A Conventional Beauty

Farm, Ben Dolman 2012

Can something be too beautiful - some call it the sublime......

It is Sunday morning the 18th of November and I feel the need to get out on the road and take some photographs as I have been stuck in front of the computer all week and I have also just brought a second hand 4x5 camera and need to test it for light leaks and see how it performs on location. Packed gear into the car, made a thermos of black coffee and head off to the Fens grabbing a sandwich from the petrol station on the way. It was a beautiful late autumn morning with clear skies, the air was clean and crisp and the sun was out. Normally I prefer an over cast sky for my photography so as not to get hard shadows but the urge to get out and see the world overrode my technical and aesthetic concerns.

On arriving at the Fens I pulled into a lay-by to have a cup of coffee and eat the rubbish sandwich I brought at the petrol station earlier and prepare myself for the days shoot. As I was sitting there in my car I noticed a large 4x4 police patrol car slowly pass me and then drive off, thought nothing of it as I just thought they were checking out my rubbish sandwich.

Lay-by, Ben Dolman 2012

As I drove off I saw the same police car pass me again, interesting I thought to myself and then proceeded on my way scanning the area for items of interest to photograph. About five minutes later the same police car suddenly appeared behind me and continue to follow me for a couple of miles, I was starting to get a little bit paranoid by now, was my driving a bit erratic due to looking at the landscape, were my brakes lights faulty. Finally blue flashing lights appeared in my rear view mirror and I pulled over. As I got out of my car I saw two police officers get out of there 4x4 wearing reflective sunglasses and stab proof vest and walked over to me, they looked like they worked for some South American militia or were employees of the Blackwater Group, nice day out in the Fens I thought to myself.

We greeted each other in a friendly manner and I quickly discovered I was a victim of profiling something I was not aware of in the countryside but I have seen it in the city. The police officers had put my car license plate through the national number identification system and had identified the car from Leicestershire and because it was blue it gave them reason to pull me over as they thought I might be involved in farm theft and hare coursing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hare_coursing as there had been having recurring criminal activity in the Fens from people traveling from Leicestershire in blue cars, lucky me. It was very quickly established that I was not in the Fens to undertake any criminal activity and only to just take photographs, the police left me alone only asking me to report anything untoward to them whilst I was out and about photographing the landscape, as I drove off I had turned from a potential suspect to a potential collaborator in 5 minutes, interesting start to the day.

Returning back to my journey the camera stayed in my bag for quite a while, the landscape was not seemly revealing anything to me, all I saw was the land bathed in an autumn light, still, calm with a rich warm colour palette seemly too conventional in it’s beauty to photograph.

I could have just driven all day and just enjoy the scene but I finally decided to get the camera out if only for a technical exercise and do some tests. When I returned home to view the snap shots taken on the digital camera, I always have a backup when doing film photography especially on a second hand camera I have not used before I began to see something in the photographs I would have not normally had taken.

Grass, Trees and Pylons, Ben Dolman 2012

Normally when I take a photograph I try to reveal a beauty in the mundane, to find beauty in the ‘other’ that is not seen on first glance, overlooked or ignored. What do you do when faced with something which is just beautiful, something overtly beautiful. Can it be worthy, can it be art post Gustave Courbet’s The Meeting (Bonjour Mr Courbet) 1854 when realism challenged the predominance of romanticism in the pictorial landscape idyll with a new unconventional beauty. Is an obvious beauty riddled with visual cliches and lacks intellectual depth.

Romanticism never went away with the advent of modernism, the artist Casper David Friedrich and the aesthetic philosophical writings of Immanuel Kant still resonate with artists today who pursue what is referred to as the ‘sublime’ in their work. But is a yearning for some kind pictorial romanticism just a futile escape of what we have become over the past two centuries of cultural, social and scientific upheaval, the notion of a God has been challenged by science, people have move to the city from the countryside, two world wars have led to a new fatalism after living with the treat of atomic warfare and mutual assured destruction. 

I asked myself can a non-romantic interpretation of realism be sublime and beautiful as well.

Watch Tower, Ben Dolman 2012

Barns, Ben Dolman 2012

Towards the later part of my journey I came across a pile of clothes dredged from a dyke which I photographed and they marked the end of any sense I was in a rural idyll, on closer inspection of the clothes I saw the remains of a series of passport photographs with one missing. I will let you try and figure want happen here.

Clothes, Ben Dolman 2012

Passport Photos, Ben Dolman 2012

The final image on this post was at the end of the day returning home as the sun started to set, across the fields strange structures appear on the horizon, they were battery farms. The battery farm a reminder that our landscape has been industrialised and those fleeting moments of being in some kind of rural idyll are just fleeting moments, tomorrow the sky will cloud over, the leaves with their autumn golden colours will fade and fall, the stillness will past but in that temporary moment of perhaps a lapse in reason it was a nice distraction.

Field, Ben Dolman 2012