Saturday, June 19, 2010

Studio practice workbook 6.

When I first read about solargraphy I knew that I would become an enthusiast. It is in many ways the antithesis to digital photography in that the equipment is scrounged or made cheaply, the time periods involved are astoundingly long in comparison and the in-camera results are completely unique and unreproducible. All this suited me for one reason or another but I was also attracted to working without a digital camera. I often have a feeling of a kind of nakedness if I’m out without my camera, worried that I will miss an unexpected opportunity for a great image. I don’t get that feeling if I have my camera bag full of charged pinhole cameras with me. If I can realise the beauty of the world one way or another, then I am relaxed. 

Perhaps the strangest attraction of this method of image making relates back to Matt’s bomb scare. Of course people are going to be suspicious of small objects in unusual places, perhaps even more so if it is realised that these are cameras. We live in an age where surveillance by the authorities is becoming more prevalent while at the same time police and security guards overstep their powers in preventing public photography in public places. That might be overstating the case in this country but it is a growing trend particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States as evidenced by the organised backlash to this by groups such as The Love Police. All the same, when I fix a pinhole camera in a public place I am aware that it might appear as a suspicious activity. The camera itself will not last long if it is in a position where it is easily noticed. The game that I play while setting out cameras is to try to out think the person who might spot it. I have learned to avoid placing them at eye height or on a plain surface where they will stand out. I often see a likely position for placement but must return there at a time of day when less people are around to see me place it. I will prepare the double-sided tape used to attach the camera and remove the tape covering the aperture slightly beforehand so that I can walk up to my chosen spot, attach the camera and walk away with barely a pause. It is the thrill of spycraft as taught by Le CarrĂ©, the exhilaration of trying not to be caught in the act. It’s a kind of guerrilla photography. Now that the subject has been made national news and the police have stated that they want to be informed about such art projects the game’s stakes have been increased.

Solargraphy is an extension in both of those creative directions at once. It allows us an unblinking gaze at the view for a moment that lasts for months. It distorts the world to show a place like it never was and yet always is. We are reminded, if we think about it, how narrow the field of our perceptions are. And if we don’t think about it we are still presented with pretty pictures to gaze upon momentarily.

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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.