At the meeting of the Thames Valley OCA group it was suggested that I write down the thoughts that I had when I took these photographs, about why I decided to take these photographs and not others and why I decided to treat them as I have, as opposed to leaving them as taken.
My initial response was that they look like they do, because that’s how I pre-visualised them – a good Ansel Adams’ trait – the fog on a bleakish landscape, the snow isolating the line of the hedge or grasses emphasizing their presence in the frame; the tone evoking a bygone era of warmth (despite) the cold of the day and subject. I knew it would work, I knew it would be easy. The camera I knew would capture enough detail in the highlights to ensure that nothing would be blown, that I could add tone and contain the view within the frame. It’s been done a billion times before.
That this vista was the first I had ever seen was not something I thought about at the time. I was on a ‘journey’ to record, to document and was looking for detail that I hadn’t noticed before. In the back of my mind was the extensive photo archive that rests with the village history group in the village and that I was potentially adding to it, to inform a future date about how the village was. I had decided to walk a different route in the village, to see if I could ‘see’ different things in a ‘different’ way – here’s a view of Mill Lane from the on-line archive. These two shots below seem more like documentary shots to me, but weren’t viewed at the meeting with the same interest as the pretty pics…..
I used both a digital and film camera; the digital camera records and displays images immediately, downloaded when connected to a computer and ready to display within seconds, maybe a minute or two of post-production. Easy. The film camera depends on the development of the latent image, scanning, and then post processing; I enjoy this delay, I like the phase lag between capture and revelation; partly I think because of the expectation, partly because the image always seems to be different to how the image displays in my mind prior to its manifestation either on screen or on paper. I have said elsewhere that I seem to able to remember the instance of the photograph when I look at the negative, but not always the digital capture, that I can remember the moment, where I was, what I thought about when looking at the negative and that is something I struggle to with digital files. Maybe it is something to do with the physical presence of creation with the negative and the ephemerality of the digital file, maybe it has to do the ‘preciousness’ of the negative, that it comes with limited capabilities of use, that each frame is a frame and not some millions of 1’ and 0’s in a digital file that has a virtual presence? Not sure.
It was a virgin view for me because I went slightly further than I would normally do, maybe twenty yards – not much more – to an opening, a gap in the hedgerow onto a field that I normally skirt around. Virgin also, because of the covering of snow, the view of the land underneath which still awaits. A winter fog resting on the fields absented a good deal of ornamentation, removing situating detail and displacing the panorama to somewhere that seemed ambivalent to its circumstance. The field and its border could have been anywhere, North Oxfordshire or Ostend, looking back now I see the field has look of being lost, no sense of place about it – these images have distant horizons leading the viewer away from the place of ‘here’.
But this is still not explaining why I took the pictures, in this place, comprising of some 22 frames with the digital camera and 4 with film, about the right ratios I suppose. That I ‘knew’ the images would work aesthetically still somehow diminishes them, that I knew that if I hang them, either virtually or physically, then people will, if they say anything, say they are ‘nice’ or ‘pretty’ or somesuch.
It was suggested that these warm toned images are an emotional response to the scene that I saw, but my view of land isn’t generally one of a ‘warm toned’ fine print. When I see land I generally see it as an appropriation or as the bane of life or lives tied to it. I see hedges and walls as marks in the land that have divided the spoils, through, seemingly countless generations that have denied the right of peasants to work their own piece of land. I see how the acts of inclusion have taken the freedom away that was once considered common into private hands. That at one end of the village we have Barton Abbey, in the hands of, apparently the thirteenth richest family in the UK (who measures this stuff and how?) and at the other Lord Wills. That none of the land is open or common, that there are a few public footpaths and bridleways is still frowned upon by those who ‘own’ the land that hosts these freeways. But I don’t think that I’m taking anything back when I take the pictures, I’m not appropriating images in the name of Wat Tyler, I’m conscious that I’m concerned about the injustice of it all, but not to a point of wanting to document the land to illustrate those concerns.
No, the images came because I can do them, years of working monochrome images in silver gelatin prints, concerned as much with the aesthetic of how the tones are represented, researching developers, films, zone system, papers, lenses, cameras, spot meters, chemistry, enlargers, printers, inks and ink systems, places, weather conditions, seasons and more just to produce pictures that exemplify an understanding, the control of, the medium of – what I thought was called – fine art monochrome photographic prints. I think it is a skill that I learned over years/decades of wandering around places that Ansel Adams/ Weston and so many others did in the past. It enabled me to ‘see’ clearly in monochromatic terms of what was in front of me, how it would look as a print. That these views in the field in front of me were, to a large extent, monochrome anyway hardly mattered; I saw pretty images and I knew it would be easy to depict them as such either on the screen or as a print.
When I took the film images I seemed to expect that they would have greater value – at least to me, as I didn’t really expect that many people would want to see them even if I mentioned that I had them, why would they? The value comes from investment I suppose, making an exposure commits the photographer to develop the latent image, having to make choices about developer, about how to re-create the image through a scanner and further work to ‘clean-up’ the image (or not); to then process the image, in a darkroom, with choices of crop, enlargement, paper/developer combination and post fix treatments or in the ‘lightroom’ what editing needs to be done and if printing what size, ink system et al. Each film negative frame has a monetary value, whilst digital frames are free – could that be it? No, I don’t think so, because I have a lot of images that have great value to me that I’ve taken in the post digital revolutionary age.
I’m still not getting to place where I can realistically say what I thought about these scenes when I saw them and at the point that inspired me to capture them and what I was thinking at the time. Only to say that I knew they would be easy to re-present. I didn’t think that I would use the digital images from the ‘journey’ I took the film camera because I wanted to use that as the medium because I knew it would ensure that I took my time, paced the shots, composed them more carefully. Value them.