Practice Learning Outcomes
My mood affects my work and on the first two days of practice this is clear to see – no keepers but why?
As I was stood in my garden looking at a truly stunning view across Broadford Bay to Applecross with a sparkling sea and amazing patterns and colours created by nature, I became wrapped up in the scene and was overtaken by sensory perception. I was being taken in by the wider vista rather than focusing on being aware of being. I lost my modus vivendi and lacked clarity as to why and when I was pressing the shutter. The act of taking the photograph was contrived and conscious.
The time-window I was working with had been pre-set by me and as always left nature to dictate the raw material of a high tide with little opportunities to focus, for example, on the micro aspects on the beach. I pulled myself back and tried to focus on patterns and shapes, but my choice of lens had offered me a glimpse of the wider, open scene, closed off by the 70-200mm lens that I often choose. I did not change the lens, I rather allowed myself to wallow in a lack of engagement and achievement in my photography!
On Day 3 of my practice week, I produced some images that made me feel more positive. I began to capture the essence of trees – their endless height reaching for the light, their movement in the wind, the light and shade when surrounded by trees and the glimpses of what lies beyond the forest.
I felt that the images represented my sense of the essence of trees and the magical quality of these tall slender spires. I did minimal processing (the creative work had been done in camera) and sent them to my supervisors. They did not like them and referred to them as digital paintings. These images had been produced with some careful thought about my aims and a certain sense of playfulness in my practice after struggling through a few negative days. They had liked some of my “painterly” work in the first Practice period but clearly these were wide of the mark. On reflection, these images are maybe too bold and lack the subtlety of some of my previous image making, nonetheless I think they are fun and might appeal to children. Perhaps that is the problem, I have an adult theme – being aware of being – and these images do not reflect the academic research that underpins my work.
The learning point here is that I am easily dispirited. But, it is more than that – I am disappointed in myself and so I internalise my feelings in a non-productive way. I am learning to use this feeling in a way that creates positive outcomes and enables me to recognise turning points in my thinking and practice. With regard to negative feedback, I need to recognise that not everyone will like my work or understand my motivations. I need to reflect on all feedback in a positive way, take the helpful points on board and adjust my approach and practice accordingly.
In terms of learning from the experience of disappointment in my practice, I also need to reflect on whether I should seek to channel this low mood or pack up and try on another day. I often say that I know within a short while of being in a place on a particular day whether it is going to be a productive day. But what is it that gives me that feeling – it feels intuitive – should I trust my intuition or spend time trying to work through a bad day and direct my energies into practice and images that might produce different but more impactful outputs? Am I missing an opportunity in my practice? Many artists are able to channel dips in moods and respond to difficult life events by producing some of their best work. How do they do that and why did I not do that?
I deal with uncertainty by creating my own sense of certainty wherever possible. Hence my response on Day 1 to being unclear about whether I was able to take photographs as part of my PhD research was to find a place to take them where I was certain to be within the guidelines. It might have allayed my fears of breaking rules, but it did not provide a positive creative environment.
I am task-oriented and driven in all areas of my life. I am a planner, I have ‘to do’ lists, and ‘to do’ lists of my ‘to do’ lists (daily, weekly, a reading list, a blog list, a research list)! I like highlighting the activities and achievements of each day. I am consumed with guilt if I take a day off or spend time doing something that is not on the list.
In so doing, I cut off my opportunities for reflection and do not necessarily give myself time to consider whether I am actually going in the ‘right’ direction or whether doing something in a different way might be worth consideration. Since starting my PhD I have put reflection on my ‘to do’ list and have engaged in what, where and whys. This pre-disposition to do rather than think does not mean that I am not reflective. I am a deeply reflective person but much of this is channelled into self-criticism.
The challenge therefore is to make sure that I allow myself time to think and reflect in a meaningful way and then to reconsider, redetermine, reassess my next steps, direction and purpose. As I start Week 2 of my practice on Day 1, I have decided to spend time writing this Critical Reflection and considering where to go with my practice this week rather than immediately pressing the shutter – with the almost inevitable outcome that I will be disappointed with my work!
I have resisted talking discursively about ‘sense of place’ significantly because I see this phrase as embodying a landscape photography mentality. What I mean by this is an approach of seeking wide-open vistas, taken during the golden hours, in pleasant weather conditions. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, I have other motivations that have been articulated in this Critical Research Journal. A further consideration of this, and a dialogue of the differences between landscape and art photography will follow.
Place is very important to me, and it is about whether I feel a connectedness and whether I gain a sense of being, or of being aware of being, in the space. I think that the first two days of practice exemplify this. While I clearly have a deep engagement with the view outside my window and spend hours gazing at the ever-changing landscape, aesthetically I do not have a connection over and above taking what I consider snapshots. In doing so, I am satisfying sensory needs through recording sensory qualities of the landscape.
Connectedness is not something that is necessarily immediately revealed and requires time being spent exploring and being in nature. It is difficult to describe and much of this is intuitive and non-conscious but includes a familiarity over and above the general environment – an understanding of moods, changes and similarities over time – about having been there over extended periods and through many annual cycles. I guess, Kant might say that it is about space and time. However, that is not to say that I am closed to new places and the forests I have been exploring are an example of this. On a more conscious level I look for metaphorical potential such as the reeds and the lone tree being signifiers to the vulnerability, changeability and fragility of the Isle of Skye.
In these challenging times of lockdown, harsh winter weather and life’s twists and turns, it is important to be resilient, adaptable and responsive, and able to change plans swiftly and with positive energy. I made a great start in the first Semester and need to channel that success and feeling into Semester 2.