My Fine Art Thoughts

I undertook a Fine Art module as part of a photography course I attended in 2012/2013. At the end of the year, I had to submit a body of work as well as a short essay on my images and thoughts about fine art.
Here, I replicate the essay as close as I can to the original format. As always, I welcome your views and opinions. Thanks for reading.


Ok, the final assignment … and I have to write about Fine Art and my own work – yikes! The brief called for an illustrated essay/artist statement – all in 1500 words!mug of coffee

Where to start – where to start?  Better grab a coffee first! 🙂

 

Start Here!

Although I have always been interested in art, I never stopped to think that what I produce might be classified as art! I believe that it is up to other people to say whether it is art or not.

… but that does not matter – I certainly don’t take photographs to produce art. Like many, I take photographs for the enjoyment it gives me.

And that enjoyment encompasses a significant time before and after, the actual pressing of that shutter button!
Without wanting to sound too “arty”, when the image is printed, it is almost like the end of a journey – well perhaps, the end of a small trip! But it is the journey/trip that matters!

“My friend Joanne, reminded me of what Nevin Lahart once said; “the final image is like washing a dead body to bring to the morgue, and the exhibition is the wake”.

His argument is that everything that happened up to that point was the important stuff.”

A little background info

About five years ago when I first started taking photographs, I reveled in the freedom to explore all genres and took EVERY opportunity to shoot whatever got in my way on that particular day. I literally took thousands of photographs. Nothing was safe from my prying lenses. 🙂 And indeed … many of those images ended up in the bin – where they belonged, to be honest.

However like many photographers, eventually I began to warm to a particular photographic  style – in my case it was landscape photography. (Arguably, an easy cop-out)

I like to capture the beautiful light of the Irish countryside and I will always will. The light in the West of Ireland is very special and if you’re mindful, it can present some beautiful opportunities – to enjoy, and not just photograph.

      →→→ Fast forward to  ███▓▒░░.___(-_-)____.░░▒▓███► →→→ 2012

There is a part of me that feels that photography has  m  o  r  e  to offer than reflective lakes and diffused morning light. There is a part of me that thinks that I am ignoring other opportunities. There is a part of me that wants to go back – to when I started shooting five years ago, and to the way I used to enjoy art as a kid.

Kid looking at art

“If I could see art through the eyes of a child – how rich would I be?”

This year, I decided to explore and experiment some more. Maybe I can bring a bit more of me to my images. Maybe I can go back to what it was that brought me to photography in the first place.

It probably won’t be pretty – it probably won’t be West of Ireland. But it will be me.

Journey Into Fine Art

Just what is Fine Art? To me, the term seems to be bandied about fairly freely. Consult the Great Internet and you will be assaulted by “fine art photography” from all-sorts ranging from ↓mundane↓ shots of wedding couples to ↑ bizarre↑ images created almost entirely in Photoshop.

Wikipedia says:

 “Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer. Fine art photography stands in contrast to photojournalism, which provides a visual account for news events, and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to advertise products or services”

 

Another source says: “Fine art: To describe an intent to ‘express’ or visualize feelings, emotions and so on; and to explore and reproduce the  Beautiful

The term ‘fine’ comes from Aristotle’s concept of Final Cause i.e. the purpose or end point of the work. In Latin, Fine means ‘end’, and so in Fine Art the work is an end in itself, its very existence is its purpose.”
Actually, that clarifies it somewhat – I often shot images to portray an emotion, although it does not always work out like I intend. 🙁
The idea of shooting a photo to record the reality of my present view does not always interest me. I like to portray how I felt at that time, and perhaps make the viewer feel the same too.

Alain Briot, an American Fine art photographer said:

“My concern is believability rather than reality”

This sums up my thoughts on my own ☐work ☐photographs ☐art

[Delete as applicable]

So, is what I shoot fine art photography? Seeing as I don’t shoot photojournalism, commercial or product, could the answer be yes?
However, fine art is also about quality. The final image must be printed and mounted to a very high standard. But there must also be quality in the thought process and the way you interpret that.

 Personally,

this course has given me a peek of what is on the other side of a very high wall. And what I have seen there interests me greatly.

 

an open doorIt has strengthened my resolve to shy away from “commercial” photography and try to scale that wall.

During the course, we had to do various artistic exercises. While I enjoyed doing them at the time, it was only later on that I saw the true value in them.

The  ¸.·´¯`·.´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸><(((º>  “Flow of Consciousness” exercise taught me to look at the mundane, everyday snippets of life and be more aware of them.

I particularly liked the “Historical Study” on “Art Movements”. I had two genres to research.

1: Nouveau Realism, which I determined was a load of bollocks – however, that’s not to say it isn’t art!

… and …

 

2: Expressionism, which I really enjoyed because it led me to discover ChiaroscuroKid with head in hands and the way it plays with light and shadow. This was, in fact a style that I had been trying to emulate for a while and one, which I will continue to study in the future.

