About a year ago, approaching the end of DIaC and looking forward to starting landscape, I assumed I would be able to get to Orkney at some point during 2020. While there, I would put together a long-list of images to use in this assignment. There would be plenty there to play with while examining ideas of ‘beauty’ and the ‘sublime’. However, there was also the danger that I would get caught up in ‘views’ and the ‘picturesque’, that I would just end up taking all the same pictures I always take and that it would all seem a bit stale. So, maybe it was a stroke of luck that Covid put an end to all that…
By November as I began to think seriously about the assignment, it had become apparent that I wouldn’t be travelling north anytime soon, but I didn’t want to jettison the idea of using photographs from Orkney altogether. I had started taking pictures in Walthamstow, as one of the possible candidate sites for part five’s self directed project, and began to realise that some of the pictures were not that different to the sort of pictures I have taken back home on holiday, but a lot more urban. As well as subject matter, there was also formal and compositional continuity in play.
I did a search of my Lightroom catalogue using the keyword ‘Orkney’ and got an unsurprisingly large set of results. I narrowed this down to 150 or so, and then did further sifting to arrive at 30-odd images. A final edit left me with eleven pictures which I thought had an equivalent among my London pictures (or, if I didn’t already have one, it would not be too hard to work out where and how to take one).
The contact sheet is made up of the eleven Orkney pictures (1, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 19, 21, 23 and 25); the pictures in between (up to #26) were taken as I went out for essentials, or for exercise, over the last couple of months in Walthamstow. It didn’t take too long to narrow things down further to nine pictures taken in Orkney and around fifteen from Walthamstow .
(The final four ‘fog’ pictures are included here because I am fond of them and the way they work nicely in a neo-Pictorialist sort of way. I particularly like the way #27 makes me think of Steichen’s 1904 Flatiron Building picture – at a stretch it could be used instead of #6 as a sublime, urban cliff-face – but #6 is better for my purposes and more threatening somehow. Like the two diptyches – fig.1 & fig.3 – included in this post, they aren’t being considered for the assignment any more but it would be a shame if they didn’t get at least a mention in passing.)
Some pairings are obvious, but others needed more thought. The three alternatives for stone sea stacks all work in different ways. And also, laid out like this in a two by two grid, make me think of a postcard, but that’s the picturesque again.
Then settling on a pair for the photograph taken at the Ring of Brodgar, the ‘fog’ picture, taken on the roof of Sainsbury’s carpark is quite beautiful I think, while the shrouded exercise machines in Thomas Gamuel Park have a hint of the sublime around them, or at any rate some form of memento mori. It is a hard choice to make.
Both these pairings will make the final cut , but not all of the others will fit; some pairs will have to go completely.
Then I thought about presenting the final images as eight diptychs (which is what I have done with the rejected pairings used in this post) but somehow that seemed to reduce the impact of both pictures, making it more an exercise in contrasts (between city and countryside; between rural and urban) rather than a meditation on beauty and the sublime . Also, there is a danger that this would be interpreted (quite rightly) as sixteen photographs rather than the eight we have been asked for in the brief.
So, I decided to make the Orkney pictures into an animated slideshow (which would place them fair-and-square in the past, and into ideas of holiday and the picturesque) while the London pictures would be presented as individual images, composed and able to be viewed flat on a gallery wall. Their titles would make the link between each picture and its pair.
I’m not a fan of digital slideshows that mutely dissolve image into image into image, but I was knocked out a couple of years ago by the recreation of Roger Maynes’ installation, made for the 1964 Venice Biennale, at The Photographers’ Gallery in 2017. The noise of the 320 slides clanking through the gates of five projecters was quite an overwhelming – maybe even sublime – experience; perhaps I could capture some of that, through sound effects (of my father’s Aldis projector and with a simple in/out picture transition, coded in java and then assembled in iMovie). I have added a voice over too, to provide the rhyming titles for the Walthamstow pictures as well as attempting to introduce a bit of Victorian, magic-lantern-show, showmanship.
One pairing still needs to go (eight photographs and the slideshow unfortunately equals nine) and I suspect it will be the last one, if only because the Walthamstow image is the only portrait composition left and it would stick out a bit. A pity though – it’s the most sublime of both sets, confusing in what it shows (a fierce sky reflected in the windows of a locked down pub with a black void in its centre) and – once you twig what’s going on – redolent of how powerless we can feel in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
If, by the time I am preparing LPE for assessment, a physical element has become possible again, my submission for this assignment will consist of seven A3 prints and the video slideshow. While A3 isn’t really big enough for the prints – in my mind, the Walthamstow pictures are much, much larger while the slideshow clanks away, noisily looping in a windowless room, off to one side of the exhibition space – it does hark back to the days when exhibitions of photographs – for reasons determined by both the technology of making photographic prints, and also the modernist view of what ‘a photograph’ should be – consisted of modestly-sized prints, arranged around the walls of a gallery. Also, the role of the OCA as an artistic gatekeeper is acknowledged by my adoption of the assessment standard of A3 (on matte or semi-gloss paper, with wide borders for handling) for levels two and three of the degree.
My eventual submission for the assignment will consist of seven photographs from Walthamstow, and a slideshow to create the eighth piece of work. I just need now to decide which of the Walthamstow photographs are the final seven and whether the slideshow goes at the front or comes at the end.
I will post this now, and put it up for review on the various online forums available to students at the OCA. While I wait for responses, I’ll try and get the exercises written up, aiming to send the links to my tutor by the end of the month…
- Maynes, R. (2017) The British at Leisure [Installation of five projectors, showing 320 transparencies with jazz accompaniment] London: The Photographers’ Gallery. 03/03/17 – 11/06/16.
- Steichen, E.J. (1904, printed 1909) The Flatiron. (Gum bichromate over platinum print) Online: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/267803 (accessed: 22/2/21)