Week 2: Independent Reflection
Can a photograph be considered finished?
My research project is based entirely on the copying of other artist’s work. Driven by the wants of Oxford University and the Colleges, whose permission I require in order to photography their stained glass windows, my intentions are to represent accurately and precisely the stained glass found within the chapels of Oxford, in contrast to almost all existing reproductions of the windows. Consequently, the published results need to be truthfully representative and with minimal opportunity to be interpretative. That said I am disinclined to wish to reinterpret works of world renowned artists – I lack the arrogance to think that I could produce something that was ever anything more than a bastardisation of the excellence exhibited by William Morris, Henry Holiday, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, et al.
With the majority of artists whose work I am photographing no longer alive, I am happy to consider their artwork ‘finished’ – perhaps ‘completed’ would be a better word. However, the nature of stained glass is such that it is brought to life by an ever changing medium: daylight. Their appearance is changed dramatically by the weather, seasons and time of day, but equally by foliage and the ever-changing construction of buildings around them. If my aim is to recreate perfectly an image of a stained glass window, I believe that this can only be done with the window removed, cleaned and backlit by a uniform daylight-balanced light. Until that is achieved, none of my photographs can be considered truly representative and as such, until then , the work cannot be considered ‘finished’. The best I can achieve is to aim to photograph windows in the optimum light: bright, but overcast conditions where they are lit by diffused, full-spectrum light (a colour temperature around 6500K).
I have already photographed some of the lights within Harris Manchester College, but am yet to focus upon any of The Days of Creation series (1895-1899) by Edward Burne-Jones. In keeping with almost all stained glass, prior to commissioning drawings and watercolours were produced, but in this case, they themselves became famous works of art. From 1870 to 1876, Burne-Jones’ composed using various media depictions of God’s six days of creation. He designed modelli in pencil cartoons for watercolour paintings on gouache, containing shell gold and platinum paint. In turn, these modelli were employed to compose stained glass windows and porcelain tiles for several chapels. When I do revisit HMC, it will certainly be interesting to see the similarities and differences between my photographs of these stained glass windows and Burne-Jones’ watercolours and ceramic tiles.
Following my research this week, I will try to find the time to investigating how significant is the impact of differing daylight on a stained glass window. It would be fascinating to make such a study throughout the seasons of a year, but this would be far from practical or practicable. However, more achievable is a day long study which might disprove my beliefs that I should only photograph the windows in bright, but overcast conditions.
Thus far, I have only viewed my stained glass window images on computer screens, in a book or printed on 310gsm standard fine art paper. Despite the nature of the originals, I am very much taken by the art paper prints. However, it would seem foolhardy not to investigate assorted backlit options.