The Black Mountains, Fenlands. Ben Dolman 2013
1 the angular distance of a place north or south of the earth's equator, or of the equator of a celestial object, usually expressed in degrees and minutes: at a latitude of 51° N | [ mass noun ] : lines of latitude.
• (latitudes) regions, especially with reference to their temperature and distance from the equator: temperate latitudes | northern latitudes.
2 [ mass noun ] scope for freedom of action or thought: journalists have considerable latitude in criticizing public figures.
3 Photography the range of exposures for which an emulsion or printing paper will give acceptable contrast. a film with a latitude which is outstanding.
The most interesting and difficult photography project whilst studying a post graduate MA course is the project that has not been done, this project is the one that will be done after the course of study. The projects and work done whilst studying at University are all well and good but they were carried out under supervision, guidance, feedback and support. It did not really matter if the work failed conceptually, technically or visually as this is accepted as part of the learning experience, there was always someone or a system that helped you reboot and start again. When you leave University you are alone, there is no feedback or structure, you have to be self motivated and your creative path will be potholed with self doubt and indifference. It is this next project that will be critical in deciding if you have the staying power to continue with your creative work and develop beyond that of being a student to that of a professional creative practitioner be it full or part time, to have your own practice and find an audience.
I have mulled over my next project for the last three months and I have roughed out the first draft of my next photographic journey. Before we get into the nitty gritty of the next photographic project proposal I am making for myself I wish to reflect on my course of study that might or not be useful for others but it is useful for myself in deciding where my creative path shall lead.
The first thing that stands out from my course of study is I prefer to make a photograph rather than just take a photograph, I have nothing against just taking photographs and most of the photography I enjoy looking at is about just taking photographs of things, a spontaneous and intuitive act that captures the wonder, the mundane and sometimes the horror of the world we inhabit.
Today photography has never been easier with the technical revolution of digital photography cemented with the advent of the smart phone and online sharing/social networks coupled with cloud storage technologies. The process and making of photographs has largely been taken out of the hands of the user and replaced by an app, failure and experimentation has been reduced and replaced with a preset, learned and critical feedback on one’s practice and image making replaced with ‘like’ and ‘share’ feedbacks programmed into the social and media sharing networks to provide instant gratification for the users. These online social networks and apps are provided by silicon valley start-ups to major corporations that offer their services for free in return for free content from users to sell online adverts and the data from viewing habits that is used to build profiles of the users that can be sold onto external third parties. Personally I do not want to offer anything free to these companies and if this means not using their services so be it as by offering something for free it could be construed of having little worth and also there is little to no actual funding for your practice from this social media online sector. I will stick with my labour intensive analogue-digital workflow and seek other outlets for my work be it competitions, bursaries or direct selling from my own website that I have developed and built myself, I am in control of the data.
In my next project I shall be unshackled from academia but the learning experience has left me in a more informed position, a position that I have now master to some degree the technical and conceptual aspects of my photographic practice but in the next stage I want to bring back a more intuitive and emotional response to a subject through the medium of photography. It has taken me longer than I first thought to master the medium as I had set myself on reflection some crazy goals in the time frame of my study that have thrown all kind of technical challenges from building my own 8x10 camera, developing large format colour negatives to developing a new book and website designs to name a few. I am reasonably happy with my analogue-digital hybrid photographic and imaging workflows now and I feel the need to develop them further in a new body.
The final element that I have learnt from my masters course of study is the ability to edit, this editing is not just in the selection of my photographs to create new narratives and dialogues but also the way I edit information. One of my biggest weaknesses at the start of my study was my writing and referencing skills, it is still not brilliant but it is improving and to write in an effective straightforward and simply way that communicates and explains complex ideas is not easy. I needed to edit and refine my understanding of the discipline in a wider social context that references technical, historical and contemporary issues relating to the media and this takes time. This is an ongoing process and I shall continue this reflective journal to force myself to continue writing and keep on looking at the world around me and try and make some kind of sense of it in relation to my practice.
