Is the art all in the craft of a single image?

Recent discussions on landscape photography have touched on both the power of individual images and the influence photographers can have over shaping and exerting maximum interest from a RAW file. Moreover, that photographic art derives from the creative interpretation of a scene, both through the choice of shooting medium used and techniques in processing.

In comparison, photographic realism, shall we say, imagery-based around representation that relies less on interpretation, is not as ‘artistic’. This may well stand up if we are considering the single image but in a project, the art is not necessarily vested in the wow factor for a single photo but can be across a series with a narrative flow. Twenty plus photos that are produced with a ‘flat’ visual style, based on realism can function for a whole with meaning and subtly. Here’s my personal take on this.

Finding interest

At the beginning of 2019, I shifted towards more realistic looking, documentary photos that were less reliant on the power of processing to develop their strengths. Initially, I set about looking for images along with coastal areas under development, thinking that there would be a rich vein of material to find. This idea was largely influenced by a desire to see value in the greater region I lived in. Hence the more quirky and every day, which drew inspiration from US imagery that crossed over between classical landscape scenes and man-altered locations. However, the resulting photos from a trip failed to excite me. At the time of taking them, I didn’t connect with many of the scenes in front of me. This is important, you should be enjoying and connecting with what you are seeing. The spark of an idea is an intellectual decision, in practice being in the field can challenge the worth of this thinking.

More local and black and white

Finding that these particular locations didn’t connect appear to work colour I decided to switch to black and white and ditch the investment of time in places that didn’t resonate with me, focusing instead closer to home in places that I could return to more often. I began by re-evaluating some salt pans, which had previously seemed un-photographable to me.  Over the coming months, I added two other locations to make images in. The three areas couldn’t have been more different. A series of portraits from a junkyard, ponds at the edge of town and the piles of salt and evaporating pans in the midday sun.

Stepping away from conventional beauty

Whilst the salt location gave me a range of possibilities for compositions, the lagoon was challenging, with little obvious structure nor signs of conventional beauty. For the junkyard location, once I stepped away from interior control of interior portraits, the chaos was also visually challenging. Over the next 18 months, I chipped away at these three places.

18 months later

By early 2020, I had made more than 30 trips to the salt pans and had produced 20-25 images I was content with. I felt I had extracted as much variety as I could and that new visits would garner repeat shots, something I was keen to avoid. It seemed this project was now complete. I sent the work off to a few online magazines that were happy to show a set of photos.

I now shifted my time over to the two remaining areas, only occasionally making images through lockdowns. By the end of 2020, I had added a new location of beach dunes making infrared images after rainfall. By this time, I had long since found sufficient interest in the ponds and the junkyard was also not suggesting new imagery. At the beginning of 2021, I sat down to have a good think about all these photos.

Creating a photo book

On my website, I had four distinct location-based sets of images that in my mind were individual projects. However the more I considered them the less they amounted to projects. They were in essence individual series but they didn’t separately have enough variety within each to claim a project title.

So, I initially thought about merging the salt and sand dunes landscapes in a sequence to see if they blended well together. This gave me the inspiration to develop a further merger and I started to see a focus for a project anchored around twelve portraits of men. Adding text and fleshing out both the men’s lives and insights into life in Essaouira, was the next step. Finally, it was about ordering and sequencing the book and making editorial decisions about which images best support the book’s narrative.

On reflection

By merging series that are geographically linked and aesthetically similar, individual images are no longer tethered to their individual artistic merit, but also in how they collectively shape reader’s understanding of a place and/or people. The connections through photos direct the viewer to find other associations, leading to a more satisfying experience, one that marks something out that is unique to the maker and the place.

You can view the completed book in digital form here: Tie Your Camel.