“The photograph as it stands alone presents merely the possibility of meaning.”
(Sekula in Burgin, 1982: 91)
This week we have looked at Trilogy by Daniel Gustav Cramer, and I have been very much drawn into his work and the ideas behind it. For me, this body of work is very relevant to my practice and holds particular ideas that could be employed in my FMP work.
His work is focused on three areas, Mountains, Underwater and Woodland. Three very natural environments and all three are part of my photographic gaze.
Overall I found Cramer’s work to be very emotive and of an unworldly view. His images are seeming as at home as stills from a Syfy film as much as images shown in a high-end art gallery. There is something otherworldly about the way he has developed the scenes. Many of which convey a mystery due to their lack of any grounding in time or space.
Its this uncertainty of the image that, for me, allows the observer free reign when it comes to interpreting the view. For some, it appears more film-like in its appearance, with one woodland seen looking very much like the sequence from the Rambo (part 1) films.
Others could view the work as more spiritual, with some of the underwater images being of an almost supernatural landscape.
Sekula makes an interesting point regarding the concept of such a secret code of an image.
“The photograph is imagined to have a primitive core of meaning, devoid of all cultural determination. It is this uninvested analogue that Roland Barthes refers to as the denotative function of the photograph. He distinguishes a second level of invested, culturally determined meaning, a level of connotation.
In the real world, no such separation is possible. Any meaningful encounter with a photograph must necessarily occur at the level of connotation.
The power of this folklore of pure denotation is considerable. It elevates the photograph to the legal status of document and testimonial. It generates a mythic aura of neutrality around the image.
But I have deliberately refused to separate the photograph from a notion of task. A photographic discourse is a system within which the culture harnesses photographs to various representational tasks.
Every photograph is a sign, above all, of someone’s investment in the sending of a message.”
(Sekula in Burgin, 1982: 87)
My interest here is what ‘message’ was Cramer looking to convey. Was he looking to use the unusual to promote the surreal, or was he seeing views and recording what he felt, in a not too distant way as to the methods I use in my practice?
The first of the Trilogy we considered was woodland.
From the eight images above we can see a range of woodland gazes, some seemingly are from the lower level, others from hilly or mountainous areas.
However, all of the images remind me of the mountains in North Wales.
I find the images with pine trees to represent the extensive open coniferous forests that are often found in lowland hilly areas of Snowdonia. These are often dark places with little light and space within them.
The closeness of the image and the feeling of claustrophobia is very much the same as in reality, with the woodland often still and very stifling. To me, these close images are hard to look at without getting that feeling.
The ones of woodland higher up, those with the mist, are very much the same as views I have seen in woodland on more mountainous areas of the national park. The mist flows silently through the trees making the scene one of ethereal mystery, originating more from a fantasy film than one of real-life nature.
When you look at these images and can almost see dragons and mystical creatures appearing from the undergrowth.
What works for me is the unknown in the scene. I am struck by how much the observer’s imagination could create when looking into this image.
I am drawn to Adams, who once said:
“It seems that one can define all the qualities of a work of art except that essence which is self-evident in the art itself, and which creates a resonance of thought and feeling beyond verbalization.”
(Adams and Baker, 1995: 9)
These images do carry a hidden code that does make the observer feel more about the image that they see. As I currently consider it, the image I am most drawn to is:
I have chosen this as it has a mix of light and dark that’s not too far away from my aims for my WIP. The way that the sunlight plays within the clearing is similar to the effect of the sun on the water as it streams through the trees. I would indeed look to produce something like this as part of my practice.
My least favourite is:
While still a compelling image, I would be more likely to discard something like this as it lacks any real punch. I feel the image is very secretive as to its message and draws the observer into a more dark place, one where bad memories sit. This is not something that I wish to convey with my practice at this time.
The next part of the trilogy was underwater, and this does have a direct link to my WIP.
As above this sequence of images are very emotive and do give the observer a puzzle as to what they are trying to convey. Some are even hard to determine if they are actually under the water – such as the image on the bottom left.
While I do like these scenes, I do find them surprisingly dark and except for one, almost foreboding in terms of drawing an observer in. They come across as places that I would not want to visit.
I am drawn to Sontag who commented:
“The force of a photograph is that it keeps open to scrutiny instants which the normal flow of time immediately replaces. This freezing of time—the insolent, poignant stasis of each photograph—has produced new and more inclusive canons of beauty. But the truths that can be rendered in a dissociated moment, however significant or decisive, have a very narrow relation to the needs of understanding”
(Sontag, 2008: 87)
This for me sums up the need for the image to have a force worthy of drawing in an observer, yet that observer also needs to have an internal connection with the image for any emotive response to be effective.
Effectively the photographer is doing work that brings the observer halfway in the journey. It is the observer themselves who have to complete that journey alone.
