01/10/2021

PUBLIC OUTCOME / DISSEMINATION

WHO IS MY AUDIENCE? I guess you could put my project into some kind of poetic/philosophical/reflective nature-based, landscape category. It is not strictly objective landscape photography and it is not documentary. Pigeonholing my audience does somewhat elude me. Images of nature are universally recognisable, I hope this work speaks universally on a deep-seated emotional level, however, I am under no illusion that my work will most likely perpetuate within like-minded circles - philosophical 'landscape' artists, communities of wabi-sabi informed artists, nature-based thinkers, niche photobook collectors etc. The work should also be of interest to anyway interested in Cornwall. The work is also fundamentally photographic (strategies informed by 'optical theory'; visualising spatial-temporal dynamics, challenging intangibility, transference onto a 2D surfaces; the work is informed by universally emotion-inducing pictures patterns), ss such, the work lends itself to wider discourse within academic studies of photography.

METHODS OF PRODCUTION FOR PUBLIC AUDIENCES: I had considered making a transition-based slide movie (see my post here) but I feel like it is not entirely appropriate as the main feature of my work - it would inherently be informed and designed by modern technology and that goes against the organic nature of the work. I had also thought about installing my work on the sites I took my images (see my post here) but have decided to shelve that idea for a few reasons I explained in my previous post (see post here) - essentially I am not sure I want to scent-mark nature with my images. I have decided to move forward at this time with the other ideas I had - an eco-friendly publication, a limited portfolio edition containing the publication and a select few hand-crafted prints, and an online gallery. The photobook, portfolio box set solidifies the work in a physical form. Whilst I consider a dedicated online gallery space a pre-requisite to any artists dissemination, is quite simply the most effective, flexible, sustainable, inclusive and permanent platform to use to reach global audiences.

I believe Simon Norfolk's assertion, on A Small Voice podcast, that photo-books are something of a vanity project predominantly for the middle-classes, was not necessarily aimed at the production of handmade small edition niche photobooks: 'vanity publishing no different to an author paying someone to publish their book... who can afford to pay £40-£60 for a coffee table book? Just middle-class people like yourself' (Norfolk, 2019). In a more recent A Small Voice podcast Matthew Genitempo (photographer and co-founder of independent art book publisher, Trespasser) was asked, "what do you think the future of photobooks is?" He replied that he didn't know and that the interviewers guess would be as good as his, however, he states he firmly knew what he would like to see the future being - more small limited runs of handmade books, in which "the human touch is undeniable".

Of Awoiska van der Molen's Living Mountain publication, Brad Feuerhelm questions books as the right format to speak about the scale of nature, I am also talking about time as well as nature so the magnitude is double. He answers this beautifully in stating this human failure is important to communicate within the work, it is central to my work also: 'In some small manner of critical conjecture, one must ask if the book form is the correct format in which to speak about the magnitude of nature, or for that matter, whether there is a point in making images of it at such scale. I would ascertain that the experience of images like van der Molen’s will always fail her direct experience of place and that is probably somewhat frustrating, but perhaps this human element of failure is important for the artist to understand and communicate to the viewer. After all, should nature not ask of us “who do you think you are to rectify the image of my grandeur with such simple means built from the technical world that you use to destroy my gifts”? This is only a remark about perception and perhaps a notable conflation of aim and outcome when we consider books being made of trees recycled or not etc.' (Feuerhelm, 2020). My work is not objective and therefore does not aim to speak directly of nature, my work invites the audience into my own approximation of time and nature.

HOW TO REACH THE AUDIENCE? I will use social media to promote this work, in addition to seeking features with appropriate national and international online and media outlets. I am in the process of compiling a list for this. Should this work become published beyond my own small self-published run by a more established publisher, this will obviously move into a new level of promotional activity between myself and the publishers.

REFERENCES:
• Genitempo, Matthew. 2021. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers 155 [Interview by Ben Smith] A Small Voice [Online] Available at: https://bensmithphoto.com/asmallvoice/genitempo-and-schutmaat [Accessed: 05.08.21
• Norfolk, Simon. 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers 107 [Interview by Ben Smith] A Small Voice [Online] Available at: https://bensmithphoto.com/asmallvoice/simon-norfolk?rq=simon%20norfolk [Accessed: 05.08.21]
• Feuerhelm, Brad. 2020. Awoiska van der Molen’s The Living Mountain. American Suburb X [online Available at: ]https://americansuburbx.com/2020/07/awoiska-van-der-molens-the-living-mountain.html?fbclid=IwAR0icVy-tShKIsb062Z1O85n06iKTiuCO-lAo-pftI3AXgSB_c6dGvqEk8Q [Accessed: 05.08.21]

17/09/2021

PROVISIONAL/DRAFT STATEMENT

The Sixth of Five Several Workes.

The Sixth of Five Several Workes approximates time through the architecture of nature: impermanence. This work centres around an old English description of an ancient hermitage cell. Five ‘workes’ are attributed; nature, force, art, industry and spiritual devotion, to which an overruling sixth is added - time: ‘…as she is the mother, and begetteth, so is she the destroyer of her begotten children; and nothing that she bringeth forth is permanent’.

Impermanence fluxidates in present time - all things are emerging from or heading towards nothingness. Devoid of chronological or sequential narrative, these eventless photographs default us into present time - only in the perceptive experience of duration (Durée) does the unfathomable depth of time become graspable.

Rooted in the optical theory of light, the photographs taken between dusk and dawn allude to darkness as nature’s true wilderness, but remind us that darkness, like time, is a concept that is only computable through our own limited and vulnerable capacity. The photographic process of light out of dark aligns the biblical tropes suggested by scarce glimpses of hermitage cells (places of reflection, respite, sanctuary and suffering) in a singular allusion to an all but absent human presence.

Nature taps our vague and distant universal origins. The Sixth of Five Several Workes finds forbearing dominant mass, furtive spikes and slithers in the picture patterns of an austere landscape to provoke ancestral responses. The murky shadows of human imagination and the camera’s mechanical mind occasionally collude to create cameo’s of curious Pareidolian creatures lurking in the stoney surfaces.

Foe to the cacophonic drumbeat of modern input, this work acknowledges nature’s imperious ambivalence - Beauty, as the yearned enigma, in art as it is in life, emanates through the impermanence of the interminable chain of being. As nature challenges the fear of human inevitability, The Sixth of Five Several Workes asks fear be channelled into the broader perspective of reciprocity in our obdurate relationship with Earth during a critical present time.

08/09/2021

CONSOLIDATING CONTEXTUAL PHOTOGRAPHIC STRATEGIES

Wabi-Sabi metaphysics remind us all things are only ever and always emanating from, or in decline towards, 'nothingness'. We are only ever in an immeasurable spatial-temporal dynamic of the present. I am visualising Impermanence by thinking of it in terms of 'nothingness in the 'present time'. I am attempting to make photographs that transport the audience into a lost elemental world where wisdom can be drawn from nature-based spiritually. In this internal emotional state, we can philosophically reflect on the concepts in wabi-sabi found in nature. Learning to accept and embrace impermanence, imperfection, incompleteness promotes mental restoration and wellbeing by staying in the 'present'. Being in the 'present' resolves 'nothingness'. We can assess the reciprocity of our relationship with nature during precarious times. These are the core messages of my work. Below I have condensed all the concepts and theories which inform how, what, where, when and why I am making my photographs to visualise these messages. There are the human choices I have made to construct my work appropriately:

Spending Enough Time In Nature To Achieve An Objective / Straight Mindset: By spending enough time in nature, in solitude, one can move closer to seeing nature as it is, without cultural influence. After a time of being away from the cacophony, nature 'photographs itself', not as how one might pre-determine it should look.

