Behind The Images Part 2
The process of reflection on ones own work can be quite challenging for us as photographers at first, asking our selves questions of why did I make that image? what was my inspiration? what is my experience or connection to the location? what is my narrative? These can all be seriously challenging questions and ones which force us into a sense of introspection and a degree of self understanding. To this end to reflect on our work as photographers is a critical activity and one which we can harness the insights to inform our future directions, challenge our own preconceptions about photography and importantly help us understand our personal journey as visual artists.
Our personal journey is just that! personal! what we bring to our work consciously, subconsciously and unconsciously are a realm of lifetime experiences both artistic in endeavour but also our 'whole life' experiences. We may not realise where the jigsaw pieces fit together and where our inspirations came from........... we may not fully understand where the journey started and why we are inspired to create the way we do. But, by taking the time to reflect and understand ourselves we can gain a deeper and more personal understanding of how our creative journey, a dynamic process, is shaped and develops continually.
The basis of these thoughts and theories about how creative journeys were explored and presented at the opening event lecture presentation as part of my #DarkVisions exhibition at the Joe Cornish Gallery in North Yorkshire which was phenomenally well attended and culminated in a vibrant interactive discussion with the audience which is always the aim with my presentations............ I am not a believer in 'stand and deliver' or 'chalk and talk' I firmly believe the value in these presentations is in the co-creation of knowledge and opinion through discussion.
Following on from part one of my behind the images this article will explore more of the images from the #DarkVisions project and exhibition
Dark Steel (above image)
As with how many photographers work we often visit locations around the country and wider, some we make a connection to and re-visit many times others we may only fleetingly visit. The North East of England is an area that I spend a lot of time in both making my own images and through leading our popular residential photographers breaks. It's an area we have many great friends in and this summer was the part of the country we got married in.
Photographically and experientially it is an area of the country I have a great deal of affection with, having grown up in the industrial Midlands throughout the 70's and studied in Sheffield as a geographer at University, again an area with a rich industrial heritage, the draw of the North East for me is this mix of traditional heavy industry and the beautiful North Yorkshire Moors & Coastal area. Who couldn't be inspired in an area of such vast beauty and drama?
South Gare just up from Redcar where Dark Steel was made is an area I could visit hundreds of times and come back with something different each time. I'm fascinated and intrigued by the fishing community that exists out there, there's no viable financial reason for these guys to be out here, but the sense of community and belonging to a 'place' that these guys exhibit is enduring and in some ways quite belligerent.
The stories these chaps will tell you are endlessly fascinating as is their warmth and willingness to chat to strangers....... they must see so many photographers trudging around the Gare and I'd hope most are respectful of this community before invading it with their tripods after all it does say private but I've found over many visits taking the time to chat with and listen to the tales these fishermen tell that they'll quite happily invite you to wander around the village of huts and some will even invite you in to their little pockets of peace and quiet. I feel it is important as landscape or outdoor photographers that we are both respectful of and eager to learn more about the locations and people we photograph........ after all we are not taking purely soulless snaps of a landscape uninhabited or affected by man we are interacting with and capturing the essence of locations where we both shape and are shaped by the landscape.
The landscape and specific locations get into your soul, you develop a draw to understand them and document them in a way that is personal to you and the location or people who inhabit it............. for me this is one of the true transformative thing that landscape / outdoor or any kind of photography brings to us, it helps us understand and explore our place in the world and our connection to it.
In working to distil the essence of the Gare and my connection to it through my image 'Dark Steel' I wanted to encapsulate the draw the area has for me in the industry along with the social / people side of the location but importantly the juxtaposition of the sweeping nature of the dunes and beach to the open coast side.
In thinking about how a location get's into our souls somewhat the recent events in the Redcar area with the initial mothballing and subsequent closure of the steel works. This is clearly something that is going to impact an area of the country which is already up against it in economic terms and have an impact for years to come. Now, even though it isn't an area I live in, with my deep connection to the area I knowing a lot of people from the area who are either directly affected by or indirectly affected by the closure of the Redcar works it also hit me in a way I did not expect and to the extent that I felt I needed to make a visual or artistic comment to the events.
