On Editing, Discernment, Colour and Anti-Romanticism

s A further view on the process of editing my Work in Progress Portfolio, MA Photography; Informing Contexts


figure 1

Here is my study table transformed to an editing table; it seems suitable as it is translucent white glass.  The books and papers are cleared and each of my 20 plus images are set out mostly at A6 size, printed and cut out.  A substantial amount of shuffling has taken place and a decision has been made to reduce down to 16.

I have enjoyed and found the comparisons made by pairing but have decided in making a judgement that where images are paired they are either split and shown separately or in the majority of cases I have discerned which is the stronger image and discarded the weaker.  I may, in due course, create a photobook layout but have made the decision to await the outcome of my Module Two assessment at the end of the Informing Contexts period at Falmouth University before doing that.

The most significant move I have made, in consultation with course tutors is to move from four geographic subsets and create instead a single series under the title Empty.  I have dissolved the ‘walls’ in my mind and actually literally and chosen to interweave the images and created a series which works from numerous methods, firstly there is a tonal deepening in the narrative now from light to darker and thus a revealing of darker meaning as progress is made, this is reinforced with a familiar opening image of a building envelope then the final image is looking into a building.  The perspectives vary deliberately; some views are ‘flat’ and shallow, others create an extended deoth and invite the eye into and beyond; a critical aspect of working with architecture and space.  Interspersing  these views is a device to keep the viewer engaged and modulate the flow.

I believe my ‘sunlight on the moulded student chair’ is one of the strongest images in my series and was a leading candidate for the opening piece.  It was left in that position overnight but was subsequently displaced by the current image which sets the scene and, like the chair, invites more than a glance; it suggests something is perhaps not normal, something strong but faded; thus allowing the stream of images in the series to suggest a walk through the spaces within and beyond to other banal, abandoned and unloved objects, walls and hollow spaces.

What has come as a surprise is the use of colour.  The late 1960’s and 1970’s were typified by warmer colours, characterised by teak veneers, brown tints to glass, orange cushions; like a bowl of autumn fruits.  These colours, often faded, sometimes just hinted, tend to flow through this series.  I have written before about my internal debate about mono and colour work and my desire to keep working in both, often giving myself no choice but to work with mono in my film cameras.  I often carry both analogue and film cameras with me on a shoot and in the case of the Conservatoire, shot over two days, I used analogue on the second day to reengage with the images and spaces I had already become familiar with.

One image, figure2, was discarded even though it represented a space that was once perhaps a bar and dance hall, the curtains and rail dropped to the floor and the simple light affixed to the wall, forlorn in a huge wall, but the colours simple jarred for me and I took the image out of the series.

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figure 2

My visual memory is stacked with images I was exposed to when younger and indeed captured myself, of overgrown, cobweb strewn spaces which appeared to create an echo of the Victorian obsession with the romanticism of neglected spaces; ruins and ferns, the softening of decay with rain, sunlight and wind eroding and encouraging an organic invasion. Notably, just 9 years before the birth of photography the architect Sir John Soames commissioned the artist J M Gandy to depict the Bank of England (1830) in a state of decay and ruin.  http://collections.soane.org/object-p267 (accessed 16th April 2017). See figure 3.

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figure 3

Such major statements by national figures must, we can perhaps assume, pervade the Victorian sensibility to use newly discovered cameras and photography to publicise even further the gardens and paintings that summed up such obsessions. 

My practice deliberately sets out to avoid the romanticisation of the abandoned space; instead I aim to make images of the banal, the everyday, where a single hand, in the case of a desktop glue pen, or many where a brass handrail offers support to everyone.  Once caressed, but no longer cared for or needed. 

The other judgement I made was to loose the two images of which I realise I had a fondness for, but simply did not fit in the series, due to the colour and the fact that they appear to be, to a degree, ‘pretty’ .  These were made during a dawn visit to St Thomas More church in Sheldon, Birmingham, a building under threat (http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/two-birmingham-churches-added-at-10292178) (accessed 16th April 2017) and thus an appropriate candidate for my series.  The stark concrete frame houses a huge range of both abstract and representational stained glass, which cast an extraordinary light onto the stone floor and window reveals.  Whilst they were a key part of the story of the church and its design and purpose, these two did not make the edit.



The Mono Question

Practice thinking : Informing Contexts

MA Study, Falmouth University

I have a fondness for monochrome photography.  I am increasingly experimenting with film cameras in 4 formats and the film I use is normally black and white, plus I almost always toggle between colour and monochrome in post editing of digital images, shot on my SLR’s.

It is a question that has ben rehearsed since the advent of colour film, is it fashion, style, technical, audience or some other reason?

I have done some web based research and the theorists tend not to broach the question, practitioners do with some vigour.  One wonders what would Martin Parr’s work be like in monochrome; not the immeasurable hit it has been I surmise, equally the sharply contrasting street photography of Harry Callahan would simply be less, well simple.

So, without a deep pool of theory to dip into I resolved to write my own thinking and tease out why I work so often in black and white.  My use of monochrome is two-fold.

Firstly I do believe my work – which is about space and surfaces – architecture/public art/end of life structures – requires the capture of materiality, grain and light as a fundamental – there are no human faces to explore and see into – it is thus all about controlling a series of parts that imprint onto the image via photography.

Secondly, I can find that colour can distract and taking that layer of information away I distil and remove the distraction. It is a reductive process. It demonstrates and denotes a stand of minimisation in practice.

These two aspects synthesise into the use of monochrome imagery regularly in my work.

The challenging counterpoint to this is the beige, greyness and faded palette that evokes the 1970’s so well; that is presently the era I am shooting, because so many of those buildings and structures are deemed to be at the end of their life; hence the source of much of my documentary archive.

So, I acknowledge that I am in a dilemma at times. I use both colour and monochrome. It is very plainly a judgement I make at the time of shooting or producing.  Here are two examples, from the same shoot; St. Thomas More church, Sheldon, Birmingham, shot on 25th March 2017 just after dawn when the sun was low but intense.  The frame of the church is exposed concrete, 1969 vintage, listed for its architectural quality (grade 2 https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1410131).  In my opinion this is suitably captured in black and white, reflecting its era, materiality and striking form, best conveyed by that medium.  In sharp contrast the ribbed concrete walls have instead into the narrow vertical apertures stand glass, large abstracted which then cast an extraordinary spectrum of light onto the stone floor, pews and congregation, somehow adding an ‘otherness’ to the interior.  It is rare to harness both monochrome and colour on the same shoot but in this instance I was both comfortable, inspired and happy to reproduce in both. 

Here are two images to make the point.

DSC_5571 copyst tom more ext ribs copy