Monday, 30 May 2011

The vision thing

I will add to this piece from time to time.

Travel can be towards something or perhaps away from things. It may be an exploration  or an avoidance of self. Too much can be fundamentally exhausting, superficial and expose the collector that lurks in many of us. “Oh, yes, been there, but have you been to…..?” What do we take away? How are we changed?

In this blog I mention visiting Rome, the photos are devoid of people. I joke about it, but when looking across my photographs, there are precious few that let you see the locals. They are only permitted access if particularly picturesque; when they become props to a still life composition. I wonder whether this tendency is about aesthetics or is something altogether else?

Perhaps: a wish to seemingly experience the place alone? I have claimed that it is due to my relative lack of success photographing people; but there may be a less obvious desire to be a lone explorer of already well explored places. Each eye will see the city a different way and each collection of photographs suggests a city that no one else has quite seen. This from the specific standpoint of the photograph together with the weather, the way the composition has been cropped and in conjunction with the photographs around it. These express a unique vision of somewhere. But on several levels it is partial.

Surely a city is as much about the people and their lives there as it is about architecture and nature. To understand a culture, we have to be involved with the people. A friend of mine looked through some of my photographs and remarked, ‘Another of your journeys with no people in it, just more fucking architecture.’ Pithy and pointedly true.

Yet outside of the souvenir vision within the camera; I interact quite freely and do enjoy going to places the that locals inhabit and that visitors do not generally get to. I have had a number of encounters with local people, almost always positive, sometimes lasting friendships have grown. But in the photographs there is precious little evidence of it all. Are my photos really paintings by another medium? Very specifically, my suspicion of how the Internet can be abused has lead me to anonymize entries and to preserve the privacy of friends and relatives, the people that I know have been absented.

Leaving that self imposed limitation aside, nevertheless, I know I often do without a shot if it has people intruding into it. In that way, they interrupt my pure vision, get in the way. Equally, cars, dustbins, trailing electrical wires etc are excluded unless they are the point of the photograph. I seem to carry my own idealized vision and attempt to impose it on a place, so it is a false representation. One would recognise the buildings in the city, but the real textures of the city have been thinned out to serve an arbitrary view of its essential nature. I have not managed to remove ‘self’ from the equation. Each bunch of photos tells me about me, at least incidentally. But I am not going to sweat it. Everyone’s vision is partial. Mine perhaps just more so.

 On occasion I go out of a hotel and deliberately leave the camera behind. There is the danger that a visit is experienced mainly through the camera, rather than in reality. Everything is constantly being lined up for a two dimensional shot, rather than lived in three dimensions. It is healthy to sometimes just 'be' there; rather than to artistically record images of life. Life is for the living and travel is for the experience and enrichment, not merely the aesthetic. I tell myself this as I write it.

A blog grandly called, ‘The Mirror and the Lamp’ promises to reflect and illuminate. But just what is it reflecting and illuminating?

Many years ago a work colleague, Jim, had gone to Turkey to look at and photograph steam trains. At that time Turkey had acted like an engine magnet. From across the world obsolete engines had been gathered in order to keep its out of date infrastructure rolling. My colleague was very much a train spotter. He was unable to articulate anything about what he had seen. He was dealt with benignly as a bit of a joke and some bright spark suggested, then pressed him, to bring along his photos.

They were revelatory. I don't think I have ever seen a more exciting collection of photographs. Rather as medieval painters would cram the whole world of landscape and milling life into a religious portrait, here Jim had given us a fantastic, detailed depiction of Turkey. This was at a time when you had to compose the photographs as you took them and could not improve the composition on Photoshop. His compositions were striking and the images pin sharp. It made me want to visit the country.

All the photos had trains in them, but he was a canny observer of the life going on around the engines and his landscapes made the mouth water. He also showed it as it was then, the clothes, cars, the trains themselves, all vanished. I had never imagined the busy tasks of loading and unloading people and produce, bikes and animals would be so fascinating. The platforms teemed with event.. It often felt like watching the Exodus scenes from De Mille's '10 Commandments'. He had taken in a massive amount about the lives of the people, but simply could not articulate it other than through a lens.

We then all saw him quite differently; diffident rather than dull. He had vision and released it in grand MGM style in his stills. 

1 comment:

  1. Well written ... and it explains your vision nicely. Yep, you can have an absolutely wonderful architectural setting, but if you put a person in it, they become the full focus, and the architecture just kind of fades. I look forward to seeing mor of your work!