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John Perriment

Twee Or Reality?

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A few days ago I visited a local art exhibition. I always find this a rewarding experience on several levels. Not only is it an opportunity to admire the work of some very talented local artists, it's also a valuable exercise in sharing their vision and interpretation of familiar local scenes and, through their eyes, discovering new locations that have hitherto passed me by.

Looking closely at the work of several artists, I was struck by their diligence at recording every feature of the landscape, no matter how unattractive, be it pylons, telegraph poles and 'phone wires, yellow lines on the road, or awkwardly parked cars. All the sort of things that photographers go to equally great lengths to exclude, be it by careful framing and composition or the clone tool and healing brush in Photoshop. I wondered why anyone with the power of a brush on a blank canvas would want to include a feature that many might consider an eyesore, an archetypal “blot on the landscape.” Maybe artists feel a responsibility to depict the scene as accurately as possible, to authenticate their work.

That led me to question why photographers are so concerned with not only avoiding these man-made features but actively excluding them. It seems we prefer to create an artificial, rose-tinted view of the world at the expense of veracity. Ironically, we get all nostalgic when presented with a ”traditional” red telephone box, which is regarded as an icon of British heritage, and often contrive to make it the main feature of our composition. I wonder how these newfangled kiosks were regarded when first introduced less than a hundred years ago? With considerably less enthusiasm than we show today, I would think!

I recalled this line of thought when I opened the picture below in Elements yesterday, having just scanned it from a transparency. My immediate thought was, “how can I best remove that telegraph pole and lamp?” But then I questioned, “should I remove that pole?” Finally I decided it was actually essential to the composition, helping to define the character of the place every bit as much as the old freezer, it's lid weighted down with rocks, or the ropes and nets, or the lobster pots. Indeed, the fundamental appeal of this place was that it is a working harbour rather than a tourist attraction. Paradoxically, it seems, we often want to change the scenes that we wish could stay the same. “Progress” will change them soon enough, without any help from us.

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  1. AndyElliott's Avatar

    As usual, an interesting blog entry! Coincidentally, we had a talk from Brian Beaney, ( at our camera club. What was most interesting (he is a master of removing from and manipulating the image to get the result he desires) was his ability to see the integral beauty in an unpromising scene with lots of 'clutter' and know what he wanted to emphasize. A different approach to your own, but both are effective.

    I love the colours and the interest generated by leaving everything in in the shot above, but it is useful to look at some of Brian's harbour shots too!

  2. John Perriment's Avatar
    Maybe I have a tendency to leave things in because I lack the skills to do much else! Brian's images are fantastic - much more heavily processed than my own but tastefully done and highly individual and artistic as a result. Thanks for the link, Andy.