'Objective' or 'Straight' Photography neutralizes Flusser's 'Program of the camera'. Evade the translation of representation into culture: Exclusion of context other than being of nature rather than about nature. Speak in an 'approximation' that talks around nature rather than specifically of it. Speak objectively, anonymously, whilst declaring and acknowledging subjectivity and lack of authority.

Visualising 'Present' Time Through (Objective) 'Eventless' Photographs: Eventless photos force us to be in the present because they are devoid of the chronology of a historic event - the date-line is removed. With no history or future, it can only live in the present. Photographing uneventful non-historic images, or what simply 'is' or what is simply 'being', is to photograph something in the 'present'. Devoid of context and event (defined by human cultural intellect) an image becomes objective. Eventless photographs undo time. Inadvertently, 'eventless' images challenge/react to the endless stream of uncontemplated, mass-consumed, unrespected and exhibitionistic digital images. Forces the audience to think about 'the photographed world' and 'the world photographed'. (Flusser's 'Programs').

Visualising 'Present' Time: Adding 'Duration' (Durée) to Objective and 'Eventless' Photographs: 'Present time' is not part of a chronology, it is part of a 'duration', (Durée as coined by Henri Bergson). Duration is concerned with the experience of time, not a chronological concept of time itself. Duration can only be experienced, not temporally (or spatially) measured. 'Eventless' photographs are duration, which only ever leaves us in the present. Duration is an experience in which reality and imagination co-exist. By contextualising time as duration, eventless photographs, make time tangible because they are living - they are consumed in the mind for the body. Duration is a perceptive experience of time - perception takes place in the present but is informed by memory, so, the past and the present merge into one subjective intuition. In the 'present' only the 'present' remains, there is nothing else.

Long 'Nocturnal' Exposures in Black and White:
• General rule is 'before the sun comes up or after the sun goes down'.
• Darkness is earth's true wilderness / Fear (accepting nothingness in solution to fear of inevitable consequence)
• Black and white is more true to photography than colour. The origin/source of photography is rooted in the light (white) and dark (black) of the 'optical theory'. Colour comes from chemical theory, the optical theory comes before the chemical process in the chain of events.
• Transference of light out of darkness has biblical connotations which links to the hermitage cells.
• Long shutter speeds further solidify 'visualising time'.

Visualising 'Impermenance' Through Wabi-Sabi in Nature:
• Murky, irregular, austere, decaying timeworn and weathered landscapes and patinas (rock, bone, earth, stone) carry traces of impermanence embedded in their surfaces.
• Eventless remote land and seascapes universally connect to the ultimate subject of impermanence - the earth.

Visualising 'Spiritual Connection To Nature' Through Hermitage Cells / Subtle Anonymous Human Presence:
• Represent 'Spiritual sanctuary from modern societies, weathered relics of human solitude embedded into the remote natural landscape'.
• The time-weathered surfaces of hermitages have become wabi-sabi - places where people once sought out spiritual sanctuary, away from society, have, over time, inadvertently become visual objects embodying the very thing they were built, or appropriated, to facilitate.
• Hermitage cells allude to a submissive human element.

'Fear Response' & 'Ancestral and Primal Universal Sources of Emotional Appeal':
• 4 established pictures patterns (William Mortensen) invoke 'ancestral sources of emotional appeal' to generate a primal universality through the 'impact' of 'the fear response'. The Fear Response is elicited visually by 4 pictures patterns: Dominant Mass, The Diagonal, The S-Curve, Triangles

04/09/2021

CONSOLIDATING INFORMING CONTEXTS

INTERMINABLE CHAIN ('In this ragged pyle...The Sixth of Five Several Workes')

The title of this work references a text by Jacobo Siruela defining beauty (the central enigma of art - 'the goal never attained’) as ‘impermanence’. Beauty emanates from the interminable chain of being. Beauty is impermanence through its ambivalence to what is desirable and undesirable. The sub-title references an extract from a 1610 description of a 6th-century hermitage cell built into a rock outcrop. Nature (as the mother), elemental force, art, industry, abandonment of society/solitude in non-human nature, and time: 'Time, who, as she is the mother, and begetteth, so is she the destroyer of her begotten children; and nothing that she bringeth forth is permanent’.

The work is underpinned by principles central to the philosophical aesthetics of Wabi-Sabi: impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness. In Wabi-Sabi metaphysics, all things are either emerging from nothingness or heading to it. In this work, impermanence is referred to as ‘present time’, and ‘present time’ in relation to ‘nothingness’ - where there is nothing else, there is only nothingness and present time. Impermanence demands we live in the 'present'.

In Small Things in Silence, Sireula says Masao Yamamoto's photos evoke: “That original, natural state of being that transports our deepest imagination to the lost world from which we were torn centuries ago, whose reality still awakens in us a strange and vague unconscious desire to go back to the origin - the return to ourselves.” (in Yamamoto, 2020). This quote has informed my work since its inception. These sentiments are echoed in Awoiska van der Molen's statement for The Living Mountain: ‘Regardless of how personal the starting point of my work may be, in the end, I hope my images touch the strings of a universal knowledge, something lodged in our bodies, our guts, an intuition that reminds us of where we came from ages ago. A memory of our core existence, our bedrock, unyielding certainty in a very precarious world’. (van der Molen, 2020). It is this elemental lost world of our natural origins, I too wish my audience to visit emotionally. In this emotional state, we can philosophically reflect on the concepts in wabi-sabi (impermanence, imperfection, incompleteness) where all things are metaphysically either heading towards or emanating from 'nothingness' - we can take wisdom from this to resolve mental health challenges and promote wellbeing and mindfulness by staying in the 'present'. We can also reflect on the reciprocity of our relationship with nature during precarious times.

In Interminable Chain, time subscribes to the temporal dynamics of Henri Bergson's Durée (Duration). Time is considered in a present and experiential dimension, as opposed to a fixed chronology of unique sequential narratives. Durée / Duration is a 'phenomenology of time'., not a way of conceptualising it. 'Duration deals in the confusion of temporal distinctions – between past, present and future – drawing the spectator into the thick braids of paradoxical times. […] One might say, then, that duration nearly always involves the collapse of objective measure. Whether it is short or long in ‘clock time’, its passage will be marked by a sense of the warping of time, an opening of regularity to other phenomena or inchoate orders. Duration will often be accompanied by the spatial sense of expansion, suspension or collapse or by reverential, chaotic or cosmic phenomena, as notions of temporal distinctions are undone. Time arises in the experience of duration, in its indivisibility and its incapacity to become an object of thought, analysis or representation.' (Heartfield, 2009:22). 

Photographs without event subscribe to the notion of Durée - without event, they are without foundation. Eventless images can be seen as an 'undoing' of time. Eventless photographs are anonymous - they remove all context, date-line and specific identity of the place that is photographed. Eventless photographs talk of what simply is. Eventless photographs force us to exist in the present - they oppose chronological and geographical context and exclude cultural representation. We are only ever in a qualitative spatial-temporal dynamic of the 'present'.

