Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Exploring the thought that I treat my images like poems

A painter who visited my work asked:
The hay stacks - a lot of atmosphere in this pic - wonder if you see your photos as poems (reading it on different levels?)
I said in my reply that it was an interesting topic that I'd explore some more in my blog. The short answer is - yes, often, sometimes more so, sometimes less.

So here goes with the long answer

First, a couple of concepts I'll be relying on. Beware, I'm not formally trained so might not use the right words but hopefully I'll get my meaning across. [Amusing mixing of levels, here: Note to self, a picture paints a thousand words, so why don't I use a photo to express what I mean? Oh, I'm going to, don't get ahead of yourself!]

Meaning

Interpretation and subsequent meaning is in the eye of the beholder - if the beholder is a cat, don't expect the meaning you derive to be the same as the cat's (unless, of course, you happen to be a cat reading this).

Two humans would likely agree on key aspects but even then, differences between them (some from nurture, some from nature - and think synesthesia here for an extreme example) will lead to differences in impression. Some will "get" connections that are implicit in the work more quickly than others.

Levels

Levels appear in many contexts; for example, between a subtle pun in the title chosen for the piece and elements of the piece itself.

A good example of this is the haystacks work above. Its title is Hay303 Stacks and if you care to look, you'll find it explained that this was taken on the UK road, the A303. Ok, you see what I did there. But there's also a hint of something else - there are three haystacks on the skyline and the fields are razed to the ground, barren (=0). There's lots more subtlety in there but that's all from me about it, there's got to be some mystery!


This one has the title One, Two Three - Snow! (rhymes with the way we started races when I was a kid - "one, two, three, go!" so there are echoes of childhood simplicity mixed up with image simplicity). AND there's also the one road, two pavements (sidewalks) and three objects - or one lampost (also = the digit "1"), two squares, three surfaces.

Back to the poem question

To me anyway, a poem has certain characteristics before you get to the actual words used and their meaning. The meter / rhythm, the inner structure (how many syllables to a line, how many lines to a stanza) and the overall structure of how many stanzas. (In simplest terms, anyway, and from a non-poet's viewpoint.)

These are like the compositional elements in a photo before you get to the actual content itself. They equate in some sense to the viewpoint taken, the framing of the elements and their form and spacial inter-relationships within that frame.

In photos you have the main subject and in poetry the main theme. A poet then carefully chooses words to convey the meaning felt by them during that part of the work, possibly using the rhythm to reinforce but also phrasing things and choosing sound-shapes to bring other echoes to the mind of the reader / listener, as befits the meaning intended. And then they polish, polish and polish some more.

I think I do the equivalent with my photos once I get them to the digital darkroom. For example, in choosing the colour to mono conversion technique to use, I'm building on what tonal relationships -- in and between the elements -- to play up or down, polishing what happenstance put before me and I arranged in the viewfinder. Another example is Knot A Rope Knot - notice there's a rope (knot) sandwiched between two knots on the wooden post.

So with both poems and pictures (and, if you think about music, with that too) artistic expression is about creating a work that encapsulates a piece of the artist's world-view. More than that, to be considered "worthy", it has to survive the translation through their chosen medium to become the observer's impression. And if the same meaning as was intended is felt, then it has worked.

Of course, the observer always has the chance to mis-, over- or re-interpret, and if that results in more than the artist consciously intended ...then all to the good! Either it was there and intended or it was there as an artefact of something else but, nevertheless, still artist-inspired.

How well it is appreciated depends on the inner creation envisaged by the artist in the first place, how well the artist packages that up in their piece, how accurately this piece is perceived and interpreted by the observer and how much their interpretation then appeals to their sense of beauty.


So, finally...

...I think that pretty much anyone consciously "doing art" whether they be poet, painter, musician or whatever, weaves an expression of their art using all the strands available (including multi and mixed levels), that they think are relevant and that have meaning in their chosen medium.
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