This series of photographs is the result of a very confused brief . The essence of that brief is that the portfolio should be based on the seasons. The brief was written in a contradictory way. It has worked out better for me because it has required me to examine and question what I mean personally by a seasonal portfolio, what is my personal response to the idea of a selection of landscape photographs that represent the seasons? I have set out to explore, to test this theme with the portfolio
When I think about the seasons the images that come to mind are what I imagine are quite typical. Initially I had considered seasons in terms of the changes seen in the landscape, the colour change for example; the leaves in spring and the unique green colour when they are young and full of vigour. In summer the green deepens and darkens, becomes fuller and as the summer passes they begin to droop in the late summer torpor until autumn brings the shorter evenings and the first morning chill see the green slowly change to yellow and red then brown. Winter arrives and the first atlantic storm has them dropping down to make a rich brown carpet that leaves the trees bare and naked. This of course in Ireland is a romantic and idealised idea of the changing seasons. Here spring frequently fools us, lulls us into a false sense of security with sunshine one day followed by hails, rain and snow all accompanied by gale force winds leaving us shivering and confused. In the Irish landscape it can be autumn one day and deep winter the next at times of year. You can be photographing the beautiful autumn gold or perhaps planning to go out tomorrow to capture it only to have winter arrive in the form of a huge wind from the atlantic that leaves the trees embarrassingly naked. Even in summer it can feel like winter. So depending on the idealised signs of winter can be difficult and to me they don’t represent the changing seasons.
I began to broaden my thinking on this and consider different aspects. Firstly on a more practical level, I went back through my images of Irish landscape photography taken around Ireland since 2012. I examined them chronologically, by date and chose images that I stood out to me for whatever reason into seasonal collections; Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter respectively. I didn’t worry too much whether they met, what I think of as the conventional signifiers of the seasons. As I did this I could see that some might have conventional seasonal signs like for instance daffodils but also they could have other conflicting signs. A good example is this image here:
This image for me is a more authentic representation of how I personally experience Spring here in this part of the west of Ireland. Look closely and you can see the yellow daffodils between the bare trees.
Maya Angelo said “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel”. The same is true of photography, people don’t look at an image and wonder what camera it was taken with or if it is composed on the rule of thirds etc. At least not at first, at first what hits them is “how does this make me feel?” The technical analysis comes later on.
So in some of the photographs I have included the more obvious seasonal signifiers like daffodils for spring but I have also included other signifiers such as the window. Shown from inside this could signify the weather, the cold and the rain, the claustrophobic feeling of being sick indoors on a rainy day and so on. This image then, is polysemous, it can mean many things to many different people. This, to me, makes it a richer image visually. When I dig deep and really examine what the seasons mean to me they mean lots of different things, I represent them to myself in pictures, words, thoughts, feelings, sounds, tastes and smells. So the possibilities are endless when it comes to making an image or a series of images about the seasons.
Another concept I have been exploring is around the meaning of the set of images. As I asked here and elsewhere, what does this selection mean to you? Who decides what the set means; Me (the author) or you the reader? The traditional idea or concept of the author of a piece of work is the person who not only creates and crafts the work but is also the sole arbiter of the works meaning. Again in traditional terms it is the readers duty to discover what the author’s meaning is. I have certainly found myself standing in a gallery trying to understand what an artist meant when they created a certain painting or photograph have you?
A discussion that came up recently on a forum I participate in was Roland Barthes essay The Death of The Author. In it Barthes proclaimed the death of the author and the birth and emancipation of the reader as the arbiter of meaning in a piece art or a text. From the many and varied responses I received it appears that he may have had a point.
No two viewers responded in the same way as an earlier blog post shows.
This concept of the death of the author not only emancipates the reader but also the author too. Barthes essay shows up a common misconception on the artists purpose in creating a work of art. It is often thought that the artists purpose in the creation is to establish a direct line of communication between the themselves and an audience.
While this may be the case in advertising or illustration it is not the situation in fine art. A fine artist will create a piece of work, show, share or exhibit it and the audience will understand it (in some way). If there is any coincidence between an idea, meaning or message that the maker/artist might invest in the work and the audience might discover then it is only coincidental. So not only are we free as an audience from deciphering the meaning that the author may have intended but also as the artist or photographer we are free from having to invest any meaning that might appear in the piece other than what might appear during the process. It is not that the work has no meaning, on the contrary the meaning exists as the result of the interaction between the work and the audience but also as Barthes points out the author is the first reader too….
So now I ask you once again what does this et of images mean to you personally? What comes up when you see them? What do they say to you? Leave me a comment please!