Looking for the frontier that was promised

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Photographers

“I went looking for the frontier that was promised, and found a complex landscape – a road that served as a physical and psychological line between wilderness and progress. I drove, like the others, to drive as far as I could drive. They hitched their wagon to the great American need to point their wheels toward the Western horizon. To see for themselves. When they ran out of West, they went North.”

Ben Huff, The Last Road North

Photograph, abstract

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Words

An image caught my eye the other day, in my Feedly feed, the #photography category. You know the feed images, the ones chosen to represent an article, sometimes well selected, sometimes not as well. In my Feedly settings they’re quite small, very small actually, and if they are to catch my attention it will be the shapes, contrast or colours, or a mix of these, perhaps a person’s face, if the image was taken from a close distance. Details are lost at such small sizes.

Anyway. This image.
I don’t have the rights to publish it here so words will have to do.

It was black & white photograph, quite contrasty and difficult to tell what the subject was, at least at the width of only 130 pixels. Showing what appeared to be an arrow–like structure, a light but large triangle coming in from the bottom left, following three much smaller triangles pointing up to the top right corner. Intriguing photograph, one that inspires one to click the link to learn more. For that purpose, a good choice.

The photo was the featured image of a blog entry calling attention to a gallery exhibition, “Photography and Abstraction”. A subject that seems to strike a nerve in me and not always in a good way, mostly because I find the idea of abstraction by photography to be a bit of a nonesense. I’d like to stay away from bombastic claims that it is, there certainly are ways to abstractify the outcome of a photograph but I can’t help feeling that it is a bit of a hoax. There was still a subject in front of the camera and it did its best to accurately describe it, as cameras do, even if whoever controlled it attempted, perhaps even with great success, to hide the fact from the viewer.

Turns out this particular black & white image wasn’t at all abstract. Just a regular, albeit a very good, aerial black & white photograph of geometrical, agricultural forms on the earth’s surface. The high contrast certainly made it look more graphic than regular black & white photos. The combination of subject, composition and execution was first class. Abstract it was not.

Context

It is a little embarrassing to show this, especially following what I wrote above, but here is my take on abstract photography:

A panoramic composition of seven vertical, colour photographic images.

“Two groups, three pairs and a single.”

So, a composition of seven images, none of which is particularly difficult to decipher (click for larger if you like and if your device allows it). Although I’m not unhappy about the composition of the seven, as an attempt to do abstract work it is certainly a failure and as such the level of it is hardly even mediocre. Sorry Thorir.

(I actually got away with a BA degree in photography with this but to the judges’ defence I should add that they did encourage me to write more.)

Perhaps this is the root of my gripe with abstract photography. The fact that I failed myself, and in order to keep my failure under control feel a need to keep other people’s attempts at the same as close as possible to my own level. That this notion of failure prohibits me to accept the success of others.

Although there is a grain of truth in that, probably a bit larger than I’d like to admit, it would be nice to see terms applied correctly. The fact that a viewer might need a moment or two to identify a subject does not mean that the photograph showing it qualifies as abstract.

The camera is a recording device. It captures what is in front of it, and does a fairly good job at it. Elements may be removed or added, to introduce notions of abstraction but that doesn’t make the work abstract.

The Feedly image is from here. The gallery’s exhibtion text here.

Would love to see it! Or since I won’t be able to, documentation of it would certainly be second best.

Something reminded me of this

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From the archives
Something reminded me of this

Something reminded me of this so I found the original file and tweaked the curve some, it was fairly dull in the previous version*.

A couple of points (Warning: thinking out loud)

  • When I posted this to online a number of years ago I wrote something about how it reminded me of being twelve. I said that a lot, some years ago, and now I can’t recall why, or what it was about this image, or other things that took me down memory lane, that reminded me of that particular period in my life.
  • Browsing the photos on the hard drive, next to this one, was almost painfully embarrassing. No one was looking over my shoulder, hence almost. But what a pile of crap! Ok then, water under the bridge, move along.

*as opposed to now, all shiny and sparkling with joy 😉

Exploring to do

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Words

“I’d been making pictures of rural areas, in the manner of Ansel Adams, but the conference organizers asked me to make documentary pictures of the city of Colordado Springs, which was growing rapidly. I did so, and was surprised. The scenes were frightening, but one or two had about them an unexpected beauty. I couldn’t account for it. From that point on, I felt I had some exploring to do.”

Robert Adams, Along Some Rivers

One less reason..

