Given where I am with my Work in Progress Portfolio and the focus on putting images and words together I was immediately drawn to a chapter on the Picture Essay. I was not disappointed and have identified a number of takeaways to put into practice immediately and some to remember when I commence my next body of work.
At the start of the chapter we are reminded that photographers should not put pictures in boxes. If we take out our camera then this implies intent to take images and record what we see and that in turn dictates these should be shared.
The first question in putting together a picture essay, and before we take our first shot, is What is the Purpose?
In terms of our Research Project we did submit our Research Proposal as part of Positions and Practice and my purpose was to convey my experience of The Road to Elgol. But there is also a personal and autobiographic element to my work as I try to lay to rest some ghosts and daemons of my early photographic career – the universality in this project is learning to manage dark and bad memories through engaging with the landscape.
Up until this point my images have been rather romantic, sublime and in the case of my first portfolio – very dark. In Surfaces and Strategies I followed a similar approach drawing upon influences from Film Noir and the monochrome imagery of Bill Brandt and Fay Godwin. I presented my work in diptychs to demonstrate the juxtaposition between the sublime and tranquil landscape and one overwhelmed by tourism. For Sustainable Prospects I have chosen to focus on and in the landscape more deeply, by slowing down my methodology and practice by carefully writing a journal, and recording my thoughts, feelings and emotions as I work in the landscape.
I have a Photography Sketchbook where I record my words and stick other images that inspire me and record ideas for viewpoints, good times of day, thoughts for next shoot. I carry it everywhere. In terms of the subject I have also focused down on the reeds and grasses in Loch Cill Chriosd.
Hurn cautions that too many photographic projects can go on too long and the authors do not clarify why they are doing it, what interests them and where and how it will be used. For me, I have engaged in projects before, for example, in preparing to submit my work for an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society I clearly determined my intent and approach before taking the images and completed the work in the context of producing images for a charity in South Africa. However, I have not focused to the intensity I am now and for the extended period of time of this piece of work. From early in the course I have always considered that my work will be presented through an Exhibition on the Isle of Skye and I will produce an accompanying book. What I have found helpful in this module has been starting to think about how I might take a long-term hobby and turn it into a fulfilling business opportunity. Whatever I decide to do, I think being clear about reasons for undertaking the work, being passionate about the subject matter and who might be interested in the work will give me a sense of purpose moving forward.
David Hurn suggests in producing a Picture Essay that we need to be clear about the number of pictures we need and what the picture headings might be – such as an overall/establishment picture, a medium distance/relationship picture and a close up picture. As far as my work on the Road to Elgol is concerned I have a structure to this in terms of producing a Work in Progress Portfolio at the end of each module. However, this will change as I work full-time on my Final Major Project and have to start clarifying, confirming or even changing my views on how, where, and through what means I will present my work. In terms of takeaway points here for my current Work in Progress portfolio, and making final decisions about my presentation, I have already thought about different words and themes that express my emotions as I spend time observing the reeds and how these might be used to present my work to the viewer in a meaningful way. Hurn’s suggestion that we avoid visual boredom is important for me and changing the rhythm of the photographs in terms of the order the audience view them is helpful advice.
Hurn advises that your first visit to a location or event that is going to form the subject and location for your work should be done without a camera in hand. You should soak up the atmosphere, spend time in the location and start to put together a shooting list. Again, shooting lists are part of my current methodology all stored, created and revised in my Photographers Sketchbook. I systematically tick off the shots I have completed, although it has to be said that I do not currently have the discipline to always stop taking images that might fit a certain category of shot.
In terms of selecting images Hurn proposes that the images that make you say: “That’s what I remember the place to be like” are the best.
And finally, he suggests that you should always use this focused approach with your photographic practice. When you have completed the work you publish it and move onto the next project. Great advice and a great book.
Hurn, D and Jay, B (1997), On Being a Photographer – A Practical Guide, LensWork Publishing, Anacortes, WA