Coming almost full circle in your image making process and finding that as a photographer you are inspired to make a comment through your images to events is an interesting experience and blurs the boundaries between outdoor / landscape photography, documentary photography and environmental photography. As photographers we aren't going to change the world with our images, but we can make comment or at least do our little bit in highlighting a situation. This is something I discussed in my recent article with Tim Parkin for OnLandscape (Issue 101) centred around #DarkVisions at the Joe Cornish Gallery. It has been interesting, if a little challenging personally, that my Dark Steel image has been used for exhibition previews in many newspapers and on line news sites around the North of England to promote the exhibition at the Cornish but also to link to the very real events and plight of the communities of Redcar with the closure of the steel works. I say I found this a little personally challenging in that in some ways it makes you feel a little guilty that somehow you are cashing in on the events...... though obviously never my or the galleries intentions it's bound to tug at the emotions and ethical considerations we have a photographers. When I look at it objectively though I can see it gives the image and exhibition a further and deeper connection to the area and in some ways I'm proud my visual comment has been used to highlight and connect to the people of the area / wider.
My feeling that I needed to make a comment to the closure of the works was too strong to ignore and the image above was one of the final additions to the exhibition. I set out to try and distil visually a sense of a loss of hope and identity for the area to an extent, the sense of anguish / worry that the communities must be feeling. To create my vision I felt that a kind of blurred almost wet plate style of processing for the image would work well and tell my story. It's interesting in that I used a filter which I might not traditionally consider using in my post processing of a so called 'classic landscape', and for me this re-enforces the role of artistic post processing in creating our visual creative vision and telling a story.
Of all the fantastic comments and discussions I have had with people throughout the exhibition both in person at the gallery and on line this 'comment' image has seemed to resonate with so many people. I have even had instances of chatting with people who've visited the site through work in the past who've said this image really connected with them as it summed up the sense of confusion and emotional feelings visiting such as vast heavy working industrial site invoke n them.
For me, when anyone comments on how an image connects with them in a way that is deeper than the superficial 'oh that's a nice / good image' and sparks an emotional connection it highlights the power of visual imagery as well as re-enforcing why we do what we do as photographers....... yes we work for ourselves and produce images for ourselves but to get this deep connection to one of our images from another person does feel like quite a special moment!
#DarkVisions has been an immensely reflective project and the more I consider my connections to my image making the more inspiration it gives me to head out and make more images with a personal narrative. I'd certainly say that harnessing this enthusiasm and connectivity to my image making has developed a new found pleasure in my work. We all go through doubts and times when our 'phojo' is lacking, but if we can harness something that is very personal to us as well as seeing the non image making time as part of the journey I believe we can really further our exploration of who we are personally as photographers and image makes.
To bring #DarkVisions together I decided I would self publish a book to bring the images to a tangible collection that I could easily pick up and use as part of my reflective process. The curation involved in the bringing together of #DarkVisions over the last five or six years has been both creative and a wonderful self journey of exploration......... bringing the prints to life for the exhibition at the Joe Cornish Gallery and carefully selecting the papers to be tactile and allow the images to sing to me has been a pleasurable foray back into large format printing for me. The help, support and encouragement of the team at Fotospeed, especially Vince, has been amazing and re-ignited my passion for printing to bring the images into a very tangible state.
I have been proud to call the team at Fotospeed friends as well as my official paper sponsors for #DarkVisions their support and service have been second to none and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
I'd absolutely encourage anyone to take those first steps into printing your own images if you've never done it before, the whole process of choosing the right papers for your images and living with the printed image truly reconnects you with your work in a way I'm not sure you can achieve through any other process.
#Dark Visions Book
For a limited period I am offering a free exhibition print on A4 Fotospeed Natural Soft Textured Bright White paper with orders of my book, to take advantage of this offer simply complete the order process (below) and contact me with your order number to choose which print from the exhibition you would like.
#DarkVisions Official Paper Partner & Sponsors