This week was interesting in its subject matter of the gaze and I feel I have made progress with my Work in Progress Portfolio but one thing has been troubling me over the four weeks I have been in the Isle of Skye and so I thought I would reflect on that rather than picking over various theories, standpoints and contexts.
One dominant and important thread to the learning experience on the MA at Falmouth has been the encouragement to try something different. I came to the MA as a wildlife photographer with a focus on the emotional and subjective life of the animals and birds I came across on my travels. But, as part of my learning experience on the MA I sought to translate my love of Skye into a project focusing on the fifteen-mile road to Elgol. I do not think of myself as a landscape photographer and in my early studies I decided to work in black and white as I tried to translate my experience of the road, its scenery, people and history into images. I was challenged over my decision to pursue monochrome and urged to work in colour which I did, for a spell, working with a very restricted colour palate. But it wasn’t working and so I persevered.
One important aspect of assessment on a degree is the information the marks convey and although 65% for my first two modules was respectable by any standard it did suggest to me that what I was doing was missing their mark. The feedback on my performance, whilst encouraging, did suggest that I explore other avenues. Where to now? I then discovered the reeds on Loch Cill Chriosd and realised through my imagery of these slender and fractured stems that I was beginning to express and resolve my own issues with life. I realised that what I was travelling down was what my husband described as a ‘vector of difference’. He explained that there were many different ways my art could be different and that what mattered was understanding and realising how my internal world was driving my choice of subject. By seeking to optimise the realisation of that vector of difference my images would grow in depth and luminance – not just the luminance of light but the luminance of my being in the subject of my photography.
He gave me an acronym to remember: OVOD – optimise your vector of difference. I thought it funny at first, it sounds a bit like a character straight out of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but gradually the power of the idea began to grow on me. Real difference comes not from moving from reeds to trees to mountain tops, nor in moving from black and white to colour. It comes from a fundamental re-evaluation of my being in the world. What matters in the aesthetic is not meaning but metaphor. My being is forever withdrawn from others but what my images show are metaphors that allow others to glimpse me and my experience of the world in a far deeper way than just through ‘happy snapping’ of the gorgeous scenery in Skye.
So, to the point. My tutor doesn’t want me to continue photographing the reeds but to choose something different. But is difference of subject what really matters? Is that the best route to a higher mark or is it a route to the superficial? I have written before about my wish to be authentic in my photography and as Shakespeare once said, ‘to thine own self be true’. It is only through opening my art to the authentic that I travel down and optimise my personal vector of difference.