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Words
A few Fuji films in 120 and 220 format laying on a wooden box.

It’s been staring at me, the Pentax, for a long time now. Begging me to go for a walk so it could see, not the world exactly, but at least the nearest surroundings. Stretch out, move a little, internally as well as just being around, breathe the fresh air..

And I’ve always replied, —“nahh, I don’t even know where your films are, so being outside wouldn’t make much sense, right?”

And it would nod, as if it agreed, patiently, in silcence. Knowing the time would come.

Well, look what fell out of a bag I just emptied.

One less reason not to load it up—it seems like the Pentax and I are going for a walk.

— o —

Not entirely unrelated, I seem to recall reading something recently about how film and I never had the love affair I had hoped for.

Not long after the films fell out of that bag, while attempting to trim the mess that is my four thousand and something photos on Flickr, I stumbled upon the photo below, of the Voigtlander Perkeo II laying in the grass somewhere in West–Iceland. And even if the images we did together never lived up to the hopes I had for them (for the lack of a more proper analysis) the Perkeo and I had quite the affair, right until the bellows started leaking.

A Voiglander Perkeo II, a fifties folding bellows camera, laying in grass

Voigtlander Perkeo II on green background.

As for the incompleteness regarding my film photography, it was mostly a matter of never developing a proper workflow. Processing was inconsistent, so was scanning, and if I am about to expose the films that fell out of a bag they will most certainly suffer the same fate, if I don’t get these things in order. Sure, it might be a little enjoyable to look at decent sized negatives again but after being looked at they would slowly but surely become a part of the weight of unaccessible films. And that’s not excactly constructive.

Nothing new, a list

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Images / Words
Nothing new, a list
  1. There wasn’t anything new about a set of photos I called New Landscapes*. A slight change of perspective on my behalf, and pace perhaps, but no wheels were invented (or re–invented).
  2. I did get quite comfortable with the 5:4 format**, quite easily. I should remember that.
  3. The New Landscapes were either in that format, 5:4, the vast majority of them in fact, or square. Which was the aspect ratio I really wanted to love from the time I picked up a camera (again) around the year 2000, and spent quite a bit of time trying to get the relationship going. Without much luck.
  4. For some reason the squares are the ones from New Landscapes that resonate nowadays. Perhaps because they are the odd ones out, in a sense, or because they carry less expectations than the 5:4s.
Yellow, brownish grass. Moorland. Grey sky.

One of the earliest New Landscapes. From a grey day next to the ocean. Not really knowing what to do, why, or what to expect to come out of it. Not a bad feeling, that.

Elevated view of a trail through the landscape below. Faint view of a horizon in the distance.

Not far from the first one, but probably a year or two later. Some ideas about what to do, why and what to expect from it. Not sure if that was progress.

River, riverbank with trees with their leaves fallen off and the orange, autumn vegetation in the background.

Went out chasing ghosts. Found some. Stopped by this river on the way home, not at all ghostly, only my state of mind when I arrived there.

Bridge between two islands, steel blue sea and grey sky. Red boat shed by the shoreline.

Drove to the dock, where this was taken from, to make this very photograph. Remake of one done several years earlier, six if I’m not mistaken. With a fifty something year old camera. The other one that is.

Dirty glacier, mostly grey/black-ish with sand and volcanic ash.

Dirty ice melts faster they say. At first I didn’t really know how to deal with the contrast between this one (and its relatives) and, say, the previous ones. Contrast that to me is not at all about the obvious difference in subject matter but the location and my relationship to it. It now makes perfect sense, should I ever attempt to edit the set to make sense to others than myself.

Two radar stations in rocky mountain landscape. Small lake in the foreground, not much vegetation.

It’s easy to get seduced by odd structures people build in unlikely places. Too easy. Too traveller, whatever that means.

A few houses behind a lake, odd wooden structures in the foreground.

After taking a break from New Landscapes. Wider, messier, more restless. Quickly went back to break.

Elevated view over valley, a village or part of town far into the image. Some low mountains.

View, another temptation. And a blue sky? I know, right?

Mobile homes, caravans, all white at a campsite.

Odd structures, I guess.

Road, covered with thin layer of snow, tyre marks. A few trees.

A bit of snow that wasn’t expected. And time on my hands I hadn’t expected either. Loaded photograph.

Trail with a road block, leading in between some tall trees. Summer.

Highly decorative, I might be inclined to think. Because I couldn’t come up with anything else to think.

