Totemic images

September 11, 2011

Icy pool

Crown Graphic, Xenar 135mm, Polaroid 55 4x5

Rock in ice

Crown Graphic, Symmar 210mm, Polaroid 55 4x5

I felt so drawn to this frozen eddy of the River Monnow at the turn of the year. I kept returning, looking and watching and finally made two exposures from my last remaining box of Polaroid 55. Several days later in the darkroom, the initial pull and excitement of the scene simply evaporated and I wondered over and over why I had found the place, the atmosphere and the composition so stimulating. This post-exposure disappointment, this disorientation, is very familiar to me. I have endless boxes of negatives which languish unprinted, or maybe printed once or twice. Few of the negatives are badly exposed, all are close to the what I visualised at the time of exposure. Why then, I have always puzzled, should there be such a gap between the excitement of the moment of creation (the discovery) - and the emotion and momentum which moves one to propel raw material into a finished work (the revelation)?

The experience of the few days spent on the Welsh border and the following periods of uncertainty and frustration in the darkroom, which at the time left me non-plussed, have today, quite unexpectedly, blossomed into understanding and rediscovery of that time. I have reviewed both prints several times during the last months and felt in equal measure excited and confused by them. Each time I thought how strange it was not to understand my own work. Perhaps by virtue of having looked and looked, I suddenly twigged: the excitement was from knowing, though dumbly at the time, that here was a scene totemic of life at that moment; the disappointment came from not being able to give voice to this knowing.

These two images suddenly snapped into focus for me when I understood the eerie correspondences between the last eighteen months of shifting, emotionally cracked and blurred experience and the fundamental uncertainty of the key elements of the photographs: an eddy in a river, frozen but thawing; a rock apparently floating on water; underwater cracks more tree-like than the trees reflected on the surface; a confusion of focus; a tangle of shapes which now seems to follow a definite composition, now appears just tangled without understandable form. In a moment, I undertook the imaginative leap from seeing the images as a mediocre confusion of tones and lines to regarding them as a striking totem of life. Whether they are reflective of what had passed or predictive of what was to come is impossible to say. What is indisputable, and thrilling, is the illumination they have given me and the sense of understanding I feel now that they are no longer shrouded in confusion. Life seems to be changing for the better.

Lensed photography Polaroid 55

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