Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Abstraction and the Pre-Raphaelites

click photo to enlarge
An exhibition of the work of the Pre-Raphaelite painters has recently opened at Tate Britain. It seeks to show the artists, in the words of The Guardian newspaper's arts correspondent, as "Britain's first modern art movement with rebellious ideas and revolutionary methods way ahead of their time." It seems to me that every few decades the Pre-Raphaelites are re-discovered, re-interpreted and presented anew to a public who have always been aware of them to a greater or lesser degree. And with each fresh look a different aspect of their achievement is highlighted. I've been to exhibitions that stress their medievalising, the way they were all-embracing (producing craft and literature as well as fine art), and that concentrated on their depiction of nature

It was the latter thread that came to mind when I reviewed my photographs of the surface of the River Witham where it runs through the Lincolnshire town of Grantham. Like many slow moving, lowland rivers,the Witham has a lot of weed growing in its main course. The long strands writhe in the flow, either as single strands or as bunches of aquatic tresses. The banks have lush grasses and reeds with overhanging trees casting dappled shade - willow, alder, black poplar and more. In places one is transported to the scene of Millais' depiction of the drowning Ophelia. The artist's eye lovingly shows the flowers, waterside plants and aquatic weeds of the Hogsmill River, a tributary of the River Thames, and one can easily get lost in the natural detail that his brush lingered over.

However, in my photograph of the River Witham I wasn't looking for a literal interpretation of the scene so much as trying to create a semi-abstract image that treats the reflections and weeds as lines, patches of colour and contrasting tones. It's an approach that in painting had to wait for Impressionism and later art movements though the seeds for the style were sown by the likes of Turner, Cotman and others. One of the things I like about photography is the way the camera can be used as a device to show the world in a literal way but can also represent it with an element of abstraction. It's a while since I've done a shot like this, so when I saw this interesting piece of water and weed below some overhanging trees my camera went straight to my eye.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 238mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO: 1600
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On