Within an average week, I look at many different photographs. Some intentionally, others I am exposed too through media, advertising and my work. The range of images varies wildly, but the percentage of those that stick with me is relatively small.
For me, the image that carries gravitas are ones that showcase the living or natural world. My practice in conservation photography leads me to have an eye for images that put their subjects into an unnatural context, in order to convey natural issues.
This week, one of the most striking of these images I have observed has been the series ‘Cradle of Humankind’ (2013) by Tanja Deman.
What strikes me about this image the most is the emotive feeling of isolation and being shut away from the world. The light only seems to enhance this feeling, giving a sense of the possible freedom that exists just around the corner, yet showing no logical way of reaching that freedom.
The light plays with the observer and draws the eye up and around the cavern. This exemplifies the feeling of space and void, yet also makes me feel warm, despite the isolated view. The image for me is a trickster as it is teasing the viewer into wanting to see more of the scene, explore the cave and look to the light as a way of escaping the darkness.
In some ways, the above image fits with my practice. I shoot underwater images of the river in an effort to show a world unseen. In the same context as the cave, the underwater camera survives in a world the human photographer would struggle in. Isolated from human contact, this underwater presents brings a new dimension to the viewer.
By playing with light and water reflection, it is easy for the viewer to be tricked into ‘seeing’ something that is not there. This trickster approach also resonates with my practices as I strive to produce images that make the viewer work when looking at the frame. What at first seems real is often not the case.
In the Nature of Photographs, Shore explores how photographs function on multiple levels.
Shore considers the stills image within three main levels – the physical – that being the physical structure and chemical make-up of the image (which later included digital). This seeks to demonstrate that the photograph – either in print or digital – is a flat two-dimensional view of a three-dimensional scene. It is where and how the image is viewed directs the viewer’s interaction and experience of it.
The Depictive Level. This can be summarised as “the four central ways in which the world in front of the camera is transformed into the photograph: flatness, frame, time, and focus”(Shore, 2013)
And the Mental Level – This conveys the idea that it’s the viewer’s mind that shifts and changes when looking at an image. This shift in focus is the mental reaction to an otherwise flat two-dimensional image. The mind itself fills in the details and creates a three-dimensional context for the frame. This is in the same way as someone reading a book and creating wolds in their mind, that only exists in a two-dimensional text.
This context is something that resonates very well with my practice. The ability to create images to tell stories is and always has been the main driving factor behind my work.
I would see myself as most connecting with the mental level when considering Shore, however, I also feel that Shore’s considered approach t this is somewhat superficial when reading in context with Berger’s Ways of Seeing and Barthes Camera Lucida. Both of the later focus on a more deeper connection between the viewer and the image. This deeper connection is what creates a memory that lasts long after the image has been observed.
Beyond the memory of an image, it is also very possible for images to trick and play with our mental and subconscious state. Trickster photography does hold an interest in my practice, but when asked the question – am I a trickster? The response would be no.
Whilst I strive to use light, scenery and reflection to produce images that make people think, I don’t seek to develop work that is – in my view – false. I do however have a will to create images that play with the imagination and allow the viewers own mind to build upon the image they are seeing.
I see my practice as very much about telling stories, in such a way that they inspire a will to learn more about a subject or to take note of a conservation issue.
I construct my images as I see them in real life. Either through direct observation, understanding or a will to explore. For me, taking an image of a single leaf floating on the river is more synonymous with autumn than a wider shot of woodland going through change. It is the viewer that adds in the wider detail.
This focused approach is not always my way of things, but it does allow me to explore and play with images that then give the viewer a new experience to the familiar.
You could argue that my approach includes an element of fiction. Afterall I am looking to photograph scenes that are not often viewed by people on a regular base But for the most part, I look to develop a factual, honest representation of what is around them in the natural world.
- Shore, S. (2013). The nature of photographs. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon.
- Barthes, R. (1982). Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Cape.
- Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (2006). Camera lucida. 1st ed. New York, NY: Hill and Wang.
- Berger, J. (2019). Face to Face – John Berger. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLwmv-1AZDg [Accessed 3 Feb. 2019].
- Fig 1 -Deman, T. (2013). Cradle of Humankind. (source media)