Projects 1.1 – 1.9

Project: Thinking about landscapes

The module opens with asking what I consider landscape might be.

Also the course notes encourage that I employ a committed approach to producing high standards in technical aspects of photography as well as adopting a rigorous approach to critical research.

I’ll do my best.

 Exercise 1.1


I am required to make a sketch of a landscape scene and consider the compositional components of my sketch. The purpose of the exercise is to examine preconceptions on what I consider the landscape genre to actually be.

My sketch won’t be appearing online but it will be in my sketchbook.

Briefly though, I have chosen to sketch a vista of my neighbourhood. I happen to live in a rural corner of Devon. It is ‘chocolate box’ territory and there isn’t one day of the year that brings anything but wonderment to the landscape. I come from West of London, so this is hardly surprising but things aren’t always, as they seem. It is the same locality that Ravillious and, later, Jem Southam have been inspired by.

My sketch contains a restful ‘meditative’ panorama of rolling hills, dotted farmhouses, distant woodland, animals, ploughed fields, sunrise and drifting clouds. It will probably be a view similar to this that I pick for assignment 6. I appreciate that this course will aim to introduce the many debates that exist within the genre of landscape and how photography has evolved from a scientific birth, through to a place where artists push contemporary arts boundaries with this medium.

This would be the sort of image found in magazines, calendars, tourist literature, galleries….

Things aren’t always what they seem though. Each field and hedgerow, houses is a story about wildlife, climate change, TB, low incomes, lack of housing for young adults, isolation, loneliness. There is of course much to be celebrated as well and there is nothing wrong in my mind with producing an upbeat social documentary within landscape photography.

This idyllic panorama has its issues and I guess one aspect of landscape that interests me is the social documentary within the surrounding landscape.   Also, I am interested in documenting the ever-evolving methods of farming and way of life of this community; forced into shape by the land, seasons, climate and weather.

I am not adverse to the meditative element of landscape photography. Later this year I will find myself leaving my family for 6 weeks to explore the furthest point away from home on this planet. At 42 years old, I will be ‘finding’ myself again after being at home for many years bringing up children. What self-discovery is to be made in the freedom of an alien landscape?

I anticipate that this exercise is going to lead us on to a little art history to set the context for this early part of the module.

Exercise 1.2

 Photography In The Museum or in the Gallery?

This article by Rosalind Krauss is provided. I am to try to pull out the key points and add any reflections that I might have. I will do my best to battle the font and overly wordy nature of the essay to extract the learning points. My interpretation is below and is followed by the conclusion.

The article opens with two photographs of the same perspectives of the same location. They are both identically entitled ‘Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada’. The first image is the original and the second image is a lithographic copy.

(Lithograph process: )


Key point 1: Art/ science

Krauss states that one is an aesthetic masterpiece and the other is ‘banal’ and ‘chatty’ in detail.

 The descriptions that she gives of both the images, can lead you to conclude that the point is that both are technically sound but the differential is the artistic atmosphere achieved in one image (taken by O’Sullivan); The other photograph, she suggests, belongs to a scientific approach. Two entirely different debates emerge about the same view and perspective.

Of course this opinion is subjective and Krauss is correct when she says that the interpretation of both images is somewhat dependent on the translation of the viewer.


Key Point 2: Discursive Environment and Intentions.

 The next question Krauss asks is about the “discursive environment” that the photograph will be “operating” in. Krauss explain that in the late 1800’s, exhibition spaces came into vogue.

Whatever the building was (a museum or gallery), the exhibiting surface was a wall.

But the gallery exhibition arena was/is fraught with difficulty in who decides what is art:

What is/isn’t art?

What is to be include / not included?

Will it be public/ private viewing?

The gallery exhibition space itself is signification of acceptance or worthiness and worthy of attracting critique from those ‘in the know’.

 “For if we ask, once again, within what discursive space does the original O’Sullivan, as I described it at the outset, function, we have to answer: that of the aesthetic discourse. And if we ask, then, what it is a representation of, the answer must be that within this space it is constituted as a representation of the plane of exhibition, the surface of the museum, the capacity of the gallery to constitute the objects it selects for inclusion as art.”

Krauss goes on to pose the question of what O’Sullivan’s intention were?