In Bergsonian thought, spatial and temporal dimensions cannot be measured or itemized, because space and time are not respectively geometrical or chronological/sequential. They are both subjective experiences informed by the coexistence of memory (the past) and perception (the present), however, the past is perceived and perception only ever takes place in the present. 'Our relation to space develops according to a ‘natural feeling’ ... 'So, like duration, space cannot be itemized or measured... he (Bergson) calls space an extension emanated from the subject' (Van Alphen, 2014).

The term 'landscape' is an ambiguous paradoxical human construct where cultural representation and the external world co-exist (Bal in Van Alphen, 2014). The photographs of Daniel Gustav Cramer and Awoiska van der Molen evade translations of cultural representation by excluding any context (of nature rather than about nature).

My images have no visual context, they are devoid of event. The lack of event dictates they have no affinity with a sequential chronological temporality. However, glimpses at hermitages allude to a human presence in my work. Whilst the hermitage cells are not an event, or a unique specific historical moment in a chronology or sequential narrative, they do allude to a cultural reference. Does this lessen the neutrality of my images and position them into the realms of cultural representation? I would argue my images are an eventless approximation of a humanised relationship with nature (about nature) with images that are of nature.

Present Time is made tangible by eventless photos. Time becomes graspable in Durée. Bergson talks of natural feeling that emanates as an extension of the subject. Eventless photographs in the context of duration become tangible because they force us to remain in the experience of present time. Present time is experiential, and experience is a co-existence of memory and perception. Perception, according to Bergson, is 'an act performed by the body and for the body'. The body is a 'true body-subject with its own desires' (Mullarkey, 1993:119). Bergson wrote explicitly of an 'intelligence of the body' and a 'logic of the body' (Bergson, 1896:137) and moreover, what he calls 'bodily memory' (ibid. p197). This act of perception is lived only in the present time. Visualising 'present time' inadvertently challenges the idea of transferring intangibility onto a 2D surface.

This spatial-temporal dimension assists straight and eventless nature photographs in tapping into an approximation of the elemental 'lost world' Siruela talks about. Eventless photos of nature universally connect audiences to the ultimate subject of impermanence - the earth. Eventless photographs of nature tap into an ancestral and primordial emotional state that ‘awakens in us a strange and vague unconscious desire to go back to the origin - the return to ourselves.’ (Siruela in Yamamoto, 2020). By spatially excluding context, landscape photographs allude to a non-human world, a pre-human world (Gustav Cramer and van der Molen).

The philosophical principles of impermanence, incompleteness and imperfection in wabi-sabi aesthetics can be visually articulated by irregular, murky and austere material traces in timeworn, weathered and decaying landscapes and patinas (rock, bone, earth, stone) embedded in their surfaces. In this respect, the time-weathered surfaces of hermitages have become wabi-sabi - places where people once sought out spiritual enlightenment have, over time, inadvertently become visual objects embodying the very thing they were built, or appropriated, to facilitate.

Perhaps my photographs are 'Nocturnal', sans solaire - my general rule is 'before the sun comes up or after the sun goes down'. Nature at night is Earths true wilderness. In darkness, there is always 'primal, universal and ancestral fear'. Black and white optical theory aligns with biblical tropes of lightness out of the dark. Darkness, like religion, is a human construct - many creatures can see perfectly well at night, darkness is 'a product of our own retina', and highlights the vulnerable limits of human capacity.

Working in black and white not because of nostalgia but because of the critical position that black and white is 'concrete' and thus 'true', not because the world is black and white but because photography's origins lay in 'optical theory'. 'Black and white photographs are images of concepts that belong to the theory of optics, they are generated by that theory. Black-and-white photographs are beautiful because of the beauty of the conceptual universe'.

Eventless photographs are 'straight' photographs. They are the opposite of 'La nature du spectacle'. They are objective in their strategy of letting nature photograph itself. Turning the camera away from itself (away from Flusser's Program of the Camera), the photographer removes all trace of himself and exclude all trace of representation from the frame. Eventless 'straight' photographs are objective photographs in a consciously subjective dimension. 'his [Jude] encounter with place feels intimate — the pictures are steeped in emotion, in awe — but also deliberately depersonalized' (Ollman, 2018).

Like Ron Jude, Awoiska van der Molen and Daniel Gustav Cramer, my photographs are straight, eventless and of nature rather than about nature. Ron Jude aligns himself with the Dark Mountain Project manifesto: ‘Among the principal concerns of this movement is the urgent conviction that literature and art need to pivot away from “the myth of human centrality,” and to “re-engage with the non-human world.” He asks of his work:"In doing so, this work asks: how does one depict the indifference of the non-human world to our egocentrism and folly without simply offering false comfort by looking away from our reckless actions? Is it possible to engage the landscape in a meaningful way without resorting to formal trivialities, moralizing or personal narrative?’"

'What we can’t perceive is vast, and that geological, cosmological story, while not ours exactly, has become our responsibility since our presence began to alter it. Acts of homage and acts of witness, these photographs induce the requisite wonder and gratitude to spur a much-needed sense of accountability' (Ollman, 2018). We can take wisdom from nature by staying in the 'present'. We can also reflect on the reciprocity of our relationship with nature during precarious times.

REFERENCES:
Ollman, Leah. 2018. Review: Ron Jude’s jaw-dropping photographs at Gallery Luisotti put the awe back in awesome. Los Angeles Time [online] Available at: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/museums/la-et-cm-ron-jude-20180924-story.html [Accessed: 16.08.21]

Van Alphen, Ernst. 2014. Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen. Published in ‘De Witte Raaf’, Belgium. March 2014. Awoiska Van Der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_alphen_nu.pdf [Accessed on: 26.08.21]

03/09/2021

TITLE / ‘The Sixth of Five Several Workes’

It is time to consider the title of my work, as opposed to trotting along with a working title that has always been subject to change. I have found this a daunting obstacle because it indelibly pins down the project. So, the ultimate question here is: what is my project primarily about? It is about impermanence, and thus present time, and it is about beauty ultimately being defined by impermanence. But is the idea that impermanence defines beauty just a by-product of the central theme of impermanence? Below are the two most significant references to my project:

'...beauty remains a yearning, a goal never attained... the central enigma of art... beauty emanating naturally from the interminable chain of being ... Beauty today can no longer be idealist; our age is not even in a position to claim such transcendence. We are too prosaic; and not dreamers enough. The sense of beauty cannot return to us through transcendence but only through impermanence. It can only return to our artificial, technologised world through the rediscovery of its most distant - and yet most imperious - opposite: nature.' (Siruela, 2020).

'In this ragged pyle may be obserued five seueral workes: the firste of nature, whoe, as a mother, begate this stonye substance; nexte of force, whereby the water at the generall floude depryued it of her earth coueringe shelter, leauinge it naked; the therde of arte, which raysed a buylding vpon so cragged a foundation; a fourth, of industrye, in workinge concauitye (concavity) in so obdurate a subjecte; lastly, of deuotion, wherein men, in their then well-wenuinge (well-meaning) zeale, would abandon, as it were, the societye of humane creatures, and undergoe the tedious daylie asceut, and continuance of so cold and so abandoned a place. To this may be added a sixth worke, euen of Time, who, as she is the mother, and begetteth, so is she the destroyer of her begotten chyldren; and nothinge that she bringeth forth is permanent.' - (John Norden, 1610:62, in Blight, 1865:107-108).

