Produce a series of four to six landscape-based images based on your immediate surroundings (as with Gill’s Hackney Marshes series).
In their description of his Hackney Flowers (Hackney Marshes) series (Photographer’s Gallery 2007) the preview to the project was as follows:
“In Hackney Flowers Stephen Gill has again used his east London surroundings as the inspiration for his work. This time he has collected flowers, seeds, berries and other objects from various locations in Hackney, pressed them in his studio and photographed them alongside his own photographs and found ephemera. Some of the base photographs were also buried in Hackney Wick, and the consequent staining and decay has left its imprint upon the images, stressing the collaboration with place.”
In this work, the flowers always dominate the image, thereby becoming the subject. This is contrary to a lot of his work where he purposely does not present the subject, except in the title as his billboard project and his music (what am I listening to?) project.
I will work on similar principles within my own area, probably choosing “tiny subject parameters studied in depth”.
He is always obsessive, working until the subject exhausts him and I can certainly relate to that. Stephen Gill has learned to “haunt the places that haunt him”. He says that making pictures is much more difficult than it used to be. In the future “what we don’t photograph will be more relevant than what we do”.
The brief asks for (1) Traditional cut and paste and (2) digital montage as two separate projects so it was important to decide whether to follow this closely or whether to use one of Gill’s other techniques (overlaying objects onto a print and re photographing, placing objects inside the camera and seeing what comes out or any other).
I did not place any items within the camera but I did try the flower overlay with success.:
I thought the idea of using brightly coloured flowers was actually very straightforward and I was really looking for more. I wanted something with a political statement which was within my own passion. So for the first part of this exercise I have decided to stay with traditional cut and paste, using my own images as the base. Found images have then been cut out and superimposed onto the base.
My final images make comment on the environmental impact of pollution on the beauty of the countryside (depicted by my pictures taken in Northern Derbyshire, close to home).
PART 1 – USE TRADITIONAL CUT AND PASTE TECHNIQUES.
PART 2 – USE DIGITAL MONTAGE TECHNIQUES.
I considered two locations for this project:
- Styal Country Park (literally a few steps from my front door)
- Cheshire Ring Canals (a half hour drive from my home)
Considering the work of Stephen Gill as I travelled, it was important to establish the driving force behind the pictures. Should I work with people, reflections, overlays, plants, animals or trash? What subject did I want to develop?
I looked closely at the work of Jeff Wall, Stan Dickinson, Peter Kennard and others as directed by the course material and then diversified to look at David Hockney and Peter Fraser. The common thread through all of these was the uniqueness of their thinking and the practitioner who influenced me the most was Peter Fraser, not so much over digital montage techniques but more because of his methodology and subject matter (more later).
I made a positive decision not to make a political statement in this instance (no missiles in the fields!)
The Styal Country Park project was working towards a fairly straight copy of Stephen Gill’s Hackney Flowers and I was looking for something more personal without understanding what it was at this stage.
On the canal walk the image which stood out in my mind and which repeated itself along the ten mile stretch was that of the view through the bridges.
I started to develop my thinking around relationships between objects and the canal, between objects and the bridges. What was the historical significance? What story did they conceal?
There seemed to be three time zones; the present (current objects), two hundred years ago (the canal and its structures) and many thousands of years ago (the countryside).
The main thrust of my day was looking for objects, either to collect or to photograph and it became clear early on that it was the relationship between these objects which would bring the result I was looking for. So the idea developed to try to link the colours, textures, smells, shapes which I was seeing (almost in macro) with the overall scene:
- The rust on the bridge metalwork
- Tree stumps which describe the age of the vegetation
- Places where some very new addition has been integrated into the landscape.
I photographed flowers, rubbish, archaeological features, rocks, dirt, birds, fences, people.
At the stage when I had seen a number of people, I was tempted to make work about people on the canal, the odd-balls, the friendlies, etc. There was a story there to be told but I was still strongly driven by the idea of integrating objects with the scene. The people were very keen to have their pictures taken but I could not get away from the idea of documentary and that didn’t work for me.
Peter Fraser has always interested me and from the book by David Chandler entitled “Peter Fraser” (Chandler, David: Peter Fraser, Tate, St Ives, 2012) I have taken examples for this and previous projects. I experimented with his theory of photographing from the unconscious mind and in some way I followed this by allowing my mind to stop over-ruling the photographic choices, similar to Stephen Gill’s idea of allowing the camera to do the work.
During post production, I started by simply superimposing pictures of the objects onto the bridge photo.
With further experimentation, I found that by overlaying rather than inserting and then reducing the opacity of the overlay, I could create much more evocative images. This bringing me much closer the goal I had set.
The technique ended up being extremely simple, unlike the original manual cut and paste technique and so I was grateful for the power of digital manipulation.
The choice of format took a lot of consideration and I finally decided on a wide screen landscape format which looks well as a series of mounted photographs.
The six images I have chosen follow and have generated great excitement not only for me but for friends and family who have helped in the evaluation process.
A very useful reference to hold my work up against was the lecture by Rachel Smith during the recent ‘Photography Matters’ conference held by the OCA in Doncaster. Rachel showed some images prepared in a similar manner to my own and then went on to talk about a number of artists and their work in relation to materiality. This has given ideas for future work:
- Gerhard Richter – Overpainted photo series
- Wolfgang Tillmans – No camera, no lens
- Ann Collier
- Anastasia Samoylova – Landscape sublime
- Sally Mann – Rejects digital form
- Sabato Visconti – Glitch art.
In order to help with the creative process it is useful to bear in mind the quotation from Elizabeth Edwards. ‘An object cannot be fully understood at any single point in its existence. It should be understood in a continuing process of production’
One guiding light through all of this was a passage in the “Peter Fraser” book, p.149.
Fraser talks about the “filing away of memories for future use” and this, to me is how photography often happens.
Quotation by Virginia Woolf from “Sketch of the past” Ref: Chandler, David: Peter Fraser, p.149, Tate, St Ives, 2012:
“I was looking at the flowerbed by the front door; that is the whole, I said. I was looking at a plant with a spread of leaves; and it seemed suddenly plain that the flower itself was a part of the earth: that a ring enclosed what was the flower; and that was the real flower; part earth, part flower. It was a thought put away as being very useful to me later.”
The quotation seems to refer to the integration between the view and the objects which I have created and I came to thinking whether my result had been pre-determined and ‘put away as being useful for later’, then coming out of the unconscious mind. Or was it simply spontaneous and from some void which opened up for me that day?