Those who know me know I’m in this continual debate about the value of “pretty pictures” vs critical/conceptual rigor and all the gray area in between. I am particularly fascinated when I find photographers that do indeed bridge these two ideas, especially when it involves a great deal of what I’ve been calling the “hand of the camera” (without getting into too much of a discussion of semiotics at this point … aspects of depth of field, the optics of the lens, film grain – the ‘evidence’ in an image of the existence and qualities of the camera and medium).
Particularly, I say, because these aspects of the camera are often “what makes a picture look pretty”, and for me, at least, if those same aspects are present yet the photo retains a great deal of conceptual substance, well, damn.
I think the first instance I encountered of this in recent history was Phillip Graybill, particularly the work he did for Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV . Graybill has also done work for Sigur Ros, and it has a very similar earthy, heavy atmosphere to the Ghosts work, with a little more of a documentary slant.
Along similar lines I was looking at Anna Gaskell (in this case, in Phaidon’s Vitamin PH ) who has a very surreal, someone Lovecraft-esque night series in a forest … maybe a bit brothers Grimm even. Anyway, again, a very staged photo with these candid elements, grainy feeling and small depth of field that is both ‘pretty’ and had a great deal of critical substance as well.
I must apologize at this point as I’m unable to find an official site nor representing gallery for Anna Gaskell, so I have ripped this off a google search.
At some point in the future I’ll talk about her work a little more, as it also speaks to the part of me that enjoys telling a story with non-linear fragments, and this series in particular does that very, very well.
(on that note, Anthony Goicolea often does the same thing, particularly with the Kidnap series)
The point of this, and onto the ‘counter production’ part (and the excessively self-centered egocentric part of the post), is that most of my work the last few years has run quite counter to these aspects of photography. I might well be the photographic equivilent of the painter who puts immense effort into erasing the hand of the artist, the trace of the brushstroke – all my large prints are rendered with maximum depth of field (everything is in focus), large enough so all the detail can be read, and with a lot of attention to issues around sharpness. Hell, most of my prints are put together from 10-20 images just so they can print that large with a level of detail I find acceptable. (… not to say my prints are perfect. But they are a bit obsessive.)
My stuff is also decisively not snapshot photography, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
Anyway, as a personal practice in this little debate, as well as a make-work project to get me doing stuff on a more regular basis, I decided to try to make myself produce a print (single photo, whatever) each week based on a set of fixed criteria that runs somewhat counter to how I usually produce. In particular, I want these to be single shots, and I want, to some degree, the “hand of the camera” to play a role in the visual impact of the image.
As a second criteria, all the shots should play into some conceptual unity of sorts – I’m hoping as some kind of conceptual extension of the other work I’m working on right now, with the intent that perhaps these weekly shots will eventually feed into the grander projects.
Immediately, the plan, sorta roughed out:
– low depth of field (2.8ish)
– low light conditions / long shutter speeds
– colour/light used in a way that does not necessarily favour detail
– an element of movement/change in the image
I think I’ll mostly be working with my surroundings, probably not include people a whole lot.
First set are going to be shots inside the house, using a neutral density filter for long shutter speeds, and probably somehow involve the dogs. Sorta extends from a series of photos I’m working on involving ghosts and hauntings and whatnot … rendering the house/home as if there are things there that are amiss.
Will probably need to rough out a schedule to keep me on track, but either way, will be posting the results here 🙂