 

 


Inspiration   in·spi·ra·tion    [in-spuh-rey-shuhn]    noun

1. an inspiring or animating action or influence.
2. something inspired, as an idea.
3. a result of inspired activity.
4. a thing or person that inspires.
5. Theology:
a. a divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul.
b. the divine quality of the writings or words of a person so influenced.

 

I never stopped to consider what might inspire me to shoot or, influence what I do shoot … until this year and this fine art course.

 

Indeed, was I “inspired” at all?

Fern growing on pipe
However, I now see that there are perhaps some “influences” after all. Well, perhaps not necessarily influences, but art … and stuff that I like. I have always been drawn to the dark, the moody, the strange, the exotic and the dark (x2) 🙂 and the beautiful.

It

could

have

been

music, clothing or attitudes … and of course art. There is honestly no ONE person that I could mention here that I was/am influenced by.

But for the sake of it, I will mention names like Pink Floyd, Sally Mann, Hector Berlioz, Carravagio, Alexander McQueen, Derek Jarman – The Tempest (I have this on DVD, if you want to borrow it) and of course C and K.Box of numbered blocks

As this course has p r o g r e s s e d, I have found myself more interested in making a photograph as opposed to taking a photograph.

And in this respect, I now find myself back “at square 1”, photographically … artistically even!

 

Which brings

 

me to the

 

images I have

 

selected for

 

 

this

 

assignment.

 

So, I set out to create a series of images that asks, can a person be successfully captured in a photograph?

Girl in boxHere, Joanne is trapped within the frame. She can see out. We can see her and a little of her world within. However, the world outside is dark and inaccessible. This is intended to show the very limited scope of a photograph.

The first five images comprise a set. Although similar, I hope that viewers will take something different from each.

I felt this theme deserved a set of images.

Where possible I prefer to refer to the real person as opposed to a “model” in my photos. The person or personality is as important to my images as anything else – especially in this series.

The “inspiration” (there’s that word again!) for this series came about as I was shooting my images for the portraiture module on the course.
Whether it was studio, wedding or home portraiture, there were certain rules that I had to abide by. There are specific poses that the photographer will have to direct the sitter towards. The lights have to be set up in a certain way to show classic lighting examples like Rembrandt, Butterfly or broad lighting.

Women ♀ must face a certain way and men ♂ a different way. Make sure you have catchlight in the eyes. Cross your legs. Don’t cross your legs. Where are the hands? Females don’t show the front of the hand. The list goes on and on

… and on

                       … and on

  …and on

…and on!

 

You can certainly break these rules, but you must be able to justify the reason
why.

 

 

Why

 

 

 

°Question:  Does this series of images capture as much of the essence of a person, as an image shot in a studio with professional lighting and poses set up by the photographer?

°Question: Just how much of the person can you hope to portray while abiding by the rules laid down by “those” who decide what is “the correct way” to photograph a person?

°Question: Can you really capture the essence of a person within the confines of these rules, or indeed within the confines of any photograph?

The issue is clouded even more by the image of the sitter that I, as a photographer may want to portray and the way that I see him or her. Similarly, the sitter may want to portray his or her own interpretation of themself.

If I had the time and resources, I may have shot this slightly differently. I had considered that there might have been some external influences – outside the frame. However, I’ll need to think about this some more.
I do believe that this is an idea that could be developed some more.
One for the sketchbook, I believe.

How truthful is an image?

 


The next five images are a selection of photos taken during the academic year. I believe that they represent a direction I have been going towards for a while now. They are mostly black and white photos with a particular emphasis on the light and shadow in each. 

 The Vermeer Boy

The Vermeer BoyVermeers’ painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, inspires the first image. The tilted hat appears “olden style”. The top is arranged to show the folds that help to frame the face.

The dark background and the window light wrapping around the face – a nod to Chiaroscuro lighting perhaps. The catchlight in the eyes brings life to K.

I feel that his eyes form a connection with the viewer and rather than us looking at him, he is looking out at us.

 

This is my favourite image from the last year. 

 

Sweet Home under White Cloud

This image was shot early on the academic year. It is taken inside a house near where my grandmother lived. As a child while visiting her, we often walked past this place on our way to “rob” an orchard in the next field. the-forgotten

Always, there was an old man standing at this window peering out at us. It made us all run faster to escape his “death stare”. We were convinced he had some special powers that could strike us all dead at any moment.

In a strange way, this ritual of avoiding the old mans stare became almost as important as getting the apples from the orchard.

Earlier this year, I entered the now abandoned house and found the old mans room. Although the chair is clearly not from his time, I like to think he was just sitting there enjoying the view from the window and the life on the outside.
Then again, maybe he was just a nutter … or perhaps we had active imaginations! 🙂

 

The Wave 

The wave was shot on Achill Island earlier in the year, on an outing with Eamonn. The weather was pretty crap and some “nice” landscape/seascape shots would be difficult to come by.

starsThe only thing of interest was the powerful waves crashing ashore.

