I have written several times about the need to come to know a subject and location such that I can enter an unconscious and intuitive dwelling place where creativity resides.  Nan Shepherd in The Living Mountain (1977) speaks of the “traffic of love” between her and the mountain and the deep knowledge that she gained over time:

“Knowing another is endless . . . The thing to be known grows with the knowing.”  (Shepherd pxxvii).

In the Introduction to her book, Robert Macfarlane refers to Shepherd’s words about knowing as follows:

“Slowly I have found my way in,” she says slowly not fully, for “if I had other senses, there are other things I should know.”

As I have found in my photographic practice, coming to know another Being is a long-term commitment and in my experience too, knowledge grows over time.  The more I know, the more I know what I do not know!  I would suggest that in my practice, knowledge is often stored non-consciously, and may only be revealed in the conscious moment when I realise, I have pressed the shutter.  I would also suggest that when in this non-conscious state, two elements of knowledge can be combined or integrated, thus contributing to further knowledge.  However, this deep process of learning and gaining knowledge does not necessarily emerge in every location.

One of my early periods of practice was The Shape of Water.  While I was able to leave home with my camera during the Covid lockdown I decided to keep it local and do some photography on the beach in front of our house.  It is a place that is familiar to me, where I take my dogs for their walk, where I have impromptu meetings with friends and meet visitors in the summer.  The views across to the mainland and other islands such as Raasay and Rona are stunning, and the shape of water extends from strong northerly winds whipping up the incoming tide, to the surface of a millpond.  While I was positive about combining a place I know well with my practice I wrote about my misgivings in this journal:

“Lockdown is taking its toll on me, and like others I do not yet feel that life is going to return to normal, anytime soon, and if it does, do I feel safe to be part of it?”

I went on to explain my aims for the practice period as follows:

“I wanted to capture the shapes and patterns that this dynamic element [the sea] creates and allow nature to make its own images.  I planned to photograph turbulent seas, light and reflections on the water and the different colours and patterns reflected in the water from the skies above.”

I began my work in a deep channel that retains water even when the tide is out.  I was fascinated by the patterns made by the movement of the water over a bed full of shells.  The green shapes being algae on the shells but to me resembled brussel sprouts when I viewed the images.

The Shape of Water 17 – Alison Price, March 2021

The Shape of Water 29 – Alison Price, April 2021

I returned to the beach a few times in that period of practice.  On one occasion, as the rising tide surrounded my Wellington boots, I beat a hasty retreat reflecting on whether the project so far had captured the essence of the water that surrounds the Island.  I knew in my heart that I was not feeling the connection I already had with Loch Cill Chriosd and the lone silver birch tree.  The beach is also special, but maybe it is a place where I do other things rather than take photographs.  Maybe it has a different function or purpose for me, or perhaps it is overly familiar?

On the other hand, and during the same period of practice, I visited a new location where my images were more successful.  For me, the images hint at the hidden reality below the surface of the water.  They allude to the dynamic churn of the water, the rocks beneath, and a sense of the skies overhead.

The Shape of Water 55 – Alison Price, April 2021

The Shape of Water 57 – Alison Price, April 2021

The Shape of Water 64 – Alison Price, April 2021

Although I was not happy with my efforts to capture the shape of water, my early work on the beach nonetheless served to provide me with an insight much more important than the images I created.  As I moved into the final year of my PhD I was walking the dogs on the beach and watching the waves crash against the shoreline.  I saw how many different natural objects became physically entangled as the waves discharged their energy.  As I brought my observations on the shore, and the learnings from my practice together with the insights of science, the ontological nature of entanglement emerged – Being as both individual and plural and local and nonlocal.  I used four images to illustrate the entanglement process:

Entanglement 1 – Alison Price, January 2021

Entanglement 2 – Alison Price, March 2021

Entanglement 3 – Alison Price, March 2021

Entanglement 4 – Alison Price, December 2021

In my thesis, I wrote the following about my revelations on the beach:

“I soon became focused on the continual ebb and flow, as I witnessed the repetitive movement of the waves.  At the same time, I began to recognise the significance of the process by which each wave eventually entangled with the approaching seabed and, in an instant, collapsed, discharging its load of stored energy onto the shore.  I began to realise that although each rolling wave was highly distinctive in shape and form, playing across its surface was an uncountable number of smaller waves rising and falling in synchronicity with one another.  These tiny waves were entangled with one another, crossing, and uncrossing in a ceaseless exchange of energy but combined into an unstoppable, but coherent rolling reality across the surface of the sea.  And then, at its journey’s end, each great rolling wave became entangled with the land.  In that instant, with a roar, the coherence of its structure collapses into a cascade of smaller waves foaming and bubbling across the sand.  Eventually, as the tide ebbs away, all that remains is a memory of that entanglement and collapse in the form of tiny wavelike patterns in the sand reflecting the passing of the sea. 

 As I reflected on what I was observing the big waves appeared simple and coherent but when they broke and dispersed a moment of de-coherence occurred.  At that moment the reality of the wave and its entanglement with the ocean ceased and it became part of the reality of the shore.  With that I realised that Entanglement is not lost on interaction, it de-coheres into countless bubbles as the wave surrendered its energy to the land.  What I experienced was a three-dimensional exemplar of the entanglement that defines the natural world.

While struggling to articulate and reflect on what the problem was at the beach location, after three years of practice-led research, I find myself better able to understand and write about some of the insights from this period of practice.  It seems to me looking back that my relationship with the beach was instrumental or functional – resembling Harman’s tool being or Heidegger’s ready to hand.  The beach for me is there to undertake certain tasks, and to enjoy and experience.  Like a hammer it is there to use rather than for becoming more aware of its properties or qualities.  In my mind and informed by my practice, Being had extended beyond the singular to the plural, and the relationship between objects was not simply physical but also ontological.  The relationships had transcended the material, the Entanglement had become non-local, and my thinking had extended beyond the explicate order to the implicate (Bohm 1983).

Returning to the question I posed at the beginning which is whether it is possible to overcome familiarity and produce successful images in a place where particular functions have previously taken place that may not be related to photographic practice.  Could I simply be with Being?  In this location – the beach – the answer is no, or I have not been successful so far.  At Loch Cill Chriosd where my primary function is to dwell and take photographs, I feel a sense of familiarity that is consonant to capture allure and drift into a non-conscious state.

 

References

Bohm, D. (1983). Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London, Arc.

Shepherd, N. (1977). The Living Mountain. Edinburgh, Canongate Books.

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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