Did he set out with an artistic intention? If his intention was other than artistic and yet the photograph finds its way into a discursive gallery environment considered as being art, is this accidental art ‘cheating’?

Key Point 3: Galassi ‘s assertions of photography as an art.

Krauss takes this discussion further and starts by explaining that very early photography was scientific, methodical and as such finds itself in museums as a science. She explains that we can observe the logical approach to displaying these photographs on the wall spaces.

In a gallery, this form of exhibition attempts to legitimise these photographs as art – regardless of the original intention.

“ In a sentence that has been repeated by every reviewer of his argument, Galassi sets up this question of photography’s position with respect to the aesthetic discourse:”

“The object here is to show that photography was not a bastard left by science on the doorstep of art, but a legitimate child of the Western pictorial tradition.

Krauss explains that the acceptance of photography as an art within the ‘art family’ goes beyond the pretentions in photographic discourse of the time. The inclusion of photography into the ‘art family’ depended on identifying the similarities to landscape art in this modernist era (when landscapes were flattened). Galassi identified from his observations, that the notions that persisted about photography being merely a technical operation needed rebutting.

(Exampled art pieces are given here as evidence that reinforces that notion that the similarities prove that O’Sullivan’s intention was artistic as well as technical).

Key Point 4: Issues of Authorship.

The next part explains that O’Sullivan’s work presents a further problem beyond Galassi’s justification.

O’Sullivan’s work presents a curve ball because his work was only presented as stereographic viewing (3D – not flattened in the way that Galassi explains as the justification against modernist landscape artists).

This convoluted aspect of the article leads to the concepts of authorship. Photographers would describe the genre as a ‘view’ – as opposed to painters who would describe their painting as landscapes. This is because the mechanical nature of photography to record lends itself to a viewer believing that the camera undertook all of the work of merely recording the natural wonder and that there was little artistic influence or interpretation by the photographer. (This is not helped by the history of the scientific evolution that aimed for forensic replication of the ‘view’). Krauss explained that the authorship often belonged to the publisher and viewer.   The artistic interpretations are clearly evident in paintings and therefore it was easier for an artist to retain authorship of his or her work. A category of travel photography lends itself to the notion that the authorship is the ‘object’ itself and the interpretation of the person the photograph of that object.

Key Point 5: ‘View’ as a topographical record/ index.

Photographs of ‘view’ were meticulously catalogued in museums and were not so much about authorship as much a database of referenced and cross-referenced photographs that were kept in cabinets to fulfil historic need – debates evolved. I read it as being some sort of jigsaw puzzle of the world and its content.

Albeit scientific / archaeological in approach, the aesthetic of these ‘views’ were found to please a middle class audience. The mass production costs were relatively low and therefore the middle classes could adorn their walls with prints.

As the evolution of photography as a science, a document and as an artistic medium evolved, the discourse emerged about how to determine the nature of photography and how/ where to exhibit it? Do photographs belong to museums as an exhibition of chronological collations of documents; or as art in a gallery?

The intent of a photographer helps us to decide. It becomes more interesting though when the intent isn’t known and the work fulfils both the historical referencing and the aesthetic charm of art.

Key Point 6: Enigma of Agtet

Agtet amassed a catalogue of some 10,000 plates over his lifetime. Many images were sold to museums. The debate over the aesthetic of his work was propelled after surrealists noticed him. The later debate surrounding his work emerged because the intention of Agtet’s work isn’t documented and MOMA’s research had to be undertaken to try and decode the clues that lie within the images themselves and the referencing.

John Szarkowski has attempted to formulate an answer to the paradoxes that present when attempting to decode the incoherent collection of images. What is this body of work that ‘we’ are looking at? He gives four accounts of how the body of work evolved and he believes that there are elements of truth in each account. However, what doesn’t sit well is that Agtet might simply have failed to rise above that as a mere record keeper.

“ It is not easy for us to be comfortable with the idea that an artist might work as a servant to an idea larger than he. We have been educated to believe, or rather, to assume, that no value transcends the value of the creative individual. A logical corollary of this assumption is that no subject matter except the artist’s own sensibility is quite worthy of his best attention “

He concludes that we are left to ponder the sacrificial element of providing for something more important than self-expression. Is that not in it self, art?

