Holiday Reading – Arctic Solitaire by Paul Souders (Week 12)

It has felt, at times, like a long hard slog to complete Sustainable Prospects but I am now looking forward to a treat.  I will temporarily ditch my books about various philosophers and critical theorists in favour of a book written by a fellow wildlife photographer who I met photographing brown bears in Alaska on two occasions – Paul Souders.  At the time, I was hugely impressed that he was working on his own from a tiny boat over extended periods of time with only the bears for company.  It did not seem to faze him and before I went to Antarctica I sought his advice.

Image by Paul Souders

He sent me a few of his images including this one which I was hugely impressed by and said that he had recently sailed to Antarctica on a 50 foot yacht – knowing the perils of Drake Passage I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or wonder at his sanity!

Arctic Solitaire is about Paul’s quest for the perfect Polar Bear.

Having not read the book yet I can’t be sure but I assume these images demonstrate he was successful in his quest:

Image by Paul Souders
Image by Paul Souders
Image by Paul Souders

 

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Thinking about my Social Media Presence (Week 12)

In this post I am going to consider my current use of social media and actions I might take to consider how I might use it more effectively in the future. For our coursework activity we were asked to consider the following:

Think about the different social media channels available and how you are already using (some of) them. Is there anything you can do better? Should you use all of them? Should you use a different one? As discussed in previous weeks, social media is now such a powerful tool in your marketing toolbox and over the next weeks, you will either set up social media channels, if you haven’t already, and start using them in whatever way you feel most appropriate, or if you already are on Instagram or other social media channels, please think about whether you could be using them in a more effective way.

This is an area of running a successful business that I have not fully embraced although I do have a Twitter account (rarely used), a Facebook account (never used), thanks to the MA I now use Vimeo and I also have a Pinterest account which I use more for leisure than for showing my photography work.

In order to make sense and some decisions of what direction to take in terms of my social media presence I have referred again to Lisa Pritchard’s book Running a Successful Photography Business. Whilst acknowledging the importance social media has in running a business I was reassured that maybe my social media presence should be more about staying connected with colleagues working in the same industry – about networking and having a sense of community. Of course, at the moment, the MA Photography is providing much of that for me. But, the point is well made, that when I complete my course, I will then be a lone figure in the Isle of Skye.   I will need people to test ideas and concepts, provide review and advice on my work in progress and help me identify markets and contacts in an area I haven’t lived or worked before and social media is, of course, a great way of feeling connected with people across the world, not just locally.

If I choose to set up a business then I will need to consider how I use social media in the future. At the moment I feel that I should take a cautious approach. I am proposed to take the following actions in conjunction with revamping my website and creating a professional portfolio:

  1. Review my use of Twitter and consider incorporating a Twitter feed into my new website and blog
  2. Continue to use Vimeo through the course and consider ways in which I might use videos to trail my new business and work in progress
  3. Review Pinterest in a different light as a business rather than leisure media

I am really clear that I do not want to create new accounts such as Instagram and start to use Facebook at this stage. I do not want to create a presence and then for it to be benign. I need to focus and I believe my website, portfolio and blog are more important at this stage.

References

Pritchard, L, (2017), Running a Successful Photography Business, Bloomsbury Publishing, London

Derrida and Deconstruction – Layers of Meaning (Week 12)

In recent posts I have discussed the layers of meaning in some of my recent work. Here I would like to delve into deconstruction and the philosophy of Jacques Derrida in particular.

Jacques Derrida

Derrida was a French, post structuralist philosopher, who believed that what might be to others, fixed and self-evident truths, were in fact unstable and precarious – this thinking was a direct challenge to structuralists such as Saussure and Levi-Strauss. Deconstruction is based on system dismantling rather than the structuralist view of system building. In terms of writing Derrida believed that the speaker or writer holds the meaning of a word in the present. If this view is transferred into a photographic context then the photographer holds the key to meaning at the point they press the shutter and subsequent meanings can be inferred however, there is no preference of the meaning determined by the viewer. This is because deconstruction has neither fixed endpoint nor goal – it is an on-going process. Where does this leave Roland Barthes and Death of the Author?

