Assignment 2: The archive

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Full pdf version of the book, Floral Frontiers, can be found here.

For this assignment, I have produced a short book containing fifteen images.  My starting point for this project, was the online archive of Hubble satellite pictures, which can be found at HubbleSite.org.

When looking around for an online archive to base this project on, I was repeatedly drawn to scientific websites.  I love science, especially the natural sciences.  I have a PhD in geology, and a lot of my personal interests can be linked back to my love for science.  Even my current fascination with photography, can be linked back to my early attempts to photograph geological field sites and laboratory specimens.  Science though, is not something that everyone understands or is interested in.  As such, I wanted to produce something that would inspire others; something that would make viewers stop and think about the world around them, which is how I ended up at the Hubble website.

When the Hubble Space Telescope was originally imagined, the photographs that it was to take, were “routinely disparaged in NASA circles as mere public relations fodder” (Ferris, 2015, p.69).  Yet, years later, the photographs are one of the projects greatest triumphs.  I selected fifteen of my favourites from the online picture gallery to use for this project.

Since the last assignment, I have been working my way through the book, Post-Photography by Robert Shore.  It might actually be the most exciting photography book that I have ever read.  Probably, the main thing that I have taken away from the book, is the idea that the photograph can be the starting point rather than the end point of a project.  This was something that I really wanted to incorporate into this assignment.  Here, the work of Julia Borissova and Julie Cockburn was particularly valuable.  Both artists work in a highly conceptual manner, using foreign elements (e.g., flower petals and embroidery, respectively) to obscure and reinvent old photographs.  It was treatments such as these, that gave me the idea for my project.

In addition to capturing beautiful images, Hubble has generated masses of data, which has been used to answer all kinds of astronomical questions.  It has literally, shed light on mysteries such as the nature of stars, galaxies and black holes, the existence of dark matter, and the age of the universe (HubbleSite, no date).  It has fundamentally changed our understanding of, and interaction with, the world around us.  Yet to many people, space technology and exploration is a waste of time and money because they cannot see how it is relevant to day-to-day life.  Never mind, that space technology gives us weather forecasts, global communications and navigation.

What I wanted to do in my project was to link the incomprehensible with the everyday; the vast and mysterious universe, with the world at our feet.  After all, the universe essentially provides the building blocks of life.  To achieve this, I collected lots of flowers from my local area (all of the flowers were collected within an easy walking distance of my house, an idea inspired by Stephen Gill and his Hackney Flowers series), then brought them home and pressed them, before carefully overlaying them on prints of the satellite images.  I paid very close attention to the shapes/forms/colours/tones of the both the flowers and the prints in order to ensure that the final combinations felt harmonious.  When I was happy with the arrangements, I photographed the results.

Flowers were specifically chosen to represent the everyday, firstly, because they are both common and beautiful, secondly, because in many respects, they are the opposite of what is represented in the space photographs (stars/galaxies etc. are immense, powerful objects, whilst flowers are seemingly simple, small and fragile), and thirdly, because flowers are a strong vanitas symbol.  What I wanted to show is that everything in the universe is interconnected, the big and the small, the powerful and the fragile, and in doing this, I wanted to address larger ideas of time and origins.  Ultimately, I wanted to create striking images that would hold a viewer’s attention and turn their mind to the beauty and importance of the world around them.

Finally, one of the nice things about this project, is that it lends itself very well to presentation in the format of a book.  I deliberately designed and formatted my book to give it the appearance of photographic plates as presented within a scientific monograph (so double page spreads with scientific captions of the left side and images on the right, see slideshow above).  Even the captions/image titles, include the official object reference codes.  Essentially, I wanted my book to look like a science publication but with a difference.  Overall, I am very pleased with the final product.

With regards to the assessment criteria, I believe that I have met these as follows:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills: Final images show evidence of good compositional skills.  Flowers were well matched to the satellite images.

Quality of outcome: the images work well together and the book has been carefully designed along an appropriate theme (the subject and presentation are compatible).

Demonstration of creativity: use of contemporary post-photography techniques (specifically, using flowers together with photographs).

Context: well researched project (both in terms of the technical subject matter (Hubble) and contemporary art/artists (e.g., Borissova and Cockburn)).

References

Ferris, T. (2015) Hubble’s Greatest Hits. National Geographic, April 2015, 62-75.

HubbleSite (no date) Picture Album [online]. Available at: http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/ Accessed on 14/10/2016.

Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography. The Artist with a Camera. Lawrence King Publishing Ltd.: London.

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