MOMA had sought to unravel the hidden reality of the referencing in the hope to find an artistic insight but all they found was referencing.


This isn’t the easiest of text to digest but I have managed to extract various elements of long standing debates that include:

What is a photograph?

Which discursive space does it belong to?

What is art?

Who decides what art is?

Where does photography sit within the definitions of art?

Do the artistic intentions of a photographer matter?

And most of all…

Does any of it matter?

The two photographs taken at identical locations and perspective at the start of the article show us how nuances in an image can determine whether an image should sit as a record in a museum, or in a gallery as a work of art (within the definition of what art is…or is not). One image was atmospheric and the other ‘chatty’ in banal detail. This is only part of the debate though – the artistic intention of the photographer also has to be considered.

The evolution of photography has contributed to some of the banality of the discourse of science v. art. There are interesting academic observations to be made, in that the intentions of the earliest landscape photographers such as Agtet aren’t known but are still revered. Today, photographer’s are fighting among their contemporaries to be accepted as either a technical / commercial photographer or artist. The intentions of the photographer are important but intentions only seem to go so far. The prolonged observations of Agtet in this article that notes the acceptance of his work as art within the surrealist movement provide an ideal arena where ‘artist intention’ can be challenged. The very nature of a photograph that captures a ‘moment in time’ is surreal in itself – so does that mean that every photograph by default is a surreal work of art?

These academics can be mulled over forever but the element of this article that stood out for me is when Szarkowski suggests that it is okay to work in a way that is beyond our own benefit of self-expression and to work for a need greater than that. It is only ‘the club’ that decides that this sacrifice in itself is/isn’t an art. I can only surmise that I will come to consider this within my own work as somebody who enjoys documenting the transient nature of ways of life and culture within the genre of landscape and those who carve a life within it.   The problem I have always had with fashions within the art world is that ‘things’ deemed to be out of vogue for photographers are then neglected in the chase to claim platitudes from ‘the club’. I example this with the camera club style jokes about churches. Who is now documenting them topographically or artistically over the more obvious social commentary of sink estates and high-rise flats?

So, yes, these debates matter but not to the point where we stop being true to ourselves in our attempts to appease the establishment.

Who is who? :

Rosalind Krauss

(Art historian and critic. MIT)

Timothy O’Sullivan’sullivan-american-about-1840-1882/

(Photographer. Known for American civil war)

Barbara Stafford

Art Historian. Voyage into Substance: Art, Science, Nature and the Illustrated Travel Account, 1760-1840, (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1984)

John Szarkowski

Author of ‘Photographers Eye’. A Curator, Historian, Critic and Photographer.

“The history of photography is not linear but centrifugal. ‘Like an organism photography was born a whole. It is our progressive discover of it that its history lies’.

In Photographer’s Eye he summarises five aspects of photography

  • The thing itself
  • The detail
  • The frame
  • Time
  • Vantage Point

Eugene Agtet

Previously researched.




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La Grange, A. (2007). John Szarkowski, The Photographer’s Eye…. In: n/a Basic Critical Theory. 3rd ed. Oxford: Elsevier. 15 – 20.


Project: Pictorialism

Introduction to 1.3

While researching the following paintings and photographs online, I found Graham Clarke’s chapter on this subject in his book ‘The Photograph’. In the first few pages of the chapter, he consolidated what I had found. He explained thoroughly how photography was evolving at the same time as the naturalistic landscape Barbizon School of thought during the 19th Century. There was a move towards representing the landscape in a less formal (naturalistic) way and this ties in with afore mentioned comments about the backlash of opinion towards the industrial revolution.

Clarke also mentions that one approach to the photographing the landscape was with a mind to idealise the rural idyll as in common with the Barbizone ethos – often the depictions were at odds with reality of the lifestyle. He also highlights the other approach to landscape photography, highlighted with American colonial settlements and the topographical use of the camera to document new lands for government purposes.

As I found above, Fenton’s practice examples the aesthetics of Gainsborough, Turner et al.