I see this work as the first of an ongoing body of work in which 'the interminable chain of being' is the all-encompassing central theme. I have, until now, considered 'Interminable Chain' the title of an ongoing body of works, of which in this first account, 'The Sixth of Five Several Workes' is the sub-heading. However, I think this is too long, and from my experience in book and magazine publishing, a short precise title is better not only for sticking in the mind of audiences, by which I am including producers, editors, publishers etc... it is also better for indexing and cataloguing within the realms of books sellers. I will move forward with the title as 'The Sixth of Five Several Workes' for those reasons, and because, quite simply, the title is intriguing - how can one have 6 of 5 anythings?! This title prompts the audience to read the quote from Norden, and immediately tells us this work is primarily about time, after the other works have been digested in the reading of the quote.

REFERENCES:
• Blight, J.T. (1858) Ancient Crosses and Other Antiquities in the East of Cornwall. London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co. Dublin: Hodges & Smith. Penzance: F.T Vibert.
• Yamamoto, Masao. (2020) Small Things in Silence. RM Verlag SL; 1st edition.

15/09/2021

BIBLICAL TROPES

My project is using glimpses of hermitage cells and their surrounding landscapes to metaphor a sanctuary from modern society in nature. The oratory's and hermit cells are obvious religious/spiritual sites but there is more to this simple religious connection in the photographic strategies of my work. This became apparent after reading a couple of different texts relating to Awoiska van der Molen's Sequester work by Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa and Ernst Van Alphen.

In Phosphorescence: Awoiska van der Molen’s Sequester (2014), Wolukau-Wanambwa talks about how through the strategy of photographing in low light or moonlight, the longer than conventional exposures make apparent that the lighter areas of the image are only possible because of this photographic process. Low light tends not to cast any shadows and as such, these types of images become a paradox in conventional ways of seeing. Lightness comes out of the darkness through a process of photographic time, which can be seen as a metaphor for the biblical tropes of light and dark in Christian faith, and in Buddhism that whilst we should accept and embrace our cracks and flaws (the darker side of our lives) with hard work and attention to details, we can become stronger and more beautiful for it (the light in our lives).

Darkness, like religion, is a human construct. Humans have a low sensitivity to light, many creatures can see perfectly well at night. Wolukau-Wanambwa points to Giorgio Agamben's essay in which he states: “The absence of light activates a series of peripheral cells [which] produce the particular kind of vision that we call darkness”. So in fact, as Wolukau-Wanambwa concludes: “darkness is not, therefore, a privative notion but rather the result of the activity of the “off-cells,” a product of our own retina... Darkness as a concept is only intelligible within the narrow confines of our own optical capacity, and not an immutable register with which to measure the shape and nature of the world'. Likewise, aspects of creation within religion are only intelligible within the narrow confines and vulnerable limits of human capacity.

Ernst Van Alphen approaches his analysis of van der Molen's work by looking at nature in relation to cultural representation. He claims Western culture utilises two traditional topoi that locate nature outside culture: 'The first one is that of the biblical paradise, the Garden of Eden, the place of pure nature because guilt did not yet exist. The second one is the Kantian idea of the sublime as experience that is post-cultural. When man is located with his back to civilization and eye to eye with wild oceans or steep mountains, he has an experience that is supposed to be outside the familiar possibilities of representation. We call such an experience sublime', (Van Alphen, 2014). Van Alphen sees Van der Molen's landscapes as a combination of these two extremes of pure nature; both paradise and sublime: 'because they look most like the way we imagine nature to have looked after creation'. He continues by referring to Earth's creation in the book of Genesis in which he reminds us that not only God creates light, which is good, on the 6th-day, he created humans to live in the paradise garden of Eden - and thus nature becomes home to human cultural representation.

Furthermore, on the 7th day, God rests and reflects on what has been created, which is similar to how we feel when we look at the objective, non-human landscapes of artists like van der Molen, Ron Jude and Daniel Gustav Cramer, and hopefully my own in some respects. The lengthy approach of analogue photographic time and process taken to create these images of nature free of anthropocentricity, are there to be rested and reflected upon. But any mention of paradise in the Garden's of Eden or the 'sublime' an immediately undone by the fact that these are man-made photographs: 'But both topoi of pure nature lose their persuasiveness as analogies... when we realise that the landscapes in question are nothing less than human-made. Paradise-like landscapes, as well as wild, sublime landscapes, are perhaps not really representable in their undifferentiatedness within an ordering imposed mechanically by an optical lens. The distinctions made by God in the design of his paradise demonstrate this, because they illustrate what culture is all about: to make differences. The photographs of Awoiska van der Molen are emphatically moments of looking back. Looking back at landscapes that withdraw from culture. This implies that it is culture that has produced these natural landscapes. In other words, paradise has not been created by God but by Awoiska van der Molen'. (Van Alphen, 2014)

REFERENCES:
- Van Alphen, Ernst. 2014. Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen. Published in ‘De Witte Raaf’, Belgium. March 2014. Awoiska Van Der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_alphen_nu.pdf [Accessed on: 26.08.21]
- Wolukau-Wanambwa, Stanley. 2014. Phosphorescence: Awoiska van der Molen’s Sequester. Published online at 'The Great Leap Sideways' - New York 2014. Awoiska van der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/writing_stanley_wolukau.pdf [accessed: 30.08.21]

27/08/2021

THE DARKNESS – EARTH’S TRUE WILDERNESS / ‘NOCTURNAL PHOTOGRAPHS’

Screen Capture from Earth At Night In Colour, OffSpring FIlms, 2020.

I've been watching a recent nature series titled Earth At Night In Colour (2020) by Off Spring Films. It is a remarkable series in which camera's that are 100 times more sensitive than the human eye record footage of wildlife at night. As the cameras are so sensitive they can record by moonlight alone almost as if it were shot in daylight. The footage reveals aspects of nature that have never been recorded before but also of behaviour that nature experts were unaware of. The opening introduction announces the show capturing the earth at night in 'Earth's last true wilderness'. I am trying to reach somewhere in nature far away from human touch in my photographs. Earth's natural wilderness has all but been recorded, there is nothing left to photograph, we have covered the globe, except the depths of the oceans, but at night, the darkness hasn't quite been captured. Darkness is the wilderness and it is uncultured and untamed, it is also fear. Thinking about fear in terms of nature at night is a new way of thinking about my work. We can't see in the dark, animals can, this speaks of a limiting.

Darkness, like religion it might be argued, is a human construct as humans have a low sensitivity to light, many creatures can see perfectly well at night. Wolukau-Wanambwa points to Giorgio Agamben's essay What Is the Contemporary? (2009) in which an answer to the question “What happens when we find ourselves in a place deprived of light?” he states: “The absence of light activates a series of peripheral cells” which “produce the particular kind of vision that we call darkness”. So in fact “darkness is not, therefore, a privative notion but rather the result of the activity of the “off-cells,” a product of our own retina.” Agamben concludes that therefore darkness as a concept is only intelligible within the narrow confines of our own optical capacity, and not an immutable register with which to measure the shape and nature of the world. (Wolukau-Wanambwa, 2014). This highlights the vulnerable limits of human capacity.

