Pretty/Neutral

The Edge of Town series

Thinking Out Loud, Part One.

I live in Shoal Harbour Newfoundland which is a rural town so small it has been amalgamated with Clarenville. The combined population of both towns is about 5,000. There is a lot of development happening here lately. There is site preparation and active construction underway in at least seven sites around town. I have been making some images at these sites lately. These photographs portray a landscape in transition between wilderness and small town development.

Dark Hole Brook

I have become mostly neutral on the political issue of development. Any development has issues with environmental responsibility, loss of wildlife habitat and more. And there are also undeniable benefits such as job creation and economic development. In these times and in this province job creation and economic development are welcomed. Besides, I live in a house that was built on land developed from wilderness. Everybody does.

This is a work in progress. I’ve posted several images on photo sharing sites like Flickr. In part this was to get some reactions and feedback. Mostly it was to share my latest images with some photographers I’ve come to like online.  What few comments are posted usually react to these images as editorial or political statements.  Understandably, many people lament the fact that natural forest is subjected to machinery and change. It’s interesting to me that so few comments relate to these images as photographs and in photographic terms. Maybe I’ve failed.

My intent is to make landscape (some might say “landscrape” instead) images that work with traditional formal considerations like light, line, texture and forms. These are early days with this work and in some ways these images pick up on themes I’ve always explored with my camera.

The subject matter isn’t always pretty. But should it be? Should we strive to only portray the beautiful? And if the subject matter isn’t pretty, does the image always imply some flavour of condemnation? And perhaps more to the point, is it even possible to make images that are neutral?

River Valley Estates

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3 Responses to Pretty/Neutral

  1. Eric Fredine says:

    John,

    We seem to share similar sensibilities. Certainly I don’t believe we need to restrict ourselves to only photographing beautiful things and I think by at least trying to take a neutral position the viewer has more freedom to choose their own response. So, I see these photographs as ‘sophisticated observations’ rather than political commentary. They have a documentary dimension – I like that aspect of photography – but they also clearly have an artistic aspect in that they are very thoughtfully and engagingly composed and lit.

    Interestingly, I think pretty can cut both ways. I have quite a few photographs of the prairies that incorporate roads and various things. Some of them are prettier than others. But I’m mostly pretty neutral. I think they could as easily be interpreted as pleasing pastoral scenes of rural life or as a commentary on the completeness of the industrialization of the prairies.

    Cheers,
    Eric

    • John King says:

      Thanks Eric, I appreciate your thoughtful analysis. Yesterday I was re-reading Robert Adams’ short essay about Frank Gohlke’s photographs of Wichita Falls Texas after the tornado of 1979. Adams writes: “What the wire photos showed was wreckage, simple and absolute, whereas Gohlke’s pictures, although they too make clear the devastation, show order.” I think this is similar to your analysis and my intentions. Adams’ essay is in Aperture 86 (p.40) and is also included in his book of essays “Beauty in Photography”.

  2. JHaeske says:

    I don’t want really want to comment on the issues you raised here, but all the damage/buliding aside it’s a gorgeous landscape to live in and your excellent photos make it even more beautiful.

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