His landscape image did indeed represent the myths of idealistic rural life (although his oeuvre wasn’t confined to this genre). Notably, this myth is heightened without workers present in his images. Along with other photographers, his work was the antithesis of the work of O’Sullivan in America who sought to produce work that was scaled and ordered as catalogue for reference. Ansel Adams, another pioneering American photographer approached the landscape from the perspective of the naturalistic artist. Salgado mixes social narrative with the sublime and documentary and can’t really be put in one camp or another.


Clarke, G. (1977). Landscape in Photography. In: n/k The Photograph. New York: Oxford University Press. 55 – 58.

Definition of Pictorialism:

“ emphasis is beauty of matter and tonality, rather than reality.”


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Exercise 1.3

Firstly find and research twelve 18th and 19th Century landscape paintings. List all of the commonalities.

I will also use this opportunity for a crash course in art history.


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Nicholas Poussin. ‘Landscape With The Funeral of Phocion’. 1648

I am starting with this painting as a quick recap of art history predating the 18th century. has a very handy entry explaining the evolution as landscape as a subject to paint. Up until this point, landscape had merely served as a backdrop to portraiture and hadn’t been valued as a genre in its own right.

Poussin’s painting demonstrates how contrived the studies of this era could be. Everything from the colour theory, through to the placement of objects and people was the antithesis of the abstract work of Turner and the subsequent Impressionist movement.

The link describes this as the birth of classical landscape and describes the Roman poet Virgil who had described ‘Arcadia’ and this was the backdrop to the perfectionism during this century.

Poussin evolved though and his realisation that landscape could and should include the same drama as other genres paved the way for 18th century landscape artists. This may have been decided as the Dutch artists were emerging with ‘naturalistic’ landscape paintings.

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View of Roman Campagna – with bather. Date unknown.

This painting and the next are by Valenciennes who worked to have the genre of landscape accepted by ‘the academy’ and also to strive for landscape ‘art history’ drama that was inline with other genres of the era within the genre of landscape paintings. I have chosen these two paintings by this artist because one is quite contrived but ‘Storm By The Lake’ begins to look more abstract, naturalistic and dramatic. It is in this era that the birth of ‘Classical Landscape’ emerges.,d.ZWU&psig=AFQjCNGS0JJLXEVf1Rfb9qBgFtOXNLhk7w&ust=1452975783347403

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Storm by a lake -1780

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Thomas Gainsborough.

The Cottage Door 1785 is a very helpful website.   I haven’t ever studied art history but I am aware of and have enjoyed the works of many landscape painters of this and the subsequent era. I have picked this image of Gainsborough’s because it departs from the work he is known for and enters the social narrative of the lower classes within the landscape.

Gainsborough is known for rich portraiture and landscape portraiture of the gentry; also for classic landscape vistas. I remember John Berger (in his series ‘Ways of Seeing’) decoding the stylized social narratives of the depicted gentry in their landscapes, works that were commissioned and hung in homes as a demonstration of wealth. It’s not a surprise to read that this painting remained in his studio.

This landscape is much less abstract than that of Turner’s later work but the use of colour theory, texture and composition follow the same rules. The people are a larger part of the painting than the first two paintings but they are still a small part of the painting. All these elements that were considered by Gainsborough, help to provide a sense of a wild and rustic environment – a lifestyle that is worlds apart from the manicured backdrops of other paintings.

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An Italian Landscape 1807 – Voogd

Still very much in the style of ‘Arcadian’ predecessors, fine detail and a contrived composition is found here albeit that the middle ground trees block the distant landscape. The fine detail is exquisite and I’d love to see the original.,0

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Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831 – John Constable.

The assignment ahead will be based on ‘the sublime’ and I note in the link that Constable is not known for ‘sublime’ paintings. ‘Naturalistic’, ‘pastoral’ and ‘picturesque’ are the adjectives associated with his work. Elements of ‘sublime’ are present in this landscape painting. His representations are much looser than Gainsborough’s but there is the same depth, colour palettes and compositional elements. There is an idealized narrative in his paintings that belies the reality of rural life at that time.

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Thomas Cole 1836

Cited on this link as having spent time in Europe and also that he used Camera Lucida to achieve the composition that is quite unusual.

“A union of the picturesque, the sublime, and the magnificent”. After Americans had been criticized for inattentiveness to landscape by Hall. Fine detail and contrivance are still in vogue.

