). The Secret Forest of Dean. [Bristol]: Redcliffe [for] Arnolfini [and the] Forestry Commission.