Tuesday, December 07, 2010

In Situ

On a freezing cold night last week I went and semi-accidentally followed through on a notion from ages ago that I don't think I ever even wrote down; it just stayed in my head. In a nutshell, I would go to a certain place - not necessarily somewhere significant - and photograph the ground there in a relatively meticulous manner. In this case I just happened to like the look of this little pier down by the Claddagh. I think maybe the fact that I rarely go there, but regularly pass it or spend time in the surrounding area, had a bearing on my decision to explore it. I like the idea of exploring a place that would, in an ordinary context, seem to be a sort of fait accompli - what is there to "explore" in a place like this, that is so obvious and un-mysterious?

I suppose the two main fillips that led to my doing this were a) I was out taking photographs already and b) I had with me a tripod that could be upended to facilitate the photographing of space directly beneath it. I've been thinking a lot lately about how the objects and instruments used to create something like a photograph, or music, or any art, has such a major bearing on the work produced. It's probably as important as the user's intentions and ability. Which is maybe an obvious idea but it's only just recently occurred to me. So the upendable tripod ends up being a major reason for an idea and its execution.

The tripod drove the project in another way - depending on what position I moved it into to take the photograph the nearby sodium lamps cast the shadow of the tripod legs on to the ground, and into frame. I toyed with the idea of just going with it and leaving the tripod shadow in whenever it came up, but ended up mostly adjusting the legs and using whatever angle I ended up with. In a way this shows up the tripod's influence just as as much as if I had left its shadow in, if more subtly.

I found I regularly forgot to take my foot out of frame. But I guess it's got just as much reason to be there as anything else I found.

Obviously I took a fairly heavy amount of artistic license and chose subjects based on (fairly unspecified) aesthetic criteria. Also towards the end I started working faster because it was frigging cold and I'd been out for more than two hours already (glory be to Penney's thermal range).

As I looked back on the photographs on the computer the next day I was struck with some pretty heavy doubt. I had no clue really why I went to so much effort to take them. I came to the conclusion that these photographs and others I regularly take are no better than the photographs I've come to disdain - any obvious photo that's been taken innumerable times already, where the subject (and/or his or her expensive equipment) does all the work and all the photographer is is an opportunist; a scavenger-collector, pinning images to a sensor or onto a piece of paper for the sake of what? A sense of satisfaction? I don't really get that, the pursuit of replicating an image, of using a tried and tested technique that produces something that looks identical to the example picture you saw in the magazine article or instructional blog.

I don't feel like I'm capable of working on something like that and yet I turn out stuff like this that might as well be put in the same category. I'm not quite of this opinion at the moment, but it's something that's been nagging me for a while. I'm happy with this project, hopefully pursuing it further, but doing it properly - photographing indiscriminately, sectioning off the area and working to a grid.