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The First Harvest In The Wilderness: Durand 1855

The influences of this artist are clearly European. Durand was born in Devon, so this is not a surprise. We can find a great deal of similarities to Constable and Gainsborough in a cursory glance.

America was young. The American pioneering dreams were in their relative infancy. With only the title anchoring the image, the geographic continent known, the century and the painting to work from, there are enough signifiers to decode.

The voyeuristic perspective across the wilderness lends itself to a sense of complete isolation. The light pushing through portrays a sense of idyll. The imposing mountains have halted the pioneer to set up his smallholding in its shadow. The trees bend in curiously and perhaps fearfully watching events unfold and wondering when the axe will fall on them. The forbidding clouds give way to lights – signifying the turmoil and graft, the light cuts through to reveal the heavenly light on to the harvest.

It is hard to tell from this online image how fine the detail is but there is a haze and less refined detail that that of Thomas Cole.

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Rain, Steam and Speed The Great Western Railway 1844 (Maidenhead Bridge)

Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inspired by Dutch painter Willem Van Der Velde (2) and Poussin (4)

Little information can be gleaned on the specifics of this image.

Described as a vivid and surreal observation of light and atmosphere. Lead lines disappear into the fog, haze and smoke of the landscape and the subject is almost secondary to the eruption of yellow hues used to emphasize the abstract landscape (4).

The signification of the image could lead us to believe that this is an image about alarm (taken from confusion of the abstraction and vibrancy of the colour). This was the birth of the steam age, which is signified by the engines emergence from the smog. A hare in the image might be a signifier of alarm at the rapid advance of technology in the industrial age (5). Socially and politically, the industrial revolution repulsed most artists albeit that Turner is cited as an exception (6).

The graphic design and colour theory stops us in our tracks – we are happy to be drawn into the aesthetic charms to bring our own authorship. The people are small and ghostly; another signification of machinery over man. Brunel’s bridge perhaps another signifier of the way for the new era being paved.



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Townsfolk on a quay, Wijk Bij Duursrede, 1847

This artist is fascinating because at the start of his career we can see evidence of classical landscape. By the end of his career he has progressed his style and technique much more inline with impressionists and is heading into the territory of early 20th century art. It could well be that a camera was used to capture the woodland scene.

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Forest View near Barbizon, 1900

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 The Water Lilly Pond 1899 – Monet

Impressionists began their own movement in 1874 after being rejected by the institutions. Classical painting was being left behind in earnest now. The common graphic design, palettes and depictions of landscapes found in classical landscape paintings were set aside. I am sure that Turner’s paintings predating 1874 were at least in part a catalyst for this. Either way, landscape painting was unrecognizable*/viewPage/1

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A wheat field with Cypresses 1889 – Vincent Van Gogh.

Commonalities of painters:

It would have been easy to choose paintings that were all very similar to Constable/ Turner/ Gainsborough and their contemporaries. They all had similar compositional, colour and light techniques but each artist had their own style. Social motivations became prominent as the industrial age was launched. Up until Turner’s work became very abstract, classical ‘naturalistic’ and ‘sublime’ landscapes had been the norm. This isn’t surprising as there wasn’t any other way to communicate scenes without visiting a location oneself. Beauty and the sublime were the general themes. Of course there were artists that veered towards the ‘Arcadian’ contrivance and those who were inclined towards the Dutch influences too.

So, whilst a select few might have some commonalities, there are also swathes of differences too.

What is an interesting debate that I am now pondering is if a Gainsborough’s commission can be described as art? Fulfilling the want of the gentry to demonstrate their wealth and power by means of employing somebody to apply the technicalities of composition and paint; is this not the same discourse as ‘photography as an art’?


 I must have been influenced on some minor level when at school – junior school. I remember being absorbed at the National Gallery. I couldn’t tell you now what landscape oil paintings I was looking at but I have no doubt that Constable or Gainsborough paintings were amongst them.

I don’t deny my passion for naturalistic oil paintings from the 18th and 19th century. Mostly the English and Dutch influences have remained with me. On a very quiet and personal level, these paintings taught me to see light but I have waited all my life to experiment with photography.

