Inevitably, in putting together my Contextual Review of Practice there were concepts and theories I would have liked to develop but simply did not have the number of words to include them. This was the case in terms of Sean O’Hagan’s article about Awioska van der Molen that in turn referenced Gerry Badger’s depiction of the quiet photograph and the quiet photographer.

Badger finds it difficult to pin down the characteristics of a quiet photograph, but sees it as about style and voice, something I have been grappling with throughout the course. How can I be authentic in what I do and how can that authenticity be captured in my images in a clear and recognisable way – an authorial consistency? Badger suggests that:

“It is safe to say that the style each individual eventually settles upon, their creative calling card, is a complex melange of conscious and unconscious elements, carefully considered or completely intuitive, imported from the “outside” or dredged up from “within.” (Badger 2010:211).

What Badger is clear about is the image and the voice shining through a quiet photograph is a modest one and one that for me is the exact opposite to many of the examples of post-modern photography. The work of a quiet photographer is also presented in an understated way. And here is the fascinating quote from Thomas Weski, the German curator, that Badger refers to articulating the characteristics of this type of photographer:

“Photographers who work in this way do not compose their pictures in the way that artists do; they do not assemble them from various parts, they do not achieve results that are autonomous. Instead, they shape them subtractively and use photographic method to select, on the basis of their own themes, only a part, a detail from what is present – from the world, to which they are linked by use of the medium of photography and the obligatory attachment to the referent that it technically requires . . . Because photographs that are produced in this way have an effect of simplicity, aesthetics for a long period regarded them as being mere documents, and they were not recognised as independent forms of original artistic expression.” (Weski in Badger, 2010:210).

A photographer that might be considered a quiet photographer, and one that I have written about in previous entries in this Critical Research Journal is Hiroshi Sugimoto. In his seascapes he re-photographs the same scene over and over using his customary horizon in the middle of the image. The compositions are simple and reflect the ever-changing light in the same location. However, his voice is far from “quiet” as his images are so obviously Sugimoto.

But, I am pursuing a path of the quiet photograph and the quiet photographer. My work is deeply personal and autobiographical in nature. It comes from within – it is about my experience of The Road to Elgol. I am not flamboyant and am deeply introverted by nature. I like to be alone with my camera. By putting it up to my face I protect myself and hide myself from my referent, the world I wish to reveal.   But, where does this leave me? Badgers says:

“What of the photographer who will not shout by drawing attention to style in anyway? I think it is high time that we celebrate them, for they have chosen – and it is a matter of deliberate choice, guided by sensibility and temperament – to take a potentially hard road. The quiet photograph, by definition, does not court popularity and easy plaudits.” (Badger, 2010:214).

The more I read about the quiet photograph and the quiet photographer the more it becomes clear where my work sits in the world. But, then, the most surprising thing of all, Badger refers to Szarkowki’s dichotomy of windows and mirrors – something I referred to as being significant in my own thinking about my photography. In my Critical Review of Practice I wrote:

“I recognise the importance of Szarkowski’s dichotomy but challenge the ideas that the photograph is a mirror OR a window. The crux of the matter is the difference between ‘and’ and ‘or’. Szarkowski emphasises the ‘or’ but reflecting on both Ortega and Patterson the photographic image is inevitably both (Price 2019:4).

I know I have quoted Badger a lot in this post but he says what I feel about my photography in a much more articulate way than I could! So finally the quotation from him that sums up me and my work:

“One might add also that it is not a question of differentiating between a ‘mirror’ and a ‘window’ upon the world – the successful photograph by the serious quiet photographer is most likely to be a complicated amalgam of mirror and window, an ineffable struggle between subjectivity and objectivity. Like anyone else wrestling with this tricky medium, the quiet photographer is totally assured of the fact that a ‘simple’, ‘straightforward’ act of recording is anything but. The quiet photographer, however will not draw undue attention to that process, nor, for that matter, to the process of apprehending the resultant image by the viewer. The goal of the quiet photographer is an elusive one, the illusion of transparency, but not a dumb or mute transparency. Quiet photographs do not lack voice, but that voice is calm, measured, appropriate, reasonable – even when at the service of strongly held political opinion.” (Badger 2010:216).

So what are the challenges of being a quiet photographer?  People don’t always understand what it is you are trying to convey in your photography.  This module has allowed me to work this through in my Critical Review of Practice and be clear about who I am and what photography means to me.  I am comfortable about writing about some of these things but not necessarily about articulating them verbally.  I guess as Badger suggests quiet photographs may not have the wow factor or the commercial value of those with a more flamboyant style.  This is something I need to reflect upon further as I develop my voice further in the context of the quiet photographer.

References

 BADGER, Gerry. 2010. The Pleasures of Good Photographs. New York: Aperture.

O’HAGAN, Sean. 2014. Bewitched by Blackness: Photographing the desolate beauty of the Canaries. The Guardian, 26 September.

PATTERSON, Freeman. 1977. Photography for the Joy of It. Toronto: Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd.

PRICE, Alison. 2019. Critical Review of Practice. MA Photography, Falmouth University.

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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