Informing Contexts – Week Six (2/2)

A Sea of Images continued.

My work is linked to my surroundings, my landscape. It is a rural landscape yet heavily influenced by humans in its constructions of fields, roads, coastal paths etc..

It is also a place voted by Rough Guide in 2016 as one of the most beautiful places to visit in England and attracts thousands upon thousands of holiday makers each year. It’s a landscape photographer’s paradise. If by paradise we mean the continual churning out of the expected tin min shots, coastal views, sweeping moorland. The vernacular rules rule here when it comes to taking a photograph that you wish to sell to the masses as a keepsake of their holiday, or to a local as a reminder of why they live here (considering the issues the county has that are not held aloft by the tourist attractions/boards).

These images are most definitely designed to sell the idealised image of genteel Cornwall; the pictures of the crashing waves of the sea sell the invigoration of nature to a more urban-based visitor, and imagery around local produce and customs are used to allure second home owners with their twee pastoral content. Living in a more ‘real’ experience of Cornwall, I can grasp how unreal the pictures are to many residents. Yet I also feel the pull of these types of photographs when I dream of going back to Sri Lanka. As a photographer, once there I always look beyond the initial photographs I saw to find out more about the actual but my holiday snaps are still filled with the images of the great time I’m having – it is after all a holiday, a break from my own reality.

Reading Andy Grundberg’s take on the National Geographic, A Quintessentially American View of the World, it is clear that how nature and the world at large is represented by the media we have access to (or choose to access) can influence our expectations. He says that no longer are photographic images regarded as mirrors with a memory, merely reflecting the world back at us in a simple one-to-one translation, but rather, they construct the world for us, helping to create the comfortable illusions by which we live.

And they probably do, unless we question them. Having just read Roland Barthes essay The World of Wrestling from Mythologies, it struck me that this is nothing new the need to differentiate between what is actually real and what we imagine as the real when presented to us. But how many people, including me, do question the creep of stereotypes we witness in everyday life or, because they are now so intrinsic within everyday life as I know it, am I immune to them?

My work for the 6000 Flowers project is utilising our preference for the idealised pastoral image as an element of the final images. The idea behind this relates to how this idealised farming scene may change if bumblebee colonies go unsupported. It is one of many issues that are not obviously reflected in those perfect images of Cornwall’s landscape. In my own practice it is important for me to have a clear reason for their creation, not just my version of the already expected. They need to make people feel intrigued but perhaps a little off kilter so that they lead to questions.

The photographic work of the National Geographic is without doubt beautiful. But it is only re-presenting a world from its standpoint. And are we only looking at a predefined simulacrum of places we may never see and people we may never meet? If the answer is yes, then the question for me is it better to have access to an interpretation of that reality than no interpretation at all, even if it is a biased view? At least it provides a starting point for further investigation if it sparks enough interest and can lead to the rejection of the myth.

How it, and western society represents a non-western world may well be very one-sided. Yet, as our world becomes more global and non-western societies begin to represent our Western society within their own cultures, will we find that our culture as we know it does not ‘travel’ so well as a photographic representation.

John Holt wrote in Third Text: to name, to write, to image is power. The possession of an illusionary duplicate is an aid to mastery and ownership through colonialism. Through the continuing production of photographs that repurpose this western influenced view of the other, we are likely to be creating a hamster wheel of illusion. We need to jump off to stop the spin and see things more clearly for ourselves. In this way we can cut through the mass appeal rhetoric of National Geographic and not take it as read, at face value but to use it as a means for further exploration.

Much of my work does not include humans within its subject matter but it does aim to showcase human impact on the earth. This will be lead by my personal understanding of global issues such as population growth, climate change, food production etc. and, in a sense, will be imbued with a representation of humanity. For me the power lies in creating work I believe to be based on facts and scientific evidence. It may make those who do not share my views be disparaging and potentially refute its value so a strength in conviction will be required to ensure my work can stand up to any such commentary. I am already using idealised imagery as a means to highlight its lack of reality, and this may be a part of ongoing research. My work is centred around environmental ideologies. Corbett defines an environmental ideology as “a way of thinking about the natural world that a person uses to justify actions toward it.” But I am not a self-sufficient person, creating my own food, water, waste collection etc. so it is bound and balanced by my idealised dreams and my actualities. My reality.

 

References:

Grundberg, A. A Quintessentially American View of the World [accessed March 3, 2017].

Barthes, R. Mythologies.

Holt, J. Third Text – http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09528829608576649 [accessed March 3, 2017].

Corbett, J. Communicating Nature – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Communicating-Nature-Understand-Environmental-Messages/dp/1597260681

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