Urban poetry

January 18, 2017

 Two images in this post illustrate a continuing theme in the use of colour in urban landscapes. The first image was snatched through a shop window in 2011 in Gothenburg, Sweden. It was captured on an I Phone 5 - all I had to hand. My intention was to try and evoke a feeling as I looked out and saw the figure huddling under an umbrella as the rain poured down. The feeling was complex. Partly it was a kind of aesthetic pleasure as the scene unfolded. The pleasure transpired as excitement accompanied by a desire to hold the scene at this point with the person in the middle of the street and a distant tram clattering along the canal side in front of the colourful shop fronts. My own experience was more directly involved to contribute to my excitement though. I was in the dry, but close to the window, so I could hear the rain buffeting the pane of glass that interceded between me and the scene. I leaned back to give the I-Phone a little more room before the glass plane in the hope that it might give me what I was perceiving. I was surprised at how well it did so, given my lack of control over the image making system.


Five years later I was reminded of this picture when I was introduced to the photography of Saul Leiter who took many pictures of New York through interceding panes of glass. In fact he often doesn't so much see through the glass as photograph the rain and mist on the interceding glass medium, reducing the figures outside to background dabs of colour and misty outlines. He is supported in this by the capacities of his lense - focusing on the interplane he throws any thing in front or behind out of focus. It is the glass and its content that frequently pops forward with everything else falling into the background. His pictures remind us that so much of our urban life is experienced directly through sheets of glass, or as reflections back from glass. Often the glass works to create multiple dimensions - the reflected zone behind the camera or between the camera and the glass, the glass itself with its accretions of colour and weather and what is on the far side beyond the glass. The interactions between the dimensions add richness and depth and in his hands reveal a beauty that would otherwise be lost as the eye skilfully adjusts between levels and moves on, disentangling as it goes.




The old picture and the revelation of Leiter's search for urban beauty moved me to deliberately experiment with different planes of light in my own photographs. I was excited by the idea that the interplane might be a medium for perceiving the poetic in our urban existence. One result was to use a wide aperture to deliberately reduce the depth of field and to abstract reflections and content on the far side of the interplane. I began to notice other photographers conducting similar experiments and to try for my own effects. I also drew confidence by urging myself to notice continuity in my own development by seeing the similarity between my urban experiments and the photographs of nature, which had always relied on reflections (usually in water) as an aid to perceiving landscape differently. The second photograph is such an experiment. Squeezed into the front seat of a car with the rain driving onto the windscreen I focused my camera onto the windscreen opened the aperture to reduce the depth of the in focus material and arranged the blurred strands and lumps of colour that emerged. What intrigues me is a kind of naturally occurring abstraction - might we call it poetry through diffusion? I'm continuing to explore the question.




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