Tuesday 8 November 2011

"What's in a name ?"

Please visit our website at www.bowater.fr to see more of our work. Most of our images are available for sale as prints/fine art prints, some as limited editions.

Jas Neuf on the Vercors Plateau

We started to take photography seriously (as amateurs) in the early 70s because of something in our lives that we very much wanted to record and, naturally, we wanted to produce something memorable.  At that time, we were living in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea amongst neolithic people.  The visual record then was slight to non-existant and we had the time and the chance to capture this lifestyle as it was just about to change.  We loved the wild landscape and found the people attractive, intelligent, intensely theatrical and engaging and photography was the obvious medium.  

In PNG it was the subject that interested us and the photography that allowed us to capture what we wanted to record and, for us, that remains the case.  Photography, in itself, is interesting enough but, without absorbing subjects, it's just another job, another technique.  In order to earn a living our photography became much more technical over the years and decades and we passed through studio photography, shooting hundreds of bottles of booze with 10x8 Sinars and huge Bron flash power.  We were bored.  We were good at it and we made good money but that wasn't really the point of becoming photographers.  Photography had become more important than the subject as the subjects no longer pleased us.

We moved into photographing huge projects in the North Sea for oil and construction companies and then spent the best part of 20 years going our separate ways all over the world shooting projects for construction, industrial and agricultural clients.  Some of the projects were fascinating and satisfying and many were tedious and unrewarding.  Most of the satisfaction we gained from this work was from the travel to new places.  We remain pleased with the results of those assignments, largely because we sought the highest standards and feel that, generally, we were successful.  There are some photographs that we are very proud of but very few that we would want to hang on the wall and very few that we even now include in a portfolio.

We reckoned, as we approached 60 a while ago, that the time had come to return to our roots and photograph only those subjects that please us.  That's what we do best.  Subjects that we're happy with always make the best pictures and, while the technology basic to the digital revolution fails to excite us, the infinite scope for imagination and creativity makes it worthwhile to struggle with the wherewithal to get there.

There is a puritanical line of thinking necessary in the case of reportage which insists on absolute veracity and insists that what the camera records is the truth that should be passed on.  We've never wanted to be so limited which is probably why we have generally avoided such subjects, but then we have not altered our Papua New Guinea material but have restored it.  How far this restoration goes is debatable but we have looked at many modern images of Papua New Guinea and find it difficult to understand why anyone should photograph tribal dancing, albeit put on for tourists, and leave a steel razor-wire capped fence in the background.  Where does reality begin and end?  

Thanks to digital technology and the freedom that it has given us, we've been able to get away from purely photographic techniques or struggles in the darkroom that generally achieved very little.  The camera always lies as film and lenses were always incapable of recording reality.  Exposure variations between sky and foreground are one of the simplest examples.  Colour film has never been the 'right' colour.  And on-lens filters were always a blunt instrument.  A good photographer with creative cropping, intelligent choice of focal length, speed and aperture could always make the camera lie.  We well remember the realisation that many of the images published by charities, or sometimes the press, were of pleasant scenes and happy children degraded to the point of piteousness by the use of Grade 5 paper.  

Now we're doing what we like and loving it.  We are striving to reproduce what pleases us and, if possible, just the atmosphere of what pleases us.  Is this photography?  We don't know.  And quite frankly this does not greatly concern us.  We are seeking prints which we would like to display on our walls in the long-term.  Pictures that will always please and, we hope, will please other people too.  Some of our work now depends as much on digital manipulation as on photography but we hope that it records what we have seen and been impressed by just as well or, generally, very much better than a straightforward photographic reproduction.


Above is one of our first minimalist workings of a beech forest in the snow on the Col de Vizzavona in Corsica.  Wonderful countryside full of atmosphere and the original was a nice enough photograph but we've now had a 70cm x 70cm print of this on the wall for a couple of years and it grows on us in a way that the original image would not have done.  Of course we continue to work in a more conventional and, where appropriate, make very few changes.  But then, when we wish to, we manipulate the original until we are satisfied, often in several versions.

Above, another of our earlier workings, itself a development from another completely different working of the same original.  It's nothing like the original and whether it's still a photograph or not is arguable and, from our point of view, of no great consequence.

We walked to one of our favourite viewpoints on the Vercors Plateau and the clouds came down and obscured almost everything.  We liked what we saw and made a relatively straightforward version of the image above.  But somehow it lacked something and we recently re-worked it and much prefer the result above, but don't know how to describe the technique.  Photography, Print Making, Digital Art ?

In May we spent ten superb days in Venice and loved every minute of it.  We shot a lot and even now haven't done enough work on those originals.  Let's face it, there is a problem.  Venice is still wonderfully preserved, if a little frayed round the edges.  The scenes that we have all been brought up with and which artists painted centuries ago are largely still there.  But, the romance of Venice is not enhanced by hoardes of motorboats, vaporetti and crowds of tourists dressed in the tedious uniforms that we all wear nowadays.  Few cloaks and turbans, no doublet and hose  -  what a boring lot we've become.  To remind ourselves of the Venice that we wanted to see and that, frankly, we found in the atmosphere of the place, we have gone to some extremes in terms of digital manipulation.  We like the results which will sit far more happily on the wall than the noisy, mechanical bustle, now the reality.  But then there are mercifully no cars in Venice.

No comments:

Post a Comment