Sunday, 14 October 2012

Four Seasons Photography

In my initial explorations of perspective, and the Chinese/Japanese approach to it, I noted that I wanted to explore their (particularly the Japanese) approach to seasonal paintings. The seasons and a whole raft of symbols associated with them (referred to collectively as kigo in Japanese) feature regularly in Japanese literature and art. The importance of  seasonal themes in Japanese art, and their place in the Japanese psyche, is explored in some detail in this article in the Japan Echo (Takashina S.; Japan Echo; Vol 34, No.6; Dec 2007 – accessed 13 Oct 20120) which analyses the role of seasonal themes in poetry and paintings.
It notes:
Such paintings of the four seasons were quite common in premodern times, particularly during the Edo period (1603–1868). In some instances they depicted not only the natural environment but related human activity as well. A good example of this genre, also in the Suntory Museum, is the pair of six-panel screens by Kanô Osanobu titled Scenes of Farming in the Four Seasons, dated 1825.
The painting can be found here – Scenes of Farming in the Four Seasons – and I have lodged a paper copy in my written log. For me a couple of issues leap out:
  • It is very obviously panoramic (in reality across a pair of screens)
  • Because it portrays all four seasons in a single panorama (the two screens were probably intended to be seen together) it provides a temporal narrative in one image, unlike western paintings and photos which are typically fixed in both viewpoint and time.
  • Clear reference to the cycling of the seasons can be incorporated in a single image.
As an approach this seems to have real merit. I live in the country (have almost always lived in the country) and am reasonably observant so I have a good idea of the animals, plants and activities that mark the passing of the season. Photographing them is a different matter – yes, foxgloves and swallows and snow and ploughing are symbols of seasonal activity, but photographed in isolation they seem to risk degenerating into cliché very rapidly. It would be very easy to submit a dozen chocolate box photos for this portfolio and have achieved very little. A four seasons panorama – or perhaps several – seems like a way to bring this particular target to life.
At first thoughts there are two or three ways this might be achieved:
  • By combining several thematically related images into a single panorama – as with my ‘After Tsunenobu’ picture. This is potentially challenging from a Photoshop viewpoint, but has the merit of offering several viewpoints.
  • By producing a continuous, single viewpoint panorama which varies across it’s width in accordance with the seasons. The challenge here is to find a suitable, and easily reproducible viewpoint that allows for the introduction of several seasonal symbols – my garden seems a reasonable first choice.
  • If the technical challenges of these continuous panoramas are too hard to easily overcome it might be possible to offer the same idea as a diptych or tetraptych.
As the weather was reasonably good today I took the chance to do some of Fox and Caruana’s research through practise and tried the second option in my garden with the following result.
If only..
As I appeared in the shot four times I obviously had to shoot the panorama four times. I took two approaches to building the final result. In the first I produced four individual panoramas – one for each of my activities and then combined them in photoshop. In the second I took photos from each of the sets making up the panos and combined them into a single image (the result of the first technique is above). There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. The first required a fair bit of cloning and post-processing to make sure the details were not ghosting, but by the same token it offered rather more flexibility in blending the various exposures. The second was simpler, and more effective than I expected, but offered slightly more harsh transitions, and the placement of the individual elements and the image overlap seems quite critical.
Whatever, I feel with practice that I can produce a reasonable quality outcome from this approach. What I need to do now is work out how to marry this with the need to produce a dozen seasonal shots for the portfolio. There seem to be a couple of options – find twelve locations perhaps, or use these as the centrepiece of a portfolio support by other seasonal symbolism, or claim/produce the four individual components that go to make up each of these and so reduce the number of locations needed to three. Time for a chat with my tutor.

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