A journey involves movement; from a start point to a destination. That journey can be either made literally, through physical space, or figuratively, as a metaphor for life or a part of life or as a story; a journey can encompass all these possibilities at the same time. However, a photograph is – by definition – a still image; even a movie is just a series of stills, given life by the way our brain allows us to ignore completely the fraction of a second when the projector advances to the next stop-point in its series of stops and starts…
So, how can I convey a sense of movement, of journeying, with a sequence of static pictures?
When I showed an early version of the animated, digital presentation that opens this post, at Clive White’s final Focus Live, I had not yet had time to remove the calibration grid that I had added to help tune the timing of images and text; Clive observed that this creates a position for the viewer, analogous to looking out of the window of a moving vehicle, where you cannot ever quite get a good enough view of the things you are passing; I liked this idea and have run with it.
However, if you would like a better idea of the ground I was covering, here are the images that scroll past, one at a time and static:
In the individual photographs, I tried to create a sense of movement either into the frame, by centring them upon a vanishing point – also the title of my road movie from ex.2.2 – or by including a section of the path I was cycling down, or my bicycle. When I came to create the final composite images, I looked for ways to link them into sequences – leading lines continuing from one image to the next, repeating motifs or by varying the size of the component images so that they wax and wane, from left to right and back again.
The landscape I travelled through is a product of that burst of energy that kickstarted the industrial revolution in the early 19th century and which continues in diminished form to this day. It is not so much an edgeland as a space that exists as a palimpsest of its past and present uses. The canal is a corridor leading to and from London; because it is screened-off – by embankments and plantings and industrial estates – it is hard to get much sense of the space beyond its banks. It is a groove guiding traffic from point to point, a beaten path followed by high tension power-lines now, in just the same way narrowboats hauled goods to and from London’s docks in the past.
Early on, I realised that the section of the Lee Navigation I had lit upon had been pretty much neglected by the photographers who have worked the sections to its north and south. I felt as if I was making expeditions into hitherto underexplored artistic territory. In this section of waterway, there was still room for – photographically – mapping out a territory of my own. Rather than being just another photographer, assuming the role of a 21st century flaneur, I loaded up my panniers, slung a heavy tripod over my shoulder and set out to take photographs that look back to the work of Wilkins and O’Sullivan et al in the second of the nineteenth century.
These images are considered rather than captured; there is nothing on the fly going on here…
The images were taken with different cameras: one film, in both black and white and colour, and one digital, which I also used as a light meter for the film shots. They are presented in a variety of formats: some square, some adhering to 35mm film’s standard 3:2 while others are panoramas compiled from many frames using software. No image consists of a single photograph.
Along with the differences between analogue and digital interpretation of colour (and my imperfect colour correction of scanned negatives) the images are obviously the product of conscious choices, constructed, rather than conforming to some ideal of a uniform indexical link to nature.
This assignment – like everything at present – only exists on screens with little prospect of it ever being released back into physical space. However, although most of my effort has been focussed on electronic forms of presentation, there is also a part of me that harks back to galleries and real world exhibitions. So with a final glance back to the 19th century and the industrial revolution, I created the blueprint (cyanotype) map of my journey that opens this sequence of stills, patching it with instant prints of photographs taken without much ceremony on my phone during my reconnaissance trip.
If a return to real world assessment were on the cards, I would make large prints of the composite images and an OS-sized map on a plotter at work. As it is, I have made a scaled down installation of the pictures, surrounding an A3 map with the eleven composite images and locating them on the map with pins and thread.
To my surprise, I find I prefer the virtual presentation…