I once had my work reviewed by a fancy New York gallery owner who did not care for it, and let me know immediately by holding up the first print and exhibiting the “gas face” expression. Obnoxious as this was, he did have a few useful things to say. His primary issue with the group of images being reviewed was that they were shot with a DSLR camera, and he felt it was “view camera work”. He was actually right about that. The kinds of landscape images I was making at the time really did seem to belong to the large-format tradition, and it’s certainly true that you need to think about the right tool for the job. Problem is, I wasn’t really on to the right job. Now, I had a few successes with some of those images and working in that manner was helping me to address some ideas I had about landscape, but I really wasn’t interested in creating highly detailed depictions of very specific spaces, the kind that the view camera is so good at. I’ve always been much more inclined toward a mid to shallow depth of field, rendering portions of the frame less comprehensible and pinpointing another (of course, something else the view camera is very good at).
So, I did start using the view camera again (having only very limited experience with this device in prior years, but always knowing that I needed to find a way to spend some time with it). And I did go right back into those same landscapes I’d been looking at with the small format digital camera, but I certainly wasn’t looking at them the same way – how could I have? I had no intention to either – I knew I wanted to take advantage of those tilts and swings to skew perspective and (less so) scale. And this (I think) gets back to my recent fixation on documenting/recording. Now, if I simply wanted to document these spaces for objective reference or as part of a seemingly neutral collection, indeed I may well seek the clarity offered from the huge amount of detail the large negative can hold. But, if instead what I want to do is record my experience in/of these space, it seems to me a (seemingly) objective representation couldn’t quite offer that. I ran into some trouble thinking about this when I realized that of course I’m not recording my experience of these spaces, I’m recording the camera’s experience of these spaces (as controlled by me, the operator). But that’s part of what I’m interested in – the distinction between experience as it is occurring and as its re-presentation, both temporally and physiologically.
So, one of the things I’m trying to get at with these trees, weeds and leaves has to do with the fixated moment(s) amongst the peripheral glimpse. And the rapidity with which this optical flow occurs. We certainly cannot “know” these things in time, but only through recollection (which can be temporally very near or very far). This leads me to use those tilts and swings to obscure horizontal or vertical planes of the image in order to mimic or at least reference the experience of perceiving a space in time. The view camera allows the operator to precisely define a very specific area of focus within the two-dimensional plane, which is essentially what we do when observing any scene – our eyes cannot fixate (precisely) on more than one point in space at a time. So, I’ve got to keep thinking about this. Just a brief intro this week, more later.
Next week, in Part II, I’ll focus on how I’m thinking through some of this in relation to the video component of this work, in terms of the overlapping formal language of photo/video in relation to optics and lens attributes, as well as the very separate formal languages of presentation in terms of space and time.