From left to right: Bryan Schutmaat, Ed Ruscha, Michael Schnabel, David Benjamin Sherry and Amsel Adams © of the artists
The next project has a working title ‘Latitude N52° - N53°’ which refers to a band of land running horizontally across England from Norfolk to Wales. The project will revisit the flatlands of the Fens in the east of England as I was not totally happy with the way it was first photographed due to the fact I was still learning photography and I wish to see if I can reveal more of the place now I have a more developed technical and visual awareness in the medium of photography. Besides working again in the Fens I will also be working in tandem in Wales to the west of England in a very different landscape of mountains and valleys. Both landscapes seem alien to me, extreme in their respective topography, one sinking below the sea level the other rising up to meet the sky.
I have childhood memories of the mountains of Wales from family holidays passing through the land to the coast. The experience and sight of the mountains has always resided with me throughout my life, the mountains seemed massive, their presence forbidding but they were also exhilarating, something totally different from which I had experienced in my homeland as a child, the midlands with its gentle rolling hills. It is from the memories travelling through the black mountains in Wales that when I saw a mound of soil in a field in the fens it somehow reminded of that place, a diorama of a memory, a yearning to return to the place where the land touched the sky.
Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the sea of fog
The depiction of mountains have to some degree become a photographic and artistic cliché as we projected different interpretations upon them and sought something else beyond their basic physical geological structure. Mountains are visually attractive, they evoke strong emotions, they overload us with sensory information, we seek a wilderness in them in our modern industrialised age, they have become a ‘must see’ destination in the age of modern leisure time and the creation of national parks. Paintings of mountains are loaded with all sorts of visual and poetic metaphors that have developed from a long lineage of landscape painting that saw them as some kind of totem for wilderness and individuality, a sublime romantic view nurtured by artists like Casper David Friedrich. In the nineteenth century American painters made biblical like depictions of the westward push of the pioneers and settlers who sought ownership of the land and to exploit the natural resources and riches of the american continent pushing aside the indigenous people the Indians as they traverse the Great Plains and mountain ranges of America in their wagon trains.
The work of Ansel Adams and his followers continued in the same vein as landscape painters but using photography instead of paint that has led to a whole sub culture of amateur photographers who in the twentieth with the increase in leisure time, a love for hobbies and easy access to the countryside by new transport infrastructures seek particular views of mountains to capture and add to their photographic collections, just google the words 'photographs of mountains' and will see a particular visual look and composition in the photographs. It is interesting looking at Ansel Adams work now, some see it as reactionary to that of modernism whilst others see it as complimentary, it is easy to tar the originator by the same brush as their followers, did the originator or the follower create the cliché, can mass appeal undo critical and intellectual 'credibility'. I personally enjoy the work of Ansel Adams and his technical know how and I also acknowledge his environmentalism that at the time was considered radical.
I have also been looking at how other contemporary artists and photographers have steered away or embrace the visual clichés of the mountain as subject and sought out another interpretation of this terrain, in the painting’s of Ed Ruscha he blended the typical pictorial view of mountains but overlaid it with words taken from the advertising industry offering the mountains as just another commodity in the American landscape. In the work of some contemporary photographers they have sought to locate the place within the context it’s local inhabitants and create new stories within the landscape, this can be seen in the work of Bryan Schutmaat’s ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’ and James Morris’s ‘A landscape of Wales’. Other photographers have sought to rendered the mountains as abstractions as seen in the work of David Benjamin Sherry’s ‘Wonderful Land’ series where the photographs of the mountains have been undergone a CMYK separation used for off set printing and the photographs are rendered in just one or two processed colours, in Michael Schnabel’s ‘Tyrol Silent Mountains’ the mountains seem to emerge or disappear into darkness just giving the viewer only a hint of the subject, he takes the massive and the majestic and hides it in the darkness of the night.
The final part of the project Latitude N52° - N53° covers the journey between east and west, between flatlands and mountains and this in-between journey could actually be the gem of the project. Often when I am working on a major project I get side tracked, a place or subject catches my eye and this becomes the focus of my attention. The project could end up having no photographs of the east and west of England, the Fens or the mountains of Wales but those places could still be used to defined and resonate in the space in-between them, places where the memories and dreams are more vivid than their actual visual depiction.
I look forward to starting this project when the MA ends, to start something afresh and on my own terms way from academia.