Philosophy of Photography – Introspection

The philosophy that underpins my work is one that motivates me to seek new images, even after hardship and repeated failure. It is an undercurrent that is constantly pulling towards an undefined end or crescendo. Currently I can’t define what that end is in a clear or succinct way to myself, let alone put it into words on this page. Perhaps my motivation for writing this is to help me navigate the fog of my consciousness, and to find the defined shore of reason that drives my photographic works. I do feel that for my work to evolve and progress, that I should find the definition I seek and continue forwards with clear motivation and intent. In the outset I must address the superficial motivations for capturing images, which were in the beginning I think a natural response to positive feedback on the images I was capturing. I am under no illusion that those photographs had any technical or artistic merit that would gain any sort of notoriety from an audience outside of my immediate friendship and family group. These images were formative, and I do feel that they had a deeper philosophical worth to me than they had in terms of overall aesthetic or technical merit.

A big question that must be asked is why am I taking photos in the first place? What is the driving force that motivates me to carry all that equipment into remote places? An opening thought to answer that question is that I believe that one needs to be challenged in life. Large format photography (or any photography) in the wilderness has many challenges associated with it, from the technical aspect associated with the photographic process, to the supporting skills that one must learn and develop over time. These challenges are a constant source of personal development, one might call them ‘character building’. Photography in the wild has so many aspects to it that need to align for it to work and produce satisfactory results. It is sometimes almost like a miracle when I manage to capture an image or two that I am relatively happy with. If I really think about it though, it is not a miracle, it is the result of experience and preparation aligning to create the best outcome possible for me at that time. As Seneca, the Roman Philosopher stated, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”.

The continual learning should see the skills in my repertoire expand, and hopefully that manifests itself in the output of better images. That is a primary motivating force and is surely not dissimilar to the experience of other artists out there. Another facet of image making needs to be pondered, and that is the issue of image making in a modern world. Current times in terms of image consumption are far different now to when I was growing up. I use the word ‘consumption’ because that is how I view digital platforms, particularly ‘social media’. They are stages for the mass consumption of content. Images are produced, consumed and discarded at an incredible rate. It is not to say I am against these platforms, but I am very mindful of their purpose and nature. I use social media, and I am very quick to get scans of my work onto various platforms once I have them ready. Those likes and occasional comments giving me that little boost of endorphins and sense of achievement for the half a second that someone spends looking at the image. With that on my mind I have started to feel that I should pay a bit more respect to my work and the effort that has gone into creating it. The years of learning, mistakes and failures punctuated by the occasional ‘win’. Instead of creating content for these online money making and attention stealing juggernauts, I am working towards creating my own online space for my work. Namely this very site that you are reading this on right now. A space that I have complete control over and hopefully displays my work in a more flattering light than the fleeting windows of time and unreality on social media apps.

Another goal is to develop a repeatable and consistent printing workflow, that process is in its infancy and is what feels like a convoluted mix of calibration, colour management and proofing. When I am ready, I will find a local printer (hopefully) that I can work with to get consistent results and the output that I am hoping to achieve. Without getting offtrack with the details, I am hoping to get some prints out to 40 or 50 inches on the long edge. That is going to be a test for the capability of the Epson V800 scanner, and I suspect might be asking a bit much of it. I am going to be trialling the Fuji GFX 100S on my copy stand and a macro lens to see what sort of detail and dynamic range I can pull from a pixel shifted 400mp image. The image dimensions will be like those that I pull from the V800, but what I am hoping for is a little more breathing room within the dynamic range of the files and finer detail. That is the point of shooting large format is it not? The access to fine detail and ability to create visually impactful prints to draw the viewer into the scene? This ties into another basic motivation of mine, that is that if I am going to make the effort to go out and create an image, then I might as well go for the best technical image quality that I can achieve. So why not an 8×10 camera you ask? I have entertained that thought a couple of times, and only briefly. The weight of the system is the primary reason I don’t shoot 8×10, followed very closely by the cost of hardware and film. In closing of this section of thought, I guess the ultimate material output for my work is in the printed image, a collection that I can frame myself and display in the studio.

Basalt rock with lichen

My core motivations still need to be addressed though I feel, what I have predominantly discussed is material output. What about the process that underlies that output?

The mental wanderings I experience when I am out in the field are not dissimilar to the motivations that I experienced when I started taking photos with more regularity, I feel I have gone full circle in some respects. Stripping away the gear and technical processes that we can all get caught up in and concentrating on the primary and most important motivating factor behind the image. The scene I am photographing, my place in that scene and the emotion I am trying to invoke. The key word here I think is ‘emotion’, it is a state of mind that a particular scene opens to me. Perhaps it is a state of mind that I already carry with me into the field. I am aware that if my state of mind isn’t conducive to image making, I come back with nothing, or at best a snapshot of a scene devoid of any emotive or aesthetic substance. I feel that the images are personal to me and somehow align with the core state of my being. It is an almost primal force that takes me out there, to see the world devoid of modern infrastructure and trappings, to see the world as it was before my time, before our time.

Capturing images of the wilderness comes from a place that I feel sits somewhere on the border between my conscious an unconscious mind. Places that I gravitate to and scenes that I like to capture announce themselves to me. They are flowing from the undercurrents of emotion that seem to make up my consciousness. I say this because what I photograph are scenes that reveal themselves to me, and I in turn reveal myself to the scene, it is a mutual dance. This process comes to the fore when I am undistracted and present physically as well as emotionally in the environment that I am documenting. If I am not aligned with the place that I am photographing emotionally (basically if I’m not in the mood) then my trip is invariably unproductive. I come away with nothing other than a day or two of exercise and film holders that don’t need to be reloaded (a bonus in some ways).

Reflection of Mt Geryon

As I progress through time, I would say that my goals are aligned with the philosophy that drives my image making. I would like to think that I can grow personally as I get older, refine my technical and compositional abilities and achieve a portfolio that I can be proud of.

Perhaps my writing ability will improve too as I continue to ponder the underpinnings of my work and add to this collection of thoughts..!