M1 Wk9: Introducing Critical Theory

Forum: What is Critical Theory?

I am more than a little critical of critical theory, happy in the knowledge that so much goes on without deep philosophical and ideological consideration.  A surprising number of photographs are taken purely because the protagonist wants to capture a particular scene.  As a result, I am amused by the approach of photographers who perhaps play to theorists. Richard Alan Cohen is very open about the reasoning behind his photographs, and specialises in a niche area of marine photography.

The image blow, part of his ‘Waterlines’ series, could be interpreted in very different ways:
Waterlines 2017 © Richard Alan Cohen Photography Link

  • The seascape: a starry night above a moonlit rough sea.
  • The weathered waterline of a boat hull.

Extreme close-up photography and the production of abstract images can, and often does grate.  My background using microscopes and stereo field microscopes in geological labs has undoubtedly led to an appreciation (in the broadest sense) of textures and surfaces in abstract.  Richard Alan Cohen photographs the waterlines of boats, capturing what is actually a fascinating interplay between the sea and hull paint.

For those who have not worked on and around boats, in addition to the normal marine hull paint, below the waterline antifouling is used – marine paint specifically designed to impede the growth of barnacle, algae and marine organisms.  Antifouling is copper-rich and reacts differently in seawater to normal hull paints.  Consequently, the weathered surface of a boat hull at the waterline demonstrated a fascinating array of colours: hull paint and antifouling are usually different colours, but some of the hull paint will have reacted and decoloured with the UV of sunlight, while that nearest to the waterline will have been washed constantly with seawater, producing a different discolouration. The antifouling below the waterline will have weathered uniformly, but the very top will have reacted both with UV light and seawater, creating different a colour.  As a result, this small area of a boat hull is fascinating at both a scientific and visual level.

Richard Alan Cohen chose to photograph this contact zone not to build a portfolio of abstract images.  He does not try to hide the origins of his images, but composes them in a way that leads the observer to create a seascape in the mind’s eye.  There is a satisfyingly holistic nature to his work: he is photographing the waterline of boat hulls to produce an abstract image meant to be interpreted as a seascape.

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