Thursday, 26 July 2012

Two Assignment Ideas: Olympic Landscapes and Objectivity

Have a project to keep myself amused for the next couple of weeks, which spins out of the growing realisation that a lot of landscape can be about conveying a message of some kind rather than simply portraying beauty, or any of the other states of land.. Need to thank Liz Wells for that, as I’ve been reading Landscape Matters for the last couple of weeks.

Not sure what sparked the idea, but I was wondering how I could convey the idea that the Olympics – for all that I’m pleased (proud even) we’re hosting them – have essentially zero impact here in NW Cumbria and at the same time fulfil the requirements of Assignment 1 of Landscape course. So my aim for the next two weeks is to shoot the landscape of the area as it usually is in the summer – green, quiet and with absolutely nothing happening – at the times of headline events during the Olympics.

The LOCOG website is a handy resource with the anticipated timings of all the big finals and events – opening ceremony, sprints, cycle racing, rowing, sailing, beach volleyball and so on. Should give me plenty to work with, and I’m thinking that I might even be able to provide some visual clues to the events with a bit of imagination – reeds for the javelin, country lane for the road races, rabbits for the long–jump etc. Not going to push this too far as the aim is not really to be too humorous but hopefully there’s some merit in the idea.

The second idea also pans out of reading Liz Wells and Charlotte Cotton and reflecting on objectivity, deadpan and New Topographics. As far as I can tell at this stage objectivity was about a reaction to pictorialism, and dead pan is its more recent offspring, while New Topographics was a reaction to the photographic myth of the Amercian West or American sublime. Either way the implication in both themes is that they represent a somehow more accurate – more objective – view of the world than previous movements, even if the photographers themselves did not always make that claim.

But is this true – New Topographics concentrated on the edge of urban sprawl – it chimed with the growing environmental awareness of the American chattering classes and seems to have served as a launch pad for a strand of photography that details mans incursion into the environment. And yet, this view is no more accurate or objective than the myth of the American West it replaced. Even now less than 6% of the land area of America is built on.

Objectivity/deadpan is equally open to question – who says that the most objective way of photographing blast furnaces is from the front in flat lighting. Well the Becher’s did, and they are clearly entitled to that view, but it was still their choice – one they made to ensure that their typographies were consistent and comparable. By the same token the photographers represented in the New Topographics exhibition made a choice about their subject and the manner in which they chose to portray it, as did the exhibitions curator. I’m not seeking to criticise them for this – clearly they were questioning the zeitgeist, and helping establish a new way of looking – but I think some of the subsequent ideas of objectivity associated with the style are stretching a point.

It seems to me that photos cannot be truly objective while there is a human behind the camera. Which brings me to my project thought. Is it possible to take random, or near random photographs, of an area and if you do how does the impression provided compare with the stereotype or the human ‘objective’ view?

I’ve got some thoughts on a methodology, and with the Lake District reasonably to hand I have a potential subject, but I think I’ll be trying it locally first.

No comments:

Post a Comment