Monday, November 17, 2008

Just mud and water

click photo to enlarge
"There is nothing ugly; I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may - light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful."
John Constable (1776-1837), English landscape painter

People, in general, have little hesitation in pronouncing things "beautiful" - a person, some flowers, a sunset, an upland landscape - all will readily be awarded the title. Nor too, do people shrink from bestowing the word "ugly" - a graffiti-covered facade, overflowing bins, a weed-strewn urban wasteland, or a dead fox by the side of the road would all invariably be thought so. But John Constable said he'd never seen anything that is ugly. How do we account for this?

It certainly isn't anything to do with today's world compared with Constable's. What we would call ugly certainly existed in his time, possibly more so. No, it's more to do with what we see when we look at the world. The eye of the painter (and the photographer) looks at the world in the same way as everyone else, but often sees it in a different way. One of the principal aims of these people is to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, the marvellous in the mundane, and the beautiful in the "ugly". Sometimes it's difficult to explain why a photograph (or a painting) looks the way it does: to say why, in the eyes of some it is "boring", "simple", "empty" or "nothing". I can see those words being levelled at this photograph. After all, it shows just mud and water. Yet from the moment I saw this particular piece of estuary, revealed by the receding tide, I liked it. I'd hesitate to call my photograph beautiful, but I do think it has a certain attraction. I suppose what I like is the contrast between the "substance" of the flat, glistening mud and the dark, angular shadows of its broken edge, with the smooth, only slightly rippled sheen of the water. I like, too, the ragged line going up the centre of the image, and the way it curves away into almost nothing in the fog. I'm pleased by how the foreground mud and inlet give the composition a base, and I appreciate the tonality across the photograph.

Now, all that sounds a touch pretentious! But then trying to explain in detail what you like about a painting or a photograph sometimes tends to veer in that direction. Yet, it's worth enduring the risible remarks it can provoke because giving voice in this way adds more to our understanding than just applying the over-worked, over-rated, and frequently wrong epithets, "beautiful" and "ugly"!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm (90mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On