Dusk, a few houses, partly behind a hill, grass in the foreground. Overcast.

I seem to recall “I want this”, in one form or another, having a role here. Doubting the subject and how it would end up framed but taking the photograph anyway, perhaps as a souvenir. Not trophy. Box probably best left unopened.

There are elements of dead horses in there, can’t deny that. Of the ones above I feel it’s the last two that have the most of such elements. Like, “We’re done here, get over it already”. I do suspect I’m more sensitive to it that than the few people who will be looking at them from the outside. On second thought though, it’s probably more about closure, conclusion. Somewhat hidden.

Sure it’s about landscape, this set. And then some. Plenty some.


*Photographed 2012 to 2105, with a failed attempt to return to it last summer. No link available at this time.
**Not to be confused with a proper 5:4 camera.

It’s time for another six favs, from the last six months

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Images
It’s time for another six favs, from the last six months

Ok, here goes.. Except for the next one, all are from the trails I use as.. well, they have different uses I suppose.

Train station in an unknown place. Not entirely true, but almost.

Trail in rocky landscape.

From the most used trail, where every other pic, or thereabout, gets taken.

Another from a trail. Not the same, but one I find myself on fairly frequently.

Same as the second one up, but a bit further up, a bit later in the year.

This one was new to me. Not the most satisfying run but saw some fine places. Nice woods, trees, in all sorts of positions. Fine trails..

Must admit, this was lazy, just picked up a few from the Flickr account. This one would have been included had it been taken eleven days later.

Should

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Other
Should

I should pack the bike. And ride south. Figure out a way to strap a tripod to it, and a bag big enough to fit the Pentax. Before leaving, find all the 120s that are laying about somewhere. Then, underways, stop often and extract the tripod, figure out a decent comp, level the camera, focus, stop down, mirror up, shoot the pic.

Something like this perhaps, just more film–ish. Or something very different.

Tourist view from an unknown city, south from here, many years ago.

Then move on. Ride slowly. Photograph slowly. Be slowly.

When south, realize that I’m way too restless to stop pedalling. So move on, to wherever. As long as there was film in the bag.

Bloody hell this sounds nice!

I should.

But I shouldn’t..

Thirtyfive

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Words
Blurry camera in front of landscape.

Had an almost emotional moment when I opened the bag from the bottom drawer, the one with the old PC Nikkor. A few years ago the plan was to replace it but the replacement ended up needing service and for some reason I haven’t gotten around to fixing it, diy or send it to someone who knows what she’s doing. So there hasn’t been a 35 shift in my life for quite a while now.

Almost as old as I am, the PC Nikkor that is, and so worn that turning the focus ring wiggles the rotation mechanism. Add a cheapo adapter to the mix and it feels as if the whole thing was ready for retirement decades ago. But then, it has been retired, sort of, in that bag in the bottom drawer.

It was time the two of us went for a walk together again. Perhaps even more than once.

Camera on a tripod, some structures in the background.

..and then they rode off together, into the sunset, on their rusty tripod.

Six favs, from the last six months

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Images
Six favs, from the last six months

A) Most of the photography these days (months actually) is connected to hobby–related activities. Not necessarily a bad thing, but might affect the interestingness for others than myself.

B) Whether or not a pic makes the fav category has little or nothing to do with the quality of the photo. Which further adds to the potential interestingness from A) or the lack thereof.

With that out of the way,..

I have better, less personal photographs of this subject. But for now I’ll refer to B) above. Besides, this is a classic personal fav, as they say, and for all the right reasons, possibly some wrong ones too.

I remember cloud free winter mornings, more years ago than I can count, when I would stop and look up at the sky and try to spot Orion, and when I did I would think “Ok, everything is in its right place” (if I had known Radiohead by then) and carry on with the day.

I have to admit it, sunset photos are taking up more and more space on the hard drive lately. It’s not so much about the colour of the sky—I tell myself—but the light qualities on the foreground. As if the two weren’t related. Colour contrast can really be the beautifullest thing.

Same comment as before applies, to an extent. And how when there is very little light, the little there is often seems to be very, very nice. And the snow..

It’s 2018 and we still have petrol stations! Come on humanity, get your act together, you’re better than this. This one could qualify for “Dear foreground”, more on that later, perhaps.

Never really understood why the signs to that particular hut are shaped like the hut itself. Then, I’ve never even been in it, never seen any people in it, don’t know anyone that has or what they do there, and so on.

Not entirely a bad idea to post six favs every six months.