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In search of something beyond the physical

During the 1920's and 30's, Alfred Stieglitz photographed a series of clouds. He called them "Equivalents". This title was based on discussions which often emerged at Gallery 291 in the previous years. They stemmed from Kandinsky's theories, particularly the belief that colours, shapes and lines reflect the inner self, the emotional "vibrations of the soul".

Over the years I have been searching for that inner self through photography - a search which I know will never end. I believe that allowing instinct to play a major role in the photographic process is key in the creation of a free flow between the inner self and the photograph.

This instinctive photography features very strongly in my work, both at the capture stage and also at the post processing stage. In this set of images (which will certainly continue to grow), I try to explore the "soul" of my surroundings, and my own, through a technique which on one end creates a layer of abstraction from the physical manifestation of things, and on the other end creates a collaboration between myself as a photographer and nature itself, by introducing that unknown, uncertain, or "random" factor into the image. Not having full control of the final image allows for a connection with our surroundings that is almost tangible and certainly real.

See an interesting article on thethirdray.com

Friday, 02 March 2012 05:52

Portrait by Antoine Giacomoni

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I’ve been wanting to post this for a while now. Last year I had the honour of being photographed by Corsican photographer Antoine Giacomoni. Giacomoni has been photographing rock stars for the past few decades (although being photographed by Antoine does not in any way imply that I am one). He still photographs with film, and the process is actually so fascinating that when given the opportunity I immediately wanted to experience it.

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The observer effect in photography

The “observer effect” is a well known term used in several fields of study, including most notably physics and psychology. The basic concept refers to changes that the act of observation will trigger on the phenomenon being observed. In order to observe a subject, some form of interaction has to occur, and that interaction, even if minimal, will affect the state of the observed in some form or another.

My view is that within the field of photography, this effect is ever present in various forms, and can be explored at various levels. The most common examples include the change in attitude within people upon the realisation that a camera is being pointed towards them. Roland Barthes refers to it as the “act of posing” in Camera Lucida - the process where the subjects transform themselves into an image of themselves in advance of being photographed.

Throughout history, photographers have been trying to exploit this effect from one end, and eliminating it from another. This is clearly visible just by analysing the two styles of street photography - some photographers will use short lenses to become part of the action and clearly make their presence noted, while others will use longer lenses in order to avoid as much as possible any interference with the event being photographed.

 A Step Further

The concept becomes even more interesting when analysed from different points of view, in different situations, and through the entire photographic process. Ansel Adams mentioned that there are three entities in each photograph - the subject, the photographer and the viewer. Each of these entities may be affected in one way or another by the act of photography. The subject may be affected by the consciousness of being photographed, or possibly even by the sheer presence of the photographer (a theory certainly worth exploring). The photographer is affected by the voyeuristic act, as is the viewer.

Any photographer will state that their attitude towards a subject changes dramatically during the act of photography. In fact, the entire perception of reality takes a different shape during that split second. Something is triggered, maybe it is the that primitive hunting instinct that is re-awakened. All the photographer cares about, at the moment reality becomes that restricted bounding box that is the viewfinder, is to capture the prey and lock them forever into the box. Or as Cartier-Bresson put it, "I'm not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I'm not all that interested in what happens next. Hunters, after all, aren't cooks." 

This duality between photography and its primitive counterpart is all too evident even through the most basic of photographic terms - aim, shoot, capture... Photographers are on a hunt for images, and as a hunter are purely focussed on the final goal, on the best timing and placement of the shot. The observation of a potential subject - and indeed reality in its entirety - is a totally different matter when seen through the camera's viewfinder. Some photographers will state that after a while, the "shooting mode" will also start permeating into "real life" and photographers will start looking at their surroundings as though there was a camera permanently attached to their eye. "One doesn't stop seeing. One doesn't stop framing. It doesn't turn off and turn on. It's on all the time," says Annie Leibovitz. In reality the change is still marked, although it becomes foggier with time. The fact remains that the photographer, the interpretation of the subject and reality itself change through the act of observation through a viewfinder. 

