“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.” (Ortega y Gasset 1962:94).
I have come to realise, through this period of reflection, that the search in my photography and in my personal journey on The Road to Elgol is not about the literal representation of the world but to reveal its reality and the essence of my experience of that reality. To a certain extent, I realised this in Positions and Positions and Practice, our first module, and explained my intent as follows:
“I appreciate that my photography does not fit a neat genre – the way I choose to describe it is ‘phenomenological photography’, where what matters is not the object of my experience but my experience of the object.” (Price 2018:2).
My Work in Progress Portfolios in these early modules reflected this desire to somehow get to the essence of what the Isle of Skye meant to me and how and why it had such a life-changing effect on me as a person. I did not want to reflect the colour-saturated images in the tourist vernacular, but instead tried to reflect the dark, moody and mysterious island that I experienced, through black and white imagery with an almost Film Noir aesthetic.
The phenomenological approach – whilst challenging and helpful in these early days – started to feel like an uncomfortable philosophical constraint. Like well-worn shoes it appeared to fit, except there was grit in the sole! That grit was the reality of Skye that transcends personal experience and insists on being noticed. Looking through the lens of my experience I could see the sea, lochs, mountains and moors. These are its sensible properties but, there are other properties that transcend individual experience: the ‘otherness’ of its geography, the vulnerability of its ecology and its ephemeral hiddenness. There are others too – it is an enigmatic place where mystery and normality lie cheek and jowl within its history and culture.
These are its real properties and it is this essence of otherness, vulnerability, ephemerality and enigma which mirror my own understanding of myself and the consequences of my early career as a police photographer. Reflecting upon the real essence of Skye as something I felt, rather than consciously experience, I sought to contextualise that within my practice. Reading Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude and particularly Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology, I began to appreciate the role metaphor and reduction can play in the aesthetic appreciation of the image.
Ortega put it like this:
“The metaphor is perhaps the most fruitful power of man. Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him.” (Ortega y Gasset 1925:33).
Graham Harman, after reflecting on Ortega’s insight for many years, came to recognise the importance of metaphor, and its power to reveal the noumena, or the hidden reality within the subject. However, I also began to appreciate that there is another route to what Harman refers to as the ‘real object’ and that is through visual reduction and the power of Gestalt.
The conventional strategies of simplification and abstraction are necessary aspects of photography, but my reductive strategy works by the progressive withdrawal, but not the removal, of visual elements. It is not simplification but attenuation, leaving a trace of that which is withdrawn, and exposing that which reveals the essence I am seeking.
In Sustaining Prospects, I developed my photography by focusing on micro-elements in the landscape – reeds. In Informing Contexts, I have extended the exploration of my subject matter to mountain ridges, seascapes and trees. I have experimented with different techniques such as working in low light and with artificial light sources as part of my reductive strategy.
For example, by choosing to take this image at night I was able to attenuate the surrounding landscape and distracting elements focusing only on the tree. By painting its trunk and canopy with a torch, I was able to reveal the fluidity of its fine and delicate structure – the essence of being a tree in this hostile environment. It is fragile and vulnerable, but also resilient and resistant. This is the essence of the tree that in turn reflects my feelings of vulnerability and adversity in my life.
In this image, the natural formation of the clouds reveal aspects of the mountain ridge I was keen for the viewer to see and to convey my sense of my sense of mystery and foreboding I experience when close to the Black Cuillin.
I use a different technique in this image to reveal my experience of the Island. By shooting through a window on a stormy day I sought to reveal the true essence of living on Skye. An essence that is not represented by the super-saturated images in the tourist vernacular, but more by those that provide a sense of the constant battle with a turbulent and ever-changing climate.
In Daniel Gustav Cramer’s words photography is about the act of revealing and concealing:
“For every revelation there is an equal and opposite concealment, down to the elemental questions of whether we are looking at earth or water.” (Cramer in Parisi 2010:56).
Cramer’s photography is about creating a sense of mystery as to where we are, what we are looking at and what lies beyond.
So, as I enter the final week of Informing Contexts, I feel the fog lifting and a sense of clarity about the context of my photographic practice, the philosophical and theoretical underpinning and those that inspire and influence me. I have a clear sense of intent and direction for my Final Major Project and a better understanding of my audience and market.
HARMAN, Graham. 2018. Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. London: Penguin.
MEILLASSOUX, Quentin. 2008. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. London: Bloomsbury.
ORTEGA Y GASSET, Jose. 1925. The Dehumanization of Art and Ideas about the Novel. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
ORTEGA Y GASSET. Jose. 1962. Man and Crisis, London: Allen & Unwin.
PARISI, Chiara. 2010. Interview with Daniel Cramer in Klat Magazine (No.4, October 2010) [WWW] https://goo.gl/swXJJd