Jem Southam (1950) is an English photographer, he is recognised for his colour landscape images which are concerned with the idea of a balance between nature and human intervention.
Southam utilises a large format camera which provides him with the ability of capturing his landscape images with an extraordinary amount of detail, he contact prints his 8×10 inch negatives to create the level of detail which these images possess.
What attracted my attention towards Southam’s photographic work is the complexity of the large format camera, in relation to the logistics of a photoshoot – e.g. travel, setting the shot, long exposure times, developing and processing the film. This style/process of photography is arguably more rewarding than that of digital, as you have to be more observant and as each slide/negative costs money, it is a slower method which ensures you as the photographer pay attention towards what you are photographing and how you achieve the end result.
Furthermore Southam’s photographs have a wonderful colour palette and the subject matters recorded and the way it has been achieved, particularly through the use of a low, neutral viewpoint/composition both invites viewers to observe the location and the continuity and repetition of vantage point further implies a documentative style…perhaps the idea of self-exploration?
As noted by Jem Southam (2013) taking photographs which do not motivate and/or push you as a photographer makes the overall experience unenjoyable; personally it is of intrinsic importance to ensure that when creating photographs, you try to excel and develop to reach your full potential.
‘If it is too easy to make pictures it is I think less enjoyable. Surely this is the same with all endeavours – as humans we want to be challenged and to work through problems, and the tougher they get the more they demand of us and when we work though them the greater the reward. If it was easy to make great pictures how many of us would bother?’ (Jem Southam, 2013)
The idea or motivation for looking and considering self-exploration is based upon family experiences, as well as simply wanting to learn more about how it is I am actually feeling, an area which I do not explore and is extremely difficult to express.
Ensuring the assignment and deelopment as a professional, was as motivating as possible, exploring a picture-making which is not easy, shall allow me to undertake a journey, a challenge and if the results are as rewarding as I envisage them to be, it might be a long-term project also which I can continue to pursue.
Self exploration is long overdue and actually in my opinion is an area in which every practitioner should undertake to uncover and understand themselves better; also having the potential to support and inform their work further.
According to TATE (2017), J.M.W Turner otherwise recognised as Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), an English painter specialising in the area of romanticism landscapes. Frequent visits to see Turner’s father in London enlightened him to the financial benefits that sketching possesses. Turner regularly exhibited in the Royal Academy where he was a student from 1790-1796 and the paintings were primarily watercolour and as noted by Joseph Mallord William Turner Biography (2017)
‘Turner showed a keen interest in architecture but was encouraged to keep painting by the architect Thomas Hardwick’. (Joseph Mallord William Turner Biography, 2017)
Turner later progressed onto utilising oil paints and his subject matters would explore myth and literature, consequently challenging ideas and approaches undertaken by that of classical painters.
As noted by The National Gallery (2017), John Constable (1776-1837) was another English painter also recognised for his romantic landscapes. Constable regularly made sketches within the landscape and these sketches became the foundations for many of Constable’s large-scale paintings. Similar to Turner, Constable also frequently exhibited his masterpieces in galleries such as the Royal Academy in London and Paris salon. However Constable’s work was better received and more successful when exhibited in Paris.
According to TATE (2017) William Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet, printmaker and painter who was mostly unrecognised for his art during his lifetime; Blake is considered to be a prominent practitioner and key figure within the romanticism movement. In what appears to be a tradition, Blake studied at the Royal Academy of Arts and today, is recognised for his creativity and the use of diversity and symbolism within his paintings which openly welcome the notion of the imagination as ‘the body of God’ and ‘human existence itself’ (Tate, 2017).
Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) the Swiss painter and writer who was based in Britain and is another of the most iconic figures from the romanticism movement. Fuseli’s most recognised painting is titled ‘The Nightmare’ which first exhibited in 1782 at the Royal Academy; the main purpose of this painting was to intrigue and shock.
This piece of artwork references themes of folklore, science and classical art. The painting evokes associations with imagination and suggests ideas relating to the ‘dream‘. In this example by Fuseli, the idea of the ideal dream is represented through the woman who is asleep. In a similar manner, the idea of the nightmareis depicted through the demon/mythical-type creature that is represented upon the woman’s chest. This is supported by Psychology Today (2015) as nightmares relate to feelings associated with fear and anxiety. (Psychology Today, 2015)
As noted by Encyclopaedia Britanica (2016) James Barry (1741-1806) an Irish artist recognised for his paintings of both historical and metaphorical subjects. Barry was primarily a self-taught artist, who studied with the support of Jacob Ennis at the drawing school of The Royal Dublin Society (Encyclopaedia Britanica, 2016). During this period, he attracted the attention of Edmund Burke(1729-1797) in 1764 who would later introduce Barry to Joshua Reynolds president of the Royal Academy in London. As Barry progressed he became both a member and become more involved in the Royal Academy (1773) in London.
