Strange Radiance

March 23, 2017

On Monday 20th March I visited the Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham. I attended a presentation by Frans Lanting and then made my way through the crowds to the BIPP stand where Bryn Griffiths sat with me and reviewed my portfolio. I appreciated his attentiveness and the silences as he worked his way through the forty images I had brought with me on my laptop. We created a little zone of contemplation amidst the commercial bustle of the show. His comments were succinct, respectful and nicely correspondent with the unspoken questions I had brought about my work. I had the impression that my work was actively connecting us, reducing the need for words - an uplifting feeling.


As I wandered back into the main hall the contemplative zone collapsed and I felt oppressed by the bustling crowds. I tried to re-adjust and went looking for stalls that might sell the items on the short list I carried in my head, but I found it difficult to adjust: I felt the urge to escape and headed for the exit.  As I left the main hall I entered a large antechamber with ticket offices and spaces to gather and meet before and after the show. In complete contrast to the main hall it was occupied by people sitting alone or with one other. They sat leaning against the walls or camped on the floor, well separated from other pairs or individuals. Due I'm sure to the suddenness of the transition into this different space and my own recently acquired claustrophobia I felt as though I was entering a David Lynch film set, where perfectly normal things - people having a sandwich lunch or idly chatting - suddenly felt weird.



I was carrying a Leica Monochrome (Type 246) mounted with a 35mm Summilux and I raised it to my eye. The transformation of the scene into shades of grey reinforced the slightly alien scene in a way that felt soothing and pleasing. If this was 'alien' and 'weird' it was nevertheless what I needed! I took a shot of the dispersal of people around the floor and then noticed a couple in conversation. He looked particularly attentive, crouched down as though he had been interrupted in the act of leaving, or had just arrived. Above them an arrangement of photographs overlooked their engagement. I took a few steps forward, swung the Leica around into portrait mode, gave the couple the lower third of the frame, took a breath and pressed the shutter.


When I processed the pictures I had a moment of appreciation for the Leica's sensor. It has been stripped back by removal of the RGB layers. Nowadays taking digital monochrome usually involves further processing of the colour image, perhaps using software like Silver Effex Pro, but I'm drawn to the idea of monochrome being less. Well sometimes I am. I take a lot of colour and as shown in my previous blog I'm very invested in exploring colour as a route towards a kind of abstraction where the photograph stands for itself regardless of the representation of any particular thing. Every now and then, though, I feel full up with the profusion, the sheer abundance of things delivered by a colour image. At these moments I reach for the Monochrome's sensor. 


I fancy the monochrome sensor gives me a third eye. One that opens the world differently. Gives access to a different kind of luminosity where, for example, the coloured photographs on the wall of the antechamber show up as so many moons casting a grey somnambulant light on the couple reaching out to each other. In consequence I often feel something encroaching on the edge of my perception when I use this particular camera. A feeling of calm solemnity that invites a slower rhythm into my life. Such a feeling swelled up on the occasion of taking this picture. I felt myself leaving the hall more slowly as a result, wondering about my experience - what is this feeling of floating? Also contemplating my experiments with picture making. How might this experience in monochrome-land inform my interest in the image becoming an object in itself, only distantly related to what it represents, carrying its own distinctive radiance and rhythm? 

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