I photograph at night, early in the morning, or at least in low light, usually with relatively long exposure times - longer than conventional shutters speeds in daylight, long enough to need a tripod that is. My general rule is 'before the sun comes up or after the sun goes down', sans solaire, in this respect, I am starting to refer to my photographs as 'nocturnal'. It is not always possible, or safe, to reach the places I want to photograph at night so I monitor the Met Office and photograph those places when the weather is poor. It feels instinctively right, there is something more primordial and wild about low light, as opposed to stark daylight where nothing is mysterious and there is no element of fear. In a previous post, I spoke about the influence of William Mortenson's strategies for making pictures based on concepts of 'primal, universal and ancestral fear' in my work.

The polarity of lightness and darkness, or rather, the photographic strategy of transforming darkness into light, makes it difficult not to think about religion - the transformation of dark into light is the very essence of Christian faith, which is already playing a role in my work with photographs of hermitage cells and oratory's signifying contemplation in solitude and away from society in nature.

REFERENCES:
Wolukau-Wanambwa, Stanley. 2014. Phosphorescence: Awoiska van der Molen’s Sequester. Published online at 'The Great Leap Sideways' - New York 2014. Awoiska van der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/writing_stanley_wolukau.pdf [accessed: 30.08.21]]

26/08/2021

RON JUDE’S 12Hz / THE DARK MOUNTAIN PROJECT / RECONSIDERING HOW OBJECTIVE MY IMAGES ARE

12Hz is about human perception of the ungraspable scale of earth's rawest materiality - 12Hz is the lowest sound threshold of human hearing. As the project statement on Jude's website states: 'It suggests imperceptible forces, from plate tectonics to the ocean tides, from cycles of growth and decay in the forest, to the incomprehensibility of geological spans of time'. By comparison to Jude's grand-scale images of lava fields, gorges and coastlines, my own work operates on a smaller, more centralised plane, nonetheless, there are a similarities; the call to witness and homage to nature, the allusion to human capabilities, and in its questioning of the reciprocity and accountability of human relations with nature. Leah Ollman stated of 12Hz: 'these photographs induce the requisite wonder and gratitude to spur a much-needed sense of accountability. (Ollman, 2018), or as Jude puts it as an 'acknowledgement of a desire to gain a broader perspective, beyond the human enterprise, in a time of ecological and political crisis' (Jude, 2016).

Ron Jude. 2017. 12Hz. Left: Sea Cliff. Right: Sea Grotto (North). 56 x 42-inches, Archival pigment print on baryta fiber paper.

Jude aligns this work with the ethos of the Dark Mountain Project - a cultural movement born out of Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine's manifesto of the same title. The principals of the Dark Mountain Project / Movement are the 'urgent conviction' that mediation of nature needs to shun “the myth of human centrality,” and “re-engage with the non-human world.” Jude states his work subsequently questions 'how does one depict the indifference of the non-human world to our egocentrism and folly without simply offering false comfort by looking away from our reckless actions? Is it possible to engage the landscape in a meaningful way without resorting to formal trivialities, moralizing or personal narrative?'

This is interesting because it ties in with principles of evading cultural representation of nature which I am trying to achieve with my own work. This objective, 'straight' photographic strategy is also found in the work of Daniel Gustav Cramer and Awoiska van der Molen, both of which I have referred to previously in this respect (see here and here) and in relation to Vilem Flusser's notions of freeing photographs from the 'programs of the camera' - turning the camera on itself and letting 'nature photographing itself' (Mulder, 2017). Jude images fall straight into the objective category, and it makes me assess the objectiveness of my own work; I consider my images objective, they do not offer nature as any kind of spectacle - I am photographing nature as is, how I find it, in a detached gaze. However, there is a context of human relationships with nature in the actual work via the inclusion of hermitage cells and this gives identity to some of the images, does this allude to cultural representation and thus void the definition of objective? Whilst not naming the actual hermitage sites, they are surely recognisable to some people, so are they anonymous? (see more about this here and here). I am confused if this is an actual context of my work and the work is still non-human, or the work remains objective through its eventlessness and lack of chronological context or sequential narrative? Maybe the work falls somewhere in a murky inbetween and doesnt need to outrightly qualify as one or another, afterall, there are no written in stone rules as to what is and what isn't an objective photograph.

REFERENCES:
• Jude, Ron. 2016. 12Hz. Ron Jude [online] Available at: http://ronjude.com/12-hz-2016 [Accessed: 16.08.21].
• Mulder, Arjen. 2017. Larger Than Light. Published in ‘Blanco’ by Awoiska van der Molen. Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_mulder_nl_eng.pdf [accessed: 22.08.21]
• Ollman, Leah. 2018. Review: Ron Jude’s jaw-dropping photographs at Gallery Luisotti put the awe back in awesome. Los Angeles Time [online] Available at: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/museums/la-et-cm-ron-jude-20180924-story.html [Accessed: 16.08.21]
• The Dark Mountain Project. 2009. The Manifesto. [online] Available at: https://dark-mountain.net/about/manifesto/. [Accessed: 16.08.21].

23/08/2021

A STRATEGY FOR OBJECTIVE PHOTOGRAPHY IN A SUBJECTIVE DIMENSION

Fay Godwin, 1990. The Duke of Westminster’s Estate, Forest of Bowland.

The term landscape is an ambiguous paradoxical human construct where cultural representation and the external world co-exist. In Arjen Mulder's essay Larger Than Light, he talks about two different types of 'landscape' photography. First, the subjective majority view, 'La nature du spectacle', where photographers depict nature how they think it should look: 'The photographer’s task is to scan Nature through the viewfinder for as long as it takes, until the virtual picture coincides with the observed one...The projected image of what Nature is expected to look like...'. This type of photography is problematic in relation to ethical representations of the land. We can think about Flusser's apprehensions of the 'program of the camera', and we can also think about the all-conquering, heroic, privileged male gaze (see Fig.2) that Deborah Bright gave a beating to in Of Mother Nature and Malboro Men (1985): “The image of the lone, male photographer-hero, like his prototypes, the explorer and hunter, venturing forth into the wilds to capture the virgin beauty of Nature, is an enduring one.” (Bright, 1985) and Fay Godwin's 'wariness of the picturesque' (Godwin, 1986) and disdain for the 'nothingness of postcard photography', where ideologies and representations of the land are questionable.

Fig.2: Ansel Adams, 1938. Cathedral Peak and Lake, Yosemite National Park.

Secondly, the minority view - 'straight photography' where photographs are not constructed, they are taken objectively without any pre-existing ideas of representation - the photographer attempts to remove all traces of themselves. Essentially, the opposite of 'La nature du spectacle', it is photographing as is, so to speak, or around something, in approximation, as opposed to speaking for it. These photographs are free from the symptoms of Flusser's 'programs'; in 'straight' photography, nature projects itself onto the lens. 'Nature photographing itself' aligns with Flusser's call to 'play against the camera'. Let something photograph itself without a predetermined representation outcome. However, Flusser also says to focus on information: 'one can show contempt for the camera by turning away from it as a thing and focusing instead, on information' (Flusser,2000), information is still unreliable because of the flaws in its human author, but regardless, the 'information' in my images is its 'eventlessness' and 'nothingness' in present time. More about my work and Flusser's programs here.

