I was just looking around at photography workshops on the internet and came across this thing called ICM. My initial impression was “what’s that?” Turns out it means intentional camera movement, which is some form of fine art photography. I remember playing with my old digital years to see what effect moving the camera would have. This was one of the results:
Yesterday, my friend Simon and I met in London to see the Alec Soth ‘Gathered Leaves’ exhibition. I have bought a couple of his books, so I was quite keen to see his work for real rather than in a book.
The exhibition covers four of his major previous projects: Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual and most recently Songbook.
The quality of this 10×8 inch large format prints were stunning – particularly the subtlety of the colour palette in his imagery. His portrait skills are very good, I loved the expressions on his subjects faces. When you see the images printed large, you really appreciate the quality of the work in a way that a book or website does not. When you see 4ft prints, you see different qualities in the images. It made me stop, think and question much more about what was going on in the photograph.
Sleeping by the Mississippi shows a sadness and ruggedness of people getting on with life and perhaps feeling forgotten by mainstream America.
Niagara is about the Niagara falls area being one for both lovers, but also suicides. It is a very powerful body of work and the images are wonderful. What makes it for me is the expressions on the lovers / brides faces – there is a sense that everything is not quite as it should be. The work, to me, shows the complexity of human emotion involved in a supposed single emotional state like love.
Broken manual is about men who have left American civilisation to live alone, like hermits and survivalists. Again, this is a very powerful piece of work, much like the other projects. There is also a lot of feeling in the work, like sadness, loss and defiance.
What interested me was that some of the images contained aspects of an ongoing connection to the broader American identity. Some people wore American flags – hinting at a tennis, possibly unconscious connection to the broader idea of being ‘American’. To me this subtle level of identification illustrated some sense of ongoing belonging, which was interesting given the subjects were people who had consciously removed themselves from American society.
I like how Soth leaves you with a lot of unanswered questions. The lack of description forces you to create your own narrative about the image and fill in the substantial gaps. There area a lot of subtleties in his work that need to be sought for to be found. It makes viewing his images lovely, but also deep in saturated meaning to me. There are so many levels and potential ‘truths’ to each image that your mind can fantasise about the ‘true’ meaning for ages.
I was least interested in his Songbook part of the exhibition. This was still great work, but by that point I was tiring and I found that I had become habituated to the wonderful colour of his previous work. In truth, I probably didn’t do this aspect of the exhibition justice. Although, a part of me wonders if the more ‘free flowing’ style of his journalistic reportage work virus his slow methodical 10×8 work had something to do with my change in perceptions at this point.
Before I went to the exhibition I had reservations about looking at so much work by one person. I thought that it might get dull and repetitive, but I was wrong. The work was of a high quality away, but what really clinched it was the breadth of the work. Travelling by the Mississippi, lovers at Niagara, hermits, as well as ‘small town’ America were also such different and interesting subjects.
The breadth of the work, the narratives they created in particular, kept me interested, entertained and joyfully questioning things. The work really made me wonder about the people and their lives and as a photographer you can’t hope really to do more than this.
What was also interesting about the exhibition was the paraphernalia attached to it in the display cases. With sleeping by the Mississippi there were dummy versions of the book as well as the printed versions.
With Niagara, again there were copies of the book but also what appeared to be found love letter. There were also some letters of hate over failed relationships.
In addition, the Broken Manual part of the exhibition was fascinating and macabre. There were notes on how to survive – some by Soth himself, showing some humour on the subject. But, more disturbing, there were copies of books about how to make weapons. I know there is a belief amongst some American survivalists about war, decimation and, of course, self-protection.
In the final part of the exhibition there were copies of his ‘dispatches’ that Soth produced whilst he posed as a small town reporter to make the work. These were great to see and I would have liked to seen and read them more.
I was really glad to have seen this exhibition, definitely one to go to if you are in London.
(You are allowed to take photos whilst you are there, which is great)
Sometimes it’s just nice to do some landscape photography. Usually nowadays, I like to photograph what people are up to – usually on the streets. However, sometimes I like to step back and just enjoy nature’s light shows as they appear.
One of the things that I used to do a lot, and would like to do again, is long distance treks. I love putting on a backpack and walking long distance trails. Over 20 years of walking I have managed to hone my pack down (including an excellent 1kg Terra Nova Laser tent) to about 8kg, excluding camera kit (I am happy to post up my kit list if people are interested). I have always taken an SLR (film and more recently digital) on treks, as I have never been able to get along with the limitations of compact cameras.
I spent a good 6 years climbing all over the dolomites as part of my treks. Northern Italy is a place that I know quite well,and love, due to the stunning mountains there. I should perhaps put the photos of the treks together into some sort of project.
One of the things I like about trekking is obviously the stunning scenery. Spending a few weeks (or months on another occasion) in the mountains is quite an experience. Not only did I get super fit, but I also found that my view of life became much more simpler and clearer.
With limited access to the internet and other sources of technology, I found that things became easier. Each day was simply about setting a goal of getting from A to B, then doing it. Until my first daughter arrived 5 years ago, I only really used a camera for holiday snaps. I used to do wedding and some advertising photography some years before, with my main personal interest at the time being seascape work (living in Cornwall it was hard not to!). However, when I went off to study, I pretty much dropped photography for a good 10 years. As is typical with most people, having kids makes you get your camera back out!
I don’t tend to do landscape work that much at the moment. I have been shooting a project in Wiltshire called ‘Landlines‘ (it’s a poor edit, the previous one was better) on and off for the last few years, but it’s very slow going. I will probably reshoot the project over the next few years as I like the idea, but not the images. The main reason I don’t do much landscape work is that much of the stuff I see online is not very inspiring. I went to a local exhibition recently, and whilst the landscape work was pretty, I didn’t find it stood out from the multitude of shots that I have seen before. The main reason being that if I have seen Durdle Door once, I have seen it a thousand times, so why do I need to see it again with a slightly bluer sky or something?
The problem I find with landscape work is that people are always trying to create the iconic image – when I prefer nowadays to work with a series of images to create a narrative. When you have seen so many so-called iconic images, you get a bit numb to them. So, I think this year, particularly with the arrival of the large format camera (still need to get the lenses, etc…), I think I will revisit the great outdoors to do some landscape work – particularly as it seems a good topic for learning how to use a large format camera.
Any way, here are a couple of pretty pictures from my treks to round the post off with…
This is an interesting project by Ed Thompson on the very few remaining Guardian Angels in London. I would imagine that if you saw one in London, they would be a rare beast nowadays.