Saturday, June 19, 2010

Studio practice workbook 4.

East facing room of the Priory

This is my intention within my current studio practise: to extend the viewer’s perception of time beyond the everyday norm through the technique of extreme long exposure photographs. However, whether I have succeeded or not in this task seems to me to have become eclipsed by the often unexpected results. The worked-on images that have eventually appeared on my monitor (to my mind somehow like they mysteriously do in the chemical tray to the Darkroom Developer) often resemble nothing like my pre-visualisation. Dark and foggy exposures, unusual distortions, inexplicable farfopteros; I am often at a loss to explain where and how an image was made.

Something else takes over as the core aesthetic of the image. They seem inhabited by an atmosphere or mood. I was asked if any of the images I made in the long disused Priory showed ghosts. ‘All of them,’ I replied. Each image is a raft of unanswered questions. There has been a continuing discussion among my friends whether the images are more successful as artworks if each is presented with an explanation of where it depicts and what it is about or whether the image itself should be able to stand alone. I cannot commit myself to an answer either way.

I once attended a workshop run by a digital photographer who showed us his method for creating his award winning atmospheric landscapes. He added layer upon subtle layer of textures onto his images. A touch of tree bark, a shimmer of lace, toned down and washed out. I felt that his work was fakery and was unimpressed by the images. With these solargraphs, however, the atmospheric effects come unbidden and without my intention to add effects. The process gives equal opportunities to serendipitous enhancement as to unfortunate spoilage and it is left to me to choose which is which.

I should mention at this point my relationship with serendipity. I believe that it can be used as a method. When working with known qualities and proven formula the result will probably be predictable, which may not be a good thing. If one stirs it up and adds some randomness, one may have to work like hell to salvage the whole mess. It is between the gaps in the creaking structure that one allows something unexpected and possibly brilliant into the creation. In my experience of theatre studies, groups would often be called. The cool and clever invariably got together and produced predictably cool and clever results. I learned to wait until there were only the unconfident and the misfits left to make the last group and I would join them. This is the group that I thought had a chance to produce something unpredictable and possibly astounding.

Axel with box of pinhole cameras

One aspect of working on a project that involves such long time frames is that it is difficult to make developments within a shorter time frame. That is the predicament I found myself in this year when I decided to use solargraphy as my subject for studio practise. In some respects it was an easy choice. I had begun work on it a year previously so was already well involved. More importantly, I was still fascinated by the process and eager to explore it further. At one point I thought I might have it a bit too easy; I was sitting back while my cameras were out in the world working while other students were busy worrying about studio time and finding models. I realised my folly when it was time for me to evaluate my work so far in order to develop it further. If I processed my images early I was missing out on months of exposure time and possibly wasting the months that had gone into them so far. It became a compromise. I brought in cameras that may not have been fully ‘cooked’ and used the results to inform the sets of shorter term cameras that I set out. I found my direction moving from an interest in pure landscape and sky images to more subject orientated ones.

At this time I was also becoming frustrated with technical issues. The new high resolution Epson V30 scanner I had bought was not performing well. The images appeared with coloured bands across them. The cause puzzled me but I now think that it happened because the buffer filled in the scanner memory causing it to pause a number of times mid scan, each pause created a band. I returned to my original scanner but was not sure what to make of the images 'damaged' by faulty scans.

East facing balcony

Water of Leith, Anzac Ave bridge

Eventually, with the encouragement of my supervisor Rachel Gillies, I began to see these 'glitched' images as being interesting in themselves and chose to include some of them in the show.

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This work by Chris Reid is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 New Zealand License.