Referencing 'romantische naturphilosophie' Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854), Mulder also refers to straight photography as 'perhaps, Divine' photography. Schelling, without ever quantifying what divine means, stated: ‘The first thing you need to understand about reality is that it is divine’. Nature is an experience, it is not measurable. Mulder asserts that: 'the divine is an experience rather than a concept, a revelation rather than an intellectual construct'. Parallels can be drawn through the defining experience-based qualities of the 'divine' and Bergson's experience-based notion of time - 'Duration', which heavily informs my work. Both the 'Divine' and 'Duration' are based on immeasurable spatial-temporal dimensions of experience, which because of perception, only ever lives in the present.

Awoiska van der Molen. 2014. #351-7 from Sequester.

Mulder is of course writing in the context of Awoiska van der Molen's work (his essay is in van der Molen's Blanco, 2017), and poetically explains her strategies for reaching objectivity in her 'perhaps, Divine' photographs of nature: 'Spending fourteen whole days and nights, or longer, on your own in a rocky valley under the open skies, in wild, barely organised nature...Walking, seeing, sleeping, not talking for weeks. Tearing yourself apart, picking off the crust of humanity obstructing your gaze, coming to terms with your insignificance yet sharpening your senses. Ready to receive, as you wander around, lost in the landscape, gradually and reluctantly breaking down your internal barriers all the while.' By spending enough time in nature, only when the photographer has effaced oneself 'so completely as to become part of what is happening', one can start to see the divinity of nature as it is, without influence.

Attempting 'Straight' nature photography is photographing objectively through subjectivity. I am photographing what simply 'is', and devoid of event. The objectivity of nature as is and in the context of 'present' time, solidifies the universal recognisability of the image.

REFERENCES:
Bergson, Henri. 1896. Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer. New York: Zone Books, 1991.

Bright, Deborah. 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men. In Exposure 23:4 Winter 1985 pp 5–18. Medium [online] Available at: https://medium.com/exposure-magazine/re-exposure-of-mother-nature-and-marlboro-men-201dc897fc6c [accessed on 21.02.21]

Flusser, Vilém. 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Translated by A. Mathews. London: Reaktion Books

Godwin, Fay. 1986. The South Bank Show. Online Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJR_UJnry8s [accessed: 22.08.21]

Mulder, Arjen. 2017. Larger Than Light. Published in ‘Blanco’ by Awoiska van der Molen. Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_mulder_nl_eng.pdf [accessed: 22.08.21]

22/08/2021

HOW TIME BECOMES TANGIBLE IN THE EXPERIENCE OF ‘PRESENT NOTHINGNESS’

In my post relating to Ernst Van Alphen's essay Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen (2014), it became apparent that my images are related to Henri Bergson's notions of 'Duration' - time as 'experience', not as a historical or chronological concept defined by events. 'Eventless Photos' and 'Duration' dictate we are only always ever in 'present' time. Van Alphen's continues his essay by thinking about how Duration, or 'an experience of present time' or 'an experience of present nothingness' as I am thinking of it, can become tangible in certain photographic conditions.

Awoiska van der Molen, #245-18, silver gelatin print

Van Alphen asserts that because of Roland Barthes famous assertion that photography 'fixes time' (Barthes,1980), we commonly think about photographs as something from the past being viewed in the present - 'fixed' within a sequential chronology of time. This implies that time is linear and can be measured. In this temporal dimension, our sensibilities are made aware of time passing as it moves from the present into the past and then back again into the present. Barthes reflects on an old portrait of two young girls, he comments on the ‘catastrophe’ and 'defeat of time' inherent to all photographs (in Barthes world, photography predicts death), yet he paradoxically remarks on the same page 'how alive!' the two girls look in the photograph (Barthes,1984:96).

Barthes is intrigued that a photograph 'defers time', in that it shows something 'dead' and 'alive' co-existing in the present moment, but not as a sequential narrative. A different temporal dimension, or experience, is alluded to in which different temporal dimensions exist next to each other, as opposed to as a sequential narrative. Val Alphen points to Henri Bergson's concept of durée, or 'duration': 'in which different temporal dimensions exist next to each other...Duration concerns an experience of time instead of a conceptualization of time as chronology. This experience does not allow temporal distinctions or divisions; in this experience, time cannot be measured objectively.'

'Duration' is subjective because it is experience-based, it is qualitative. Experience is based on 'perception' (representation) and memory, and memory and perception are based on 'selection'. Following Bergson thought, Van Alphen asserts: 'perception is not a construction but a selection the subject makes on the basis of his/her own interests... For a long time representation was considered in terms of mimesis, understood as imitation, or in terms of its opposite: construction. But if perception, and in consequence, also representation is selection, the emphasis shifts from the object to the subject of perception' (Van Alphen, 2014).

Although perception takes place in the present, it is informed by memory, and as such, the past and the present merge and co-exist in one present subjective intuition, not as a sequential narrative: 'In concrete perception memory intervenes, and the subjectivity of sensible qualities is due precisely to the fact that our consciousness, which begins by being only memory, prolongs a plurality of moments into each other, contracting them into a single intuition'. (Bergson, 1991:60). Van Alphen reminds us that in Bergsonian thought, time is indivisible and constantly subject to change so this co-existence of past memory and present perception does not consist of specific moments - 'it concerns different temporal dimensions such as present and past, which can only be experienced at the same time, in relation to each other.' (Van Alphen, 2014).

Van Alphen argues that Awoiska Van Der Molen's photographs are the embodiment of Bergson's durée: 'The landscapes of Van der Molen are in no way to be understood as representations of time, as the exact time of their being taken seems to have been cancelled. The landscapes open themselves up for the experience of time because while looking at them there is only a present that never stops: we remain in that present.' (Van Alphen, 2014). In the present and only the present, there is nothing else. Duration is qualitative and in this way makes time tangible. Eventless photographs in the context of duration become tangible because they force us to remain in the experience of present time. Present time is experiential, and experience is a co-existence of memory and perception. Perception, according to Bergson, is 'an act performed by the body and for the body'. The body is a 'true body-subject with its own desires' (Mullarkey, 1993:119). Bergson wrote explicitly of an 'intelligence of the body' and a 'logic of the body' (Bergson, 1896:137) and moreover, what he calls 'bodily memory' (ibid. p197). This act of perception is lived only in the present time.

REFERENCES:
Barthes, Roland. 1984. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard. London: Fontana.
Batchen, Geoffrey. 2010. “Life and Death”, in Suspending Time: Life-Photography-Death. Shizuoka: Izu Photo Museum.
Bergson, Henri. 1896. Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer. New York: Zone Books, 1991.
Mullarkey, John. 1993. Bergson and Perspectivism. The University of Warwick.
Van Alphen, Ernst. 2014. Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen. Published in ‘De Witte Raaf’, Belgium. March 2014. Awoiska Van Der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_alphen_nu.pdf [Accessed on: 26.08.21]

21/08/2021

GOING AGAINST FLUSSER’S ‘PROGRAMS’

It could be argued that contemporary artists using analogue photography are reacting in principle to the slew of mass-consumed digital images. It may well be, but not only does the slow and contemplative processes of using film cameras and darkrooms go against the digital tide, by not adhering to it, it also sets it apart from uncontemplated and disrespected social digital photos and announces itself as a photograph. Furthermore, it could be seen as a timely reminder of how we actually read photographs. Vilém Flusser asserted that photographs are 'symptoms of the world' and consequently, through what he terms as 'the program of the camera', the audience reads the 'photographed world' as opposed to 'the photographed image' (Flusser, 2000).