Derrida did not dismiss the author but made the point that he or she might say more than they mean or they may say less. What mattered is what meaning they may have intended, consciously or non-consciously is deferred in the text. What this means is that the text or the image is a system of signs that gather their meaning not from some direct reference to reality or intention but, by reference to other signs in a regress of meaning that imparts an irreducible uncertainty or ambiguity to the text or the image.

Derrida was always at pains to make clear that deconstruction is not a method but a process. In terms of the process of deconstructive writing a second set of words is created but neither the primary nor the deconstructive text can be considered authoritative or correct. Spivak (1975) spoke of the process as follows:

“The fall into the abyss of deconstruction inspires us with as much pleasure as fear. We are intoxicated with the prospect of never hitting bottom.”

 Gary Rolfe (2004) seeks to unpack deconstruction though a series of references:

“The bottom line, the degree zero, of deconstruction, lies in this: ‘deconstruction is the active antithesis of everything that criticism ought to be if one accepts its traditional values and concepts’ (Norris, 1991). Criticism traditionally seeks to establish the authorised meaning of the text, the original meaning placed in the text by the author. Deconstruction consists in putting this authority ‘out of joint’ (Derrida, 1995). Deconstruction is the enemy of the authorised/authoritarian text the text that tries to tell it like it is.”

 So, what does this mean for photographers? If we follow the thinking of Derrida then there are many meanings! However, what it says for me is that as photographers our sense of the meaning of an image is as relevant and important as the critics that might choose to judge our work. The views of the audience or critic are neither more nor less valid. This is important for me as I continue my journey to provide layers of meaning in my work that my audience can use as a means to understand and come to terms with their personal experiences and memories.

Moving forward I would like to develop my practice through using appropriate aspects of the deconstruction process as I work in the landscape. I have already tried to write down the adjectives and feelings that come to mind in my Photographers Sketchbook. I have then challenged myself to come up with the opposites of those words. I am interested in taking this further and will do some more research on the deconstruction process that might inform my future practice.

 References

Derrida, J, (1995), Letter to a Japanese friend, in A Derrida Reader, Harvester, New York

Durden, M (ed) (2013), Fifty Key Writers on Photography, Routledge, Oxon

Norris, C (1991), Deconstruction Theory and Practice, Routledge, London

Rolfe, G (2004), Deconstruction in a nutshell, in Nursing Philosophy, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford

Reflections on Adding Words to my Imagery (Week 12)

One of the decisions I made early on in Sustainable Prospects with regard to my Work in Progress Portfolio was to attempt to add words to my images. This entry will talk about how I have developed my thinking in this regard and some of the challenges and concerns I have had along the way.

During the break after Surfaces and Strategies I researched the writings of Seton Gordon having been given one of his books The Charm of Skye as a present. I found his words (borne out a love of being in the landscape) particularly about The Cuillin very inspiring:

“In the parish of Strath, in the south-west of Skye, a magnificent hill rises straight from the sea. Its name is Blaven, and in grandeur it is not surpassed by the grim peaks of the Cuillin which cluster near it. In height Blaven is just over three thousand feet. Even at midsummer the June snows may crowd thickly upon its dark ledges for days at a time, and in winter the drift is whirled by the north wind high above its gloomy summit.

 The majesty of Blaven is accentuated by its aloofness.”

At that time I was considering using his words to describe or contextualise my images but I was concerned about issues around copyright and whether trying to find photographs to “fit” Gordon’s words would restrict and constrain the development of my photographic practice. On balance I believe that was the right conclusion and I feel happier to have tried my hand at writing my own words.

One of the reasons for using my own words was to give a sense of authenticity and direct honesty to the combination of the images and words particularly given the autobiographic nature of my work. If I was not able to explain and write about my own thoughts, emotions and feelings then I couldn’t see how others prose or poetry would help. However, in this context, I did find reviewing the work of Robert Macfarlane and Nan Shepherd helpful in this regard. In both cases their writing was beautiful, meticulous and elegant but it seemed almost too accomplished and styled to accompany my work. Having said that I believe my consideration of their work did allow me to refine my style.

