Making “Dream of flight”

May 26, 2008

I have had several requests in the pinhole photography forum to elaborate on the thought processes behind the creation of this series of photographs and also to show the setups used. Fortunately, along the way I have catalogued my methods photographically and so have some photographs to show the mechanics behind some of the images. There is nothing particularly complex about any of them.

The starting point for the series came about from poems and articles in Resurgence magazine and a book of poetry I bought based on a review in one of the issues “Into The Further Reaches” published by PS Avalon. This anthology contains many dozens of thought-provoking and inspiring contemporary poems celebrating the spiritual journey. One poem in particular by Claudine Whiting Bloomfield called “The Songbirds” led me over the course of several months to consider the parallels of flight and the quest for spiritual meaning and enlightenment. My reading of her work is that we hold ourselves back from true spiritual fulfillment with our attachment to the joys and sensuous delights of the physical plane, or as she describes it “here/ where the symphony is playing”.

My aim was to explore this parallel visually and show what I see as this ambiguity in our human outlook which pulls in two directions, both equally attractive. The use of pinhole with its characteristic unsharpness and tonal unpredictability helps I hope in gracing the work with a sensuous material presence to contrast with the ethereal spiritual impulse. The choice of background material (used horticultural fleece) also gives an almost tangible texture through the pinhole. The long exposures used – between 5 minutes and one hour – allowed the items within each set to be moved, removed and substituted to create different levels of transparency. Much experimentation was needed as the opacity of a displaced object would vary according to its tonal value relative to the background used and any other elements with which it might overlap.

I have used a number of symbols throughout the series; the egg is fairly obvious as a starting point or origin; the bird equally so; the candle should be taken as a symbol of the creator or the destination of the spiritually enlightened; Icarus as a symbol is intended not to be a literal comparison but rather a metaphor for the desire to escape and the ultimate failure which comes about when the physical exhilaration of flight overtakes the purpose of our being airborne; the fleece, as well as providing a tonal quality, was intended as an echo of a shroud or perhaps a white robe.

The physical setups of some of the images can be seen below. Beyond a few natural materials gathered mainly from the garden over the last few months and common workshop tools like woodworker’s clips there is little that many photographers would not possess. For me one of the joys of this whole process has been the production of often surprising results with very basic and common items.

Dream of flight – release

Release setup 1

Release setup 2

Release setup 3

Dream of flight – the breakthrough

The breakthrough setup

Dream of flight – soaring

Soaring setup

Dream of flight – clipped

Clipped setup

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