During each step of my recent book development workshop over the four days, I began to apply what we were discussing to a specific photographic series that I had made while in China. I have been grappling with this body of work for the past ten plus years. While providing a critique of the participants work, I was also quietly thinking about my own artwork as how to take my own advice. I have been struggling with this body of work for some time and it was time for another attempt to get past my internal road-blocks.
From time to time, this body of work engages my imagination and I start working on another book dummy, the last time was in 2020 about this same time of year after I had converting the images into a monochrome version. Although intriguing, the final results did not stick. I think the reason was due to me waffling on the underlying concept for the series and I don’t think I had really come to grips what this series represented to me. So while asking my workshop participants to explore and expand on the reason why they were interested in their potential book project, I was doing the same internal exercise. Dang that’s hard.
Since this series has been kicking around for so long, I had to try to forget all that I had written about it before and attempt to examine this idea with a clean slate. I think one of the issues that may have been tripping me up is the Photoshop edits I completed much earlier. I had attempted to use a traditional formula for urban landscapes, such as any horizontal line in a subject should look perfectly horizontal (correct?) in the final image. Which meant that while trying to get back to basics as to what I was experiencing, I was concurrently looking at a contact sheet of heavy edited images that kept steering me back to my earlier conclusion. See the same things, think similar thoughts. Maybe why I was not making any progress, eh?
Bingo! I recalled the discussion about one of the participants work as to their raw image and the edited version and how the edited version was too proper and all of the raw emotion had slipped away during the editing process. So while thinking about some of my angst when preparing for my trip to China, I stated to review the original RAW images from this series; do a fresh start.
Case in point; my edited version of the image above had been slightly cropped and rotated to make the foreground pole appear perfectly vertical and ‘corrected’ the horizontal lines as though I had stopped and used a tripod to make all of the proper framing decisions. In the process I had lost a visualization for the subtle underlying message that the pole was slightly off-kilter and so was I. The previous edit was ‘proper’ for a classic or modern urban landscape photograph, not a raw emotional representation. Now instead of a static image this photograph has been allowed to become something dynamic, a bit more mysterious and wild as well as a photograph that connects with my feelings at the moment. The world was not alright for me at the time.
Thus inspired, I am now reexamining all of the photographs from this series to ensure that my first edits had not inadvertantly taken the punch out of what I was investigating.
Featured artwork, above; Flow of Light Brush the Shadow (On the road to Hongqiao #5174 1-28-008) copyright 2008 Douglas Stockdale
Please keep telling us more about this project. I ‘hear’ what you are saying about going back to the RAW – your image certainly has emotion in it. I’m stuck on two long term photography projects, one conceptual and the other human documentary – time for me to get them out and look again – and perhaps even start again, but as you indicate, it’s hard to discard previous narrative.