Experimenting with long exposures in low light and not getting the focus right!
My excitement at seeing the sea got the better of me….
In April 2015 I was in Rome. During my first day I visited St. Peter’s Basilica, where overwhelmed with the scenic view and in the crowds of tourists my film camera fell from my shoulder. Happy that it was still alive, I continued taking photos with it, not knowing that something was broken inside.
When I came back home, and developed the film I realized that the camera was shooting everything only in one frame. I was left with one photo, this synthesis of my whole time in Rome.
Last year I was travelling around Europe doing a lot of filming and photography. Somewhere in the course of my travels I became more consumed by capturing moments than experiencing them. The record of beauty became more important than the recognition.
This picture has grown to be one of my favourites from the trip because it serves as a perfect call back to my mindset at the time. I was trying to get a shot of the mountain view before it passed by but I unwittingly ended up with a murky self-portrait. The person in this picture is neither here nor there.
Since returning from my trip I did a lot of ruminating about the nature of my work and the way that I let it dictate my experiences. Now, when I look at this picture I’m reminded that before we can capture the truth of a moment we first have to be present in it.
On a visit to London some years ago, I went to The Tate Gallery, now Tate Britain, with the school. Initially we were introduced to the Surrealism and Dada room on first entering the gallery; the students from the class were immediately drawn to the works by Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali and Giorgio de Chirico. However, in an adjacent room through one of the doors, my attention was distracted by a vast painting entitled ‘Around the Blues’.
‘Around the Blues’ was painted by Sam Francis in 1957 and 1962. This painting is huge, measuring 275.5 x 487.5 cm, the enormity, scale and presence of the painting still resonates with me some 20 years later. Yet this wasn’t the first time I had seen the painting. My first engagement with the painting was in Phaidon’s Art Book, and I knew immediately that this was the same painting but, quite literally I recognised and felt the impact of the differences between a reproduction in a book and the real thing.
Visiting the gallery had a profound impact with myself; this wasn’t simply about viewing art that I was aware of from books etc. By chance I had taken a 35mm camera and 5 camera films with me, not being able to afford the postcards I asked if photographs could be taken of the art work which surprisingly was permitted. I returned home that day with 5 films of art works from the Gallery. What I was going to do with these I had no idea, however, the trip to London would subsequently lay the foundations of my practice and interest in appropriation art.
As these photographs were taken prior to the advancement of the digital camera, I had no idea exactly how the images would turn out. I attempted to limit the chance of error by waiting in front of art works so that I had no interruption from visitors within the photograph which wasn’t always succesful, this resulted in some of the photographs becoming blurred due to the quickness of the shot. In addition, there was the consideration when some photographs were taken when they weren’t permitted to be, the poor lighting in the galleries, the use of flash which was an ill-judged idea, poor
handling of the camera creating slanting and poor composition and even a finger caught within the lens. Due to the photographs being taken by 35mm there was no way in knowing how these images would come out.
The collection of photographs amassed to 900+, once the digital camera became more accurate with quality and speed I stopped taking these photographs yet developed the work by pairing these artists to photocopies from books, newspapers and magazines as my interest in appropriation increased.
My work incorporates socially engaged practice and community/informal learning, often encouraging people to try out creative techniques for themselves. When this is linked to digital strategies, it involves considerable pre-testing, to develop an advance understanding of what might go wrong (or at least not go to plan) in a non-studio working environment.
This “stress testing” process, while identifying more mundane modes of failure (such as hardware or software issues), can also result in unexpected visual outcomes that have on occasions developed into more strategic approaches. This has encouraged me to retain rather than delete what initially seems like an “error”. Returning to the images at a later date to consider if and how a process could be developed, sometimes results in overlapping cycles where new works emerge from the remains of older ones.
My best images are my better ‘accidents’ but sometimes, as in this one, something I couldn’t see that the camera could, is captured.
I shot this while walking through bluebell woods near Steventon, Hampshire, where Jane Austen would have walked in her younger years. Not until I uploaded the image did I notice an almost horizontal shaft of light, like a lintel, creating a kind of portal. This seemed particularly apt, an invitation, almost, while walking in Jane’s footsteps, to time travel.
There’s no in-camera movement however I preferred the compositional balance of tone when in negative form, done in post-production, and the ‘slowing down the seeing’ that this achieves. The image became part of an installation shown at Jane Austen’s House Museum in 2013 although the backstory, as here, remained untold. I hope to extend the series in bluebell season this year too.