The Dark Wood by John Seely
John enrolled on the Intentions Photography Course in Feb this year and as we approach the completion of the six-month project I asked him if he was willing to share his journey and images in a guest blog.
A Photography Project by John Seely
At the beginning of this year I finally had more time for photography but at the same time, I had a strong feeling that I had no clear idea of what I wanted to photograph. During a conversation with Alan, he said that the ‘Intentions’ course might be what I was looking for.
It was a good suggestion because the structure of the course forced me to come up with a clearly defined plan and then provided a framework within which to carry it out. The first thing we had to do was come up with a ‘Statement of Intention’ and Alan suggested interesting ways of approaching this.
I came up with no fewer than six such Statements before hitting on the seventh that I am now working on. The first six were all perfectly solid photographic ideas that would have worked but which, frankly, didn’t really stir my imagination. I don’t remember how the seventh arrived in my head, but here it is.
The dark wood
I love trees but I find forests dark and scary places. So the image that the poet Dante uses at the beginning of The Divine Comedy instantly appeals to me. He describes himself at the beginning what we might now call a midlife crisis:
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
In the middle of this way of life of ours,
I ended up in a dark wood
Where the straight path was lost.
I recognise this description of being tangled up in the complications of life very well: the sense that there is no way out – every exit seems to be blocked off or confused. With hope and faith, you come through it: there are glimpses of brightness, even signs of a route through, and you keep going.
As Rilke said, you should not keep worrying about not finding answers, but focus on ‘living the questions now’ and ‘then perhaps someday far in the future you will gradually…live your way into the answer.’
I thought it might be possible to produce landscape images that reflected this mixture of feelings. Fortunately, at the same time, I became interested in the work of a number of photographers who are exploring the use of deliberate camera movement and multiple exposure techniques to produce impressionistic and abstracted images. In particular, I looked at the work of Valda Bailey, Chris Friel, and Doug Chinnery.
Multiple exposure images can be produced in a number of ways. Some cameras allow you to make them in camera. I have two. One of them, the Fujifilm X100F, allows you to take just two images one on top of the other. You can view what you are photographing either using the LCD back screen or the electronic viewfinder. After you have taken the first image, the camera asks you if you are happy with it and you can accept or reject it. When you accept it, you then see that image overlaid on what you now have framed in the viewfinder, so you can line it up exactly before pressing the shutter release. There are a number of disadvantages to this camera: it has a fixed 35mm equivalent lens, it only allows two overlapping images, and although it will produce raw files, multiple exposures are only jpegs.
My other camera is a Canon 5D Mark IV. This is a much more complex machine: it will combine up to nine different shots using different ways of blending the images. A slight downside is that because it’s an SLR, you only get to see the multiple images building up in live view, which can be difficult in bright sunlight. The plus is that it produces a final raw file for development in Lightroom, Photoshop or other applications. I also produce multiple images using layers and blending in Photoshop.
All these techniques are essentially experimental and can produce unexpected results. But because they are experimental, you can expect that most of them will be useless – it isn’t unusual to come back from a shoot with plenty of images and then to bin the lot.
Much depends on the post-processing. I have found that the best approach for me is to select a number of images and do a certain amount of processing, but not too much. At that point, I can decide whether these are images I want to keep for further work. Then I leave them for a while, often making a working print. (Since the end of the process is an exhibition, I find working with prints essential.) Looking at trial prints over a period of time enables me to think about why I like (or not) that image, what is the point of it, how it fits in with my theme, and how I can develop it to fulfil all these things. Then I can work again in Lightroom to try to achieve this.
The Intentions course has given me the freedom to experiment and the opportunity to get invaluable feedback and support on the work as it progresses. It is certainly something I couldn’t have achieved just working on my own. Alan’s crits can be tough sometimes, but they are fair, and above all they are constructive.
Well done John, you should be very proud of the panel of images you created for this project.
I think it makes a great case study and shows that with some application and connecting thoughts and expression the camera is a creative tool as much as memory recording instrument. I am confident that you will continue to add to the collection over time and develop your photographic voice further. I look forward to seeing the final selection in the Intentions Public Exhibition in due course.
John is clearly a very competent photographer who came to me wanting to take his photography and creativity beyond "straight shots". The Intentions Course is open to anyone who is at the "Intermediate" level - has a good grasp of camera settings and operation, can edit competently and wants to embark on a project to produce a coherent body of work over six months. Many former attendees are now enrolled on the RPS Course and are using images made for the Intentions Course for their Licentiate and Associate Distinctions.
If you are inspired by John's work and want to develop your skills and produce a body of work/collection on a subject matter/technique or style, get in touch for a chat about the next Intentions Course or other ways that group collaboration and mentoring can support your own journey.
Please feel welcome to post a comment or ask a question in the comments box.