I am currently contemplating some project briefs. These are intended to give participants some structure if they choose to be creatively inspired by the experience of re-phtographing the locations. In writing these project briefs, I am forced to reflect upon my own experiences of being inspired by HMS Challenger. I had already started to use my Hybrid camera by the time I had re-photograph the locations, so I was therefore already involved with looking through an old eye with a modern brain. So what inspired me to do that? It was a dissatisfaction with a digital photograph. It was the ease in which a digital photograph can be taken. It was the shallow nature of its surface; its lack of physicality; its lack of paper support. To my mind, the digital photograph was truly a medium of the "floating world", where appropriation is common but often a consequence of naivete and saturation. For me, I could see images (millions of them) but I could not see authorship; or a journey.

 

I guess you could say that my intention was to "root" the digital photograph and visibly assign it a time and space. Popular Ukiyo-e prints of the Edo era in Japan would typically feature the name of the place which the image depicted, no matter how subjective the scene depicted. With 18th/19th century western painting, the tradition was instead to put the name of the place (more often than not, the title too) on the frame. However, with photographic surveys of the 19th century, location names were etched in the surface of the glass plate, as was the case with Challenger's Official Images. In a sense, such an act does root the scene. The difference, however, was that the Ukiyo-e prints seemed to celebrate the location, whereas the 19th century survey style of etching, merely seemed to categorize it.

 

Hybrid Camera: pegging down reality - in theory


 

Anyway, I am digressing. My intentions behind the Hybrid camera were to somehow root digital photographs, and not just through one decisive moment, but across a period of moments. If Henri Cartier Bresson's images were that one moment out of many possibilities that the meaning hinged to, then in the digital age, my Hybrid camera treated each individual frame taken as a separate tent peg hammered into the ground, which collectively try to keep the significance of the image from floating away. That is in truth, my problem with digital photography today. A single image is like a leaf on the ground in strong wind.

 

So, back to the project briefs. There are many possible starting points, one of which is the Challenger's photographic objective itself: "Photograph native races to one scale". But what does that mean? Looking at the images produced in response, it meant the same as any photographic survey: document rivers, religious buildings, significant trees, docks, the odd profile of native people, castles, vegetation, mountain views and waterfalls. What significance were these images to Victorian Britain? They were foreign equivalents of significant things being catalogued there. They were also things that were likely to change as modernization took hold. It was believed that history, and culture with it, was being eradicated

 

With that in mind, extending the Challenger's objective would simply mean photographing things of significance that may be lost, or changed, in the future. Is that really so challenging? It certainly doesn't leave much for creativity, or does it? Yet it still represents a starting point.

 

Another point of interest for me in these locations is the local point of view. My views of Japan were as a foreigner. Would participants' views be any different?

 

All projects need parameters, and these small briefs are no different. There should also be an intended output in addition to a learning outcome (or perhaps that is the teacher in me). What also needs to be involved are technical challenges; a shift in how the camera is used or perceived. It might well be important here to draw upon Flusser's 4 suggestions for playing against the camera. Perhaps I should strongly base the briefs around these:

 

First, one can outwit the camera's rigidity. Second, one can smuggle human intentions into its program that are not predicted by it. Third, one can force the camera to create the unpredictable, the improbable, the informative. Fourth, one can show contempt for the camera and its creations and turn one's interest away from the thing in general in order to concentrate on information. In short: Freedom is the strategy of making chance and necessity subordinate to human intention. Freedom is playing against the camera. (Flusser, 2000: p80)

 

Ultimately, the reason that I brought together an antique lens with a digital camera was that it wasn't part of the programme.

 

That said, it wouldn't be fair to set project briefs that just dealt with Flusser's thoughts, without more support. Wider visual literacy is something that I have repeatedly said that I wish to aid, and projects that addressed that would be of more use to participants – at least for the moment, i should think.

 

The familiar/unfamiliar angle is probably the best thing to work with at the moment. I will write more and post the briefs soon.

 

Incidentally, I think it might be good practice for me to also do these project briefs, if they are met with enthusiasm of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comment by Kathy Ponce on December 20, 2010 at 9:14am

Definitely interesting.  It's like the camera is the brain and the lens are the eyes.  It works metaphorically such that sometimes what you're eyes can literally see or observe cannot be easily processed into introspection.  Thus causing some kind of creative block.  As is the case with my writing. :)

Comment by GaryMcLeod on December 20, 2010 at 8:17am

Yeah, lenses designed for film cameras usually increase 1.5 times. If the digital camera has a full frame 35mm CMOS sensor inside, then the lens would remain as a 55mm. But as you are using a D40 with a sensor smaller than 35mm, the lens is probably more like 80mm. The reality is that it works in the same way that my old lens and camera does. The lens sees more than the camera can understand. Interesting, no?

 

You can get lenses designed for digital SLRs, but eventually all SLRs will have full frame sensors, so there wouldn't be a need.

Comment by Kathy Ponce on December 20, 2010 at 7:54am

Really??  Wow.  I didn't know that.  So how many mm is it when I attach it to my camera?  It also came with something that my uncle called a magnifier.  When I attached it I can take closer shots.  But I haven't really fully understood how it's used.

 

Comment by GaryMcLeod on December 20, 2010 at 1:47am

You're the first person to ever make that point! So I should clarify. In my case the lens is one of a Victorian way of seeing (it was made in London) whereas the rest of the camera is obviously of Japanese design. "Hybrid" can be a combination of anything, but some might argue that it is a combination of contrasting structures, contrasting paradigms. HMS Challenger was a hybrid ship in that it had Sails and a steam engine.

 

Certainly using old lenses is something everyone should do more often. Did you know that using the 55mm lens you are using isn't 55mm when attached to your camera?

Comment by Kathy Ponce on December 19, 2010 at 11:17pm

I have been thinking about what you mean by hybrid camera and just understood it now in this post. Funny.  My camera is actually a "hybrid" as well given your definition then.  I'm using a Nikkon Micro 55mm. 35 years old.  'twas my uncle's.  I'm using it with a Nikon D40.

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