I began by shamelessly recording the scene for two reasons: first I believed that I should do this to ensure I have the photographic evidence and contextual information to record this significant event and second that I should do this quickly to guard against a speedy clearing of the site by the Forestry Commission. I spent a couple of days of my practice recording the overall scene including the few standing trees and then some of the details of the new reality of the landscape. However, a question remains in my mind as to whether record or documentary shots have a place in my research and practice. Is the context of place relevant?
Early in the week, my supervisors set a hare running in my mind that presence and absence were themes to consider. I wrote about this without recognising that my philosophy, and in turn my photographic practice, is not about presence. It is so obviously not about presence and sensory perception that I find it hard to accept that I somehow allowed these thoughts to even enter my mind. Similarly, I wrote about the opportunities for rephotography and to present my images as a juxtaposition of the trees before their demise with the emptiness of the same spaces now.
It took me a week to realise that I am dealing with a new reality and what that means. For example, the topography of the site has emerged in the absence of the trees, and in so doing the climate will change. The mist will roll in off the loch without the resistance of the trees. Object-Oriented Photography is about capturing that emergence but not its beauty. My objective should be to find and recognise these new realities and not necessarily search for new locations.
This has been an important lesson. It has demonstrated that it is all too easy to retreat into conventional approaches to photography and be tempted to capture the sensory qualities, rather than the small number that are present to the senses. And furthermore, that I should always have the title of my thesis and the research questions, aims and objectives at the forefront of my mind. When my practice lapses into subject-oriented work, I should stand back and refocus, or at least record and reflect on why this happened – guarding against false steps back to sensory perception and phenomenology is the key to be moving forward in my photographic practice. I plan to print out the title, questions, aims and objectives and place them above the computer monitor in my studio and in my camera bag, to ensure they are always present at hand.
Having said this, the distinction between real and sensory qualities of Harman can encourage a false demarcation. In reality the qualities, of whatever type, are in a state of continuous flux – that is the dynamic nature of the world. Some Real Qualities can be present but not accessible to our sensory ability. For example, climate is not something we can experience – rather it is the changing weather conditions that reach our senses. The eidos, according to Harman, is the means by which we are able to glimpse abstract qualities not available to sensory perception, and in my research possibilised through the strategies and concepts of the STAR and Onion Diagrams, by the camera.
Sometimes I have to fail! It has been a miserable week emotionally and photographically. I chose not to return to my practice today, feeling it more important to get my thoughts in order before trying again to capture the new reality of what was a forest. . .