If you want to read the first installment of this series – and you should, you should want to – you can click here. After that, you’ll want to read the second installment, so then you will click here. Okay, now you are ready to read this one, so go ahead and do so.
On April 27 we revisited the ddp, this time at night. We showed up at 7 in the evening and by the time we were done, just after 10 PM, I had decided that the place no longer held any fear for me.
I love architectural photography, though I’m not exactly sure why. What has always struck me about it is that it chiefly consists of capturing someone else’s art and putting it into another medium, and if the photography looks anything like good, it’s more of an advertisement for the skills of the architect than any example of fine camerawork. A good builder will have already imagined how the finished structure will look from just about every angle so it seems unlikely that someone with a camera will be able to add very much to that vision. This might be even more true with regards to the constructions of the most cutting-edge practitioners working right now because the computer-assisted-design (CAD) software makes it possible for every detail and visual angle to be displayed on computer monitors long before the first shovel breaks the first bit of topsoil.
I guess it also means that if you don’t like the choices someone made you probably had a lot of chances to complain before the building ever went up. This probably applies at least somewhat to the Dongdaeumn Design Plaza in Seoul.
It is a different place after dark, and that is because it was designed that way – the exterior is covered with several tens of thousands of square and rectangular metal plates, each with holes in them, and underneath, several thousand LED light sources that go on and off in patterned intervals, creating a pulsing effect not unlike some kind of living creature. I’m not sure why someone thought that making a huge building resemble a hulking, brooding alien organism would be a good thing to do, or why having the thought in existence that some others decided to actualize it. Yes, there are people who love this place (photographers, a lot of them) but a few others have reacted otherwise, even with anger.
It’s been said many times, one aspect most great works of art have in common is that a lot of people will vehemently disagree about it. I have a nephew, who is a Korean and an architect. He has told me that this building does not respect Korea and has nothing to do with this country. My own thinking was that it does not respect the neighborhood, and doesn’t have much to do with the human race.
Regardless, it is an object and it is here, and as a place to take photographs it cannot be ignored.
At night, light is both falling on the building, and emanating out of it, mostly from its own sources. Again, with the lines and oddly irregular curvatures, there are occasions for both stark conflicts of brightness and shadow and also endless variations of chiaroscuro, both subtle and dramatic. On this particular evening we had some help from the weather, I think, though it seemed annoying at the time, at least to me. A fine misty rain fell on us, not hard enough to deter us much from going wherever we wished, but enough to impart just a hint of glistening sheen to the concrete walkways and metallic shell of the structure.
the as yet undiscovered shore
The image at the top owes something to Matthew Theron, a classmate whom I had observed swinging a very large and heavy SLR in arcs over his head – I asked him what the hell and he grinned something about light trails, though in this case I think it might be something called light painting. These are both things I’d seen and heard about, but I’d always thought it was sort of silly, like the fetishized fascination a lot of camera fiends have about bokeh – coming from the direction of journalism and street photography, these are just pure artifacts of the machine and have no relation to the world as seen by human eyes.
But I gave the thing a try and after I saw it on the monitor at home I decided I liked what I saw happening. If the ddp really were an alien mother-ship as so many people have compared it to … what would the moment of impact look like?
Cameras love to create precise images of real things, so if we want to be ‘artistic’ we’ll sometimes look for ways to fool the device and trip it over into the realm of abstraction. Ms Reimer had an idea for this, and it involved using an empty glass bottle of a scalloped and curved shape and holding it in front of the camera at various angles and in front of a variety of backgrounds.
When it came my turn to shoot through this new and strange sort of lens, I couldn’t resist asking what the bottle had originally contained, and she admitted it had been gin. She told me that sometimes ‘it’s important to drink interesting liquor’ because most of what you are likely to buy won’t come in bottles of such a useful shape.
This was the final meeting of the first month, and it was time for me to assess whether it was something I wanted to continue with. Is this the kind of photography I really liked doing? Was it the direction I was interested in going? At various times I found myself thinking that I really wasn’t sure that I could do what was being asked of me. And in truth, I’m not sure how often I actually did succeed.
The teacher might have certain intentions and the student might have certain goals, and they might not always coincide. This is a thing that happens.
In fact, one of the challenging areas for me was to actually receive instruction from somebody else – there were at least a couple of occasions where I realized after the fact that we were supposed to do a particular thing, an assignment, and I had thought it was merely a suggestion. Perhaps I had been asked to try this particular new thing, but in fact I had tried a slightly different new thing (for me) but of course the instructor had no idea of that. Oh. Well.
And there was a larger situation of seeing what several fresh different eyes could make out of near-identical locations and objects … and let’s admit, the nervousness that comes of wondering how well we’ll stack up when put next to those others. Later, I came to understand how futile that particular anxiety was – if the goal is to learn, then we will welcome the company of people who know more than we do, and seek to learn what they already have while hoping that whatever naivete we ourselves possess might result in a fresh perspective that they could use as well.
I had already learned from Matt Theron that cameras are fun toys. The point of toys is to play.
Eventualities made decisions on my behalf, however, and I had to excuse myself for the month of May. Unlike the others in the class, my work demands my attention on Saturdays, and even though it gives me quite a lot of free time on weekdays, this wouldn’t help because the schedule proposed for the next month conflicted by asking that we meet then. Therefore whatever other deeper questions I might be tussling with became moot.
Funny thing happened, though. While at first it was liberating to be able to go back to using my camera the way I always had, I had to admit that very quickly it began to seem a bit boring – I wasn’t doing anything new, and one thing was clear to me and that was that, whether better or worse, the photos I took during the workshop were different from anything I had ever done before that.
I realized I already knew how to take the kinds of pictures I had always been taking, and that from there one can only become better at that particular thing, and only by increments. Not quite so exciting as the prospect of discovering some vast new horizon, with the added possibility of perhaps even being able to look at photographs in some brand new way that I was only suspecting right then.
So. Last week of May, I called her up on Facebook and asked if I could come back, for pretty much the reasons I’ve just told you, and I guess they were the right reasons because she didn’t say no.
the gospel, televised
Ms Reimer indicated that during June I’d have to do a bit of work to catch up with what the others had done in May as well as what they were going to be up to during that same month, but that she’d work with me (and with another student who had had to be out of the country for that month) with the goal that I’d be able to return to the larger group in July.
This is what eventually came about, and we also will return to this and explore the other things that happened later during the workshop and what has yet to happen as well.