Not a review of the year…

Of all the constructions we create in the world, I sometimes think that time is the ultimate construction. Such breaks as exist are created by us, whether this be 1/125 of a second, or the end and beginning of a year. These segments are imbued with meaning only if we give them meaning, and in that context I grow very weary of reviews of the year (the only one I’ve read that is really worth reading is this one, by Deborah Parkin). So that’s not what this short posting is.

Scarista Bay

Scarista Bay

Instead, I want to show briefly where I am: this photograph from the Isle of Harris describes my photographic mood at the moment: a wide, apparently empty desert, with minor undulations and seemingly no points of interest (Michael Jackson clearly shows us that no beach is really empty). The mountains in the distance, to which I am more naturally drawn, seem a long way off, but I think I am perhaps also beginning to see much more in the emptiness of the sands and find new ways of expressing myself in such contexts. The move towards large-format photography is, for me, a part of that, and something that I look forward to developing in the coming months.


Vee, crossing a dark field

At times this is simply about not being alone. In recent months especially, I have felt as if I am walking in the dark with little light, and no idea where I’m going, resulting in much frustration. Often that is quite ok, but at times it can also be rather depressing. But I want to acknowledge all the people who have played a role in keeping me going by engaging in conversation and argument, thereby enabling me to keep going even if there’s not a lot of light. It seems invidious to name people, but… Rob, Lucy, James, Alastair (x2!), Deborah, Alex, Matt, Antonio, Mark, Mabel, Duncan, Mike, Marc, Tom and many more – thank you for the inspiration and motivation to continue exploring different aspects of creativity. A lengthy Twitter conversation with some of these lovely people last night reminded me of how much I value the kind of discussion that enables thinking to be clarified – even if I’m walking in the dark!

In that sense then, happy new year to all…


9 thoughts on “Not a review of the year…

  1. Deborah Parkin

    Wonderfully thoughtful post Michael and thank you for the mention. I think we all feel that darkness & although I have had a good year, the low has been lower than ever before. I too don’t really like a ‘year in review’ type blogs but I wanted to show myself the positive side of photography and the people in my life. I have been feeling so overwhelmed in the last couple of months as I had to get work to galleries etc – I was feeling like a fraud. I wanted to show myself that I actually worked quite hard – that I pushed myself to learn new things – like you are with the Large Format photography – it’s good to push the boundaries and it’s good to make mistakes, even lots of them. The fact that you question what you do, why you do it, I feel shows how passionate your are about your art & creativity – and that can only be a good thing. I wish you all the best for 2013 – hope it’s all you want it to be and look forward to following your journey. Hopefully we shall get to meet some time in 2013 too.

    1. Michael Marten Post author

      Thank you for your response, Deborah. Perhaps these feelings of highs and lows are what we need to maintain a creative ‘edge’. Maybe your positive posting was what you needed – amongst other things, I’m sure – to remind you of the highs when feeling low. And, of course, all this looks different to outsiders: in my view, your work is so profoundly authentic and personal, that the word ‘fraud’ doesn’t even enter my head when I think of what you’re doing!

      I do also think that articulating these feelings of doubt and darkness can help to stimulate ways out of the desert areas. Even this posting of mine (coupled with the Twitter conversation I mentioned and a few other conversations recently) is part of the process of finding new directions, new inspirations.

      And I also very much hope to meet you this year, and I look forward to more of your work! All the best for the new year to you and your family.

  2. Rob Hudson

    Hi Michael,

    Good! It’s about bloody time you suffered some creative self doubt, like the rest of us long suffering souls!

    Okay I’m joking a little, and no doubt you’ve suffered plenty of it along the way, but as Deb says it demonstrates your creative passion, more than that though it (maybe with some irony given your time constraints) demonstrates your commitment.

    I don’t know if a single worthwhile artist that hasn’t/doesn’t go through this. It is actually an essential part of the creative process, for doubt is often the driver and spur to something new or more importantly something which is deeply meaningful and important to ourselves. For that’s what it’s about and I suspect you know that already.

