One of the many perks of studying a photography degree is being exposed to interesting photographic theories. Recently, for the purposes of an assignment, we were asked to look at the idea of Equivalence in photographs; something I had never heard about and something which felt incredibly daunting to begin with. Without turning this into some sort of literary essay about the idea of equivalence I will try and explain my thought process behind a series of photographs I feel are possibly my strongest to date.
Equivalence was first put forward in the early 1920s by Alfred Steiglitz and has since been continued by the likes of Aaron Siskind and Minor White. At its core, the concept is about evoking an emotional response through your photographs and up until I took on this assignment, emotion/meaning in photographs was something I had struggled with. I, like most people, seem to have a million high concept ideas for photography projects flying through my head each week most of which are forgotten about or contemplated to the point of destruction meaning I have never truly worked on and finished a cohesive project, let alone successfully put emotion or meaning into my photographs.
Therefore, I was at a loss with what to photograph and what to try and evoke through my photographs. Fortunately, we were given a text to read which helped clear up a lot of questions I had regarding the whole concept. I will share with you the most notable line which for me was the eureka moment:
The success of photographic equivalence and poetic symbolism depends on the realisation that the phenomena of nature can be restructured according to the demands of the imagination.
So, I had my subject; nature. But what in nature? Should I photograph flora and fauna, or could I simply use my everyday surroundings? I figured that both would be applicable, but I settled for the former. Something that has always fascinated me in nature is the trunk of birch trees; almost pure white splits to reveal black wood underneath. If I were to photograph birch trees how could I equate this to some kind of emotion? I took the train out to a local nature reserve and started walking keeping my eye out for birch.
As I wandered round, I started taking photos of different species as I realised that they would be very effective in trying to convey my concept and thus my project when from solely looking at birch trees to a variety of different compositions within my general surroundings.
After just one roll of film I felt that I had some strong images. My next challenge was finding a way to sequence them. Certain images found their place straight away and I knew that these were permanent, others were swapped in and out constantly. Sequencing was another thing I had done very little of in the past and when I had attempted it, I found it very difficult (probably due to the lack of a cohesive project idea). Knowing what I was trying to say and show with my images, as well as having been loosely sequencing photographs as I took them, meant this was a relatively simple process and I came to a natural conclusion after a couple of days.
What began as something extremely daunting and confusing turned out to be one of the most enjoyable photographic experiences I have had and definitely changed my outlook on photography; so much so that I realised my future potentially lies in landscapes and landscapes are what I wish to pursue from now on (with the odd bit of portraiture and street thrown in every now and then).
I have been intentionally vague about my thoughts behind the project throughout this short article as I want you to view the images with an unbiased lens and encourage you to reach out with your own interpretations or questions via Instagram (@nicholasfphoto).
If you want to read more about the idea of equivalence I recommend reading the following:
(I believe the second link requires you to make an account to view the text however it is an incredibly interesting read and well worth the couple of minutes it would take to make and delete an account)
Therefore, the only natural conclusion here is to present to you…Astute Mother Nature.
A project which at this moment in time feels both resolved and expandable, so let’s see what the future brings.
This article is part of the WHAT I’M WORKING ON series. If you’re interested to learn about other YOUR EXHIBITION photographers and their most recent work, check out the other WHAT I’M WORKING ON articles here.