Flusser believes all photography is conceptual because photography is defined by concepts. He argued 'the program of the camera’ as if by magic, hides and 'discourages' awareness of the concepts - 'one can smuggle human intentions into its program'. Flusser's point is that Photographs are not transparent because they are entirely symbolic, therefore photographs are not a real translation of the world. The concepts, or as Flussers call 'categories', need detangling in order to read a photograph correctly. Photography should be more objective and attempt the strategy of 'playing against the camera' as a photographic device to 'one can outwit the camera‘s rigidity'. Let something photograph itself without a predetermined outcome informed by human cultural representation intellect: 'one can show contempt for the camera by turning away from it as a thing and focusing instead, on information' (Flusser,2000).

In ‘Death of the Author’, Roland Barthes wrote: “It is necessary to overthrow the myth, the birth of the Reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” (Barthes 1977:146). Barthes talks about ‘anti-theological activity’ – an act that moves us away from some form of truth and towards something more like endless different voices and interpretations. By photographing objectively and being transparent with an audience, photographs be more honestly interpreted.

It is hard to imagine Nathan Jurgenson isn't reacting to Barthes and Flusser in The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media when he states that 'The centre of conceptual gravity for describing how people communicate with images today should be less art historical and more social theoretical’ (Jurgenson, 2019:9). It is difficult not to think about the proliferation of social media when reflecting on these concepts. Jurgenson refers to 'social photos' as an 'essence' or 'gesture' based language within the proliferation of social media, but moreover, he argues that as social photos become quicker and easier to make and consume, the value of each image is lessened with such proliferation – ‘in their scarcity, photographs can age like wine, in their abundance they can spoil, curdle and rot’ (Jurgenson 2019:50). Jurgensen argues the proliferation of 'social photos' lessens the importance of what he refers to as 'exceptional' photos (non-socially intended photos) and the distinction between the two is vital: “In an age of digital abundance, photography desperately needs this introduction of intentional and assured mortality, so that some photos can become immortal again” (Jurgenson, 2019:52).

In photographing nature objectively or 'straight', as opposed to photographing 'La nature du spectacle' (I will elaborate on this in a separate post), and through photographing 'eventless' photographs (see my post here) in slow and contemplative processes, I believe my approaches and strategies resist Flusser's programs of the camera.

REFERENCES:
Barthes, Roland. 1977. Image, Music, Text. Harper Collins
Flusser, Vilém. 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Translated by A. Mathews. London: Reaktion Books
Jurgenson, Nathan (2019) The Social Photo: On Photography and other Social Media. Verso

20/08/2021

TEMPORAL DIMENSIONS: VISUALISING ‘PRESENT TIME’, AS A SIGNIFYER OF IMPERMANENCE, THROUGH ‘DURATION’ & ‘EVENTLESS’ PHOTOGRAPHS

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance 1980-1981. Performance, New York.

Ernst Van Alphen's essay titled Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen (2014) provides answers to questions I have about ways of visualising 'time'. I am specifically trying to visualise 'present' time. Van Alphen starts his essay discussing photography's problematic relationship with capturing spatial and temporal dynamics:'the temporal dimension of photography is minimal – the proverbial flash ... The moving images of film do exactly what photography is unable to do: to fixate the continuity of time.' However, Van Alphen suggests we end up in a different temporal dimension when looking at van der Molen's images - one of 'duration' as opposed to a chronological flash of 'eventhood'. He quotes Adrian Heartfield's distinction between 'extended duration' and 'eventhood' to explain photography is predominately used to fixate a 'temporality of events' or 'unique moments' from which its history is readable from that one given moment: "Extended duration lacks the distinction that separates the event from the mundane, the everyday: the bracketing off and casting out of experience into the domain of the “uneventful” through which the event, as heightened experience, must necessarily be constituted.' (Heartfield, 2009:22). So, 'eventless' photographs in the context of 'duration' signify 'present time'.

Van Alphen subscribes to Henri Bergson's concept of durée (duration) - an experience of time as opposed to a way of conceptualising it. Heartfield explains durée as: 'Duration deals in the confusion of temporal distinctions – between past, present and future – drawing the spectator into the thick braids of paradoxical times. […] One might say, then, that duration nearly always involves the collapse of objective measure. Whether it is short or long in ‘clock time’, its passage will be marked by a sense of the warping of time, an opening of regularity to other phenomena or inchoate orders. Duration will often be accompanied by the spatial sense of expansion, suspension or collapse or by reverential, chaotic or cosmic phenomena, as notions of temporal distinctions are undone. Time arises in the experience of duration, in its indivisibility and its incapacity to become an object of thought, analysis or representation.' (Heartfield, 2009:22). Durée is not concerned with what time is, rather the way it is experienced - Duration is a 'phenomenology of time'.

Wabi-Sabi metaphysics remind us all things are only ever and always emanating from, or in decline towards, 'nothingness'. We are only ever in an immeasurable spatial-temporal dynamic of the 'present'. Eventless images can be seen as an 'undoing' of time - they talk about what simply is, and what is being in their relation to time, as opposed to specific, unique, historical moments. Similar to Awoiska van der Molen's work, my images have no visual context and they are devoid of event. The lack of context and event dictates they have no affinity with the chronologically measured temporality of unique moments. They are only ever in the 'present'. I am visualising Impermanence by thinking of it in terms of 'nothingness in the 'present time'.

'None can deny that present time lacks any extension because it passes in a flash. Yet attention is continuous, and it is through this that what will be present progresses towards being absent. So the future, which does not exist, is not a long period of time. A long future is a long expectation of the future. And the past, which has no existence, is not a long period of time. A long past is a long memory of the past.' (Augustinus in Van Alphen, 2014).

REFERENCES:
Bergson, Henri. 1896. Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer. New York: Zone Books, 1991.

Heartfield, Adrian. 2009. “Thought of Duration”, in Heathfield (ed.), Out of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Tehching Hsieh. [online] Available at: https://www.tehchinghsieh.com/doing-time

Van Alphen, Ernst. 2014. Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen. Published in ‘De Witte Raaf’, Belgium. March 2014. Awoiska Van Der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_alphen_nu.pdf [Accessed: 26.08.21]

Van Der Molen, Awoiska. [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl

16/08/2021

ANCESTRAL AND PRIMAL UNIVERSAL SOURCES OF EMOTIONAL APPEAL

The subject of Mortensen’s arresting bromoil pictorials were usually biblical, mythical, of legend and folklore. Aside from famously being labelled ‘the antichrist’ by the purists of the time such as Ansell Adams (“To us, Mortensen was the antichrist”), Mortensen also wrote theoretical and practical books on photographic technique, most notably the posthumously published ‘The Command To Look – A Masters Photographer Methods For Controlling the Human Gaze’ (2014). Mortensen developed a technique for commanding an audience to look at his photographs, born out of curiosity as to why he was not gaining more work and print sales at the time.

