This title and text were penned after I completed the full series of photograph prints. While there are good reasons for launching in to this project, the fruit borne can only be described post-realisation. So I will talk first about my feelings now that I see the work, then I will give some of the reasons why I wanted to create it in the first place.
The title is a deliberate echo of Debussy's La Mer. I am not a musicologist who can explain the internal workings of the piece. However, as a listener, I am struck by similar emotions. I feel the the scene's same openness: the moors also have that distant horizon before which the hills roll in waves; they also have that richness of detail conflicting with overall monotony; they also have a cruel character born out of harsh weather that is not becalmed by trees and other obstacles.
I am also aware of the dates. La Mer was first performed in 1905, at a time of great technical and cultural upheaval. The style I have used - pictorialism - is of that period. It was an attempt to introduce the photographer's reactions and beliefs in to the print. It promoted artefacts and a blurring of line in order to be more impressionistic, ie more sensitive to the subject and the impressions created by it on the artist. Victorian prints are not commonly know for their sharpness; however, by 1900, technology had made considerable progress by introducing new glass types, new lens designs and new emulsions. Indeed, many of the innovations of that period have held the test of time and some are with us still today, eg Tessar and triplet lens designs, leaf shutters. Studio prints of the Edwardian age are actually remarkably sharp, such that pictorialism may be seen as a reaction to this as well as an acceptance of the latest advances in pictorial representation post impressionism. I would argue that many fields of artistic endeavour are seeing a similar revolt against our high-performance, digital age.
These thoughts chime with one of the reasons why I wanted to create this series: it is on one level a technical exercise. I wished to investigate further the older technology which was available over a century ago. I used a wide-angle lens based on the 140-year-old, rapid rectilinear design and captured the image on sheets of black and white film 5" by 7" in size. The images were printed following the Van Dyke Brown method, based on the argentotype process of Sir John Herschel (1840's). To do so, I had to temporarily leave the world of analogue processes, because I wanted the final prints to be a quarter-Imperial (11" by 15"). I therefore scanned the negative to produce an enlarged version of it. I also modified the scan to give the final print better tone and contrast. The aspect ratio was changed from 5" by 7" to the more traditional half-plate (4 3/4" by 6 1/2"), which suits perfectly the aspect ratio of the paper.
The other reason for wanting to create this series is far more philosophical. Vintage lenses impart a visual signature which is the hallmark of their design period, so a print reminds the viewer of its age by its appearance. Naturally, using an old lens in a modern context is a source of rich contrasts. These observations led me to ponder the importance of time in photography. As an exercise, I then devised this project to remove as many of its traces as I could. How does time influence photography and what I can do to remove it?
Duration of the exposure, time of day, time of year and year of capture were all analysed in this light. The year of capture is blurred by the nature of the print and the lens used to record the image. All we know is that the pictures were taken at some stage in the last 120 years. I strove to remove from the picture any traces of human habitation so that more exact dating is impossible. That is why I chose the moors as my subject. The added benefit is that there is little vegetation there to betray the time of year. All the viewer knows is that the heather is not in bloom and there are leaves on the deciduous trees, which reduces the time of year to five possible months. To confuse the time of day, I chose overcast weather which would not yield shadows. The clouds are a visual boon by giving texture to the sky. As for the exposure duration, can you guess?
Overall, these prints are a marked departure from the glossy, colourful pictures with which I am often associated. I have enjoyed exploring this new medium and adding texture to my work so that it is no longer as transparent. I hope you will have the patience to study these prints and let their subtle tones work their magic, so that you too will enjoy them.
Acknowledgment: I am indebted to John Brewer and Andrew Harley for their technical expertise. This project would not have been completed without them.
The pictures above show the finished article rather than a scan of the negative. The texture of the work is a very important part of it; the way it is framed, plays on this and accentuates it. There is also considerable variation from one print to the next by the nature of the process.
'The Moors' features ten images, each printed in an edition of 25. Please contact me for more information on how to purchase prints.