Informing Contexts : Practice Reflection
MA Falmouth University
The mental imprint can at times dwell consciously in one’s brain, as John Stathatos writes on photography, “its unique relationship with reality, a relationship which has little to do with ‘truth’, visual or otherwise, but everything to do with the emotional charge generated by the photograph’s operation as a memory trace” quoted in Badger G. ”The Territories of the Medium”, The Genius of Photography, Quadrille, London 2007.
So it was with James Welling’s lingering image, The Glass House, Connecticut, USA, the impressionistic view of Philip Johnson’s own home, shot from 2006 to 2009. That featured in the exhibition organised by ICP Curator Carol Squiers, What Is a Photograph? that explored the range of creative experimentation that has occurred in photography since the 1970’s exhibited in 2014. It is an image for which Barthes may have made his observation, “The Photograph then becomes a bizarre medium, a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time: a temporal hallucination” Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Lucida: Reflections on photography (1st American ed.). New York: Hill and Wang. p115. The deep orange seems somehow appropriate and not jarring as the subject is the setting and object that is the wholly glass walled Modernist house set amongst its own parkland. Map Magazine’s citation reads “his imposition of fanciful abstraction and colourful embellishments could register at odds with the no-frills rationality of modernist architecture. Could he be challenging Johnson’s conceptual conceit? Or conversely, perhaps Welling continues the investigation of transparency and the dialectics of interiority and exteriority propagated by modernist architects. Somewhat humorously, the combination of modernist iconography with dramatised, artificial lens flares appear as if spiritual transcendence is occurring on the very picture plane” http://mapmagazine.co.uk/8991/james-welling-glass-house/
I had this Welling image firmly springing into my mind when I walked out onto this flat expanse of roof, during my shoot of buildings under threat, in this case the Masonic Hall, known as the Clarendon Suite, Hagley Road, Birmingham March 2017 to be demolished April 2017. The ‘doubleness’ Welling cited in his work and the deliberate use of filters to cast and manipulate light onto the image but also through the dual glass facades all chimed. This image is taken through a tinted glass corner; the glass itself providing a deepened hue viewed through one sliding door to another beyond and the clouds and a simmer of sun interplay with the leafless trees both beyond and reflected from behind. The building is 1971 vintage and the colours capture the light brown cast that spreads throughout the building. My Birmingham view is less sunny, infused with ordinariness and uses no filters but the layering of the architecture and the imposition of nature and the weather play into the shot of a building that is otherwise the antithesis of Johnson’s house as it uses extremely small amounts of glass to shield views to and from the goings on of an institution that operated historically with a high degree of privacy and seclusion.
figure 1: Wellings https://www.nowness.com/story/james-wellings-the-glass-house
figure 2: Own work, ‘Momento Mori’/Empty Series commenced March 2017, Birmingham