Behind The Images Part 1
Dark Visions has been a project five years in the making although it is fair to say that, often, when we start capturing a series of images we do not intentionally set out to make it a project. It is often something that grows and develops over a period of time maybe not revealing itself to us as a coherent project until a fair period into the process. To pinpoint the moment 'Dark Visions' became a project isn't easy; the first image was made in 2009, the concept of 'Dark Visions' was born around two and a half to three years ago as I reflected up on the growing body of work that I felt reflected by artistic style and vision, but as I will go on to discuss in my 'The Experiential Landscape' theory I can trace some of the earliest influences on my love of the landscape, urban form, social interaction with our environment and our industrial heritage back to inspiration sparked by to teachers at secondary school................. thus it could almost be suggested 'Dark Visions' has been a project some twenty five plus years in the making.
Unless we are out capturing images which are visual copies of iconic photographs all of our work we produce has the power to tell our story and each individual image will have it's own story, history and motivation which fuels our creative output. The following is a journey through my creative inspiration behind some of the images from the 'Dark Visions' project / exhibition....... a journey through my experiences and creative motivations..... I hope you enjoy it / find it a valuable insight which might spark some personal reflection about your creative journey.
As a child of the seventies midlands where we can all recall the brutalist architecture that started in the nineteen fifties and pervaded through to the mid seventies, although Nottingham wasn't a massive hotbed of brutalist architecture I still remember with strange fondness the grimy dominance of the Victoria Centre flats and the Balloon Woods flats. I think I was drawn to the steadfast size, shape and form these buildings imprinted in my mind. I recall when I headed off to university in Sheffield the first thing that impinged itself on my memory were the somewhat run down and iconic Park Hill flats that loomed over the city above the train station. For any visitor coming to Sheffield by rail the first thing you saw as you left the train was the flats, iconic both in vision and in the negative notoriety due to its fall from grace as a well planned utopian 'city in the sky' to replace the back to back slums. Over the years as the housing stock decayed, the council shifted in tenants with social problems and drugs became rife the utopian image of Park Hill was never realised and many felt trapped or imprisoned by the sheer dominance of the structure and the social ills which pervaded the area.
As someone who studied both Geography and Urban Studies at university my interest in our social interactions and urban conurbations grew from that spark of the two inspiring secondary level geography / humanities teachers........... and what a city to explore Sheffield was. Living in the city I got to know fellow students who lived in Park Hill and understood more about the sense of community that still existed in pockets despite the negative impression 'outsiders' had of the area. It was still very much an area where families existed in communities that had grown over the years at Park Hill. This two faceted impression of Park Hill enthralled me as did the bold lines, form and structure of the architecture.
It was thus inevitable, I think, that Park Hill would be part of my creative project 'Dark Visions'. It lent itself to the juxtapositions I wanted to portray through my imagery. Park Hill had been undergoing some regeneration by a company called Urban Splash to breath new life and pride into the cities iconic structure. It is this regeneration rather than be demolished that excites me by drawing on both history and experience without forgetting it or wiping it out as we see so often. 'Dark Visions' being a project about experiences and creation meant that Park Hill had to be a part of it.
I have to admit that Dark Currents is one of my personal favourites from the whole 'Dark Visions' project and exhibition, it encapsulates my love of black & white photography, strong shape & from, and the coast. Growing up in Nottingham you really couldn't be much further from the coast, but thanks to parents and grandparents who loved the coast we would spend a lot of time visiting the popular east coast resorts of Mablethorpe and the surrounding area. Some of my fondest memories as a child are holidays and day trips to the coast..... I even remember being particularly upset / dismayed when my parents announced for the first time we were going to Spain instead ;-)
Many a photographer will openly admit they are both drawn to the coast and have a connection to it, I am no different drawing on my experiences and memories as child where my love of the coast was nurtured and propagated. You may ask why with this deep love and affinity to the coast why it forms such a central part of a project entitled 'Dark'? ;-) Well as you have probably worked out the dark reference is 'Dark Visions' is an ambiguous one taking on many meanings some which may be of darker thoughts or memories, also referring to my love of black & white or monochrome photography which I feel allows me to convey my mood and feeling through the stripping back of the image to it's constituent parts of form and tonal relationships rather than just 'pretty' colours.......... but importantly 'Dark Visions' also seeks to challenge our preconceptions about how we 'see' locations by suggesting that everything isn't purely literal or black and white.
As much as I love the coast I have to admit, being a particularly poor swimmer, I have a somewhat uneasy relationship with it often wanting to get 'that image' I have in vision but having to push my self through my fear factor of either being in deeper water than I would like or perched on precarious ledge / wall above a harbour where both the drop and the depth of water fill me with fear. Through my imagery in Dark Currents my vision was to bring this all together in tandem with my representation of time (passing) something none of us can control nor slow down but must make the most of all our opportunities.
