Deeds of Our Lives

Fri, 12/09/2014 - 03:10 -- eyeline

Photography. Pictures of overseas holidays in exotic locations, or just photos of a birthday party; old photos from when you were younger and still kept them in massive albums to flick through page by page and remember that day when… Now of course you keep them all on some digital storage device, each captured memory able to be relived at some later date—granted you can find it again in the immense conglomeration of data.

However as you press the button, a question begs to be asked: are you simply recording sections of your life, an ‘account’ of optical transactions? Or are you creating something new with each click of the shutter, forging a memory to be treasured forever? The photographs of Andy Goldsworthy, Mike Frakes and Andrew Pearce each demonstrate a differing methodology which the casual ‘documenter’ should be aware of when preserving each scene.

As a near perfect recreation of a scene, photography appears to lend itself to factual ‘accounting’, recording of events. Indeed many artists find it to be an indispensable tool for documenting and distributing their works, especially when the original works are highly ephemeral pieces. Andy Goldsworthy, whose works can ‘last for days or a few seconds’,1 records his delicate and transient sculptures using such technology. This enables him to display his pieces to those who are not there at the time of their creation and swift destruction; the aging of more permanent works is also perfectly documented as exposure to the elements alters their form. For Goldsworthy, photography acts as the ‘title deeds … to prove that [he is] the proprietor’,2 in much the same way one would photograph themselves at Uluru to prove and record they were there. 

Similarly, photographer Mike Frakes travels the world recording images of wildlife and scenery. Exhibiting a vast amount of technical skill, his images focus on capturing the subject in the most accurate way possible. He takes into consideration his relationship with the subject and their surroundings to ‘account’ the experience; the image of baboons shows a cautious curiosity, reflected in both the subject and the photographer, the baboon staying within a safe distance of the troop, in a harsh place unforgiving to humans.

There is a flip side to this attitude however; rather than attempting to recreate what he physically sees through the camera lens, photographic artist Andrew Pearce endeavours to leave this restriction of a finite ‘subject’. He states, ‘I find a majority of people still see photography as nothing more than a means of documentation, whereas I like to … demonstrate photography as another medium for art and creativity.’

Pearce uses heavily stylised compositions, full of dreamy colour schemes, in order to create more conceptual pieces that speak directly from his imagination. His photograph A Silent Town shows a viewpoint from inside a car driving at night; each light is turned into soft ‘balls’ by the exposure of the camera and a ‘smoky’ effect is created out the window; this light then shines onto one half of a girl’s face, showing a passive expression of contemplative serenity. Images such as this have a profound inspiration, invoking a series of emotions in reaction to the overall theme, in this case the feeling of driving alone in your own thoughts at night, rather than the subject’s. In order to create such a piece, Pearce is not afraid to step away from taking a ‘perfectly accurate’ photo, and he makes every detail important.

Of course one could argue that Goldsworthy’s ‘standard film, a standard lens and no filters’3 approach is more appropriate to general, everyday photography. Is it not about capturing the moment exactly as it is, not creating something new?

Perhaps this is correct, however there is a phenomenally important difference between everyday photographs of you at that park and the photographs taken by Goldsworthy and Frakes: namely their subject. Both Goldsworthy and Frakes capture extraordinary subjects; Frakes’s interaction with wildlife is intriguing and exciting in itself, his photography skills allowing him to capture his experiences accurately in thoughtfully focused, breathtaking, images. Goldsworthy’s images do not need to be flashy at all, the art is purely in what he has created; the photograph is simply a recording.

However this approach does not work with everyday objects and events, while images might remind you of an event, it is purely the associated memory that holds your attention. In fact people who constantly upload photographs to social networking sites are likely to be resented by their ‘friends’,4 perhaps the sheer unoriginality gets to you after a while. How then to produce a photograph that can be considered ‘worthy’ of the fond memories, and will stand out and draw you back to it in the years to come? Of course it is impractical to create a ‘great’ work of art to record each event, but, to quote Frakes; ‘The relationship with the subject is the most important aspect in photography, whether it is with people, wildlife, or inanimate objects’.5

This means that the physical aspect of the image is not important, the subject is not important; the subjects in Pearce’s images are not extraordinary, but he captures his relationship with them in an extraordinary manner. Do not be afraid to take a leaf out of his book and experiment with over (or under) saturation and exposure; lens flares and blur are not always a bad thing, and not every angle has to be front-on at head height. Try something new, take photos when no one is looking, see if you can make something ordinary seem intriguing. You might find yourself actually taking fewer photographs because you are happy with the ones you have—or you might find yourself actually enjoying it so much you can’t stop (do your best to avoid alienating your Facebook friends though). Either way, those groaning hard drives will no longer be full of monotonous visual ‘anti-stimulation’, and that has got to be an improvement.

Mike Frakes, Snow Monkeys, from the exhibition 'Like Us'. Image courtesy of the artist.

Andrew Pearce, A Silent Town, 2011. Type C Photograph. Model Brooke Findley. Image courtesy of the artist.

Do not be afraid to … experiment with over (or under) saturation and exposure; lens flares and blur are not always a bad thing, and not every angle has to be front-on at head height

notes: 

1. Andy Goldsworthy quoted in ‘Andy Goldsworthy Sculpture Stone River Enters Stanford University’s Outdoor Art Collection’, Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, 2001. Retrieved 7 October 2013 from http://museum.stanford.edu/news_room/archived_acquisitions_goldsworthy.html
2. Yves Klein quoted in ‘Andy Goldsworthy, “The Photograph”, statement from Terry Friedman and Andy Goldsworthy (Eds.), in Hand to Earth: Andy Goldsworthy Sculpture 1976-1990, Leeds, 1990’. Retrieved 2 October 2013 from http://www.goldsworthy.cc.gla.ac.uk/photography/
3. Andy Goldsworthy, Philosophy, 2006. Retrieved 7 October 2013 from http://www.ucblueash.edu/artcomm/web/w2005_2006/maria_Goldsworthy/philos...
4. Further reading: David Houghton, Adam Joinson, Nigel Caldwell and Ben Marder, ‘Tagger’s Delight? Disclosure and liking behaviour in Facebook: the effects of sharing photographs amongst multiple known social circles’, University of Birmingham, 2013. Retrieved
27 September 2013 from http://epapers.bham.ac.uk/1723/1/2013-03_D_Houghton.pdf
5. ‘About Mike’, Mike Frakes Photography, 2010. Retrieved 7 October 2013 from http://www.mikefrakesphotography.com.au/about-mike.html