As with the images, I decided that simplicity was the style I favoured and a sense of rawness in my words might not be a bad thing. After all, this was about how the Loch makes me feel, how it enables me to bring some of the ghosts and daemons of my past into consciousness and how I convey that experience to my viewers (and readers). Having said all that I was also keen to avoid directing the viewer in any significant way through my words. My first attempts did exactly that as I sought to describe what they were actually seeing in my work – that to me was patronising and condescending. It was for them as my audience to take their own views and meanings from my work and apply it to their own life experiences as it was appropriate for them. This was about me connecting with my audience in order that they might say – I know that feeling. This was about anchoring my work with the universality of my journey and the related themes they might evoke in others. As I said in my Oral Presentation it is about them “joining me on this journey of reflection and recovery.”

I refined my words as my image choices became clear and I focused on the story threading through the images.   My accompanying words became more about my feelings and emotions and my personal journey and how these translated through the images of the reeds and the Loch. For example:

I felt the simpler I made my voice the more authentic and believable my story would be.

As the module progressed and my photographic practice and methodology came together I believe my words gained in their legitimacy through the use of a Photographers Sketchbook where I recorded contemporaneous notes of my thoughts, feelings and emotions. On returning from a shoot I would finalise the words from my Sketchbook and then refine them as I put the over-arching story of the images and my journey together.

I found that the words became as important to me as the images I had made. They had become part of the artwork, and in their presentation of my work in due course, the words would carry equal weight to my photographic work.

So what are my reflections having completed my Work in Progress Portfolio? Well, time will tell, in terms of the feedback I will receive in due course but, here are my thoughts about the pros and cons of adding words to photographic work.

I have enjoyed the experience and developing my photographic practice in this way. It has challenged me in ways I did not expect when I started the course. In the webinar this week some of my fellow students reflected on their struggle with trying to add meaningful and appropriate writing to their images. If nothing else, the process of writing down my thoughts and emotions has encouraged me to be more honest with myself and to really try hard to get in touch with my feelings about those images that haunt me, through the landscape. I do believe that the focus on the Loch and the reeds has enabled me to do this much more effectively than if I had continued my quicker, superficial and more haphazard shooting regimes of previous modules. It has encouraged me to reflect long and hard and slow down my image making in the process. As I said in my Oral Presentation:

“I would need to spend more time looking, thinking and feeling and only then press the shutter.”

For me, the biggest danger is that my words are not seen as relating effectively to the images. This is a difficult issue because I have always been clear that through my imagery and now my words I wish to share my experience of the Road to Elgol. As my Research Proposal made clear:

“In this Research Project I will develop my photographic practice through a personal journey that involves death, darkness, hope and the emergence into light. It will reflect the silence that is always present at the scene of violent crime – the traces of humanity, intensely vulnerable and rendered insignificant by the events and forces around them . . . I will record my experiences and recount them through my images and words and through them will present not only what I saw but my experience of what I saw.”

I move forward into Informing Contexts more confident in my approach and committed to developing my expertise in marrying my images and words together to provide added value and an extra dimension, for others, in viewing my work.

Where next on the Road to Elgol (Week 11)

I have really enjoyed focusing on a tiny aspect of the Road to Elgol – The Reeds of Loch Cill Chriosd – in Sustainable Prospects. It has enabled me to spend more quality time in the landscape, slow down my practice and allow my thoughts, feelings and emotions to surface. In this respect I feel I am now fulfilling the brief I set myself, which was to convey my experience of the Road through my imagery.

After submitting my Work in Progress Portfolio my mind has inevitably moved on to ideas and thoughts about what to do as my work in progress for the next module Informing Contexts. 

Alison Price 2018

As I have said before I am obsessed with the Black Cuillin a foreboding mountain range that dominates the Road to Elgol. Much of that obsession, and indeed fear, is borne out of a fascination with the mystery of these hills. I would like to spend more time photographing them and attempting to convey to others what it is that captures my imagination.

At this stage I am considering trying to focus on the ridge of the Cuillin taking it from various angles and vantage points and in different weather conditions. I hope to do some colour work – using the subtle winter palette of Skye – and also continue with my monochrome image making.

I would like to continue trying to build multi-layered meaning within my images and to develop my skills in writing words to accompany them.

