Exercise 4.5 – Initial thoughts

Before finding a subject for this exercise I have had a look at what Bill Brandt has said about ‘camera vision’.  Not for the first time (oh, no, not again!) I am at a bit of a loss to understand fully what he was saying, or at least what its significance is.  Is this, as I have concluded with HCB and the decisive moment, a bit of ex post facto rationalisation, an attempt to explain or convey the idea that Brandt did not necessarily set out to capture exactly what appears in the final image?

Of course the camera photographs what it “sees”, it cannot do otherwise.  I would quibble though that the camera does not in fact see anything.  What it does is record the light coming to it through its lens, inevitably mediated or distorted by that lens, from the object or scene in front of it.  It is a passive process.  The active process rests with he photographer who sees something and makes the conscious decision to point the camera towards it.  To that extent the photographer is necessarily photographing what he or she sees.  The difference is though that the camera, not least because of the mediation of the lens (Brandt seems to have made much use of wide angle lenses that distort the image), records the scene in a way that is different from the way the human eye does.  Is this not just a way of saying that what comes out in the final image is inevitably not exactly the same as what we see, or the same way that we see it, and that how the final image appears is to an extent a matter of chance?

The comments of the other photographers mentioned I found much more interesting though I think they are making two different, though related, things that the course material does not really bring out.  Haas and Burgin (I shall pass over the butchering the English latter by the latter, an abysmal misuse of the language!) seem to be saying the same thing, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to see anything completely afresh and in a new light.  The way we look at anything is inevitably influenced and conditioned by what we have seen before.  As in any form of art that I can think of, there is very little new work that is truly new and innovative, that has not been in some way influenced or affected by what has gone before.

Bailey seems to be talking more about observation, rather than seeing something in a new light, seeing the ‘ordinary’ that would otherwise be overlooked.  This seems to me to be more about the quality of our looking and in some ways harks back to what HCB said about looking.

So what am I going to do for this exercise?  Photograph something ordinary, something easily accessible – but not an apple!  As I type this I look out of the study window to watch my hens scratching around in the veg garden and there is my subject – not a chicken (They do not stand still for long enough to make good subjects!) but an egg.  However, it does not strike me that an egg alone is a particularly interesting or illuminating subject.  I did play around with some pictures of eggs a while ago on a previous course and generated some visual interest by creating some paradoxical juxtapositions, such as by making a ‘nest’ out of screws and setting eggs within it.  What I am thinking of this time though is something more oblique.  For some reason what has come to mind is a review I once read of  a then new motorcycle, the BMW K100RT, back in the early 1980s, which was striking, and indeed memorable, for the fact that the bike itself was never mentioned.  Instead of talking about the bike itself the reviewer gave a much more interesting and informative impression of the sensation and experience of riding this bike.  It was certainly memorable!  (I did own a K series bike for some time but, despite the review, never really got on with it or enjoyed it as much as the older boxer twin that I also had.)  So, although I have not yet fully worked out exactly how to do this, I am going to try to take pictures ‘about’ eggs, that do not actually feature them, that suggest ‘egg’ by its absence – an egg shaped hole in the world.  I cannot think of anything more ‘incidental’ than that!

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