Oh you pretty things

Soon after I started this course I fell out of love with most of my archive, hundreds of prints created over a quarter of a century. I had spent interminable hours of work trying to perfect image creation to a set of arbitrary ideals, which stemmed from the lonely pursuit of both technical excellence and attractive images. Monochrome was my chosen medium, initially with traditional film based media before incorporating digital techniques into my normal workflow.

Abhorring the traditional camera club competitive environment I built my practice around attending workshops and seeking out like-minded photographers and building a support network that I still value today.

I described this falling out as a recognition about the depth of these images, how they were created for a single purpose which was to attract. And during the course of this course I have been troubled by both my own reaction to that purpose and by other students reactions to it as well. At a study visit to Hackney to listen to a talk by Tom Hunter he suggested that he actively employed the strategic use of beauty in his work “.. I need people to engage with the work and by attracting viewers to the image I stand a chance of that happening..” (I paraphrase). Fellow student Keith Greenough employs beauty to the same ends and has developed a practice that overtly engages viewers on an aesthetic level in order to lure viewers to his work and begin a discourse, a discourse that has a firm intellectual framework to support it. My concern with my own work has been twofold: making images that are pretty hasn’t been an issue for some time, I feel technically able to produce attractive imagery from even the most mediocre of raw material and of course whether I have the self confidence enough to produce work that has the intent of integrity that I would want.

And so I’ve come to a realization that for most, if not all, of the work I have in that archive was about the difference between prettiness and beauty and how I define that prettifying an image is designed to distract whereas a beautiful image is designed to attract. A distraction disrupts whilst beauty engages. I appreciate that this distinction is a purely personal device, but I find that it helps me to decouple the past from the present. If my pretty landscape pictures please then I am happy, and the skills I have gained from that continued process of aesthetic development means that I can utilise those same skills in the development of my BoW.


6 thoughts on “Oh you pretty things

  1. Catherine, it is very easy for me, it is mine and I know that I have prettied something, and have been doing so for years. I can sense some photographers’ work that has that. I have to say that Kenna, Waite and a whole host of commercial photography/ers fall into that category. I asked Kenna recently about his work and his answer confirmed that the pictures are about making the pictures that develop the catalogue and sell in galleries/auctions and from book shelves and calendar suppliers. Absolutely nothing wrong in that – I’ve done the same (but without the same scale of success).

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