The Obligatory Introduction - Reduction As Rationale

Photography – like much sculpture but in contrast to most two-dimensional media – is essentially subtractive in method. Visual art usually begins with an expanse of nothingness or an empty space to which something has to be added until the desired image is achieved. A photographer, though, is confronted with literally everything within his field of vision. One press of a button is all that is needed to capture it. If tedium and chaos are to be avoided, though, he or she must, like a sculptor, exclude superfluous material until a measure of coherence seems to emerge.

As in all of the arts, the really interesting question is just how much can be subtracted from a composition before it literally crumbles away to nothing. With time, one discovers that very little may be all that is needed to create an image that is strangely satisfying and complete. Yet it remains impossible to determine just why any particular picture ‘works’. In fact, similar pictures composed according to the same principles often turn out to be worse than dull. One has to accept – reluctantly at first, but then with relief – that there are no general rules. It would seem to follow that each picture has to create its own inner rationale or else fail completely. Which is surely why each successful image is born out of the remnants of dozens (a conservative estimate) of more-or-less comprehensive failures.

All of the above might suggest that good composition is the key to a good photograph. If only that was all there is to it! The really irksome problem, though, is that no visual medium is as slavishly bound to its subject matter as photography. This means that – unless you enjoy arranging people or things in a studio (I don’t) – you have no choice but to go out and find something that seems like promising material before you can begin wrestling with (i.e. reducing) it. For better or worse, chance plays a large role in such photography. You never know what you are going to find. Sometimes you get lucky; sometimes, you’re simply wasting your time. It teaches you patience and to make the best of the hand you have been dealt.

None of my photographs shows anything that is in any way out of the ordinary. Their mundane subject matter was the starting point of a compositional process; it served as malleable raw material, just as the timbres and limitations of individual instruments determine the sound world of a piece of music. As in the latter, it is the correct relationships between the constituent parts that make a chance selection of elements into a structure that may be experienced as compelling while remaining inexplicable.

It should perhaps be emphasized that the images presented here have no message. If some of them seem puzzling, so be it: details relating to content or the techniques employed will not be of any help in interpreting them. Frankly, images that are not a mystery to myself rarely interest me in the long term. Perhaps this partially explains why I have a definite preference for pictures whose subject matter may difficult to determine. However, the last thing I want to encourage is futile guessing games about what a picture ‘shows’ (in some cases, I have long since forgotten); rather, I would hope that the apparent absence of a subject/object might allow the viewer to consider the image per se rather than as a slice of ‘the real world’.

A couple of points might be of interest. Many photographers place emphasis on the fact that their pictures depict objects or scenes that they have not touched, arranged or manipulated in any way. The implication seems to be that such an approach leads to images that contain a higher level of ‘reality’ or even ‘truth’ (whatever these might be). I do not share this view. In fact, I readily confess that I am willing to have recourse to any method before, during and after exposure to achieve what I am looking for. Also, for obscure reasons, black-and-white photography is often more readily associated with ‘art’; however, I insist that, even though some of my pictures may contain no other colours than black, white and grey, none of them are black-and-white photographs.

The images presented on this website have been divided into 12 sections, simply to provide welcome pauses during browsing. The sequence or grouping of the images is not random but, then again, has no particular underlying significance. The titles of the groups are no more than an acknowledgement that titles like ‘Composition 43B’ or the deadly ‘Untitled’ are not helpful to anyone.

Each photograph is limited to five numbered prints, which may have different dimensions.