I knew the shot I wanted. The white surf would contrast with a blackened sky to produce a different world. I added stars into the sky to complete the picture. This is my homage to the unpredictable power of the Atlantic ocean.

Forbidden Places 

It was tempted to call this “The Enchanted Forest” but only for a brief moment! 🙂

The image was shot and processed with a strong emphasis on light and shadow. The white ferns look soft and playful. The forbidden-placespath through the forest is inviting but the ever-enclosing trees form an ominous entrance to a forbidden world.

Technically, this image is flawed, so I will return to the location again to reshoot it.

It’s an idea to be noted in the sketchbook and marked for further development.

Untitled Image

Kneeling girlThis is Joanne. I shot her in the studio early on in the course. It was my first real session with the lights and the backdrop.

There’s not a lot to say about this image. We went to shoot some ideas I was working on.

However, because of my inexperience in the studio at that time and the fact that Joanne studies Fine Art at college, any ideas I had, quickly morphed into something unexpected altogether. We took lots of photos and had lots of fun. This is my favourite from that day. The lighting fits with my style.

Although on one knee in an almost subservient position, Joanne looks straight out at the viewer in a determined and defiant way. I also like the delicate detail in the dress and that lace!
This is one image that I like more and more every time I look at it.

The Crown of Thorns

And here is a bonus image. I shot this about two weeks ago. I was hanging out with Artur while he was shooting his portfolio for the fashion assignment. crown-of-thorns

This shot happened rather unexpectantly. (Is that a word?) 🙂

I looked up … and there was this lovely sky … and there was this very strong leading line … and there was this crown of thorns.
I dropped to my knees – to take the shot!
I pressed the shutter.
There was the image!

 

Despite having no religious belief, I do find myself discovering religious imagery quite often. This is good as this sort of imagery is often very strong and emotive and usually fits with my style of “art”.

 


 Conclusion:

So, am I doing anything different now that the course is over? I would say that I am.

Before the course, I had begun to shy away from the reportage style of photography. While I do still shoot landscape, I now feel a little more qualified to create a – yes, dare I say it – a work of art.

Now, I am more likely to stand back, survey a situation and try to see the scene from a different perspective. I am more likely to consider a shoot before I actually go and execute it.
And in that respect, I think I will use the sketchbook a lot more.

Ideas can be jotted down as they occur to me. I can come back and develop them further until I have the image that I want to capture or create. In that way, I guess my photography has become more internalized and thoughtful.

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4 Comments

  1. terry conner Reply

    I have been taking photos for nearly 50 years. Have snapped well over 2,000 images of CO.’s Clare, Galway and Mayo staying in Lecanvey on 13 trips to Ireland. Your work is by far, the best I have seen. Makes me want to throw out my Nikon D200 and take up golf ! You have an eye that one is only born with, its a gift ! Keep working hard and know that I for one will continue to enjoy your work ! Terry Conner, New Jersey

  2. admin Reply

    Thanks so much for your words Terry. I hope you enjoy many more trips. I am about to make a “trip” to the Connemara region with the family – in the rain! 🙂

  3. John Finn Reply

    I’m a great admirer of your photography, John – you have a body of work that is second to none, really outstanding images. However ….

    I LOATHE THE TERM “FINE-ART PHOTOGRAPHY”.

    I hate it,I hate it,I hate it,I hate it,I hate it,I hate it,I hate it,I HATE IT.

    (Phew, I feel better already.)

    I know, it’s a ridiculous irrational reaction on my part but, hey, we all have our idiosyncrasies.

    To my (admittedly simple) mind there’s good photography and there’s bad photography. And, er, that’s it, really.

    I don’t see what is to be gained by calling a photograph “a fine-art image” as opposed to, you know, “a photograph”.

    It is obvious to the viewer that your intention in, say, photographing Joanne trapped in the frame is wholly different than when shooting a landscape at Doolough or wherever. We don’t have to be told that the former is “fine art” in order to appreciate it. Certainly, knowing your intention with such an assignment makes a big difference in appreciation whereas with a conventional landscape, still-life, portrait or whatever it would be (usually) irrelevant. The description “fine-art” adds no value to the viewer/photograph interaction, in my view.

    When I admire a photograph I’m not concerned with whether it’s described by the photographer or anyone else as a snapshot, a record shot, a commercial shot, a “fine art image”, or anything else. It’s either a bad, good or brilliant photograph.

    Regards,

    John

  4. John-Mee Reply

    Thanks for your comments John. I did spend way too many hours pondering over the “fine art” tagline.

    For the moment I will continue to use it on my site but you are of course totally correct – it adds nothing at all to the image or any body of work, or website. Indeed, it could make me look like a pretentious oaf!

    And now, you have got me “pondering” again, damn you! 🙂

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