The first truly popular photographs were daguerreotypes, incredibly long exposures that required people to remain still for the duration of the exposure while their image was recorded onto a surface of polished silver coated in silver halide particles.
Although photographic technology has improved a lot since then, long exposure photography has remained popular, both for it’s necessity when shooting in low light levels, as well as for it’s ability to interpret reality differently.
Long exposures stretch out the moment that a photograph was taken until reality takes on a surreal twist in the image. Running water becomes a blurred silky substance, raging oceans turn into calm pools of mercury, and the stars above us, which seem static to the naked eye, are transformed into bright trails that arc across the sky.
It is an art form in itself, and images with a long exposure can make the viewer see the world in a different way.
One of the reasons I enjoy long exposures is it’s ability to remove texture from certain parts of the image like the ocean, and concentrate the eye on the textures and structures of another part. A wooden pier structure for example, or rocks on a beach.
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Journal Entry: 31 March 2012
I collected another nine images from a cemetery – this time at Snug – a Catholic cemetery. Very different in feel to the one at Sandfly Road – many more grave embellishments such as Virgin Mary’s etc.
The setting is very open, and light – when I left home it was cloudy and turning to late afternoon so I thought I might be able to get some interesting images in that type of light. When I arrived however the cloud cover was gone and the sunlight felt quite harsh, bouncing off the cement and stone of the graves.
What I learnt/need to explore further:
- Not to assume that bright conditions won’t work – I like the long shadows on one of the photos which shows little objects placed on a cement grave. Makes a strong contrast to the white birds and angel.
- I think it is OK to just take pictures if if the light is not suitable so you have a catalogue of what’s there so you can return in more favourable conditions.
- Taking photo’s with names and dates and personal messages feels too voyeuristic to me and potentially damaging to others. I want my images to feel personal, yet not invasive of others grief.
- Focus – I’m drawn to recording the additions on the graves, the flowers and objects placed by loved one’s, not the artistry of the graves themselves (though they are often stunning). Got to explore ways to include hints of the context without distracting from the ‘love’ items left behind.
- I like to increase the depth of field when there is debris, or signs of decay in the background – and natural elements like fallen leaves, bark. Places these ‘unnatural’ objects in a natural context. Also heavily ornamented images where there are a lot of ‘knick knacks’ and details to explore.
- f14 aperture for one of my photos where you can see ‘hazy’ gravestones in the background was a good tool for placing the ‘flowers’ in their setting.
- One thing I’m noticing is that I’m scanning the dates and details on the graves as I look at these objects, wondering who is still leaving things here, and who is still remembering the person in the grave. This can be interesting as the person could have died 50 years ago yet still have fresh flowers… and I’m noticing those that have died recently often have the most objects, though some have nothing at all. My images don’t examine this timeline. Is it even relevant or just a point of interest for me?
- Tried to find Anne McDonald images of graves on Bett Gallery website – nothing there. Need to find other artists…. Art School library here I come….
- Research flora and still life photography – effectively this is like floral photography even if most of the objects are made of synthetic non-perishable materials.
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Journal Entry: 27 March 2012
I’ve just returned from spending an hour wandering around the cemetery across the road. It’s not the first time I’ve explored it – my sons and I have spent time there, reading the headstones out loud, wondering about the stories and lives of the people laying there, and using it as a vantage point to look at the swans on a nearby dam.
I chose to visit it again on my own this morning in order to return to a particular gravestone – that of Lothian Littlechild, who died aged 7.
I intended to photograph his ‘resting place’ as a contrast to an image I’d taken of my son, Jake, who is if a similar age. The photo I had taken of Jake was one I hope showed something of the hope and innocence of childhood, a young boy bathed in warm afternoon light, making a wish. Watching my gorgeous boy, feeling so thankful to have him and his twin brother in my life, my appreciation of them somehow reminded me of the emotional response I had first had when I saw Lothian’s grave. My heart sank for his parents, his family, his loved one’s – what a tragedy it must have been. Hope and a future lost.
Anyway, that’s what drew me to the graveyard first thing this morning. I started taking pictures of a number of graves – of beautiful ornately carved tombstones, and simpler more austere memorials. As I did I found myself uncomfortable with the pictures that showed the names of the people – the dead and those left behind (it seemed disrespectful somehow?). So I started framing shots without those details – and started noticing the embellishments, the marks of respect, the displays of love left on and around the graves. The floral displays, some fresh, some decaying, and many plastic or non-perishable were interesting and seemed to tell their own stories of connection. The lack of these elements, and general disintegration of graves tells a story too.
I became excited – here was something I could explore further through photography. I’ve always found cemeteries fascinating – they’re often places one can find extraordinary beauty – full of craftsmanship, texture, signs of age and dilapidation. These ‘love tokens’ within that environment could be a really interesting focus, and achievable to photograph as there are multiple cemeteries nearby.
The work of Bernd and Hiller Becher and their series on water tanks intrigues me in relation to this. Their multiple images, it seems to me, should make inanimate engineered objects seem cold and concrete. But when I looked at them in series I found myself thinking how obviously human made they were – the physical differences between them, the differing aesthetics that went beyond their obvious function spoke of the involvement of a range of people.
I think the inanimate objects by graves, photographed as a series could do the same – they are lifeless yet speak of the aliveness of the people who left them there – and they’re each unique though perhaps similar in many ways. The Becher’s images were shot in identical lighting circumstances and from the same angle in relation to their subject – I don’t think that’s suitable or appropriate for this subject matter, though I shall explore it further I think.
I’ve been getting a bit overwhelmed of late about how to take photo’s which communicated a ‘message’ – it’s become almost too daunting to get started. The topics I’m passionate about (such as our general disconnection from where our food comes from, especially in relation to meat, and consumerism, and contempt for our natural surroundings in preference to self interest), and want to talk about, I’ve not been able to work out how to express visually without them seeming too contrived.
I feel like a kid in a lolly shop without the right money! Lots of ideas and things I want to do – just not sure I have the skill or where with all to execute it…. but this cemetery idea is worth exploring…