Sustainable prospects: weeks 1-6

My apologies for the long hiatus in updating this journal. Since mid-September, I have been travelling continuously: first on a road-trip with a military historian friend to eastern parts of Europe (Berlin, Gdansk, Warmia-Masuria, Wroclaw, Dresden),  roughly tracing in reverse the Russian advance on Berlin in 1945; secondly, to Australia (Perth, then to Sydney by train), New Zealand (Queenstown and Taranaki), thence to Singapore where I was speaking at a conference. This has inevitably meant that I find myself behind with the course, having been unable to attend webinars or take part in the weekly activities. I now have a week in the UK before travelling to Ireland to pursue my major project on the landscapes of W B Yeats and Seamus Heaney.

Photography was not entirely neglected during this period. On both trips, I took my recently acquired medium-format camera. I am still familiarising myself with the techniques and challenges involved, but was pleased with some of the results achieved as in the images below of the ruins of the Wolfschanze (Hitler’s military headquarters in East Prussia) where the early Autumn colours emphasised the eeriness of these massive concrete structures in their woodland setting:


Wolf's Lair-2


Wolf's Lair


Wolf's Lair-4


Wolf's Lair-3


Wolf's Lair-5


Australia and New Zealand provided further opportunities for me to develop my passion for capturing images of the sea. I took a series of seascapes (again using medium-format equipment) both of the Indian Ocean south of Perth and the Tasman Sea along the Surf Coast of Taranaki south of New Plymouth:

Indian Ocean (1)
Indian Ocean (2)
Tasman (1)
Tasman (2)

Except during the occasional off-train excursions, the journey from Perth to Sydney on the Indian-Pacific provided limited photographic opportunities owing to the thick glass of the carriages. However, I was able to capture the following image of the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales west of Sydney:

The Three Sisters


Finally, here are two images captured near Glenorchy at the northern end of lake Wakatipu in the South Island of New Zealand:

Towards Mount Earlslaw from the Glenorchy lagoon
View up the Dart River


The long flights enabled me to read John Berger’s “Understanding a Photograph”. In the light of my major project illustrating the relationship between landscape and poetry (or better, that between landscape and the poet) I was particularly interested in Berger’s discussion of the relationship between image and text and how a simple caption can aid our understanding of an image. In fact, it has been put to me recently by a tutor on the MA course that “words and images can make the best or worst marriage”.  In this connection, Berger (p. 74) gives the example of André Kertész’s famous image,  “A Red Hussar Leaving, June 1919, Budapest” and why the photographer “gave it the caption he did and not just the title ‘Parting’ ”:

André Kertész,  Red Hussar Leaving, June 1919, Budapest

The following passage perhaps deserves quoting in full:

“In the relation between a photograph and words, the photograph begs for an interpretation, and the words usually supply it. The photograph, irrefutable as evidence but weak in meaning is given a meaning by the words. And the words, which by themselves remain at the level of generalisation, are given specific authenticity by the irrefutability of the photograph. Together the two then become very powerful;…”

(Berger, Understanding a photograph, ed. Geoff Dyer, Penguin Classics, 2013, p. 72).


Exhibition of the work of Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)

I was fortunate, on my return,  to receive an invitation to a private view at the Photographers’ Gallery in London of the exhibition “Roman Vishniac Rediscovered”:

The work of this Russian-American photographer ranged from modernism, through social documentary to photomicroscopy. He is perhaps best known for his photographic record of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe between the two world wars and in this work there are echoes of the images of Depression-era America captured by his contemporaries, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans:

Roman Vishniac, The Only Flowers of her Youth, Warsaw, 1938


Roman Vishniac, Jewish couple suffering the effects of the Polish antisemitic boycotts, Warsaw, 1938

General observations on weeks 1-6

For the reasons mentioned, I am only now able to re-engage with the course.  I was able to take part in a useful webinar (my first in this module) with Sophie Gerrard and Anna-Maria Pfab. The webinar gave me the opportunity to explain my major project and receive comments on a number of my landscape images. It was also useful to watch draft oral presentations from fellow students and obtain useful guidance on the presentation which I have yet to prepare. A belated contribution was also made to the Week 1 challenge.

I have revisited the material in Weeks 1-5. As I have advised Anna-Maria and Sophie,  the emphasis in this module on photography as a business, social media, networking etc has little relevance to my own practice as an amateur photographer with no commercial ambition. This is not a criticism of the course: the topics covered will I am sure be highly relevant to the majority of students. I have undertaken the MA course simply as a personal challenge and to develop my interest in photography as an art form and, in terms of my particular interest, to explore links between photography and literature.

I will therefore be concentrating in the remaining weeks of the module on my major project. The next week will be spent in Sligo and Galway where I will be revisiting the loci associated with William Butler Yeats. This is a follow-up to my trip to Ireland in May which was essentially a “scouting” expedition. Although I was pleased with some of the images captured during that trip, the need to cover a lot of ground in a short time meant that I had insufficient time in each place properly to explore the photographic possibilities. I believe, also, that Autumn rather than late Spring is a better time of year to capture the moods of the Irish landscape. In this quest, I have been looking at the work of a number of landscape photographers, including Chrystel Lebas (her “Field Studies” project is a particular inspiration), Giulietta Verdon-Roe (“Wandering Ireland’) and Andy Sewell (with his eye for the quirky detail). I also greatly admire the work of Brian David Stevens, especially his landscapes of Essex and Beachy Head.

Reading matter on my trip will include François Brunet’s “Photography and Literature” (Reaktion Books, 2013) and Robert Macfarlane’s “Landmarks”.

My intention is to document each day of the trip in this journal. See link below:

Second visit to Yeats country

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