Fig.1: William Mortensen. circa 1937. Peter Lorre as Napoleon

Mortensen developed strategies to theories about what made pictorial photos successful in obtaining, holding and staying with the viewer by generating what he called ‘Ancestral and Primal Universal Sources of Emotional Appeal‘. Recognising three category sources of pictorial interest: Sex, Sentiment and Wonder, Mortensen understood that Fear is the strongest arousal in humans, not sex, and he devised what he termed the ‘Four Picture Patterns‘ (‘The Diagonal’, ‘The S-Curve’, ‘Triangles ‘and ‘Dominant Mass’), as seen in fig.2, which invoke the 'Fear Response', which is central to creating the 'Ancestral and Primal Universal Sources of Emotional Appeal'. I learnt about this many years ago, I am not saying I adhere to the concepts in all my work, and the themes could easily be added to considering they were devised over a century ago - I would argue small solitary desolate figures in large open expanses is a theme of more contemporary photography which evokes fear via solitude. The pictures patterns are what humans instinctively (ancestrally) react to in which commands them the take notice of the image, this is what Mortenson called 'impact'.

Fig.2: My notes on William Mortensen’s methods, theories and approaches to making ‘impact’ pictorial images.

THREE SOURCES OF PICTORIAL INTEREST:

1. SEX: Sex is the most primitive and direct of the three categories. The nude is most commonly associated with the theme of sex, in art. However, the fact of nudity is secondary – A picture might be sexual but contain no nudity, and also might contain nudity but with sex not being the primary interest – Sentiment and Wonder taking the primary role. - “A picture may be sexual in its import without including the nude. On the other hand, sex is not always the primary interest when the nude is used… It is probably no longer necessary (port-war) to explain and justify the use of sex motive in art. Psychologists have recognised sex as a great energising influence in life. As such, it is bound to play a large part in all forms of art “. (Mortensen, 2014:55)

2. SENTIMENT: Sentiment is concerned with the ‘soft’ and ‘tender’ things in life. Humble and lofty emotions, that which is familiar, that which is touched by grandeur. Ordinary objects are made interesting by the personal touch, for example – laughter and tears. That which is romantic can be read by the audience by certain lighting, shadows, shapes and texture. Most importantly, the concept of nature and what is natural evokes sentiment. Mortensen devised a list of sentimental ‘things’ which are always readily recognisable and appreciated by the audience:

  • Hardships of humble life
  • Children
  • National pride
  • Animals
  • Landscape
  • Domestic life
  • Soft aspects of sex
  • Glamour of the past.

3. WONDER (UNKNOWN, UNCERTAIN, MYSTERIOUS): Despite modern understanding, we still have many mysteries remaining to us today. We are still conscious of the nightly shadows, unknown forces, creatures of the twilight… and more than anything, the mystery of what happens to us after death. “The wonder theme appears in many mutations…It is ingenuous and childlike in the form of fairy stories. It may turn morbid in the mal-forms of life….It may draw near to the fringes of fear in the supernatural, witchcraft and demonology. And the final manifestation of the wonder theme is that silent Mystery of Mysteries, Death, before which we all pause appalled and fascinated”. (Mortensen, 2014:57)

GENERATING ‘IMPACT’ VIA ‘THE FEAR RESPONSE’

To create what Mortensen’s manifesto refers to as ‘Impact‘, an image must make you look at it. We, as humans, give our primary attention to sense impressions that represent things that we once, far back in history, feared. The image must strike universal fear into the audience. “The picture that claims attention the most immediately and completely is the one that in its first visual impression, relates itself to ancestral fear”. (Mortensen, 2014:46). William Mortensen identified four types of stimulus which call forth what he refers to as the Fear Response’:

  • Something that moves swiftly across our field of vision – we may not know what it is but we know it moves and with swiftness and determination.
  • Something that approaches in a slithering furtive manner.
  • Something threatening with sharpness – be that with tooth or blade.
  • A huge stationary object that blocks our path – man, beast or inanimate object – it is solid/compact and formidable, and awaits us.
Fig.3: Nic Shonfeld. 2021. Untitled from Interminable Chain work in progress. The image adheres to the themes of 'dominant mass' and secondly 'triangles'.

THE 4 PICTURE PATTERNS

The four basic fears mentioned above express themselves in four basic picture patterns…

DOMINANT MASS: Dominant mass is the most frequent of all the picture patterns which invoke the Fear Response. It is the obstacle of our path/movement – the ‘huge stationary object that blocks our path – man, beast or inanimate object – it is solid/compact and formidable, and awaits us‘. The Dominant Mass must dominate, and this can be contributed to by:

  • UNITY – Several individuals gain strength by being linked together
  • COHESION – The mass is more dominant if it is compact – like a clenched fist as opposed to an open hand.
  • ISOLATION – Mass gains strength if it is separated from surroundings or background.
  • CONTRAST – Light against dark and vice-versa.
  • SIZE – The mass is more threatening if it is larger.
  • STABILITY – The mass is more formidable if it is planted or immovable – for example, Pyramid forms.

THE S-CURVE: The S-Curve is what we also know as ‘Contrapposto’, as discussed in the last post about Renike Djikstra’s Beach Portraits. The S-Curve is ‘The Line of Beauty’ as coined by William Hogarth in his ‘The Analysis of Beauty‘ (1753) – which was actually the real basis of William Mortensen’s fascination. The S-Curve is secret and furtive. It is snakelike and approaches in a slithering manner. There is an ancestral fear hidden danger in the enemy of a serpent.

TRIANGLES: Triangles carry the threat of sharpness – be that with tooth or blade, and they are solid, planted and pyramid-like, and by being so are formidable in their solidity.

Nic Shonfeld. 2021. Untitled from Interminable Chain work in progress. The image demonstrates the 'diagonal' theme.

THE DIAGONAL: The diagonal is a symbol of swift and menacing movement. A primitive source of terror being ‘lightning’. A diagonal form is something that moves swiftly across our field of vision – we may not know what it is but we know it moves and with swiftness and determination.

REFERENCES:
Mortensen, William and Dunham, George. 2014. ‘The Command To Look – A Masters Photographer Methods For Controlling the Human Gaze’. Feral House; Reprint edition.

08/08/2021

DOING AWAY WITH ‘PORTRAITS’ OF MONOLITHS AND MONUMENTS TO FOCUS ON HERMITAGE CELLS AS THE SINGULAR, ANONYMOUS AND VAGUE ALLUSION TO HUMAN PRESENCE

In my last couple of posts, I shared a sense of discontent with photographing monoliths and monuments in their entirety and resolved to not pursue that path and focus on the surfaces and patinas. I can't separate the instinctive feeling I had like I was photographing a person (whilst photographing those, inanimate, objects). It was quite a strange experience. Regardless of the interior personifications that I had going on, more to the point, photographing these objects in full is too specific - it becomes about them as specific, identified, selected objects as opposed to the visual 'time' embedded in their timeworn and weathered surfaces. It would be natural for any audience to quite rightly ask 'why that particular monolith or monument over any other?', the answer is that other than the hermitage cells, there is no particular reason other than their ancient surfaces.

The 'particularities' of each patina determine each surface unique and distinguishable, like fingerprints or the wrinkles of an old person. The unique particulars of each surface speak philosophically about how each personal journey's through time is absolutely unique and individual.

I consider my work to speak first about time and impermanence in universally understood and recognisable capacities, which is why I do not want a direct reference to any specific historical person or event in time as this will neutralise its universality. To maintain universality, things must be anonymous, and vague. However, I do want to subtly offset a human presence with the collection of patinas and other elemental images I have been making. I have decided that the hermitage cells will be to singular hint towards this because in themselves, they epitomise the core aspects of my work as solitary places of spiritual reflection embedded in nature.

2021 © Nic Shonfeld