M4 Wk1: Photography – The Shape-Shifter

Week 1: Activity – Informing Contexts?

As a deliberate challenge to my typical practice which exhibited a predominance of sports, with a liberal dose of reportage photography for the school in which I work, this course sees my practice follow more of a documentary path set within the chapels of Oxford, photographing the stained glass windows therein.  While a simplified précis of the practice, it is sufficient a descriptor to aid the identification of the characteristics most relevant to my practice.

Much of Szarkowski’s reference to the selection of a fragment of the real world for the most part rang true with my practice – I am not opening the eyes of the viewer to a location, but merely as small part of that scene.  To that end, when capturing part of a stained glass window, which is more typically the case with my practice, the subject and the picture are not the same thing, with the picture being one small part of the other.

The Detail: Already I have revealed information about the stained glass process hidden in the detail of the works (HERE) that undoubtedly has an undiscovered meaning: why have artists used certain complicated approaches in the work when the same results could seemingly have been achieved with far less fuss?  It is important to show overlooked detail which photographs of stained glass can afford.  It can be difficult to get up close to the original installations, but careful use of telephoto lenses together with scaffolds, or other convenient by typically off-limit locations (the organ loft, for example) can bring a wealth of normally hidden detail to view.

The Frame:  There are wheels within wheels here… the stained glass windows are themselves a framed representation of a biblical story as well as a portal for the manifestation of the ‘Light of God’ into the building.  In photographing a fragment of that object, I am reframing the work – reinterpreting it by focusing upon a specific attribute that intrigues me.

Time: I go to great lengths to achieve a decisive moment that best represents the intentions of the original artist… in an ever-changing natural light, I chose the optimum parcel of time in order to achieve this.

Vantage Point: It is typical to look up towards stained glass, yet that does not necessarily provide the best vantage point.  I work hard to produce a  direct, undistorted view of the works.

Were I to consider adding new characteristics…

  • How it stands within a collection:  I like to see themed approaches to work – certainly the case with my practice.
  • A uniqueness of view:  Why turn out more of the same, emulating the style of someone else or trying hard to reinvent yourself.  I prefer an approach that presents rarely seen compositions to those unlikely to ever have the chance to witness such things.

Shore added further characteristics that play some part in my practice…

Physical Level: I have researched a host of different styles, processes and formats of media for exhibiting my work (in the broad sense).  While I still like the idea of backlit or dynamic LCD/OLED screens, I much appreciate the more traditional Giclée fine art printing that provide a wonderful matt finish and physical texture to the works.

Time: Shores makes various distinctions between the types of time: My images could be most likely considered as Still Time because the content is very much at rest, yet could perhaps also be considered as Extrusive Time because the image is in fact composed of a series of compositions that span a protracted period of time.

The Mental Level: My practice may fall short here, as the deliberate intention is to reveal more detail of the stained glass than would be usually seen, rather than eluding to it in an abstract manner.

I suspect I would have been deeply saddened had I unwittingly stumbled upon Squires’ What is a Photography? exhibition and Pollock’s critique of Matthew Bandt’s Lakes leans on an open door with me: I would struggle to appreciate how a photograph of dubious quality can become a wonderful work of art because it has been allowed to degrade within a lake.  I wonder if Bandt has experimented with photographing fire or capturing images of shredders – although it has already been proved that shredding artwork is akin to printing money.  Art for art’s sake.  For each their own, but I would much prefer seeing work by any photographer who puts time and effort into the photograph, rather that focussing on the degradation of said photograph.  However, my practice sees me photographing a stained glass work of art and then enhancing it in image editing… perhaps I am guilty of similar crimes in the eyes of the stained glass world?

I see photography as a method for capturing an instance, storing a memory or helping to show the unseen, but within my practice it is a process for sharing with a wider audience artefacts as they might have looked in the mind’s eye of the artist who created them.

Frustratingly for me, photography on its own is as yet unable to capture these works appropriately, so I have to be instrumental in helping achieve the desired results.  In that respect, my work in its raw state demonstrates the current limitations of photography… it is a snapshot of photography itself.

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