A Formula For Making Meaning with Photography

I am just about moved into my new office which while exciting means that I have piles of magazines and books that I have to sort through, organize and get on bookshelves in a semi-logical order. It’s more work than I would like it to be and also means that in the interim I have to hunt for books that I need for reference.

I was recently looking, unsuccessfully I might add, for some books on alternate processes when I came across Terry Barret’s ‘Criticizing Photographs’. I’ve read and reread ‘Criticizing Photographs’ multiple times over the years and struggled each time. I feel that it’s not that complicated and yet continue to struggle. On this visit I found an interesting equation buried in one of the chapters:

Meaning = Subject Matter + Medium + Form + Context

While I’m not going to argue whether this is right or wrong it’s useful to occasionally stop and think about how the choices that we make as photographers influence what we’re trying to say with our photographs. There are a couple of takeaways for me from this that mostly relate to context and medium that I want to dig at a little here.

By my own estimation much of the photography that I deliberately look at is in that collected in books. While this should have rung some bells for me it took the above equation for me to realize that the way that we present our work will have a significant impact whether we fully realize our intent for it. A single image from a series may work just fine but may not have the impact if it were seen as part of the larger project presented in a book. It also struck me that regardless of how you arrange images for a gallery show there’s still not the same strong physical connection between images that can be achieved by placing images on facing pages in a book. It’s not necessarily better, just different and certainly worth paying attention to as you’re developing projects.

The message is in the medium or not. Perhaps as much or more than most I can get sucked into the technical aspects of photography and forget that you’re supposed to actually be saying something. At the end of last year I took a brief detour into the world of photogravure. Even though I had read Brooks Jensen’s piece on testing the quality of inkjet prints against traditional photographic prints including photogravure the tactile experience I had with the Norman Ackroyd print I had recently acquired drew me on. That and the fact that what I knew about photogravure seemed to me to be ‘real’ printing and involved an element of craft that I had come to believe that making an inkjet printing lacks. I even went as far as meeting with a local expert to discuss how my photographs would translate to photogravures – her answer they wouldn’t. Too much open white space. The nagging feeling that I was chasing a gimmick pushed me to abandon the idea and focus on finishing something – any of the various things that I’ve started would be a good idea right about now. I wonder how many other people get sucked into a similar technology vortex, chasing something that doesn’t necessarily add to what they are trying to say.

I’d be delighted to hear what you have to say – add your voice to the conversation in the comments

Defining Your Day

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I was excited to see my copy of Norman Ackroyd‘s book The Stratton Street Series and my day planner arrive from the UK on the same day last week. Always good to get new books of images and tools to help me figure out where I’m going to find time to look at them.

Squeezing everything in is an on-going battle and forgoing sleep is becoming a less and less attractive option given what I’m finding out about sleep deprivation.

Being intentional then about how I spend my time seems like the next best alternative. While I bridle at the thought of having every moment of my day scheduled it’s one way, and really the only way I can think of at the moment, to ensure that I have the time to work on everything that I want to move forward.

I found the Day Ticket planner from Half Three when I was poking around on the Kickstarter website – Lauren and Andy Clark explain why they put this together in the video below.

Half Three – Day Ticket Kickstarter Film from Andy Clark on Vimeo.

Here’s a shot of a page from the planner

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I love paper so I’m all in for notebooks and paper planners. While you obviously don’t need to buy this planner the general thrust behind it is perfect. It provides a framework to help you chunk out your day to schedule all the things you want to get done. This may lead you to the realization that you need to cut out some things like watching TV in the evening or getting up a little earlier being conscious and intentional about these decisions will allow you to get more done in your day.

Try this out and let me know how it goes.

Friday Inspiration: Norman Ackroyd

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It is surprising to me that in the UK there is a TV series that answers the question “What Do Artists Do All Day?“. Perhaps we really are living in the era of the creative as Chase Jarvis tells us. Having blown the best part of a day watching these videos my favorite had to be the one that shows printmaker Norman Ackroyd producing one of his large scale prints. In reading about David Hockney I was fascinated to learn more about the etching process to prepare prints and to see a master in action, in the videos below, adds another level of understanding. It’s amazing to me that such delicate watercolors can be produced by working on a copper plate with the added level of complexity that the work on the plate has to be done in reverse. Ackroyd has his reference image set up in a mirror to facilitate this seeing in reverse.

I was struck by the nature of Ackroyd’s project – to make images of the outlying islands of the British Isles – and that he tracks where he’s been using push pins on a map of the british isles. This of course has parallels with the Atlantic Basin project of Thomas Joshua Cooper. His work references watercolors that he’s made on location which is quite an undertaking in itself. A collection of his watercolor sketches from the Shetland islands is available and this work will be the subject of an exhibition later in 2014.

Check out a day in the life of Norman Ackroyd in the videos below.