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This blog represents graphic-based work, presenting an eclectic collection of projects both current and historic. Categories range from commercial design and shoot, location and still life photography, graphic
 design, photographic festival co-ordination and teaching practice.

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The following images are taken from a current project entitiled ‘An Absurd Pursuit’. It is firmly based on my history with still life photography. The great writer and critic John Berger termed still life practise as ‘an absurd pursuit’, which it could rightly be viewed as.

I find my ‘eye’ for the arrangement of forms extending, outside of the studio environment, into the public sphere of action and flux. Out in the world of activity my sense of reductively composed constructs remains constant. I feel a projection of my studio eye onto the scenes around me as a three-dimensional force—a virtual control zone—not pictorial but of ‘unmediated array’. Following these images are a set of ‘mediated’ still life images against which this set is resolved, though, also in a binary with.

Images:
a: Paviour array—b: Frame array—c: Floral array—
d: Organic array
Images:
a: Enamel Cafetiere —b: Linen— c: Whisks —d: Iron

An Absurd Pursuit

John Berger, an advocate of the true value of a photograph deriving from its relation-to-immediacy, dismisses still life photographs as,” those absurd studio works in which the photographer arranges every detail of his subject before he takes the picture”.

To a strong degree, he is right, it is absurd, although perhaps only within his perception of photographic practise.

The quote comes from his sharp and acerbic 1968 essay, ‘Understanding a Photograph’, (19: 2013), in which he questions the relative worth of the art-object specifically with regard to the relationship of painting to photography. Berger’s stance is complex, revolving around historic attitudes, his left-leaning politics and the property value of art. He does not see the pecuniary value of photographs in the essay, though, we must appreciate that his piece was written in the time before the contemporary digital revolution; at that time, one could legitimately pose the question, ‘Is photography art?’. We have seen a sea-change in how we view the practice since.

One element of the essay regards the freedom of unfolding compositional relationships and meaning open to the painter, against photography’s bond to recording meaning in relation to moment. He says of photographs, “let us consider them no closer to works of art than cardiograms”. Seeing them as situational, a human choice made in the moment of peripeteia. This is very much a ‘Bergerian’ view; his own approach to perception and apperception.

This vision is illustrated in another of his essays entitled ‘Field’, (199: 1980).  Where he describes an enclosed natural space and speculates on the events that might catch one’s eye when viewing it. In this case it is a specific field that encases the motion that unfolds within it—a field that he regularly saw as he drove into a nearby town, having on some days to stop and wait beside it at a level crossing gate. He suggests in his text that the events—the flight of disturbed birds or perhaps sheep moving slowly across it are accommodated by the field. It is the framed setting of a ground on which, the events are supported.

Whilst waiting at the crossing gates, the field altered for him, from being a space awaiting events, to becoming the event itself. He wonders why he never made the effort to walk the field? Why did he only ever view the field from his car? It was, he states, because the experience took place outside of the time of his life, “The visible extension of the field in space displaces awareness of your own lived time”. Berger has questioned the mechanism by which this happens. I would suggest that he is describing a photographic vision: the removed experience, of regarding situations extracted from lived time and space—seen as though through a screen.

Berger describes, in his essays, temporal composition, in both the mark-making of the painted image—remote and reflective, versus the immediacy of appropriation in the act of the taking of a photograph. He sees photography with regard to a record-of-moment. Which may explain his dismissive attitude to studio still life photographs; an activity that defiles his specific vision. Perhaps the careful consideration of proportion, positioning and placement in still life flies in the face of the lustiness of making images in the flux of action? Quietly ordering the arrangement of relational objects, considering their connectiveness, either in narrative or in their material qualities and creating a taxonomical grouping is too compulsive a notion to be withstood by a character as robust as Berger?

It is understood that still life composition occupies its own specific creative terrain. When the decisions that are made in a still life photographic image are just right, they are so utterly, utterly, satisfying.

Bibliography:

Berger J. (2009). About Looking. London. p199. Bloomsbury Press.

ISBN: 978 0 7475 9957 9

Berger J. (2013). Understanding A Photograph; John Berger. Ed, Geoff Dyer, London. p19.Penguin Books. ISBN: 978- 0-141- 39202-8