M1 Wk9: Introducing Critical Theory

Activity: Critical Perspectives

I have always worried that my practice covers the broadest of canvases – photographically I am a Jack-Of-All-Trades but I rather hope that I am not Master of None. There is not a specific genre with which I feel a bond sufficient to state it as my preferred area of photography.  I am driven by an interest in, or enjoyment of the subject matter: my love of sports photography, particularly rugby and athletics, is shared by a passion for coaching both rugby and athletics, for example.  However, I can state absolutely that I have never enjoyed having to do portrait photography and this is mirrored by a dislike of having my photograph taken.

The area in which I have always received most criticism is my desire to preclude people from much of my work.  On returning from a family holiday, my parents continued be vexed by the absence of any family (or indeed anyone) from my photographs. For the most part, I find people an untidy distraction within a composition.  I have worked hard to acknowledge the existence of mankind – not least because I am expected to return from school trips with images of happy, smiling faces getting in the way of what I would actually like to capture.  So, by choice the photograph below of Menin Road South Cemetery would contain no children – an uphill challenge when you are traveling with 60 or more.  Light and composition were both favourable (composed specifically for social media) and as a candid shot, the four boys add something to it.  However, I am decidedly unhappy about the children in the background and almost did not use the image on those grounds alone: I just don’t like clutter in an image.

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This is a theme carried over into my current practice: having photographed a stained glass window, I go to considerable lengths to ‘correct’ any clutter within the image.  While I leave flaws within the glass itself, cracks, stains, support bars and minor inconsistencies are removed.  There is a definite lack of properly representative images of stained glass within publications – a single photograph cannot handle the wide dynamic range, so it is typical to see bleached out areas and very dark areas: this is the attribute I most wish to improve upon.  My intention is to produce an image that shows a subtly heightened reality of the window.  Not a false representation, but an image that does not reflect tens or hundreds of years of dirt and possible neglect.

I have no doubt that purists would be highly critical of some (if not all) of these actions, but my hope is to present the images of stained glass windows as works of art in themselves, depicting something far more representative than seems commonplace when one looks for images of stained glass.  It is common practice to clean, physically, artwork within galleries, so perhaps my work will not suffer too many slings and arrows.

The challenges and complexities of gaining access to a location on a day that is appropriately bright but overcast, and then managing to photograph a series of 10-20 exposure bracketed of a stained glass window from a vantage point that minimises converging verticals, is not insignificant.  The pleasure of working in such fantastic surroundings is a good compromise, but with this particular practice, elaborate postproduction is critical and can involve days of work per window – the bias is significantly tilted towards the computer in contrast will almost all of my more usual work.  This is perhaps why I always have a nagging concern in the back of my mind, when working on a stained glass window image that I am somehow ‘cheating’ – image editing is stripping away the purity of photography.  Notwithstanding, since starting this course, I have already noted significant improvements in my attention to detail where precision in the set up of shots is concerned and greater efficiency in postproduction.

There is still a very long way to go and it is more than a little ironic that I have had to pause considerable areas of my photographic practice so that I can endeavour to keep my head close to the surface of this course: it is many weeks since I last did any photographic work within the school.  While this is in no way problematic, when one considers the concept of vanishing history, future researchers might ponder why the school’s archive is strangely devoid of images for a brief period!

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