Musings on creativity for photographers and artists by Rob Hudson

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Isn't it about time we stopped using the term ’documentary photography’?

“There is no way events in the world can be directly recorded in our brains, they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way. Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories that we tell each other and ourselves, the stories we continually re-categorise and refine. This sort of sharing, of communion would not be possible if all our knowledge, all our memories were tagged as private and seen as exclusively ours. Memory arises not only from direct experience, but from the intercourse of many minds.”
Oliver Sachs, from “Speak, Memory” New York Review of Books, 2013.

Isn't it about time we stopped using the term ’documentary photography’? I suppose ’Department of Narrative Photography’, or ’narrative photographer’ doesn't quite have the ring of seriousness contained the the word ’documentary’, but it  is certainly more honest given the above.

Changing the name would have wider impacts; no longer would we have to discuss the ’truth’ of photography, or read articles complaining that one image didn't change the world - and that would certainly be a relief.

It would also give a greater legitimacy to more creative expression in photography that has been been decried as mere ’pictorialism’ for generations. And perhaps, we'd be open to a more collaborative approach to better explore the ’many minds’.

If we think of ourselves as novelists or even poets instead of documentarists then a whole new world of possibility opens before us. Creative possibilities that offer a more mature and honest perspective for the future direction for photography. The possibility of imagination that might help us reconcile meaning in our lives through small insights and a sense of shared common perspective much like good literature. Hey, it might even be more fun!

In truth, this is already what the best ’documentary photography’ is doing, despite the name. But we’ll never know the hindrance of a name until we change it.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Singing the world into existence.

Introducing a new series: Songlines. 

By some remarkable coincidences things just seemed to fall into place on Friday. Reading, conversations, seeing and photography combining to create new thinking and a new series that I suspect I will be pursuing for a long period of time. 

The first element was seeing. While wandering through my local beech woods, and looking (vaguely) for something that will progress onwards from my Mametz Wood series, I started to notice something new to me. There were strange patterns, shapes and forms in those trees that could if we recognise them as such be called simply ’art’. What struck me was that it needed a person to not only see that art, but to recognise it as such. In short, there's art out there and it's growing on trees! 

The second element was reading ColinPantall's blog about Robert Macfarlane’s new book ’Landmarks' and how important the naming of things can be to the recognition of their existence. He used the example of the ’Missing Buildings’ project by Thom and Beth Atkinson. Those missing building are all around us, but it's only in their naming that they become significant. To quote Colin “Experience leads to language and language leads to seeing. And seeing leads to photography.” And I still needed a name for the tree art I'd discovered. 

The third and final element was a Twitter conversation with John MacPherson about my Songs of Travel series. He asked if the title came from Bruce Chatwin’s book Songlines. I responded, without realising the significance at the time, that it, in fact, came from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem. And thought nothing more of it, for a while... 

It was a couple of hours later that I realised that there was a name for this tree art, one that was already in existence and that the Songlines that John had spoken of would be perfect. Naming equals significance. 

Songlines are a creation myth held by the indigenous peoples of Australia that, to quote Bruce Chatwin “...tell of the legendary totemic being who wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path - birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes - and so singing the world into existence." 

“In some cases, the paths of the creator-beings are said to be evident from their marks, or petrosomatoglyphs, on the land, such as large depressions in the land which are said to be their footprints.” Wikipedia. 

I can't claim to share such animist beliefs, but I do feel a close affinity with trees and forests. Indeed, I wrote a poem a few years ago with the simple line “Tall trees temple” attempting to express that feeling of otherworldliness we sometimes get from being in the forest, the analogy being with a similar feeling we might experience in a church. The belief I can happily share is the need to ’sing the world into existence’ or that naming things gives them a power and maybe an existence they could not possess unnamed. 

The images are presented as negatives. As any film photographer will know the negative image can have a beauty and otherworldliness all of their own. And to me that encapsulates what I'm seeing, the otherness and the requirement for us to see in new ways. To recognise art when it's before us. What a wonderful world!