Best kept secret – Part four

January 3rd, 2012
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As promised at the end of last month’s instalment, I have made an attempt to explain and describe one of my images so as to make my process and methods, my thoughts and my aim that little bit more accessible. As it were, to lay bear my artistic intentions and to stop hiding behind a faux academic writing style or the images themselves. Hopefully, it will serve to make my work more appreciable and perhaps clarify my understanding of my own reasons for wandering around with a camera.

For a long time I was fairly sure that if a photograph needed words to make it intelligible then it was essentially failing as a photograph and while I still feel that an image should be an image first and foremost, able to stand on its own and encourage enthralment, beauty, disgust, or a range of various other emotions, I do realise that my previous reticence was due largely to my immature handling of photography’s central conceptual concerns, a lack of confidence in my image making and a large dose of laziness. However, now I am a grown up and earn my bread as a teacher of photography, the regular attempts I have to make at forcing my students to write about their ideas and imagery have burrowed their way into my own thinking and it does seem that I should swallow some of my own medicine. After all, I am convinced that my students will, by writing about their work, develop stronger conceptual abilities, grow in their appreciation of well made photography and, subsequently, produce better photographs. Might it work for me too?

As you may have guessed, I am doing well so far at avoiding the explanation of any images. This, I believe, is because doing so is very hard. Simply explaining what is in a photograph is, of course, easy, if not pointless – we can see what’s in the picture, why do I need to describe it? Although this does put me in mind of perhaps the most enjoyable and thought provoking conversation that I ever had about photography, which was with a blind person, but that may be irrelevant here.

Anyway, the photograph that I have chosen to discuss employs a tactic that I regularly use; reflections. I shot through a window in the street and kept everything in focus so as to make all of the subject appear on the same image plain, combining elements together to create new interpretations and meaning. The interior walls merge with the exterior features of the street and buildings become built of surreal blocks. The lines of the ceiling emphasise and literally become a part of the street as it recedes into the background. The grey carpet becomes the concrete of the urban environment. This layering of viewpoints gives the sensation of being both inside and outside at the same time, a concept which I think is important to bear in mind when thinking about photography, the veracity of which can make it feel as though one were actually inside a photograph. This is compounded by my reflection in the window. I am in the image occupying the space of both outside observer peering into the space of the image and an insider looking out at you, the viewer, a point that I will leave for you to interpret as you see fit.

The colour is also very important for me. I work mainly in black and white as it allows me to concentrate more on composition and formal elements and so the use of colour when I am working becomes an element around which I build images, focusing on details and arrangements that would otherwise become lost in black and white. In this image in particular, it was the warm glow of the sunlight and the intense burst of red as they sang out from an otherwise grey and cold space. The light fills the space, cramming warmth and an almost solid presence into the room. The red wall paints the street and brings the bricks of the buildings to life whilst also providing a beautiful contrast of tones against the hard grey carpet. I also like the fact that the traffic light is also at red, but I couldn’t say that I remember doing this on purpose.

I must admit that, although I have done it briefly, I’ve enjoyed explaining this image, not least because it brings out details that I might not have considered otherwise and highlights the necessity of remaining aware whilst photographing and also of the enjoyment of interpreting an image and coming to some kind of understanding with it. Through discussing and analysing this picture I have made it my own, much more than by having simply taken it and I think that this is where the beauty of art is to be found; by engaging with art, trying to understand it, the artist and our own reactions to it, we can own it, use it and enjoy it fully. Hopefully, you have found something of your own in my work.

© Tom Rodgers

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