Photography: Looking to its origins and use of experimental techniques



Since extending my practise into the realms of photography I have found its history a compelling one. From its origins in the 19th century when the first image was captured permanently on film to the rapid innovation where we find it in everyday 21st century items. So in the last 200 hundred years it has grown from a small black box to a high-tech versatile scientific art form!

The way you can deconstruct, then reconstruct an image, extending the definition of what we call an image. Some of the techniques I have found at two recent exhibitions show how we have always pushed the boundaries of what conventional photography is.

So lets take notes! Well I did actually when I visited 'The View From Here' an exhibition of landscape photography from the Scottish National Galleries collection earlier this year in Edinburgh. Showcasing images from the 1840s of different places around the word including the Pyramids in Egypt to the Niagra Falls. When steam train travel made it possible to cross the continents photographers were able to record nature for the first time. It wasn't until the late 19th century that it became available to the masses and landscape always continued to be a popular subject.

By the mid 1950s a more direct approach was taken by photographers such as Paul Strand, an American photographer who went to the Outer Hebrides to document the location when it was given designation as a nuclear missile site. It was his concerns about the negative impact on the modern world that made him determined to photograph the site to show the world what was happening there.

However technological developments also allowed photographers to use chemicals and processing to alter the representation of the landscape. What had actually been an authentic view of nature could also be the subject of fantasy. We see this all the time now through digital post-production processes in contemporary photography.

Different techniques have been abound in photography ever since its existence. Large scale prints, known as mammoth plate photographs, captured the grandeur and awe-inspiring effect of the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids. The largest camera format available at the time, Francis Frith knew he needed the massive glass negatives to record to such a magnificent location. In 2008, Sze Tsung Leong's sequence of photographs created an infinite and interchangeable landscape all linking to the next by the horizon line.

Patricia and Angus MacDonald's aerial photographs of the Tyne Estuary and melting ice of Loch Moraig made the images appear abstract and consequently help to reveal the human impact on the landscape.

Moving onto Kendal-based exhibition by local photographer Colin Reynolds 'The Outlying Fells - An Alternative View'. Last month this small selection of imagery focused on the exciting darkroom processes that can be used to magnify special aspects of the landscape whilst drawing attention to particular elements or compositional attributes according to the chosen chemical process Reynolds decided to make. These ranged from litho print to cyanotype.

It is this variety combined with the challenging nature of photography which makes the medium such an exciting art form. The landscape surrounds us all the time so the depth of subject is limitless. Obviously when combined with digital processes it is infinite. Its possible to redefine the world through the beauty of experimental photography.


National Gallery, Edinburgh













Colin Reynolds








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