Photography is known mostly for its ability to depict fine detail. Detail is the most exploited property of the medium (think photos from space and ever-increasing digital resolutions). However, it isn’t the only reason for the medium’s existence. Some early photographers valued the aesthetic experience of blurred or manipulated images.
Of course, there are no absolutes in how things are depicted. Blurred images can explore interesting territories, such as memory and Jungian symbols. Freed from the matter-of-factness of sharp images their power lies in allusion and suggestion. Less is more. Whether it is done in camera or in post-processing, the defocused image is more universal than the factual depiction of the things in front of the camera at any given moment. It is a general description as opposed to a specific description.
This is not to say defocused images enjoy exclusive domain in exploring archetypes. It is just that they lean in that direction. These two pictures rely on backlighting through a defocused lens to suggest (to me) waking from sleep on a sunny afternoon — in essence, transitioning back to the world from some other place where things are less defined. One picture is darker than the other and conveys a slightly more serious mood.
In another life, these flowers scented the dining room. Now they are transformed by the passing of mere days. I planned these as specimens and photographed them over two days using a single bounced Elinchrom light to flatten them. Isolated on paper and by the white framing, and devoid of significant colour, they possess a certain beauty — a statement, perhaps, on the nature of time and transformation.
All good stories begin with a river. The river is life and also death. It is motion and passage as it flows by us. It can feed and it can poison. Sometimes in the story, there is a body in the water or close to it. I’m pretty sure this image, a combination of photography and drawing, has such a story within it. It just needs to be revealed.
The Hieronymus Bosch-like bottom of this composition was constructed from seaweed photographed at low tide on a grey morning in Esquimalt. I am always surprised at what awaits the camera lens. When it comes to the future, red seems to be the Pantone Dystopian Colour of the Year.
Rolling waters create a sublime instance of the emerging shadow of the subconscious. Does the light struggle out of the darkness or is it being consumed by it? It is impossible to tell, which is only right because this turbulence is a dance that spans most of our lives.
Much of photography wrestles with the idea of symbols that emerge from the subconscious and require our attention.
My main motivation in writing this blog is to explain photography to myself and, hopefully, to others of a similar persuasion.
Much of contemporary landscape photography concerns itself with grand vistas and spectacular locations, but I prefer the landscape of small things — that is, the landscape of whatever is close at hand, often within walking distance of where I live. Granted, I live on Vancouver Island where there is no shortage of subject matter or variation in weather. The world is a funny place in 2019. Much of what a photographer does with the landscape is a mixture, in varying proportions, of inspiration, technical ability, materials, and the desire for some kind of commercial recognition ($). Adobe Stock and Getty Images have millions of landscape photographs on file between them. Many of those images are of said spectacular locations depicted in highly saturated, plastic colours. They look “amazing.”
There are some great individual pictures on these sites but en masse, I find them a little disturbing. These are commercial websites, so you have to know you are being sold something (albeit through the intermediary of a marketing department somewhere). What you are being sold is a narrative — that a good life is filled with breathtaking places and “amazing” (mostly) young, stylishly-dressed people who know what is important in life (experience, not possessions) and may meditate every morning. The much-dreaded term, mindfulness, rears its head.
My experience with the landscape had been a little different. Most often, I prefer black and white to colour. My main motivation lies in an attempt to seek something of a connection with the “otherness” of the external world. Most of us are urban dwellers and we have become increasingly estranged from nature unless it is seen through the filters mentioned in the previous paragraph. In the end, our urban smugness may extract a heavy toll on the planet.
Slow time with a camera in a stand of trees, often alone, is an attempt to bridge the gap — to understand the natural world is largely indifferent to us, and realize this is a world that does not rely on humans for definition or meaning. It simply is and is governed by its own conventions. It does not need to be “amazing.”
Much of the landscape work presented on inkriver is dark. It is a simple response to a natural property of Vancouver Island, with its deep green, foggy forests and fields of twisted Gary Oaks, with its Arbutus trees twisting up towards the light, and its crisscross of dense underbrush. The picture at the top of this post is backlit and about three stops underexposed. I have not done a lot to it — darkened the sky and adjusted the curve to try to hold minimal detail in deep shadows. It favours mood above technical rendering. I am guessing it would not make it as a stock image. That may be its strongest asset.
Devoid of leaves and frosted with snow, oak trees reveal their gnarled branches.
It is a thin light that shines here in January through partly overcast skies.
It’s an odd name for an odd piece. While the geography may be fictitious, the constructs of heaven and hell provide both a framework and an interpretation for existence inside the bookend events of life and death.
Heaven may not be all it is cracked up to be. It is not exactly the Magic Kingdom.
It is more concerned with order and surveillance than eternal tranquillity. The creatures in the upper left corner stare back. They are angels who have removed their wings and left them to glow at the bottom of the composition. They are not in the image of human. They are something entirely other than us. The red sceptre to the right is the staff of sole authority — the church or some similar agency operating inside the temporal realm. Heaven seems a foreign place in which to spend eternity.
Hell, of course, is a different kettle of fish. Dionysian in nature, it subverts the individual identity into the chaos of souls.
In the end, it is hard to know which is worse.
Human shapes move like ghosts through the sands at Willows Beach in Victoria’s Oak Bay. The day is overcast, grey, cold but the sea is quiet. I modified my Nikon with a homemade pinhole attachment that is much less accurate, and therefore much more appealing than the commercial attachment. Pinhole photography values mood and suggestion much higher than detail. It is an equally valid role for photography.