All photographs are copyright of John Clifton.
No photos may be reproduced in any form without the prior consent of the owner.
I began taking pictures as a child in the 1960’s – following in my father’s footsteps, who taught me how to shoot, process and print black and white and colour images using film. These days I shoot digital, but the heritage of the darkroom remains a strong influence, along with the work of many of the early pioneers of photography.
So for this year’s virtual exhibition part of my contribution pays homage to three historically significant photographers – Edward Weston, Eadward Muybridge, and Man Ray – by attempting to ‘re-create’ some of their famous pictures. The idea was spawned during lockdown, when there was a bit of a craze for trying to re-create famous artworks to share on social media.
The remainder of the images are seasonally inspired landscapes – although my definition of ‘landscape’ is pretty broad. In particular I am increasingly drawn to the subtle details in nature – the ‘intimate landscape’, rather than sweeping vistas and the pursuit of ‘the sublime’.
Pepper – Homage to Edward Weston
Working in the first half of the 20th Century, Edward Weston was an American photographer who worked in a broad range of areas including landscape, still life, nude studies and portraits. Among his most famous images are the extensive series of studies he made in the 1930’s of nautilus shells, and a variety of vegetables – cabbage, kale, onions, bananas, and finally, and most iconically, peppers. The lighting of these is so soft and subtle that the subjects take on an almost abstract quality – often echoing human forms.
One of the ways Weston achieved the depth of tonality in these images was through the use of extremely long exposures – sometimes several hours in duration, during which the direction of the natural light would move according to the changing position of the sun. Even with the slowest settings on my digital camera I could not achieve an exposure anywhere near as long as Weston’s. But I did use very soft natural window light, further diffused by a handy net curtain, to make my study of a pepper.
Motion Sudy – Homage to Eadward Muybridge
Working in the latter half of the 19th century Muybridge was one of the very first to photograph the wild beauty of America’s South West, using massive plate cameras and a mobile darkroom to capture the vast canvas. But he is more famous for his later studies of animals, and then people, in motion – a project which began with his association with railway tycoon Leland Stanford. In particular, in 1872, he perfected a shutter fast enough to stop the motion of one of Stanford’s race horses – using series of images to demonstrate for the first time the sequential pattern of a horse’s gallop.
Muybridge used a bank of cameras and a dedicated track to achieve his sequences of images – with the shutters triggered by electrical trip switches. I only had one camera to use, but a deserted beach, a telephoto lens, and a very co-operative labrador allowed me to re-produce a similar sequence of side-on shots. Muybridge went on to re-animate his individual images by running them in sequence through a magic lantern – becoming one of the founding fathers of modern cinema in the process.
Les Larmes 2021 – Homage to Man Ray
Man Ray was what would today be called a ‘multi-media artist’ – he always considered himself a painter primarily, but it is for his pioneering photography that he is perhaps best known. Working mainly in Paris, he was associated with various avant garde groups, including the Dada and Surrealist movements, drawn to their free thinking and experimental attitudes to image making. Amongst his innovations were the use of photograms – which he called ‘Rayographs’ – and the technique of solarization – where a printed image is re-exposed to light, fogging part of the image in the process. Using these, along with light painting and collage, Man Ray produced some of the most striking and iconic images of the 1920’s and 30’s.
‘Les Larmes’ – or ‘Glass Tears’ – is one of his most famous images. A model looks up wistfully in a pose that echoes a still from a film, but her face is dotted with crystal tears – an apparent criticism of the artificiality of the commercial cinema of the time. Man Ray was at the time collaborating with his friend and fellow surrealist Luis Bunuel on films that were far more subversive in content and form.
For my 2021 version of ‘L’Armes’ I reconstructed the artificial tears using gelatin cake decorations, followed by some careful editing in Photoshop and Nik Silver-Efex. I got the idea of adding the face mask from an image submitted to Grayson Perry’s Art Club, where someone had added one to the Mona Lisa – neatly echoing Marcel Duchamp’s Dada drawing of a moustache on her face in 1919.
Long Hot Summer
Trying here to capture the lazy, hazy days of summer where everything shimmers in the heat. A close position, low to the ground, and a deliberately de-focused lens capture the yellow smear of a Bird’s Foot Trefoil against the lush greens of the gently swaying grass.
One of many atmospheric images from one of my favourite times of the year. This was at the start of the season when the colours were just beginning to turn, and the early morning mists began to soften the light.
The intricate tracery of birch and beech boughs reminded me of a stained glass window – supporting as they do the vibrant russet, ochre, and umber hues of autumn.
Micro studies of water frozen into myriad patterns and forms during a prolonged cold snap last winter.
Caught in a blizzard at Duncombe Park last winter, a tree and a determined dog walker are flattened into cut outs as the snowfall robs our view of any perception of depth, colour, or tone.