Monday, June 13, 2011

Getting Started

The first task was to read through the course folder and get a sense of what I need to do during the next 12 months or so.  I have read the first section in detail up to the Assignment brief and then skim read the rest.  What first strikes me is that there is a strong embedded emphasis on Landscape as countryside and in particular the British countryside. Many times the refers to the serendipity of British weather and the subsequent challenge of finding conditions appropriate for some of the Projects.  Another recurrent theme is soft light and muted colours. Taken together I sense that the course targets the grand views of the English Lakes or Constable style rural scenes, whether true or not.  At one point there is even the suggestion to use long weekends or vacations as many subjects may be far from where the student lives.

Whilst I understand this stance, I must state that I also reject it for both practical and artistic reasons.  First of all I live in Munich, a large city, in the South of Germany.  Secondly my holidays are spent in the tropics and mostly underwater.  Finally I admire the pastoral and picturesque, but am genuinely not interested in the creation of such images, other than possibly as learning exercises.  I have access to the Bavarian Alps, with local mountains reaching over 10,000 feet, however, this is one of the most cliched and over photographed regions in the world. How many more "Sound of Music" chocolate box photographs does the world really need?  My personal interests lie in the topography of the city and its surroundings, how does the urban world interact with the natural one, how do people use this landscape?  I appreciate that I need to be careful to ensure that my work remains Landscape and does not stray into Social Documentary, the next course I plan.  Frankly I feel there is likely to be a an overlap between Landscape and Social Documentary, the question is how much.

To resolve this issue I am going to need to develop some working definitions of what Landscape is for me and develop those during the course.  Currently I consider that Landscape is the study of the spacial relationship of  objects within the frame, not the emotional or spiritual relationship that might be resolved in Social Documentary.  Within this context, country, city, mountains, all are landscape and could be included within this study I am embarking on.

My goal is to focus on accessible landscape!  I have a number of reasons for this:

  1. If a place is close to me I can visit it more often and develop a relationship with the location.  This familiarity will inform my photography and enable me to probe deeper into the subject.  A place visited once can only really be treated superficially.
  2. Time traveling is time wasted. A place requiring significant travel is going to limit my access, not only the time spent on location will be diminished, but I will also lose the ability to look out the window and react spontaneously to weather opportunities.
  3. My preferred mode of transport is walking or cycling, this might sound trite, but I would like to reduce my carbon footprint a little.  I do wonder how much global warming is caused by people driving to experience the natural wonders of the countryside.
  4. Finally, my current interest is in urbanization or at least the edge of the city, a vast wealth of subject is within 10km of where I live, 30 minutes or so on my bike.
Finally the city is often as green or more so than the countryside.  Munich has more variety in plant life than much of the cultivated space nearby, large farmed areas become monocultures of drab corn, cities can be alive with gardens and trees.  Last night I took my pocket camera for a walk around the neighbourhood.  I have been thinking about perspective recently, underwater perspective was a major part of my recent submission for DPP:

Within the city perspective is created by the buildings and roads, creating strong vanishing point compositions.  The following photographs were taken with a small NX100 Samsung APS-C based mirrorless system camera with a 20mm lens (30mm FF equivalent).  So quite a widish angle lens creating strong near field perspective:

Are these Landscape shots, I would argue yes!  As I mentioned earlier the city has a wide variety of green space, including close to me an area of allotments, although in Germany, these look more like ornamental gardens with small bungalow on them.  The garden sheds here have TV's, small kitchens, even bathrooms, although it is strictly illegal to spend the night in them.

I am particularly interested in the juxtaposition of the park with the city sky line behind it. This is an area that might reward deeper study.  Just behind the allotments is a small but very attractive park, currently verdent with early summer growth:

I find myself increasingly looking into the landscape with the absence of the sky, although this creates a crowded almost claustrophobic look to the images.

A key feature of the park (all parks) is the network of pathways that lead through the space, I shot several frames looking at the forms and shapes of these paths, how they led into the landscape and how they contour the land.  I have cropped these shots to squares and formatted as a contact sheet to accentuate the forms

As I headed home, I passed the path leading into the gardens, a space dominated by three shapes, the closest are the escape stairways from the Munich ring road down beneath our feet, the other a mobile phone mast.  These masts are everywhere and a possible subject for study, the intrusion of technology into landscape.

My walk took place between 8 and 9pm, with a cloudy sky, so no real structure to include from the sky, until we turned for home and headed west into the setting sun.  The following two images are taken from a small park fringed by trees:

The trees are not terribly sharp, camera was not happy focusing so I reverted to manual and got it wrong, however, the sky is a powerful colour.  I also composed two images, encouraged by Project 2 to start thinking about frame orientation, although by problem is usually placing the camera on the horizontal, not the other way around.  These two images veer in the direction of the conventional, but also demonstrate the potential that a city has to present many faces.

Before finishing this introductory discourse, here are my "New Course resolutions", recently posted to the OCA flickr group:
  1. Slow down and think a little more
  2. Blog more of my thoughts anf views on the art of Landscape, I have been too technical recently (well DPP kind of asks for that)
  3. Spend a lot more time looking at other photographers and commenting on the them in said blog (thanks to everyone who provided ideas for stuff to look at)
  4. Try not to obsess about technology, starting a new course does not require buying a new lens (this will be hard). But seriously, think more about the image not the glass. I did buy a new printer, but that was not by choice, grrrrrr
  5. Fix my bike, I want to be a green landscape photographer, will also be good exercise and get rid of some middle aged spread.
  6. Remember that this is supposed to be fun
  7. Try and get across to one OCA student meet up, Munich is not that far away
  8. Finally, participate more in forums, this is a great way to bounce ideas and diminish the loneliness of remote learning.


  1. hi shaun, looking back - what do you think of the oca program? i am curious if I should try something like this, too?? rolf.heimes(at)gmail....

    1. Hi Rolf. It is a very personal choice and constitutes a major investment in time. Prior to this course I worked 2 years on the level 1 modules and still have 3 years to go to complete the degree. This takes up most of my free time. But it is very worthwhile, I have learned a great deal about photography and myself. It is one of the few ways to study for a BA in Art without full time commitment.

      One thing to bear in mind when thinking about studying with the OCA is that this is an art course first, photography second. The goal is to make photographic art, not to learn technique or process. If that is your goal and you want to commit to the time needed, it is a fabulous learning experience.