Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Beacon: two 'constructed' photographs and the use of archetypal imagery.


Its is an obvious truth that an artist makes, or constructs, his painting or sculpture. It is not so obvious in a photograph which seems ( and so often is) simply a two-dimensional slice of reality. Occasionally though, I am more aware of the concept that comes as or before the image is taken. I am then *constructing an image, putting it together, to express that overarching idea; - not simply taking it as is from nature.

I walk beside the sea on an overcast winter day and see the *beacon that marks a rugged promontory. Although it is a dark day, it is not that dark and the beacon light is turned off, but high above, the sun is creating a soft pool of light in the clouds. In a flash I realize that I could alter my position so the light is repositioned directly behind the dark lens. Click! I move on but keep thinking about the image I have just made. Later, when I process the photo with a more analytical slant of mind I feel the power of the image and understand the beacon to be a powerful symbol in human thought, an archetype, and the light behind the lens as a way to engage the viewer in a 'flash' of perception. Light, but not lit, not real, but more than real: a paradox. I 'photo-shop' to emphasis the intent of the image: principally darkening the outer parts and gently creating a halo around the light.


Weeks later I return on another cloudy day with a definite plan in mind that will show another take on the symbolism of a beacon. I place a camera on its tripod facing the beacon, set the shutter release for ten seconds, and step forward into the right hand side of the camera's view. Click! Here is the beacon on the left and the back of my legs on the right. The completed photo though, is hopefully not about me as much as it is about the power of the beacon to convey a metaphorical message. When we look into the image we link the near figure, who is a stand-in for ourselves, with the beacon in the mid distance. With that prominent symbol to guide us, we see from a dark overcast place far out into the brighter sky, the gleaming ocean and distant islands beyond; and of course at a more personal level this can be read as metaphor. The image has its origin in my own dreams and desires, but what I have crafted reaches out to catch the minds of others who can also, in their own way, relate to the guiding light of a beacon and read their own lives into the photograph.

I found while thinking through and selecting the elements that went into the second image that constructing an image was difficult to get my mind around. I am so accustomed to seeing something that attracts me and adjusting my composition to bring out the 'word' of what is in front of me. To reverse the process and start with an idea and then find the appropriate parts and organize them as expression was challenging.

Although, as the creator, I have thought about and made these images, I really wish the viewer to simply encounter them and experience a flash of understanding, to dive in and have their own parallel experience.

*The Beacon
A beacon was originally associated with fire on a hill top warning of approaching danger or of some great event that all should know about. A light that was a message. It is the ancient power of this symbol that tugs at our unconscious minds even when today we might simply see a lighthouse on a bold headland.

Navigation lights are on buoys, beacons and lighthouses, just to mention a few, and flash their coded signals though the night to guide ships that are working their way among unseen hazards. While sailing the Pacific,at the end of a passage from Fiji, I remember our approach to land in the predawn darkness where the horizon ahead was a maze of blinking lights marking an important pass (Havannah passage) into New Caledonia. We sailed closer, consulted our less-than-perfect chart and tried to work out what each repeating pattern of flashes represented. Then came the dawn and all was made clear. In our case a beacon and its guiding light was where metaphor and reality met.

I wonder though, as more of us spend our lives in cities, separated from direct relationship with sea and landscape, sailing, fishing, hunting and farming, how our languages, - verbal and visual -, with their structures of imagery inherited from the past, can retain their ability to communicate in a rich and fulsome way. I make these images that rely on a viewer's gut feeling for 'Beacon', but if that has no real resonance, then we both have missed the mark.

*Constructed photographs are usually thought to be the combining of elements from more than one image in a photoshopping program. I have used this term here to describe thinking about and organizing the elements in front of my lens to express an idea that is not naturally part of the landscape. In 'Flash', the sun has been oriented behind the lens to create a paradox about light. The 'Away' image is created by placing the parts before the camera in a particular arrangement to express an idea about a beacon as psychological as well as physical reality: a guiding light.

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