Below are a mix of my own and other landscape photographers whose work can be compared to 18th and 19th Century oil paintings. The commonalties are found in the composition and mood of the images. Without any supporting text, there doesn’t seem to be any narrative in these images other than a naturalistic meditative pleasure but further research into the photographers projects provides the context in which we can decode the narratives in the images.


(My own work from 2013)

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Ansel Adams – 1958

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Charlie Waite – South Wales (permission being sought).

Chosen due to the comparison that can be drawn from Thomas Cole’s 1836 painting above.

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Salgado – Genesis Project

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Modernist approaches:

 The course notes give a brief history of how photographers in the late 1800’s split into two distinct camps. There were those who were preoccupied with the technical elements of photography and those who saw the creative potential of photography as an artistic medium – even so, the ethos was really about how to liken an image to pictorial paintings.

For clarification, I refer to Graham Clarke (p.167) again. Briefly, ‘photo – art’ landscape photography remained in the pictorial genre until a Zayas posed a question. He asked if photography was an art. This discourse came about in the art periodical of the time ‘Camera works’ (Steiglitz).

Zayas triggered the endless discourse of ‘photography as an art’ and the suggested “purer forms” of it.

The way was being paved to bring photography into its own being – distancing itself from the alignment with documentary and painting.

The subsequent Steiglitz 291 exhibition drew together modernist artists (such as Matisse) and took landscape photography from the realms of pictorial art and towards the realms of modernist art.


Familiarisation of ‘Exhibition 291’:

Exercise 1.4

I must be on the right tracks with my research because this exercise requires me to read the same afore-mentioned Camera Works article where Marius De Zayas begins the discourse of photography as an art!!

I am then to consider where I stand on his points.

Point 1: ‘Straight photography’

“Photography is not Art, but photographs can be made to be Art.”

Photography in its pure form is a way for a “person of reason, experience and instinct” to approach a subject without any other intention but to represent some kind of truth of what is found in front of them. The photographer attempts to capture the objectivity of ‘form’. This objectivity of ‘form’ represents facts from which the viewer can interpret.

Point 2. ‘Art Photography’

 An art photographer has a pre-planned concept to communicate and uses the ‘objectivity of form’ to communicate their concept.

This is summed up beautifully by “an art photographer using form to express something within themselves and a ‘straight’ photographer seeks to represent something outside them.”

Zayas lists the process of the state of being as an artist that separates them from a ‘straight’ photographer.

– Uses the objectivity of form to express and preconceived idea in order to convey an emotion.

– An art photographer approaches nature with an open mind, as an investigator and an experimenter to try and extract the ‘true state of conditions’.

 Point 3. Which is more important?

 The Steichen style of technical representation of object?


The Steiglitz departure into searching for the expression of an object?

Where do I stand on this issue?

I agree with Zayas’s observations of the distinct differences between photography as a documentation of form and photography as an art. I am always astonished when I am asked which is more important or worthy though. My stance is that I don’t have a stance on which is more ‘important ’ or more ‘worthy’. A person can do whatever it is they want to do with a camera. Love it as a craft, love it as an art…. or a combination. I don’t much care for the sniffy attitudes in either direction. Art is the freedom of expression in my mind – however that expression manifests itself. The same conversations happen in other mediums and I find that it can be a highly destructive process of one-upmanship and I often wonder if it prevents a natural progression from technical photography into the realms of art. Having said that, comprehension of the discourse and subsequent debates stand to stretch a person and that should be encouraged.

The question for me is what do I want to achieve with knowing the difference between the two alongside my understanding of the history of art. All I know right now is that I want to be happy and if I find that happiness in either or both, then who is anybody else to argue with that?

I am on an arts degree; not because I dislike ‘merely’ representing form, or that I am ashamed of my self-indulgence in producing pictorial landscapes. I happen to want to explore how to include narrative and creativity into my work. At the same time, I don’t see a day when I don’t feel compelled to roll up to an awe-inspiriting location and take photographs of it. I am not ashamed of my love of some of the technological elements of photography (not all of it), nor my pictorial landscapes to date. Which I end up preferring, I can’t possibly tell yet. I will reflect further on the run up to my first assignment as I can see that we will be exploring the academics of ‘sublime’.

Exercise 1.5.

For this exercise, I have to plan assignment 6.

