Note: This ‘final version’ of assignment two includes additional work and changes based on tutor feedback.
This assignment required a consideration of the nature of a ‘journey’ and how this could be explored within a photographic series.
The Tate expresses a journey as “wandering around [an] … urban or landscape location in order to explore it” (Exam Help – Journeys, no date) whilst Collins Dictionary lists, “travel from one place to another” (Coulson, 1975, p.454)
My photographic trips always require journeying. In thinking about the elements that constitute those ‘journeys’, particular words repeated; ‘unknown’, ‘distorted’, ‘vague’- the substance and ‘proof’ of existence is lost by fast travel at night. I wanted to explore the question, ‘What am I passing?’
When deciding how to approach this work, I found a question posed by Weatherspoon Art Museum: “are documentary photographs art forms or simply straight-forward recordings of the subjects at hand?” (To What Purpose? Photography as Art and Document, 2012) To document my journey- to photograph from my perspective would be to collude with the darkness that I was trying to lift. Instead, to step away from myself and my journey, I could show the hidden detail of the places I was passing.
From learning about the New Topographics movement, I developed a keen interest in the photographing of unusual places. Whilst I decided against the documentation-approach that they favoured, I was interested in their subject matter, “industrial intrusions on land … suburban sprawl … and parking lots.” (New Topographics, no date)
I looked at the work of Dan Holdsworth, a photographer and digital artist from England who has shot extensively at night.
I was pleased to see that an established photographer had included light trails in one of his shots. ‘Megalith’ is a series of just two photographs that particularly stood out for me. Shot in the both Netherlands and America, the subject of each is an advertising billboard beside a motorway. Whilst I strove to find the hidden details of the roadside, Holdsworth explored the explicit light sources that would already be evident. He over-exposed the lights to better define their impact on the surrounding air. In a similar way, I used long exposures to increase clarity but not so the light was unusually bright.
Stephen Shore is an American photographer who covered a series of road trips during the 1970s. His aim was to “make a photographic diary of the journey” (Jobey, 2017), something Shore explained as recording “every meal [he] ate; every person [he] met; every bed [he] slept in; every toilet [he] used; every town [he] drove through.” (Shore, n.d.) ‘Road Trip Journal’ was published in 1973 as a limited edition book and contained “hundreds of snap-shot size glossy colour prints of the minutiae of ordinary life.” (Jobey, 2017)
The photographs he took ‘on the road’ itself tend to focus on the subjects he passed, rather than the road ahead; used car garages taken from between the cars, shop fronts from the pavement, signs and street furniture up-close.
“What passes by, present, but unnoticed?”
I had this idea when using Google Maps to find the best route to Midhurst for ‘Assignment 1’.
Immediately important was a visual theme that would run through the set, linking the whole project. Instantly light trails came to mind when I considered what would give the ‘impression’ of movement; of travel.
I had previously found the photography of ‘edgelands’ to be very interesting, and I wanted to incorporate at least a sense of that in this set. Knowing that I would be passing through both urban and more rural settings, my set would go something like this:
Urban – Rural – Urban.
The Computer History Museum refers to the usage of Google Maps as “surrogate travel” (Mark Weber, 2012) and this rings true of my experience. Dan Sieberg, a Google executive expressed that, “Whatever’s around you, whatever’s near you, opens up.” (Tom Chivers, 2013) It has certainly helped me, not just because of my anxiety. The darkness of the route was difficult to find detail in. Through the 360 degree ‘Street view” I was able to travel the entire length of the journey and make note of specific places I wanted to photograph.
In shots #2 and #8, I photographed the first and last buildings in each town. The Guardian referred to edgelands as, “ragged edges of town, where urban landscapes fray and meet with country” (Mark E Johnson, 2015) and I wanted to show this. Between the completely rural #7 and concrete #9 is the transition in #8, where the town ends; the line of lights occupying its outer edge and the dual carriageway heading outwards into the countryside.
Contrasting #7 with #4, I’ve used the naturally-occurring ‘starbursts’ from my lens to accentuate the difference between the rural and urban scenes. I’ve talked about this in more detail in ‘Starbursts’.
In each shot the light trails cut into the scene and head outwards, into the next. There’s a clear sense of ‘continuation’. As a ‘journey’ through multiple photographs, it was important to have a beginning and end point. I achieved this by capturing the car itself in #1 and #9. The trails move off from the still car at the start and join up to the car at the end.
Post production was limited to cropping and reduction of highlights and increases in exposure, the former of which is unavoidable with night photography, particularly when time is a factor. The importance of shooting in one self-contained trip took precedence over technical precision and meticulous planning.
I’m pleased with the set. What I’d be interested in exploring further would be longer journeys, particularly using different types of roads and landscapes. Also, what smaller details are missed?
Experiments following tutor feedback
My tutor felt that I should explore some of the scenes again, this time without the light trails. I didn’t want to retake the entire set because I knew that removing them gets rid of my central link between the individual scenes. Without the light trails, the scenes feel unconnected; no sign of a journey taking place at all.
A particular benefit of the cars passing through the original shots is that their headlights light-paint the scene, bringing out the detail that’s unseen without lighting.
I didn’t explore the ‘missing’ of the subjects whilst journeying. This lack of visual contrast lessens the impact of my drawing the subjects out of the dark. I went out again and this time photographed a couple of the original stops this time from within a car. Before setting off, I made sure to match the camera settings to the amount of light available. The difference is quite stark- stopping and taking in a scene gives the viewer far more detail and clarity than when speeding past.
Anon. (No Date). Exam Help – Journeys. Available: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/exam-help/themes/journeys. Last accessed 17th Aug 2016.
Anon. (No Date). New Topographics. Available: https://www.artsy.net/gene/new-topographics. Last accessed 19th Aug 2016.
Anon. (2012). To What Purpose? Photography as Art and Document.Available: http://weatherspoon.uncg.edu/exhibitions/show/?title=to-what-purpose-photography-as-art-and-document. Last accessed 18th Aug 2016.
Chivers, T. (2013). Google Maps has forever changed the way we travel, but has it ruined it?. Available: https://skift.com/2013/06/05/google-maps-has-forever-changed-the-way-we-travel-but-has-it-ruined-it/. Last accessed 12th Aug 2016.
Coulson, J. (1975). The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Page 454.
Holdsworth, D. (2000). Megalith. [image] Available at: http://www.landscapestories.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/04-Megalith_2000.jpg Last accessed 17th Mar 2017.
Jobey, L. (2017). In focus: The best new photography books. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2008/sep/25/stephen.shore.photography Last accessed 21st Mar 2017.
Johnson, M. (2015). A trail discovery around the edgelands.Available: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2015/jun/02/a-trail-discovery-around-the-edgelands. Last accessed 16th Aug 2016.
Shore, S. (n.d.). THE ROAD TRIP. 1st ed. [ebook] p.3. Available at: http://stephenshore.net/writing/theroadtrip.pdf Last accessed 22nd Mar. 2017].
Shore, S. (1973). Bay Movie House, Ashland, WI. [image] Available at: https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Arts/Arts_/Pictures/2008/09/25/cinema460.jpg?w=620&q=20&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&dpr=2&s=f9298aeb81054ab3f9b693ab1f014e05 Last accessed 19th Mar 2017.
Weber, M. (2012). Going Places: A History of Google Maps with Street View. Available: http://www.computerhistory.org/atchm/going-places-a-history-of-google-maps-with-street-view/. Last accessed 18th Aug 2016.