    So the equation is, on the surface at least, simple – to find a way of expressing what you want to in a way you find satisfying. If you think the answers are to be found easily then you’ll be a lucky guy! But is only through the questioning and the understanding of ourselves that the answers will become apparent. That is the only journey in art that’s rewarding, possibly less so than the work itself.

    Okay – I know what you’re thinking that’s all fine and dandy and seemingly there are two very stubborn questions there – ’what?’ and ’how?’. So how to I go about resolving them?

    The first thing I do is go for a walk, or several walks without the camera. For me taking a camera with me everywhere is the artistic equivalent not even of masturbation, but a little fumble in my pocket! (I await condemnation as a heteronormative monster for my deployment of metaphor!). Not only is it distracting from the main event it is unsatisfying and teaches the bad habit of being reactive when in fact as artists we need to engage ourselves with the subject on a much deeper level that reveals something about our interaction. Just going for walks allows me to refresh my memory of why I love and feel connected to the landscape. More importantly it feeds my mind with experiences on which it can ruminate at leisure. It also allows me to discover a place or places that I find stimulating and feel I have an emotional connection towards. It would help if this is nearby as regular access is going to be important. But also leaping about like the clichéd American tourist is again reactive and is the artistic equivalent of not even masturbation & etc! There is so much that can be found even in a relatively small area. In my Skirrid Hill project I spent a year hardly venturing beyond that hill – an area of less than two square miles – unless the poems specifically called for it and even then only once was that more than an additional mile. The landscape is hugely complex and infinitely varied.

    The final part of the ’what?’ equation is to allow yourself time and space in which to play and experiment without any pressure. I’m sorry if that’s difficult in your current circumstances, but for those of us who aren’t full time artists it is always one of the most insurmountable problems. My answer is to take the time I can, when I can, and not to put pressure on myself to produce new work regularly. On top of that I find it extremely worthwhile to immerse myself in inspiring art – whether visual, musical or written (I know more time/work but at least this is enjoyable and can be done in an armchair). It reminds me how those I admire have approached their work and reminds me of the need for a less direct and more metaphorical approach. I rarely, incidentally, look to the work of other photographers to find inspiration. At best I find other people’s solutions there, but mostly I find it wanting in depth and personality. That’s not to say there are no photographers I can look at, but it is a pretty small list you probably know some you feel this way about yourself?

    So what about the other half of that equation – ’how?’. There’s no simple answer to that and nobody, but nobody can tell you or should tell you how to resolve it. This is because it needs to be a purely personal response to be satisfying. You may already have an inking from answering the previous question and hopefully playing will give you some insights. But there are no rules, just the artist pitting him or herself against the subject or metaphor.

    Of course the two answers are related – one may inform the other. Knowing what you want to photograph may suggest ways of communicating that to yourself and viewers. But again this is a question all artists face (and I’d be worried if they claim otherwise!) how do we communicate what? Well it’s a question that can only be resolved through the application of thinking – something you should be well practiced at! There’s a whole host of tools available to us in photography to communicate – whether they are the obvious like the selection of a camera or the lens to the more indefinable tools like composition or exposure colour or black and white. Use them, they are your tool box and disregard all the rules unless they fit with what you want to do. Make your own rules.

    The final part of my reply is simple yet two fold. Firstly work in projects, because you won’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you pick up the camera. Projects can, however, be simply developmental, a way to see forward. Secondly you should undertake these questions in a spirit of joy in the journey, because there are no solutions, no ready made answers, this is truly adult thinking – that is where the fun lies – it’s a lifelong pursuit, it is a journey. It is art itself. The life of art and the art of life.