Looking at part six of the course, I can see that I have been very fortunate to attend a day’s lecture with Jeremy Southam with the OCA in Exeter last year. A large part of the day was spent talking about transitions. He documented his back garden for many years – capturing the eras, seasons and evolution of the flora and fauna in the garden. I will revisit his work again but I have enough recollection of it to understand the concept.

The other exampled photographers are Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. Their project is called ‘Third View’ and was inspired by topographical photography of the America’s Western front pioneers. The present their work on an interactive website.

 In essence it is a fascinating insight into ‘before and after’ of the American landscape. Some of these landscapes are hardly recognizable.

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Next, reference is made to Paul Hill who undertook much of his work in the north of England.

There isn’t much in the way of photographs to look at on the link but I will aim to order his book. The course notes contain a set of five images that follow the decomposition of a dead badger.

The assignment itself asks that I produce a series of images that responds to the idea of transitions. It might be a view, or it might be a more intimate study. The scene might be visited daily and the amount of images will be dictated by my strategy.

A 300 word reflective commentary should be produced that includes thoughts about the landscape as the ‘evolving and dynamic system’ that it is.

I will be coming back to this, as I need to read a little more and start exploring my locality for a suitable location. A separate sketchbook will be kept to plan and log this journey.

Sketch book page number from page 1 .

Project: The beautiful and the sublime.

 Exercise 1.6

 For this exercise, I am to read Simon Morley’s ‘Staring At The Contemporary Abyss’. Afterwards, I am to choose a body of work that answers to the definition of ‘sublime’ and then use Morley’s text to support how I feel the work does relate to the ‘sublime’ in a 300 word essay.

I have found both the Tate text and the Radio 4 link very highbrow and dependent on prior knowledge of the academics of ‘sublime’. I have had to depend on Helix Centre ‘round table’ conversation to provide an accessible but comprehensive foundation on the subject.









 Sebastio Salgado:

I have chosen Sebastio Salgado’s oeuvre to discuss. This choice might be obvious but I find it hard to produce any sort of response to more contemporary work that seems to communicate a narrative about a photographer’s own subliminal experience, rather that creating a photograph to produce a subliminal response in a viewer – in the way Turner was able to. I accept that further into this course, my understanding of postmodern/ contemporary responses to ‘sublime’ might well change.

Post ‘www.’ I do wonder at this early stage if we have had too much of a good thing and our ability to create a sublime photograph with an impact, or to respond to photography with a subliminal experience have diminished. Almost I think for the same reasons that Sontag gives for her theory of ‘compassion’ fatigue – we are confronted with infinite images of wonderful vistas everyday.

Salgado has continually managed to create an ‘immanent transcendence’. He conveys the majesty of ‘Mother Earth’ – some akin to Pictorial beauty; but juxtaposed the landscapes subliminal (and at the same time beautiful) with the plight of mankind and creatures. Also, the light and composition used in the portraits creates a conflict of emotion between the beauty and the sublime. Some like me will have described that experience of transcendence as a spiritual* one that altered emotional perceptions and responses towards an alien environment. Maybe Salgado’s work appears to be less contemporary than other bodies of work but his work is clearly defined as subliminal.

(*I say ‘spiritual’ but I am aware that this would allude to a spiritual notion that is controversial – I use the term loosely and ‘psychoactive response’ can be used instead. However, one of Salgado’s projects is called Genesis – so this biblical reference is appropriate).

Salgado is one of the few photographers who has conveyed the ‘otherness’ in me to the point where I could merely look at the work, not know anything about the context or narrative but still experience emotion that transcends anything previously experienced. Applying elements of the modernist pictorial, he kept his work accessible to a wider audience. Morley brings together the eras of sublime and states how he thinks that there are five ways that ‘sublime’ is used in art:

  • Trancendence
  • Terror
  • Uncanny
  • Altered state of concious

Certainly, I think that Salgado ticks at least a couple of these boxes – as well as any photographer ever could – whether his oeuvre can be considered contemporary is another issue.

Ultimately, Morley states, contemporary ‘sublime’ must pose more questions than it answers. Again, albeit that Salgado might not sit alongside postmodernist aesthetics, I think that he still answers to Morley’s definition of ‘sublime’ – just in an aesthetically pleasing way. I am hungry to know the where, when, who, why, what and how. The ‘whys’ are always the hardest to answer when human suffering is portrayed.

