Part 5 – exercise 5.1

Brief

Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot.

Approach

The starting point for my thinking about this exercise was the quote from Alexia Clorinda in the course notes:

I don’t pretend that I can describe the ‘other’. The camera for me is more a meter that measures the distance between myself and the other. It’s about the encounter between myself and the other; it’s not about the other.

The key word in this quote is “encounter”. The important thing is the interaction between photographer and subject – it’s not just one or the other, it’s both. The depth of the interaction is the real measure of importance.

Looking further into Clorinda’s work, I noticed her series titled Music Visions. The photos in this series are very evocative (her word) of being in a particular place, at a particular time. It seems to me that the encounter is intimate and personal. They are subjects that I can imagine she has empathy with.

The online Oxford English Dictionary gives several meanings of the word empathy, but the common meaning is defined as “the ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings, experience, etc.”. Dictionary.com has a broader definition, moving away from just empathising with a person: “the imaginative ascribing to an object, as natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself”. This last meaning I found interesting and it brought to mind a long-running project of mine …

Lélex Farmhouse

Lélex Farmhouse

There’s an abandoned farmhouse not too far from where I live, just over the French border outside of the village of Lelex. I’ve explored in and around it, making three visits over several years and taking more than 250 photos. The place has an air of melancholy. It speaks to me of lives lived, loneliness, isolation and ultimately, decay. Like many photographers, these places intrigue me. Items of everyday life are still there such as old wine bottles, crockery, even a hand of cards left on the table. The upstairs rooms have old, dusty beds and there’s a half-destroyed sofa. I make up stories about the people who lived there and try to imagine what it must have been like. There’s a strong feeling of being abandoned and even a slightly creepy feeling which I find hard to shake whenever I’m there. Too many B movies, I guess.

I used this exercise as the opportunity to review the photos that I’ve taken in the past with a different eye. I was never happy with my selects before, so it seemed like a good opportunity to re-think.

Photos

 drg-26apr2015-101 drg-26apr2015-090  drg-26apr2015-087
 drg-26apr2015-083  drg-26apr2015-062 drg-26apr2015-061
drg-26apr2015-058 drg-26apr2015-042  drg-26apr2015-024
drg-26apr2015-015  drg-26apr2015-009

These photos are my picks from an outing in 2015 when I wanted to try out a LensBaby. I felt that a distorted look suited the mixed feelings that the place provoked in me. To emphasise the age and neglect, I cropped to square format, converted to B&W and gave all the photos a gentle warm tone.

Review

When you review the set to decide upon a ‘select’, don’t evaluate the shots just according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate it by what you discover within the frame (you’ve already done this in Exercise 1.4). In other words, be open to the unexpected. In conversation with the author, the photographer Alexia Clorinda expressed this idea in the following way:

Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your intention, but because it is there.

drg-26apr2015-083

My select is based on the feeling of abandonment. The thick cobwebs on the old chain indicate age, but they also touch on the B-movie creepy feelings I have when I’m there.

On examining this photo for this exercise, I noticed something that I didn’t see at the time: that the cobwebs almost look like hands reaching for the chains.

I must give up late night horror movies …

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