abstraction, critical writing, film, water

Encounter Bay seascapes

April 14, 2023

I started to change my initial judgement of dismissing the scanned seascapes as flawed and failures. If we think in terms of visuality, or the difference introduced into human seeing by traditional cultural meaning consolidated and reconfigured in images, then these film-based images should be interpreted as being different to the digital seascapes. that I was using as a standard. The blurriness of the former makes them akin to images made with a pinhole camera. So I accepted the different look of these scanned images.

These medium format images — including some black and white ones — were designed to be supplementary to the large format seascapes that I was doing around the same time, and which I considered to be superior. Though supplementary the medium format images do stand on their own. They are supplementary, not in the sense of addressing the insufficiency of, or a lack within, the large format images, but as an addition to that enriches the large format images.

Rolleflex TLR
seascape, Encounter Bay, #2

The process of the breaking down of the photographic image has emptied it of detail and sharpness which is what photography as a medium was normally celebrated for. The characteristics we have are blurriness and vagueness not sharpness or clarity.

The fuzzy images are so lacking in detail that they become abstractions and in doing so challenge the intentionality of the photographer caught up in the Cartesian dream of centring the sovereign subject (cogito) and clear and distinct as the royal road to certainty. These are images in whose formation the photographer played only a nominal role. The images disclose a world that exceeds or punctures through the view of the photographer when I was making the photo. My field of vision at the time did not see what these photos disclosed. Hence their initial rejection.

The implication or inference is that these photos displace the primary emphasis of the operator behind the machine in the making of the photos. What is revealed is uninformed by the camera as a technological extension of the photographer’s look, way of seeing, or field of vision with its industrialised (and now computational language) of “to take”, “to point”, “to capture”, or “to shoot” a photo.

Rolleiflex TLR
seascape, Encounter Bay, #3

This disclosure, in the sense of unlocking, is a process of opening an awareness of the “totality;” or to speak differently, the world’s away of revealing itself to us. The conception of photography as a disclosure of the world decenters the operator behind the machine and the rejects the art historical understanding of photography that insists on human agency and intention as the only valid shaper of meaning in the medium. Moreover, understanding photography as a disclosure of the world highlights how the postmodern emphasis on representational primacy of images lost sight of the medium’s deep connection with the world and our own position within it.


After writing the post I came across Kaja Silverman’s book The Miracle of Analogy, or the History for Photography, Part 1 (Stanford University Press, 2015). This ontological account of photography jettisons the long-standing notion of the photograph as a physical index or exact representation and dispenses equally with questions of intentionality or authorship. Silverman argues that photography can offer a “disclosive rather than evidentiary form of truth” —a self-disclosure of the world rather than a way of understanding it. Her argument is that pre-industrial photography especially allows for the “self-disclosure of the world”—“the ‘coming forward’ or ‘presencing’ of the world through self-presentation,” through which the world is the author of its own images.

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1 Comment

  • Reply David Hume April 15, 2023 at 8:39 pm

    Hi Gary… I very much like seascape #1 – the image that you chose as the header for your blog post. I think it’s great. I’m not as fond of the one above that you’ve used on the Facebook post but that’s no matter. I read your blog post as always with great interest and got a bit lost in the complexity, but that often happens to me.

    Here’s my take on what’s going on.

    I guess I would see this as exemplifying an empathy between the artist and their medium. In your act of observation we firstly have a record of that act – that record being the negative. The negative provides the first approximation of what you, the photographer, intended. Now the process continues as you decide firstly what to do with the individual images and secondly how that will fit in with a body of work based on the intentions that led you to make these images in the first place.
    Here’s where it gets interesting because of the curve-ball you were thrown by the lens separation (coupled, I also feel, with a long exposure.) In this case there has been a serendipitous aesthetic gift from the lens separation that you have been able to appreciate and exploit. What I wonder is if this will lead to a sustained body of work. I think there’s a very delicate balance between using this one-off gift, and destroying it by overusing it in which case it becomes merely an effect, and thus loses the charm and delight that is evident both in the image and your reaction to it. What I detect in the way you’ve reconsidered this event and the work it produced is that your aesthetic has already been broadened by it, and I see that as the main thing. In looking at any of the images you posted in the article I did not once wonder what, if anything, was wrong with the lens, I just thought they were great images, but not like those you would normally set out to make. I hope this quick reaction to what is obviously well thought-out by you is useful and does not come across as dismissive because of its brevity. Cheers.

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