I really do struggle with my landscape photography in and around Encounter Bay on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula of South Australia, even though I do a lot of scoping for it. I struggle in the sense of having both a lots of doubts the value of this working and a lack of confidence in what I am doing —with both the coastal work and the roadside vegetation. So I don’t get very far with working the Fleurieuscapes project as I am not sure what I am doing with it.
I only have confidence in the abstraction side of this photographic project. The work process is now routine and I am quite comfortable with it. I make a digital study of the object, sometimes convert the colour digital file to a black and white one, and then spend some time assessing the image for possibilities for a 5×4 photo session. Is it worth doing? If so, what is the best way to approach this? This is an example of the work process –some granite rocks on the beach at Petrel Cove.
I have sat on this image for a couple of months at least. In fact I scoped it a year ago and I’d left it sitting on the computer. I re-scopped it earlier this year when I was walking around exploring Petrel Cove whilst on a poodlewalk. I remembered that I had previously photographed this bit of rock and that I wasn’t happy with what I had done, but I had thought that it had possibilities for a black and white 5×4 photoshoot using the baby Sinar (F2). So I re-scoped it.
Although it’s taken me a while to get this place where I am ready to photograph these rocks with the 5×4, I didn’t lack confidence in what I was doing with photographic abstraction. It just took me a while to work through it. I guess that having published a book on abstract photography makes a difference in the confidence stakes.
It’s the other local work that I struggle with–until I came across the early landscape work of John Blakemore. He returned to photograph in the same locations--the coastal rocks and a local stream- year after year that he did after his social documentary photography and before shifting to his detailed still lives and then to photographing light. Blakemore’s landscape work (1970-1980?) is more than a simple celebration of natural beauty. ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘All Flows’ developed his sense of using photography as a metaphor for communicating his feelings and for exploring the landscape as a metaphor showing it as a dynamic form of energy, both as a constructive and destructive force.
This photography of the Midlands in the 1970s ( eg.,Thomas Joshua Cooper) could be seen as a kind of an anglicized offshoot of the world of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Minor White, committed to darkroom and photographic skills of a high order. There is a tendency in the pastoral tradition to romanticise and idyllicise the pre-industrial landscape and our connection to it. However, Blakemore considers himself to be ‘a photographer in landscape rather than of landscape’. He explores themes of energy and and cycles of regeneration of growth, decay and regeneration in his local landscapes often through building up an image using multiple short exposures.
Another scoping possibility from the roadside vegetation explorations for a 5×4 b+w photo session that I have been sitting for several months:
This continual return to the same location is exactly what I have been doing along the coast and along the back country roads. What Blakemore’s early landscape work shows me is that it is not crazy to photograph like I do, namely, to return again and again to the same locations. It is a becoming familiar with the location, as well as developing a relationship with it to the extent of becoming a part of it. This is going under the skin of a places by forcing me to photograph the details that compose the landscape. This is a sustained engagement and from it emerges a body of work. A familiarity with the landscape means that I start to became aware of the process of change in the landscape from the wind, water and sun —- the process of time in the landscape. I become familiar with this from putting in the time ie., practice, practice, practice on a daily basis.
But why am I photographing/playing in these locations?
One suggestion I have previously put on the table is that my immersion in the landscape has been ‘about the moment’, or more specifically, about fleeting moments in the ordinary: ie., photographs of humble, unpretentious objects that are here today and gone tomorrow. These are usually photographed in fleeting light whilst on my poodlewalks. But what am I exploring by doing this? What am I trying to say? The photographs are not just about the natural beauty of humble objects; nor are they pure form, or abstractions, or metaphors for my subjectivity–eg.,Stieglitz’s “equivalents”, or the spirit of the place eg., the mystery of the cosmos in a puddle.
What then? Therein lies my problem.
I cannot organise the selected images into a book until I have sorted out what I am exploring or trying to saying with this kind of work. Saying that the theme of the project is ‘the life of the beach’, the transitory, or it is about humble things doesn’t get me very far at all.