Of course, fashion/ eras in art and the discourse of what ‘sublime’ actually is continue to rattle on. I can only speak of my observations and even describing my subliminal response is hard to articulate.

Exercise 1.7

 Assignment proposal has been sent to my tutor. I will insert the planning into my sketchbook.

 Project: The Zone System.

 Exercise 1.8

 Ansel Adams ‘Zone System’ is something that I have covered to the nth degree on a course that I undertook prior to joining OCA. I lost days to building my own zone ruler and albeit the process was interesting (as well as infuriating), I am unlikely to ever build a zone ruler again and I am highly relieved not to see that I have to now!

However, having said all this, I have enough understanding of zone V grey scale and dynamic range to achieve what I need to. I also have a good experience of my camera and what it is capable of achieving in scenes where there is a challenging high dynamic range.

3 examples of high dynamic range:

Knowing the limitations of a camera means that inevitable clippings can be taken down in edit.   The dynamic range in the image below is beyond that of my cameras sensor ability, so shooting in RAW helps to address this in edit.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 06.39.35

Very minor ‘tweaking’ brings the histogram back into range.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 06.39.57

I have to say that I haven’t ever found the need to merge bracketed exposures and rather than take fresh photographs of something I know inside out, I will use this point to gain a new skill in Photoshop. However, I would like to point out that I prefer contrasting images where dark are slightly clipped and this is a creative decision, rather than a mistake. I will always expose for the highlights and if the dynamic range is more than 12 stops, then I will be struggling not to clip the darks.


*** Insert HDR image***


 Exercise 1.9

This exercise is something that I have touched on in People and place and Context and Narrative and I am familiar with the work of the photographers mentioned in the course notes. However this will be a good time to revisit these photographers within the context of landscape.

Certainly the architectural and social contrasts within towns/ cities/ village’s interest me and I think this stems from my astonishment at attending various calls for assistance in London. One Georgian dwelling would be luxurious and yet, the next property in the Georgian terrace would be at the opposite end of the spectrum. However, often the cries for help were common and stretched across classes. I.e. Domestic violence, drug abuse etc.

I tackled the ‘two stories’ of a town in this C&N assignment. Within a square mile of a Devonian market town tells two very different stories. The first set alone reflects the idyll of middle England and the second set shows the reality of the degeneration. It could be anywhere and either of the rhetorical sets could be used depending on the propaganda desired:

My roots are in London and so for the purposes of this exercise, I will look at the different social perspectives of London in this century. With regeneration projects post 1980, poverty looks a bit different to that from even a few decades ago.

BJP Online has this article depicting affluent Kuwaiti tourists who are ‘living the capitalist dream’ while visiting London.


Qataris respond to Dougie Wallace’s photographs of Britain’s wealth tourism

Conversely, the social commentary for these migrants against that is set in the landscape of Marble Arch recently shows London in a different light:

Simon Kennedy:

With an architectural approach, Simon Kennedy conducted this study of London’s Heygate Estate in 2010. Whilst poverty isn’t depicted as such, it is alluded to. The failure of this architecture that now stands empty awaiting demolition is eerie – devoid of human presence. Clearly, this estate was originally designed in 1974 with ‘bettering the working class living conditions’ in mind. Now the working classes in London are becoming harder to find as they are squeezed out of London under this government.

Social contrasts in the same image:


I will start by refreshing my memory with John Thompson’s ‘Street Life’. The book has been digitalized:

This is a beautiful book. It opens with a captivating photograph with equally captivating story about one of the women in the image who died in ‘mysterious’ circumstances a few weeks after the photograph was taken. Immediately, I am intrigued. The attention to the juxtaposition of the opening image and text has paid dividends. For affluent Victorian society, this book would have stood to reinforce to them that the lower classes were people. The writing is humorous but very real.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 19.03.24

John Thompson: Street Life of London – Page 136.

The narrative is about the politics of the shoe shiners in London and children not being educated to do anything else.

This is a famous photograph by  Terry Spencer was taken at Piccadilly Circus in 1997. Mods walking past seated students – albeit they are of the same age, the class and belief system divide is signified in this composition.

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