    1. Michael Marten Post author

      Thank you for your thoughts, Rob. Your comment is about 3 times longer than my original posting… I hope you haven’t been infected by my tendency to verbosity! 🙂

      Yes, I think creative self doubt is an essential part of the territory, and there are many times when I feel as if I spend more time in a state of self-doubt than in a creative state! On all kinds of levels of life, I value doubt: it is essential to a critical engagement with life, and so I don’t mean to disparage it or pretend it is not important, and I certainly don’t think it makes anything very easy. However, that doesn’t mean that occasional little moans about how difficult it makes things are not in order!

      As I said to Deborah (see above), sometimes we need to find ways to get out of the self-doubt stage to a more active creative state, and you have similarly offered valuable pointers to that. Perhaps your comment about me taking a camera with me wherever I go stems from our Twitter conversation on 30.12.12 and my comments here – this is certainly something that I have been reflecting on a great deal in these last few days following your and Lucy’s Twitter comments. I’m not completely convinced by your masturbatory metaphors (you’d have been disappointed had that been the case, I’m sure!), but the point that you elaborate on in more detail here than was possible on Twitter is convincingly put. I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself as ‘leaping about like the clichéd American tourist’, but I do appreciate what you are driving at here (it’s interesting for me to reflect on how I ‘do’ tourism in this regard: I long ago lost any interest in seeking to photograph landmarks, for example – I’d rather just buy a postcard). Although I have for years thought I could do both – i.e. be reactive, as well as thinking and planning and being proactive – I am beginning to think that is perhaps somewhat unrealistic, and I can feel myself being swayed… another edit of that page is perhaps on the way.

      Regarding places: I do have one particular place that I know well and that fascinates me, but I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to exploring that in detail just now. There are several project ideas that are bubbling away inside, and one in particular that picks up on a structural theme but not a specific location, is perhaps coming to the fore. I need to let it gestate for a little longer before I commit anything about it in writing, but as I was driving in silence along the motorway today I realised that it is also a project that necessitates the use of movements – and oh, I just happen to have started on large-format photography and a camera that incorporates movements! I do not think these things are coincidences, but rather a direct connection to what you describe as the use of the right tools. And you are also right in arguing that engagement in other areas feeds into this process. What is important, I think, is not to see such engagement (in other art, music etc.) as utilitarian, which is a tendency I observe in some contexts – ‘I look at other art in order to help my own’ – but rather as part of the wider richness of life and the engagement with all that we are offered and receive each day when we awake (some would describe this in specifically Christian terms, that I would be open to, but I don’t think that is necessary for it to be true). And that is indeed part of the joy of the journey.

      I’m glad to be on the journey, and sharing some of the joy of it, and not just the moans, with folk like you! Thanks, and happy new year…

  3. Lucy Telford

    Hey Michael,

    I deliberately just read your post and then looked at links AND then read other comments. I only want to comment on your post.

    It seems to me that you are on your way. Where that way will take you no one knows, least of all yourself probably. But that’s ok. That’s how it is and how it should be – in my humble opinion.

    I think it’s very telling that you say that what you are naturally drawn to (the mountains in the distance) are what you deliberately ignore. Here is a maturity of vision (apolgies if this sounds patronising, I don’t know how old you are and always assume everyone is younger than I! – it wasn’t meant so).

    I think one of the things you have in common with Deb is the acknowledgement that none of us is alone. We cannot exist in a vacuum. We all need and depend on a certain amount of feedback/support/encouragement/critique.

    All I can say for 2013 is – carry on! More of the same!! Do your thing.

    All the VERY best for you & yours for the coming year, und eines glückliches neues Jahr!

    1. Michael Marten Post author

      Hi Lucy,

      I’ve been meaning to reply for a couple of days, but realise that I mostly just want to acknowledge what you have written, and thank you for your response, not least in putting Deborah and me in the same sentence – I’d never dare to do that with someone I admire so much! 😉

      I’m looking at a new idea that is emerging that builds on relationships to land and people. And yes, relationships are key to all these things, I think, including how I see my photographic ‘home’. I hope to develop some of that a little in the next few days.

      Und: Dir und Deine Lieben auch alles Gute für 2013!

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