I have recently been looking at the work of Axel Hutte, a German contemporary photographer and find his work interesting and exciting. His often close up images of the wider landscape lead to the de-contextualisation aspect of a sense of place. It is no longer important where the image has been taken and the viewer is left to focus on the details and levels of meaning in his images. Many of them have an ethereal and semi-abstract aesthetic. More to come in later journal entries.

Axel Hutte
Axel Hutte
Axel Hutte
Axel Hutte
Axel Hutte

I will be spending an extended period of time over the next two months on Skye and hope to try out the Black Cuillin idea as a concept and also work on some other micro projects during my favourite time of year.

Advice from Alain Biot (Week 11)

As part of my research I have been reading How Photographs are Sold by Alain Briot. This entry focuses on three pieces of advice on how to sell photographs.

Telling Stories to Sell Work

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Philip Pullman (Briot, 2014)

This first piece of advice caught my eye not least because of the quotation from Philip Pullman above which served as an introduction to the chapter. According to Briot telling potential customers the story behind an image can make the difference between a sale and a walk away. He argues that stories bring the image to life and also provide a story for the buyer to tell their friends and family. You should provide customers with answers about the location, date and time of capture and everything you remember about the day. So tell them how you got to the location, what camera you used and your intentions and motivation for taking the shot. It is about explaining how you felt that day and what feelings you were trying to convey them to your viewer. Briot tells the story of a couple that listened to his story intently and then decided to buy the most expensive print in his exhibition and the one they had talked about. It turned out that the man had proposed to the woman in that spot on the day the photographer had captured the shot. That is a lesson to us all and it is certainly the case that I often buy art because it reminds me of a holiday, a place or a time in my life and I often recall those memories when I look at the image on my wall.

Chinstrap Penguins dive off icebergs – Sebastiao Salgado

For example, this photograph by Sebastiao Salgado we bought a number of years ago after returning from Antarctica and going to the Salgado Exhibition Genesis in London. Every time I look at the image I remember the times we have spent in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica, the wildlife and in particular the Chinstrap Penguins featured in this picture, and the many stories of adventure and endurance from the far south including Ernest Shackleton.

Another story about one of my wildlife images never fails to captivate my audience:

This image was taken in Borneo and I spent over two hours watching the orang-utan mother and her baby. The mother was clearly enjoying motherhood and played, fed and fondled the tiny form. I was captivated by the whole interaction not least because of the comparison with how human mothers respond to their offspring. I have a series of image culminating in this image The Kiss. Sadly the baby did not survive and the mother was left bereft.

This advice from Briot is not going to be difficult for me as I love telling people about how I got a particular shot. In wildlife photographer this can be very exciting and compelling but I am very good at recalling every detail of how I capture my images whatever the genre.

Emotion Sells Fine Art

 Again, this is not new to me, but worthy of a reminder. When I take wildlife shots I try not to press the shutter unless I have an emotional connection with the subject or the animal or the main players in the image are connecting in some way with each other. Briot recommends that rather than talking about the technical challenges of making the image you should talk about the aesthetic choices you made. Tell them about why you chose the location, why you framed the image in the way you did and how you returned many times and waited many hours to get that light. In doing this you engage your potential purchaser in the conversation about the image and this often converts into a sale as people buy art for emotional reasons rather than because of an understanding about the technical aspects of the work. Explain your artistic vision and the passion you have for your subject.

Artist Statement Stories Sell

 Finally, I have previously discussed and shared my draft Artist Statement. Having a statement is important but what it says is even more so. Visitors come to talk on the basis of the Artist Statement. You have a chance to give a sense of yourself in what you say and what is important to you as an artist. Your story can create a bond with your viewer and provide an icebreaker to a conversation at an exhibition. Asking visitors to view the work and then return to give feedback on their favourite image is a good way of engaging people in the exhibition and each other. I did exactly this at my local exhibition The Road to Elgol and encouraged a great deal of discussion and a sense of competition in terms of potential sales. Apart from providing useful feedback it also allows you to provide more aesthetic and contextual information when they return to declare their favourite.

Sharing stories creates trust, it creates a bond and provides a story for them to tell others about the event when they bought the piece of art.

There is lots more for me to learn from How Photographs are Sold and I shall continue to pick up expert tips as I move closer to my Final Major Project and starting my photographic business.

References

 Briot, A (2014), How Photographs are Sold, Rocky Nook, California