I made a series of pictures during my recent trip to, and around, Tanzania. You can see the first one above, taken over the Sea of Marmara as the plane neared Istanbul on the first leg of my flight to Tanzania. The light was incredible, blurring the distinction between sea, land and sky in this soft haze, and I couldn’t resist trying to capture it. Having once made something that interested me, I began obsessively photographing during a long series of journeys on this busy trip. I am quite a nervous flier and one of my self-management mechanisms is to sit by the window so I have something to look at. I’ve always loved clouds and the sense they give me of being able to float away into an alternative landscape, but until now haven’t been able to see my way to capturing anything of that feeling.
|2013-08-21 17.58.34 Kilimanjaro to Dar es Salaam|
One of my earliest memories as a small child in rural Ireland is standing on the garage forecourt (we had a small shop with a petrol pump) and staring upwards as planes went past, high above so they were just a trail in the sky and a distant noise. I used to think they were going to America, which was a big glamorous place that I saw on the television that people emigrated to when they were grown-ups. I can remember the smell of petrol and summer days and the pressure on my neck as I stared up, imagining the impossibly glamorous people going to far away lands. Now of course I suspect that the planes were on route from Shannon to Belfast and Glasgow but that sense of wonder has not left me. When there were no planes (which was most of the time) I looked at the clouds and made imaginary lands.
For me these pictures are about that feeling of being suspended and away from the world in a magical and even perhaps a transcendent place. That said, I’m also aware that they were taken from a metal box flying around 20,000 feet in the air with a few hundred people on board. The titles start with the details appended to the first mobile phone pictures I took, with a note of the journey details. I quickly started using a proper camera but kept the titling as I was intrigued by the way it was on the one hand so specific and on the other so meaningless. What do these sterile numbers and details tell you about the extraordinary natural phenomena I am looking at?
When thinking about this work the word ‘sublime’ comes into my head, and I think it is an example of my own personal sublime, in the sense of a moment of transcendence, an altered state of consciousness away from the everyday world. I’ve reflected on how this work relates to my more documentary style. At first blush it seems very different but I think there are common themes, not least the typological approach and a liking for geometry and form. The square shape I think echoes the sense of the portholes I was looking through and I intend that sense of looking though into a wide space to be enhanced by the use of white space in my presentation of the images. So there is a combination in these of control and a sense of vastness. Which brings me back to that memory of a sunny day, and the smell of petrol and me aware of standing on the all too solid ground, looking at the sky and into my imagination. Most of my work looks at the everyday grounded spaces around me but that sense of wonder is still there and also needs to be acknowledged. I plan to explore tensions between beauty and ‘reality’ and aestheticism vs a documentary approach in assignment three.
There is a very interesting reflection on the contemporary sublime here http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/staring-contemporary-abyss. Among other things, reading this article made me realise that the sublime, by definition, foregrounds the experience of the photographer and viewer as it is very much about the sense of wonder/terror/awe in a way that more straightforward documentary approach is not. I think I will return to this subject in another blog as this one is in danger of getting over long.
I had hoped to use these for assignment two – One Acre – which I have just completed. This required one to look closely at a small landscape and make a variety of images from it, essentially as an exercise in observation. Clearly these weren’t small landscapes but they were taken in very confined circumstances through narrow and often grubby windows. They required a lot of looking and visual observation to get one or two that worked over many hours in the air. On a personal level I felt that these pictures met the brief: the required variety is not met in terms of focal length or a very varied range of subjects, but I found I was exploring a lot of different things in these very simple images, from the relative weightings of tone and colour in different areas of the image to more emotional/spiritual aspects. One of the things I found interesting is that the skies, which at first sight may look quite similar, are quite divergent and that this is not just chance. For example, the sky around Istanbul is often very diffuse, the effect of warm sun on the atmosphere; East African skies, on the other hand, are often full of detail with highly articulated cloud shapes; and skies over the UK tend to have a cooler, milky quality. However my tutor didn’t think that this proposal fitted the brief, and in the end I went back to plan A.
|2013-08-24 13.57.27 Istanbul to London|
I am nevertheless rather pleased with these images, and have found myself continuing the study in grounded landscapes (but that will be the subject of a future blog). I plan to make a book out of 12 or 14 of them. I’m thinking to make a square blurb book uses their Proline linen covers. I had hoped to make a book that is about 9 or 10 inches but Blurb’s only options are 7x7 or 12x12. I want to leave quite a lot of white space around each image and have found that small prints suitable for the smaller size just don’t quite work. I feel that the 12x12 is rather too large but can’t find a better option (some other printers do 9/10” squares, but using cheaper paper and shiny covers that just don’t appeal: I could try a private printer but that would cost more than Blurb and I couldn’t share the work with others as you can a Blurb book).
I’ll share the book on here once it is completed. If you’d like to see the full set, click this link. http://www.flickr.com/photos/eileen_r/sets/72157635289690084/with/9486789798/
|2013-08-14 18.32.54 Dar es Salaam to Mwanza|