Choose two images to compare and contrast in a short piece of writing.
Briony Campbell – The Dad Project
The foreground of this simple untitled image shows the leaves of a white lily plant against a heavily vignetted white background. The depth of field is very shallow, with only a small area to the right of the image (just) in focus.
The heavy vignetting, which almost seems to create a tunnel of light drawing the viewer into the image, together with the short depth of field, creates a sense of implied movement. And yet, despite this implied movement, and the energy therefore also implied, the soft focus and use of negative space give the image a sense of tenderness, stillness and peace.
The photograph by Bryony Campbell is part of the series called the dad project, which documents the death of her father from cancer. Campbell uses this image within the series to connote the moment of her father’s death. In the forward to the series, Bryony Campbell says, ‘This is a story of an ending without an ending’.
Ian Cocks – ‘Laura’
This photograph titled ‘Laura’ shows a field of grass separated from the sky at 3/8s from the base of the image by a wire fence. The foggy conditions obscure the background and caused water droplets to accumulate on the wire. The depth of field is narrow, with the grass rapidly fading from focus (just) to fully blurred. The wire and water droplets themselves are in focus.
The photograph is vignetted and creates a light tunnel drawing the viewer into the frame. To me, this vignetting and the narrow depth of field create a sense of movement through the frame.
However, in this image, the wire has an arresting effect on the viewer. We can’t travel uninterrupted through the image, which to me, has a disquieting effect. There is no tenderness, stillness or peace in this image.
This photograph was taken the morning after I audibly witnessed Laura commit suicide.
My interest seems to lie in the elliptical metaphorical representation of emotional or spiritual matters. The depiction of death fascinates me – so I was interested in properly analysing these two photographs.
Both represent death (although ‘Laura’ is perhaps more of a depiction of her life) but in quite different circumstances. Campbell’s photograph, although incredibly sad, of course, represents the natural, peaceful ending of a normal (although foreshortened) life filled with love. Laura’s life was tragically sadly ended after only 30 of the 80 years she could have expected to live.
Putting these pictures together doesn’t so much change the images but rather enhances an understanding of them. Firstly in isolation, each image could be regarded as too inaccessible – particularly Campbell’s untitled image (although not viewed within its intended series). Secondly, seen together, each image informs the other. The viewer can contemplate a natural ending of a long-lived life compared to the sad termination of a young one.
How do these images challenge genre classification?
Campbell’s image could reasonably be included within still life as it is the photograph of a lily. Or perhaps landscape as it could be a highly foreshortened view of a field. Likewise, it could be viewed as a portrait; it is, after all, the absented representation of David Campbell’s spirit. And in actual fact, it was included in a documentary series.
The ‘Laura’ image is a landscape, and it fits with Robert Adams’ (1) observation that a landscape image has geographical, autobiographical and metaphorical dimensions. But it too could represent an example of absented portraiture.
However, regardless of these arbitrate genre classifications, both images sit within an area of photography that interests me, namely the elliptical metaphorical representation of emotional and spiritual matters.
(1) Adams, R. (1996) “Truth and Landscape,” in Beauty in photography: Essays in defense of traditional values. 2nd edn. New York, NY: Aperture, pp. 13–20.