Initial Questions framed for this Thought Piece
- Definitions of searching and wandering?
- Why am I searching?
- What am I searching for?
- How am I searching?
- Will I know when I find what I am searching for?
- Will I be satisfied when I find it?
- Am I on a journey rather than seeking an outcome?
- Does the quest and the journey enable me to be who I am?
- Does the journey provide me with a sense of purpose?
- Are other creative artists’ searching?
- What are their motivations?
Definition of Searching
I normally start my Thought Pieces with relevant definitions and as always consult the Oxford English Dictionary. I find it interesting to read further than the immediate search results and am usually rewarded with a more comprehensive understanding of the word’s usage. My first search was for “searching” and the definition gave me a sense of the journey and process of what I am doing:
“Given to searching for or inquiring into things; inquiring, inquisitive.”
“Engaged in searching for something; conducting a search.” (Oxford English Dictionary).
However, as I read more about the word and the act of searching, I found some further definitions that are equally applicable to my photographic practice and PhD research in particular:
“Penetrating in insight or effect.”
“Keenly observant; acutely perceptive, penetrating; (in later use often of a look or gaze) that focuses intently or probingly on someone or something.” (Oxford English Dictionary).
Definition of Wandering
I also consulted the Oxford English Dictionary on wandering as a rather more random act of searching:
“To move hither and thither without fixed course or certain aim; to be (in motion) without control or direction; to roam, ramble, go idly or restlessly about; to have no fixed abode or station.” (Oxford English Dictionary).
Searching for Being
The idea of searching is fundamental in my photographic practice. I am not seeking to represent Skye – why would I wish to recreate what we can all see for ourselves? I am driven to search for the real object rather than the sensory object. I have a faith that there is something there that I cannot see and if I can recognise and find being in myself (Dasein in Heidegger’s (1953) terms) then I will be able to recognise it out in the landscape. At the moment I can sometimes recognise it in the field and on other occasions after the event in post-processing. I see that glimpse that the camera has captured that maybe I did not see but might have sensed at the time.
My search allows me to spend large amounts of time in the landscape, come rain or shine, photographing small aspects of nature such as tree, reeds and mountain tops.
Searching for the Ultimate Being
I am not alone in searching for being as many have spent a lifetime trying to find ultimate being, driven by an absolute belief in the more than of existence itself. The Bible is littered with references to journeys – the journey to Damascus, Moses forty-year search for the promised land and the journey Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem, not surprising when religious belief itself is based on searching and trying to find something. People devote their lives to a search for a glimpse of the ultimate being.
Searching for Knowledge and Understanding
I have also come to understand more recently that philosophy, where much of the theoretical underpinning for my practice resides, is about a search for knowledge and a better understanding of the world in which we live, through a process of debate, reading and writing.
Searching in my Photographic Practice
My search for the essence began during the period I spent travelling the world photographing wildlife and this image of a mother and baby orangutan was an early example. This image is entitled The Kiss. In many ways that title serves to represent the sensory experience rather than describing the underlying essence. The image is about motherhood, vulnerability, love and anguish – the baby was unlikely to survive – but the series of images I took on that day provide a testament to the mother’s enjoyment, engagement and euphoria of being with her offspring, tinged with more than a hint of sadness. This was where my journey began, although I am not sure I knew it at the time, but what I did know, was that I was able to capture more than a portrait but on occasion provide an insight into the world of the animals I photographed. That is what Object-Oriented Photography is all about.
Process or Outcome?
I believe that searching can focus on process or outcome. Those concentrating on the process, in which I would include myself, are interested in the journey or the purpose whereas those committed to producing an outcome are focusing on finding something. The nature of the task I have set myself (that is, to gain a glimpse of being that exists behind presence) will provide a limited number of successes. In large part, I am searching for impossibilities and success can only be fleeting – it is ephemeral hiddenness. I believe that my photography is elevated by the process of searching – my work is “saturated with the search”. The journey will define me rather than its destination.
The Searching of Others
Many creative artists have and are searching for something, if only in terms of a means to express themselves more effectively. Finding expression and inspiration outdoors has long been a means to achieve this. Writers, poets, composers, and performing artists all seek solace and motivation through spending time in the landscape or with nature – Nan Shepherd, Robert Macfarlane, Hamish Fulton (the walking artist), William Wordsworth, JMW Turner, Claude Monet – to name a few. Nan Shepherd spent a lifetime walking in the Cairngorms searching for the essence of The Living Mountain (2011):
“So, simply to look on anything, such as a mountain, with the love that penetrates to its essence, is to widen the domain of being in the vastness of non-being. Man has no other reason for existence.”
Rebecca Solnit wrote a book about the basic act of walking in Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2014) and years previously Baudelaire and Benjamin (2002) wrote of the flaneur, a casual wanderer in the streets of urban landscapes such as Paris.
In conclusion, I think this is a theme I will return to as I continue with my literature review and consider whether searching as a process is a key concept in my photographic practice and a significant theoretical basis for my academic work.
Benjamin, W. (2002). The Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.
Heidegger, M. (1953). Being and Time. New York, State University of New York Press.
Shepherd, N. (2011). The Living Mountain. Edinburgh, Canongate Books.
Solnit, R. (2014). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. London, Granta.
The Oxford English Dictionary. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/174315?rskey=vDBhX7&result=3 – eid [accessed on 17 November 2020].