Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot.
When you review the set to decide upon a ‘select’, don’t evaluate the shots just according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate it by what you discover within the frame (you’ve already done this in Exercise 1.4). In other words, be open to the unexpected. In conversation with the author, the photographer Alexia Clorinda expressed this idea in the following way:
Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your intention, but because it is there.
I examined the wording of this task perhaps too closely. I googled the definition of empathy as defined the Oxford English Dictionary. It states, ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’ (as in both authors have the skill to make you feel empathy with their heroines),’
The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this
The imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it.
I prefer the second definition as being more relevant from a photographic point of view. Whilst the exercise seems to be straight forward for most finding my subject took a little more thought and ‘the distance between us’ I have empathy with my bees, but practically photographing beekeeping just isn’t feasible. My pets, which include dogs and cats are usually spread around the home and beyond and with limited mobility this was impractical. I also have a bond with my animals and to some extent my bees so I ruled this out.
I asked myself what do I have empathy with around my home? What do I have a distance from? Since my retirement four years ago I am still surrounded by reminders of my past and my old careers with the RAF, Police Service and Prison Service. In fact, as I write the exercise I am looking at my old police whistle hanging around the desk lamp. In my hallway a certificate of service and memorabilia adorn the walls. I am proud to have served not just my country but the public and feel quite privileged to have done so. Life didn’t turn out the way I hoped, and I found myself quite isolated because of the MND.
The front of my home is surrounded by poppies at the moment, which fronts a very busy ‘A’ road. A road that has seen tragic accidents over the years including two fatalities in our own garden when a car lost control and the occupants were killed. I look at the road from my lounge but I am somehow detached from it yet I engage with it everyday.
This gave me the idea of how to approach this exercise.
The humble poppy was written in a poem by Major John McCrae.
‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
I have a huge connection to the poppy and all it represents. So, using a combination of viewpoints from both the front garden looking out to the road and from the road looking back towards my home I took a sequence of photographs. Some were timed and others unplanned and as it turned out the most fortunate accident happened.
I didn’t particularly worry about the traffic as it is such a busy road that I would spend all day and even then, not eliminate the traffic from the shot. So, I used this to my advantage to create a sense of movement that time does not stand still. I did not want a static look to the final images. In the wall of our home we have a red post box and this I felt had a connection to the poppy that they communicate so much to so many people. The passing red car was a bonus in one of the photographs.
My first set of shots I stood at the pathway leading to the front gate and framed the poppy quite low in the frame. I waited until traffic started to pass to encourage a breeze and make the poppy drift in the wind. The flower blurred as did the traffic behind. (Image 1 &2)
A bus passed and filled the frame. The shutter speed was fairly quick, and I tried to maintain the same perspective as the first few shots with the poppy in the lower left-hand corner. The lavender plants and the hard wall fill the first third of the frame and although the brown fence sits on the periphery of the left I don’t find it particularly distracting if anything it’s as if it represents soil. (Image 3) I feel that the quote, ‘Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your intention, but because it is there.’
My fortunate accident was that the bus has a poster with the words, ‘June 6 – LIFE FINDS A WAY’. Although slightly blurry its legible. The bus fills the second part of the frame within the framing and beyond is the impression of a landscape beyond.
D-Day is the June 6thand significant to the poppy remembering those who have fallen. The wording ‘Life finds a way’. The poppy always seems to find a way to grow no matter how poor the soil or how tough the conditions. Like myself I find a way in my life to succeed and overcome obstacles with my condition.
The poppy, grows, blooms and sets seed in a very short space of time and is very fragile. Life is fragile, and we grow into our lives before we die and pass away but we are never truly forgotten until the last person who remembers you has gone. The bus is on a journey and taking its passengers to a destination along a route.
I looked away from my garden gate towards the distance and as a passing car left the frame and took a few shots. When I reviewed them, I noticed how the two poppies echoed the rear red lights of the cars. (Image 4 & 5)
The intention of filling a frame with seed heads and pink poppies against the brown fence was to represent the soil. I realised that to give this more depth I had to cross the road and take a sequence of shots. I think this is the weakest image but tells part of the sequence and therefore I have included it. (Image 6)
This is quite scary for me as I don’t walk and the speed of the traffic was unnerving. Once I reached the other side I fitted a 24-85mm lens giving me the ability to take a wide angle or zoom shot. The balance of Image 7 was another fortunate accident as the red car entered the frame almost immediately. The eye is led from the left along the wall and the red poppies almost follow the contours of the car until they reach the pink petals of the tall poppies sandwiched between that the brown fence, green cabin and brown tiles. A patchwork quilt of landscape colours blending into the grey sky unlike the day before with the bright sunshine. The far right of the frame is the red post box in the brick wall. (Image 7)
A rare moment that there was not a single vehicle and I used the widest focal length to capture the entire frontage. When I really looked at the photograph I noticed the ‘2A’ on the telegraph pole. I have never taken notice of it until looking at the image. I must have driven past the pole countless times. (Image 8)
I walked back to the safety of the front garden and the formidable solid 9” reinforced wall. I wanted to place the poppy by including the road sign, however, I didn’t want to dominate the frame with sign rather it be out of focus. The poppy head sits waiting to emerge with a seed head developing and a bloom just off centre. The cap stone tells me that this is the border and leads into a public space. This is my space and I am defending it something which the poppy is associated with the Armed Forces and defending a country, a place and people. (Image 9)
The final shot demonstrates that I will grow anywhere no matter how inhospitable. The telephone wires lead in both directions, but I cannot help thinking that the horizontal feels like it represents the horizon and both sky and land merge into one. The vertical leads to heaven. (Image 10)
Image 3 – ‘June 6 – LIFE FINDS A WAY’
This photograph was taken in the decisive moment as I saw the bus fill the frame. At the time I didn’t know there was a poster was on the side. However, I feel that this photograph really encapsulates everything I feel about the humble poppy and my empathy with it. I am distant from the road that I view daily and the life that I had symbolic of the poppy. Life does go on in rather a blur continuing headlong into the unknown.