 

The Other Side

When looking into the process of photographing conscious subjects, namely humans for the sake of this argument, the entire play of observation, self-consciousness and interaction - or the lack of it - provides a myriad of possibilities for analysis. We can compare different portraiture styles, for example, ranging from 'life captures', to carefully engineered portraits, and all the grey areas in between. It is interesting to compare, within each variety, the effect the photographer has on the subject, and eventually on the final photograph. For example, in Richard Avedon's 'the family' - a series of portraits of the rich and powerful in America - the photographer had no verbal contact with his subjects; only a very strong visual communication and the resulting enhancement of the subject's self-consciousness. The result is a total destruction of the subjects' confidence and power for those few minutes in the photographer's studio, which can be clearly observed in the final product.

After the Act

One further point of view to be considered is how the subject of a photograph changes through a viewer's observation of the photograph. The act of photography has already changed the subject through decontextualisation, however this change is only complete when interpreted by the viewer.

Viewers observing a photograph will merge the 'truth' - if there ever was one - with their limited point of view, their baggage of experience, emotions, opinions and biases - together with a knowledge of the context within which the photograph was taken and the temporal difference - into their own interpretation of the image. What a viewer sees when observing a photograph inevitably differs somewhat from what the photographer saw at the time the image was captured, and is most certainly not a reflection of the truth. Observation brings interpretation, which in turn brings change.

In the end, individuals will manipulate reality in whichever way suits them best - both consciously and unconsciously. Photographers have the luxury of manipulating the image permanently. They will inevitably add a piece of themselves to the image, capture it and present the result to viewers, who will manipulate the image transitorily and personally, through the addition of a part of their own self into the mix.

The bottom line is that the entire photographic process is affected by observation, consciousness and self-consciousness. In the end, it is difficult to understand whether there is any truth left - although that is also dependent on one's definition of absolute truth, and whether such thing exists at all. 

 

Friday, 11 November 2011 10:00

To Limit or Not to Limit

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This article was published in Professional Imagemaker in November 2011. An extract is available here.

This is a debate that has been raging on for a very long time. I would even dare say that at the moment it is probably hotter than the “is photography art” debate, which I feel has started to settle down, although we all know it will never really end.

I have noticed that over the past weeks/months, the argument of whether a photographic artist should issue work in limited editions has started flaring up again. I have personally had this dilemma from the day I printed my first photograph with the intention of selling it. A few years ago, I had a totally different view, centred around the value of a photograph being bound very strongly with it’s rarity, in the same way that many people prefer to purchase paintings or sculpture because of their uniqueness. Most of my initial work was thus issues in editions of only three.

Today, after many years and maybe some more sense and experience, I have finally decided to put an end to this dilemma. I have made a decision moving forward, and it is to not limit my prints any further. There are many reasons which lead me to this decision, but now that I have made up my mind, it all seems so much clearer to me that I wonder what took me so long to figure it out.

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The dead and the living. The ever-the-same and the ever-changing. The static and the dynamic. Most battles are fought to fend off intruders, invaders into what is thought to be someone else's space. It has always been so, and this battle is no different. This time, it's not man against man, but man against earth. Because this place is not ours. It belongs to itself, and mankind has used it and abused it since the day some bright spark lit the first fire. I will not go into the controversy of what we've done wrong or right - that is not my intention. My focus is on the fact that this conflict does exist, and in which ways we can look at it.

The premise is this - it is a battle we're never going to win. If we look at what man "creates", we see the static, the dead. I see a building today - same building tomorrow. By comparison, I see a blade of grass today - it's a flower tomorrow. Nature is alive, dynamic and ever-changing. It is self-sustaining and self-healing, and this is it's greatest weapon. We might not realise it, but we are just a speck in the history of the universe. A little bit like a flu or an itch we might have throughout our lifetime.

This thought fascinates me. From our point of view, nature's healing process is irritating. We build, it destroys, we create, it disintegrates. If we look at it from the opposing point of view, however, it very much resembles the actions of parasites and antibodies. We destroy, it heals. As they say, it's all a matter of relativity. What we see and what we believe depends entirely on our point of view. What we see as decomposition from our point of view is recomposition from nature's point of view.

I have always felt close to nature, and decay has always fascinated me. It has a visceral attractiveness - a stunning elegance under a veil of harshness. Since the day I grabbed a camera in hand I found myself photographing things that are falling apart. I find it interesting to observe and beautiful to look at.

The "Recomposition" series is an ongoing effort to document and interpret the beauty of decay in all its shapes and forms. As with all of my work, it is a collaborative effort - I will not stop at documentation, but rather use what I see as my starting point, building on it until I have uncovered the beauty I see in it for everyone else to enjoy.

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