My Research Project proposal for The Road to Elgol (submitted in May) explained my intentions to produce monochrome images:
“In my early encounters with the Road I experimented with colour but soon realised that it was a barrier to my expression, not because of any appeal to Ockham, but because I could see no colour there. Colour, I found, was detracting from the essential reflection of my experience . . . I have resolved that decision making on the presentation of the final images for this project should be mine and mine alone. I do not want to go down the ‘Leica Black and White’ route where a software engineer, unknown to me, makes the processing choices. Nor do I want to revert to film. It was the advent of digital technology that allowed me to overcome the associations with the camera from my early career. With that, I believe I can recount my experience of the Road to Elgol without artifice and with an authentic voice.
In this Research Project I will develop my photographic practice through a personal journey that involves death, darkness, hope and the emergence into light. It will reflect the silence that is always present at the scene of violent crime – the traces of humanity, intensely vulnerable and rendered insignificant by the events and forces around them. 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.”
Throughout this module and in a conversation with my Course Tutor today I have been encouraged to experiment with “de-saturated” image making – first by bringing out certain colour channels and then de-saturating the whole image. These are examples of both approaches:
Part of the reason for this direction has come from what many call an iconic image on The Road to Elgol:
The first image is not a de-saturated image but simply a reflection of the muted colours of the late winter/early spring season on the Road. It is one of my favourite images too but I am not convinced that one iconic image, that looks equally good in monochrome and in portrait format, will make a successful long-term project. There is also a question mark for me as to whether this one image is necessarily representative of my work as a whole.
I am not against this sort of experimentation and indeed intend to return to it particularly in the autumn and winter seasons on Skye when the landscape is naturally de-saturated and will appear more authentic, but I feel this approach is less appropriate in presenting a set of images taken in the summer. Whilst I appreciate that this can be done in summer to create a subtle colour tone I do not feel that the images I have chosen for my Work in Progress Portfolio can all individually carry the de-saturated approach nor can they in a portfolio as a whole. My over-riding objection is that they, to me, would not be authentic or representative of my experience of the Road in summer.
From a commercial perspective, many professional photographers have chosen to make Skye their home. It is standing room only at every known viewpoint, where landscape photographers, either alone or leading a group of people, all produce super-saturated landscape images for tourists to take home marketed at around £60 per print. I do not intend to engage in that type of photography nor find my niche in a low price/high volume market. The images produced by these photographers are virtually indistinguishable from each other and provide no novel interpretation of the Island and what it means.
My choice of monochrome has been justified on many occasions on this blog but, for me, monochrome provides a means by which I can de-construct contemporary landscape practice focusing on the issues the Island presents. Many before me and currently are taking monochrome landscape images including Ansel Adams, Sebastiao Salgado, Bill Brandt, Fay Godwin and Don McCullin for example. All of these photographers have strong messages or experiences to convey and have chosen to do so primarily in black and white imagery.
I would reiterate the point that I do not consider myself to be a landscape photographer and I am not engaged in an exercise in landscape photography. My experience of the Island and the Road to Elgol in particular (with my life experiences and understanding) contribute to an autobiographical study of what the Road means to me at a personal and experiential level.
In summary, for me, my Positions and Practice Work in Progress Portfolio conveyed the dark aesthetic of the landscape whereas my Surfaces and Strategies Work in Progress Portfolio is intended to convey my experience of the Road through a dark aesthetic of the uncontrollable consumption of a natural resource. I do not normally travel to the Isle of Skye in the summer and consequently do not witness the invasion of tourists diminishing its tranquil beauty and generally without the dark foreboding skies and landscape. They are looking for the ‘picturesque’ images (and weather) to take home either as photographs or memories. What I have captured in my images is my experience of The Road to Elgol in summer.