Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Seeking Answers to an Unknown Question

from "Ten Kallitypes for a Rainy Day"

This weekend I began selecting floral images to make into a series of kallitype prints. I started with ten images which I had previously made during my "Daily Practice" exercise from last year, and converted them into digital negatives for printing. Yesterday when it was raining and I didn't feel like going to work, I played hooky and made small proof prints of the negatives. Although the finished body of work will be more than these ten images (and the final prints will be on larger sheets of paper), I quickly sequenced the images and began internally referring to them as ten kallitypes for a rainy day. You can see the complete series of images at the end of this post.

But something odd happened during this process - I began to feel a bit of uncertainty and anxiety about this series, which I've been trying to puzzle through. For one thing, it was a different way of working for me - I usually have some objective or definition in mind at the start of a project (although that may change as things progress), but in this case I was pulling images together from an archive. So the working method here was different, and perhaps explains part of the uncertainty (do I feel like this is cheating in some way? will the final work be cohesive or will it be disjointed?). Yet when I look at the little series of images I've come up with, it seems to flow well and I like the different perspectives, the emphasis on patterns, negative space, flowing lines and shapes, different textures and tones.

One problem with flowers as a subject is the fact this is a subject that's been done to death. It's overworked and difficult to make images that say anything new about flowers. They're beautiful, we know they're beautiful, we hardly need reminding that they're beautiful. Artists who've tried to find the dark side of flowers (can it even exist?) only make them seem even more beautiful. In our house my wife likes to announce "these flowers are ready for their portrait" when the cut flowers in the vase are dried and drooping (this is a joking reference to my love of such a subject). So flowers as photography subject - so cliché, so over, so done. Yet I constantly come back to them as subject matter - am I crazy to do so? I wonder.

I think this not knowing why I come back to flowers is what's causing this anxiety and uncertainty about this work. I know there's a question I'm investigating, trying to answer by making these images - but I don't know what that question is. So perhaps I've solved my dilemma - I'm compelled to make images of flowers because I'm seeking answers to an unknown question. What I do know from making these images is that I'm drawn not to the "conventional" beauty of flowers - the brilliant colours. I'm drawn to a tension between their superficial uniformity within a type, and their uniqueness - i.e. the little things that make one red tulip (for example) different from all the others. I also seem to be exploring ways to accentuate the characteristics that I personally find beautiful - those curving lines, delicate tones, the patterns within a grouping and the negative spaces defined by the grouping, formal compositional relationships between individual flowers or plants within the frame, differences in textures. Images of flowers often invoke an emotional response in viewers, and I'm learning how that response is related to these characteristics of flowers and how they are brought together in the composition. When I am photographing flowers I'm look at them as if I was drawing them, and it's those qualities of flowers I want to present to viewers of my images.

Perhaps that sounds as if I know what the question is, but I don't - I constantly return to make images of flowers, but I'm not sure exactly why. And with a bit more time to reflect on that, I'll be fine with it. I might come to like this idea of seeking answers to an unknown question.

Ten Kallitypes for a Rainy Day


Anonymous said...

The key is to make the subject your own, and you've certainly done that. Well done.


J. M. Golding said...

Oh my, these are gorgeous! I can only imagine how spectacular they'd look in person. And for what it's worth, it seems to me that the "feeling compelled" part is more important than whether others have worked with a subject - because I suspect that the sense of feeling compelled is where our emotional resonance with the subject (or the moment) is; it's where the meaning of the picture is. Likewise for what it's worth, it seems to me that sometimes making art is at least partly about finding out what it's about; letting the work itself (both process and product) lead us, perhaps to something new in ourselves.

rob said...

Those are beautiful photos, whether the subject matter has been exhausted or no.

Paul said...

Mark, thank you for that saying that about this work, I really appreciate it.

Jacki - Your points are right on the money and have helped me make sense of this.

Rob - thank you for such kind words!

Heidi said...

These are stunning and yes you are right - everything has been done before, but... These days I believe as long as you are fully engaged with your subject, you have learned something new, you have gained an insight & has that not already transformed your day into something memorable? Has it not taught you something exquisite about your subject? I am not sure and maybe this is too simple, but I photograph for those moments.

Paul said...

Heidi, thank you for the kind words about this work, and for helping me to see what I've gained from this experience. I appreciate it very much.