Ironically some of my emerging video work for my WIP is dark (metaphorically), but then I have attempted to bring in an ‘other worldly’ feel to the scene. This for me is a different approach to the more negative connotation in the images in Figure 4.
I feel that, in my own practice, I may now have pushed this work into becoming a film in its own right, similar to work by Bill Viola. The scenes in Cramer’s underwater piece could indeed be produced as video and shown as large projections in a gallery space.
Interestingly had I seen this work before this module I would have been more willing to agree that the stills worked better. As at the time, my practice was focusing on still underwater images and did not really consider video as a suitable medium. This was largely due to the will to enhance and improve my photographic stills ability.
It is within the mountains that Cramer reaches out to me the most. These images all remind me of Snowdonia, but again as they have no concept of time or place it is easier to make them fit anywhere in the world.
I grew up in the mountains and can most likely think of a place within them that could recreate the mystic of Cramer’s work.
Sontag once commented:
Photographs may be more memorable than moving images because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow. Television is a stream of underselected images, each of which cancels its predecessor. Each still photograph is a privileged moment, turned into a slim object that one can keep and look at again.
(Sontag, 2008: 13)
The reason I refer to this is that the concept of using video as a medium for my underwater WIP images was chosen, as I feel that this practice and context will convey a message of the flowing water and light interaction much more effectively than a still frame ever could.
However, my feelings for Cramer’s mountain images are that the still frame works better than video.
I agree here with Sontag, in that the video feed is a chain of moments in a time bound together, ones that pass by so rapidly that the eye only sees partial views. Most of the scene itself is lost, never to be witnessed again.
I see the mountain landscape as majestic and dark, with a myriad of opportunities and gazes that all need to be enjoyed for what they are. This “privileged moment” is one I feel best suited to still images; hence with the above, I would most likely use all eight of the images in Figure 5 in my work. Only discounting the image on the bottom left as inconsequential.
This particular piece of work has helped me better understand the notion of what an image needs/wants to be.
For my WIP I had discounted some images as I found them to be too dark. However, after looking through Cramer’s work, I can now see that some of my still’s are much more emotive than I first thought.
I feel this is due to my misdirected will always to put the technical element first and the image after. This is a bad habit that I picked up before starting my MA, and it caused me to lose the connection between my gaze, the image and the observer. I am now becoming more confident in my instinct, rather than on mainstream commercial production of images that I can not connect with.
I have been attempting for some time to capture an image of the light reflecting on the water. By using a technical approach, I found my angle was all wrong, due to the use of a tripod and that I was just very uncomfortable and unhappy taking the picture.
It just is not me. The image above is a demonstration. For me this lacks anything of note, despite any narrative on light and reflection, it fails to make any sense to me.
However, when I decided to go back to my emotive way of photography, I threw away the tripod and went back to capturing scenes that made me feel something, but doing this in a way that I become part of the landscape itself.
This photography by ‘feeling’ meant that I could start building up images that connected what I saw to my instinct on what I felt was right.
I now understand that, like Cramer, I am not bound to showing images in a physical context (that of location and bearing), rather its more about a contextual approach to creating them.
The image in Figure 7 I am happy with, but it also enshrouds space and time, masking the point at which a sunray hits the river water, the camera capturing the motion and energy of the scene.
- ADAMS, Ansel. and Baker, Richard. 1995. The camera. 2nd ed. New York: Little, Brown, p.9.
- BURGIN, Victor. 1982. Thinking photography. 1st ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p.87 91.
- SONTAG, Susan. 2008. On photography. 3rd ed. London: Penguin Books, p.13,87.
- Figure 1 – DANIEL, Cramer, Gustav. 2002 – 2007. Woodland. source media, Informing Contexts PHO702 18/19 Part-Time Study Block S2 – Week 10 Introduction: Speaking Photographically. [Photograph]
- Figure 2 – DANIEL, Cramer, Gustav. 2002 – 2007. Woodland. [Photograph] (source media)
- Figure 3 – DANIEL, Cramer, Gustav. 2002 – 2007. Woodland. [Photograph] (source media)
- Figure 4 – DANIEL, Cramer, Gustav. 2002 – 2007. Underwater. source media, Informing Contexts PHO702 18/19 Part-Time Study Block S2 – Week 10 Introduction: Speaking Photographically. [Photograph]
- Figure 5 – DANIEL, Cramer, Gustav. 2002 – 2007. Mountain. source media, Informing Contexts PHO702 18/19 Part-Time Study Block S2 – Week 10 Introduction: Speaking Photographically. [Photograph]
- Figure 6 – JONES, Rob. 2019. Light reflection on the river. [Photograph]
- Figure 7 – JONES, Rob. 2019. Light reflection on the river. [Photograph]