Assignment 1 : Combined Image
The Assignment brief
Produce a series of four to six images – either portraits or landscape images based on my immediate surroundings. The images should include
- traditional ‘montage’ using found images and/or ones I’ve shot myself, then re-photographed and presented as a digital file
- Digital montage of images I have shot myself
The seeds of this project were planted on 8th June this year as we drove down the A3 towards Southampton where we were due to board the early morning ferry to Le Havre and then travel on to stay in Honfleur for a few days. As we drove along, I announced that there were two things I would like to photograph with my newly acquired medium format camera once we arrived in France – some cows, because they’re a different colour in France and also some wild poppies. I never did get to photograph either there because every time I spotted some they were either too far away or traffic behind us was too close for us to stop. When we returned home I was very pleased to discover that there were two fields of them nearby and I decided they would be an excellent subject for my re-making of an existing work of Art (as per Exercise 1:2) where I had decided to reference work by David Hockney but through photography in the landscape rather than a still life of a vase of flowers
There are many different species of poppy, from the oriental poppy – large, flamboyant often with frilly double flowers to the wild, red-flowered poppy that grows as a ‘weed’ here and other parts of Europe . There’s also the opium poppy of course. Poppies have different meaning as symbols in different countries. Chinese art associates them with loyalty and faith between lovers, whilst in Greek and Roman myths they were used as offerings to the dead. Poppies have long been used as symbols of sleep, peace and death – sleep because of the opium they can contain and death because of their blood-red colour. In this country they are an emblem of remembrance and commemoration of those killed in conflict (see The poppy as a symbol of sacrifices made in past wars)
Wild poppies, for me, are a beautiful metaphor for the fragility of the physical body and the eternal cycle of life and death. They are delicate, translucent, paper thin and soon die when removed from the soil. Fields of them suddenly seem to appear in late Spring/early Summer – in abundance one day, dying off the next, but reappearing a few days later. They have a simple pleasing shape that is easy even for a child to draw or paint. I could crumple some red tissue paper, place a black button in the middle and, probably, others (at least in this country) would recognise that this is meant to be a poppy.
I visited the fields on several occasions with both film and digital camera and, between-times, looked at the ways in which some other artists and photographers had portrayed poppies. Claude Monet had captured the tranquillity of a walk through a poppy field. Vincent Van Gogh painted vases of them. Cornelia Parker lined the War room at the Whitworth Gallery with leftover sheets of red paper from the factory that creates the Remembrance Day poppies . Georgia 0’Keefe chose to portray the oriental poppy – lush, bold, sensual My preference is to photograph poppies in colour but both Karl Blossfeldt and Irving Penn had captured the structure and form of poppy heads in wonderful sculptural detail in black + white.
My intention was to photograph the poppies in the field then create prints to take back to the fields and re-photograph. I used my new (to me) Mamiya medium format camera plus Canon DSLR. Inspired by David Hockney I also attempted iPad painting – printing the results firstly on watercolour paper but then using Somerset paper instead as the watercolour prints looked too muddy. I now have a tuition book and intend to teach myself more on iPad drawing and painting because I am so intrigued by it.
Subsequently, after looking at Stephen Gill’s Hackney Flowers, I created montages with some cut flowers on the prints and then re-photographed. Some of the poppies are now being dried. In memory of my great-uncle I also created a poppy montage with a photograph of him in uniform.
I had also thought of using double-exposure and also an infra-red converted digital camera I have but, in the event, decided that I was likely only doing this for the sake of it rather than to discover my relationship with these poppies. I have also returned to the fields and created a video but this will come later as it needs to be edited.
Mamiya Medium Format Film Camera
Composite Print with overlay of negative
I placed the negatives on a light box to photograph them so that some of the image could be seen more clearly, and then placed them over the prints to rephotograph.
Although the negatives were developed from the film the rest of the process became digital as I do not have access to a darkroom myself and had asked for the negatives to be scanned to disc so I could process them in Photoshop. Even so they do have a different quality from images produced by a digital camera. On-screen and as prints they reminded me much more of impressionist paintings, especially where the exposure was probably that bit too low to ‘still’ the poppies as they waved occasionally in the breeze.
Re-Photographing prints in the Field
Montage of cut flowers with prints
The poppies with the photograph of my young great-uncle, standing proudly in his uniform, may seem out of place here amongst the other photographs. However, poppies as remembrance are fixed so firmly in my psyche through upbringing and cultural history that, as much as I tried, I have been unable to push away the contrast between the beautiful, delicate living flowers and all those killed in the name of war. I remember being taken as a child to see the 1930s version of the film All Quiet at the Western Front and I’m guessing that this was probably an event around the time of a Remembrance day. In this film the soldier is shot whilst reaching out to a butterfly. It could as well have been a wild poppy.
I chose six images.
One thing I quickly realised about photographing poppies is that they are so light that even the slightest breeze sets them moving. Wonderful for impressionistic images (particularly with film) but less so if I was looking for realism. What I quickly found was that this project was becoming a quest to capture the reality of a beautiful sea of poppies that was never quite satisfied as whatever I produced couldn’t possibly be the same as being there in that space seeing their beauty and breathing in the scent of the grass and other flowers that were around me.
As I moved from film to digital to the iPad during the Assignment process I recognised I was both exploring the medium of photography – as document and also fine art – whilst moving through history – a one hundred year old photograph, 1990s medium format film camera, modern digital camera and iPad. The old photograph was taken in a studio, but the first World War also saw a boom in camera sales, peaking in 1917, as Parents, siblings and wives wanted to have a photograph of their husband/son/brother as he went off to fight. Nowadays I imagine that there are many similar photographs created as selfies, posted on Facebook and other sites. The medium may have changed but the motivation is the same.
Overall Reflection to follow.