John Butts (1728-1764), the Irish landscape artist recognised for his woodland and river scenes; was a prominent figure in providing James Barry with the necessary and fundamentals required to succeed as an artist.
Do any of these practitioners influence you? If so, why?
As photography, amongst other artistic mediums are frequently changing, it is intrinsic for me to have an awareness of historic and current artistic movements, ideas and practitioners who are making key developments. Furthermore it is important to not limit my inspiration and research to only photography, having a broad knowledge of information relating to art and painting for example will develop my thinking further.
Whilst reflecting upon the romanticism movement, and some of the practitioners highlighted above, it is extremely interesting to witness how the methods of painting and art have transgressed into photography. For example John Constable and his romantic landscape painting, titled ‘Stratford Mill’, 1820 the exploration of beauty with natural scences, rolling hills and blue skies and the concept of the sublime is seen in photographers such as Jem Southam (who shall be explored in a seperate blog post).
In order to gain an initial understanding of the Romanticism art movement, it was necessary to conduct some research into this area. As noted by Merriam-Webster (2017) the term ‘Romanticism’ can be defined as
‘A literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions.’ (Merriam-Webster, 2017)
TATE (2017) notes that the Romanticism can be applicable to both art and literature, established during the early 19th century, the movement particularly focused on human psychology, feelings and the appreciation for the interest of the natural world. (Tate, 2017)
Romanticism rejects classicism, which was another prominent art movement dating from 1780-1830, concerned with a formal, distanced approach to subject matter. Furthermore as noted by Britannica (2009) romanticism was also a rejection of the Enlightenment,
‘In Romantic art, nature—with its uncontrollable power, unpredictability, and potential for cataclysmic extremes—offered an alternative to the ordered world of Enlightenment thought.’ (MET MUSEUM, 2004)
As supported by Doctor Beth Nesic (2015) the neoclassical painting style, supported by neoclassicists such as the artist Jacques-Louis David (YEAR), the preference was in creating precise representations of forms, coherent drawing and modeling. (Nesic, 2015) As drawing was deemed to be of more intrinsic importance than that of painting, the neoclassicists strived to ensure in the creation of their work that visibility of brush strokes are non-existent and furthermore it was necessary to ensure that the surface of the work visibly appears completely smooth. The themes and subject matters of work produced during the neoclassical period would reflect the seriousness and rationality of the era, which directly links to historical events which occured simultaneously, such an example is the French Revolution (1789).
Neoclassicism strived to revive the artistic and literary ideals of classical Greece and Rome; both romanticism and neoclassicism have interchangable stylistic qualities which often overlapped.
Key visual qualities of classicism/neoclassicism as noted by Britannica (2009):
Lines over colour.
Straight lines over curves.
Frontality and closed compositions over diagonal compositions.
General over particular.A good example to support this statement is a comparison of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ (1780-1867) painting titled Apotheosis of Homer (1825) and Eugene Delacroix’s (1798-1863) painting titled Death of Sardanapalus (1827). Both paintings support the artist’s originality, which is synonomous with romanticism. Furthermore, Ingres’ painting appears to be structually ordered which would assert the idea that this piece directly links to classicism, whereas Delacroix’s painting subject matter portrays disorder, linking directly to the neoclassical style and influences of Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825).
What was the purpose of Romanticism? What were the aims?
Romanticism developed from the French Revolution and was a rejection of social and political norms, further influenced by the theory of evolution and uniformitarianism. Furthermore the romanticism movement brought to light the importance of expression and emotion, and the idea that these human attributes are stronger than that of knowledge or intellect.
As noted by New York Encyclopedia (2015) the purpose of romanticism was to support the validation of the idea whereby an ‘individual imagination’ can act as a credible, critical dominance which consequently enabled both freedom and escapism from the confinements and restrictions of classical art. (New York Encyclopedia, 2015)
Furthermore within romanticism the general consensus of this artistic movement was:
Deepened, developed appreciation of the beauties of nature.
General happiness and emotion over reason and senses, rather than a focus on intelligence.
Self-awareness and a better consideration towards human personalities and moods.
A fixation with the idea of a genius or hero in which the individual can focus both their attention on.
Emphasis upon imagination as an escapism and an experience aiding spiritual truth.
Developing interest in: folk culture, national and ethnic culture origins and the medieval period.
A preference for: the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased and the satanic.
Upon reflection of initial souricing and interpretating this information, I am beginning to understand the history of art better; whilst developing an understanding of what genres the work I create might best suit, whilst also considering developing inspiration further, and potential direction/genres for the work I intend to make.
Learning the basics of romanticism has enlightened my thinking toward the purpose of the photographs.
– What I want to gain. – What I want others to gain.
In terms of personal development, there is a strong connection between and towards the idea of the ideal and escapism. Therefore on this journey of photographic self-development, I aim to discover more about myself as well as a more informed decision and opinion on romanticism.
I want others to gain an experience of my interpretation on the world, whilst also providing the viewer with an escapism of their own…