On a more technical level, the visual representation of the swirls in the water were created by a passing boat through the image...... many may have eschewed it's presence or effect but in visualising the effect of time / long exposure on the sky I knew I wanted to create some kind of symmetry between the sea and the sky to really draw the viewer through the visual focal point of the harbour entrance sandwiched beautifully between them to the open vastness of the what lies beyond........ to allow the viewer to complete the story in their own mind as to what lies beyond based on their own vision or experiences.....
Dark Power as an image actually presented itself from within another short day long project where on the 12/12/2012 I'd decided to capture a set of images partly driven by my somewhat OCD type interest in order. I am not particularly mathematically minded and even through my past studies of statistics at university was never really engaged by numbers as some are........ to simplify things for myself I would always look for order or simplicity of patterns to help me deal with numbers and this is what fuelled the mini project.
Twelve images created, all twelve seconds long, all square 12 x 12 and all created on the 12/12/12..... there's even an image created at 12:12 so you can see how obsessive or sad I am ;-) The concept of working in projects is something, as Doug points out in the foreward, that allows us as photographers to present a coherent or connected output and this is the reason why I love to work in projects. It gives me chance to really focus and break away from the draw of the wider landscape to focus on a subset or micro level of content as inspiration.
Dark Power connects with my experiences on a number of levels, it would be easy to say as a lover of monochrome photography and the work of Michael Kenna that his study of the iconic Ratcliffe Power station in Nottinghamshire inspired me with it's simplicity of tone, strong lines and graphical compositions........... and it's undoubted that I have found his work inspiring but to reproduce alone would leave me somewhat unfulfilled and empty leaving little inclusion of my past experiences and connection to Ratcliffe itself.
My connection and ultimately creative output inspired by Ratcliffe Power Station is much more in depth and wider than just my appreciation of the work of Michael Kenna. As a child living in between Nottingham and Derby and on the highest point in the village the one dominant view out of my bedroom window was over towards Ratcliffe power station. I remember watching with wonderment at the huge plumes of steam leaving the cooling towers and the display of lights on the towers many a day / night. Considering they were almost ten miles away the power station always seemed very dominant in my view and full of presence. Through photography these are terms / phenomenon I've become more acutely aware and concerned with in thinking about how I portray my work and specific creative intent.
I was lucky enough to have an extended family member who worked at at least one of the local power stations when I was young, back in the time when security wasn't such a worry and our considerations for the impact on the environment of these coal powered beasts weren't so acute. I recall on at least two occasions attending open days / family fun days at the power station and seeing at close quarters and in utter awe the mammoth size of the cooling towers and control panels inside the offices.........I'm pretty sure you wouldn't get this kind of access today even to the extent that when I have photographed the power station from near the river and the train station I have been hassled by security. I wonder if Kenna was ever approached by security in the years he photographed Ratcliffe for his study?
One of the key things we are all acutely aware of these days is the effect on our environment these fossil fuel burning bohemoths have, but in powering the nation when it was a powerhouse of industrial production it's difficult to imagine how we may of achieved this with renewable energy sources. At the end of the day they are all part of our development as a nation, part of our nations story and journey and it is with this in mind that Ratcliffe is important in my project. I've tried to portray through my creative output all these emotions, feelings and connections I have with this iconic location and develop my output to tell my story and not that of others who photograph it........... after all that is what 'Dark Visions' and my 'The Experiential Landscape' theory are all about.
Now, at first glance it could be said Dark Light represents what is essentially a iconic location. Many of us as photographers have photographed St Mary's Lighthouse at Whitley and undoubtedly thousands more will.......... but does that make it any less valid an image to make? As long as we explore our connection to and our relationship with the location within our image creative I would argue that their is much validity and value in producing an image that is our creative expression.
As a child my experience of the coast was focused around the areas we used to visit as a family and predominantly this would be the Lincolnshire coast between Donna Nook and Gibraltar Point. Now to say this isn't the most obviously dramatic coastline in the UK would, maybe, be fairly close to the mark. The soft undulating dunes and beeches of the Lincolnshire coast certainly are fraught with the stature and ruggedness of Devon and Cornwall or even further up the east coast into Lincolnshire. Yet, with it's transient population of summer season dwellers the Lincolnshire coast and our human interaction with it are no less interesting or important to me. So, you may be wondering why I'm blithering on about the Lincolnshire coast when my Dark Light image is clearly of another location and a content which is absent from the Lincolnshire coast........... yes the Lighthouse! And this is where Dark Light and the Whitley Bay area hold a context and an experiential link for me.
