Last week I spoke of the challenges of trying to make progress with my PhD alongside ongoing major building work on the house in the Isle of Skye. The continual noise and disruption saps my energy and concentration and so I have taken an enforced break from my usual full-time commitment.
Notwithstanding this, I have managed to produce and submit my first assignment for New Materials and Realisms – a philosophy module that I am auditing. The submitted work is Part 1 of a combined piece of work and I plan to write Part 2 as my second assignment. The first part focuses on the application and insights that Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) offers in terms of photography as an art form and, the processes, methods and strategies that might be used by the photographer to capture the ephemeral hiddenness or the essence of the natural world. The second part will, through a series of photographic case studies, describe, develop and reflect upon how Object-Oriented Photography might translate the awareness of the essence of reality into the photographic image. It is my intention that these two pieces of writing will form the basis of the paperwork for upgrade to PhD, scheduled for September.
My second supervisor suggested that I need to start thinking about what I wish to submit, and she proposed that one possibility was to produce a reflective piece of writing on a practice/research method I have applied in Year 1. She suggested that I undertake a detailed review of all the images I have taken since commencing my PhD and then choose some to write about. Given the methodology and research methods I have chosen to use to date (based on a reflective practitioner approach) and the practice-based nature of my research, I think it is important to explain and evaluate my practice outcomes to date.
I have given a lot of thought to how I might structure and format this piece of writing and how I will undertake a detailed review of one of my own images. I start by looking at the theory and sought inspiration from Gilda Williams’ How to Write about Contemporary Art (2014). The Introduction to the book inspired me immediately with a quote from John Ruskin:
“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way.” (Ruskin in Williams (2014) p8).
I also reminded myself of some questions, provided by Falmouth University, that might be posed when reviewing photographic images. The questions include:
- What are you looking at?
- What do you know for certain about the image?
- What is the mood of the image?
- Does the photograph have a particular style?
- In what context should the image be viewed?
- What do you know about the photographer?
- What is the photographer’s intent?
- Does the image suggest or refer to anything else?
- What do you like and dislike about the image?
- How would you evaluate the image on the basis of the questions considered above?
I began to draft some paragraphs in relation to the image below:
I used the third person to maintain some distance and make it less personal.
“This image shows a stand of trees taken from a high viewpoint on the Isle of Skye, off the north-western Scottish mainland. The colours are of a late winter palette but nonetheless warm, vibrant and intense. The lighting reveals the time of day as early morning with the low angle of the sun lighting up the loch beyond the trees. The composition is landscape in format and yet this is not a traditional wide-angle image, but rather a tighter vignette of a much larger forest which suggests the use of a medium telephoto lens. The image is a multiple exposure, taken and combined in camera with the first image intentionally blurred and the second a sharp overlay.
The image has a painterly aesthetic giving it a sense of the movement in the trees. However, the movement is not frantic or disturbing. The gaps in the trees provide a glimpse of the world that lies beyond the trees. It is high tide in the seawater loch and the surface appears calm and tranquil. As the image recedes, it reveals the land on the other side of the loch but there remains a sense of mystery, given the intentional blurring of the underlying shot. These details provide context but do not dominate the subject of the image or detract from being among trees. The image suggests a photographer that has an affinity with the landscape.”
Although, I was finding these considerations helpful, I did not really think I was being as reflective as I should, nor that the method I was using was allowing me to consider the image in detail.
So, I decided to try a different approach. One thing I have noticed is that I rarely sit and reflect on an images before either moving on or setting about the profoundly ‘front of brain’ business of post-processing. Accordingly I planned to spend ten minutes in a darkened room, with an image displayed full screen, considering and reflecting on it, and in doing so trying to recapture ‘the zone’ I was in at the moment of its creation. I devised a simple recording method that provided me with a timeline of my emotions and feelings about the image. After a trial run, I also recorded notes about the process and method and ways in which I might improve the reflection process. My aim, through this simple device, was to allow my heart to drive my hand, letting my non-conscious respond as it will to the emotional flux the image creates. Here is my first attempt of Reflection on Reflection – recording Affective Response:
The x axis on the diagram records time and the y axis affective response, both negative and positive, with the line at the mid-point being neutral. The red line records my response to the image over the ten-minute period.
I recorded my reflection on the process (in the bottom right corner) noting in particular whether forcing myself to view the image in detail encourages a conscious methodology, the need to set the viewing position further away from the screen and a question to consider whether I could use this approach to record others to record their response to my images and provide feedback.
This is an emerging methodology and I plan to think more about the format for the Case Studies on my images but I feel I have made progress. More to come as I refine my techniques and ideas. . .
Williams, G. (2014). How to Write about Contemporary Art. London, Thames & Hudson.