It was on a foray up the north east coast whilst on a geography field trip that I first experienced a lighthouse in person as it were, previously they had held a psychogeographic representation to me of places down south or outside of my immediate experience zone and thus of 'another' place which held intrigue and wonder. It's quite a startling thought that I'd managed to meander through a good proportion of my younger years never physically experiencing a lighthouse....... you might be quite surprised by that. But, for me, one thing it does do is re-frame my younger experiences and my locale or sense of place to being maybe more restricted than I had thought but no less exciting. Maybe it was through my fascination with my immediate 'place' or experience zone that I supplemented this yearning to travel by a deeper fascination and exploration of areas closer by, areas which we visited more readily and frequently.
Now, it is this draw to become more personal and connected with my locale that has fuelled more of my photographic work over the last few year, reconnecting with this childlike sense of adventure and awe of what our immediate 'place' holds for us and (re)connecting with it on a deeper level. It's fair to say I've also done my share of travelling around the UK 'bagging' locations and searching for the 'wow!'...... maybe searching for my passion, my drive and my photographic motivation or soul? who knows? but what I do know is that although some of my images from these jaunts are fond memories they do not hold the same longevity as images from places where I visit and immerse myself in more frequently. These locations need not be always on my door step, they may be a few hours drives away but what I find is that I am drawn to revisit and re-connect with locations on a much more frequent nature casting aside the desire to travel to 'honey pot' locations or far flung climes in search of wow content in the knowledge that my 'places' are more personal to me and provide me with personal wows an narratives that a vast collection of 'pretty' location images could not provide.
Thus my connection to the image is that moment of awe on seeing a light house on location as opposed to a glossy magazine image or as a location within a TV show. It is this connection with the ingenuity and sense of protection provided by this (and other) lighthouse that draws me back time after time to explore the coast that surrounds it, the people who visit an work around it, it's transition from purely a functional building to one which draws us as humans and tourists to explore our relationship with it and it serves as a constant reminder of our scale on this earth juxtaposed with our explorative quest to tame or harness this planet we inhabit.
Living near Sheffield as I do there is an abundance of very graphic architecture, straight lines, reflective glass panels, bold designs and a general modernisation of the city. Whilst the decaying old industrial areas of the city were in no doubt in need of regeneration I still find myself drawn to their industrial heritage, gritty elegance, steadfast defiance of the total passage of time. I am also drawn to this modern architecture of form, lines, and uniformity which present an ordered lyrical playground for any creative. It's certainly a juxtaposition of mindset and allure that draw me to the old and new of the city, one which is an interesting challenge to reconcile in ones mind when creating ones impression of the city.
A chance lunch time stroll along the canal tow path close to the city centre whilst attending a conference provided me with some targeted and time limited opportunity to explore a part of the city I knew well. To head out and set oneself constraints can be oddly liberating, with no pre-planning to speak of as my mind had been in an education mind set all morning it felt like I was able to see my 'place' instantaneously with fresh eyes and a new way of seeing a location as if it may only 'be' for a short time........... of course I could visit again any number of times but my one single aim was to 'see' the location afresh and produce a piece of work which I may of walked on by before.
The graffiti, some may call it blight others art, spoke to me instantaneously as if to tell me a tale of the juxtaposition of this area, the irony of the building above being very much new, lavish and modern yet this unknown author daring us to think about the 'place' more holistically and appreciate the scale of change. The irony is also not lost on me that this piece of urban commentary manifested itself to me whilst attending a conference whose focus was education........... pure chance? or some fortuitous karma that I decided to head out to an area I know well with only a limited time to explore and an open mind? you decide........ all I know is the image I created was part of a collective landscape experience just waiting for me to discover it at that precise moment.
I could of easily, as I would normally do at conferences, stay around for the buffet / networking lunch and give no thought to my creative endeavours, yet...........
I may not be a lyrical poet or wordsmith, I'll leave that to others who are certainly more proficient at painting a picture in words and for that I am in awe of the creative talents of the two writers who've crafted stories from deep within their imagination and past experiences to transition 'Dark Visions' across the creative platforms. I do, however, a have deep connection and intimacy with my images, their subjects, locations and experiences I've derived from them....... and for this I am proud to present them if a little uneasy at the open book nature of the personal stories they tell.
I hope you find the insight into the first set of images from 'Dark Visions' of interest and that it may stimulate some thoughts or reflections, indeed please do connect with me on TWITTER or via EMAIL as I'm always happy to discuss thoughts on photography and creativity. The exhibition runs between the 3rd and 21st October at the Joe Cornish gallery if you can get along and why not take the FREE eBook along with you to complete the experience and learn a little more about the project.
Part 2 of the 'behind the images' series will follow shortly......
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