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  • Writer's picturePeter Renn

Realism isn't always the goal

One of the beauties of ‘alternative’ processes is their lack of realism. This is ironic given the way photography has been driven by fidelity: A hundred and eighty years of progress towards more accurate and realistic pictures only for those difficult people who would throw it all aside for a different look.

It’s always been this way of course, from Calotypists eschewing the ‘excessive detail’ of the Daguerreotype, through Julia Margaret Cameron’s ‘alternatively focused’ portraits, photographers have always selected their working processes to suit their visions. Using alternative or historic methods expands the possibilities. This picture is a great example.

There’s a path alongside the pond at Petersfield Heath. It’s sandy and pale in the summer and used by everyone it seems. I’ve walked it many times but on this occasion the sun was low enough to show the footprints clearly.

The ‘straight’ photograph is.. OK but the fidelity makes it just too literal. The poor old camera has done a great job of reproducing the scene just as it was but I want to make this look much more sculptural. Black and White is less literal and makes it more 'photographic' especially with a little more contrast:

This is closer to my idea at the time. There was a tiny echo of a very famous picture:

Neil Armstrong's footprint on the Moon. - NASA

There was still more to be made from my image though, Printing as an Argyrotype with its high contrast and deep shadows gives the strength I want but the real difference comes from inverting the tones (Making a negative) to make the patterns look much more like relief carvings than impressions.

Too much? - That's down to personal taste. I've made a variety of versions of this as I'm still exploring the possibilities. I like the one above as some kind of primitive rock carving but I think there's potential in a high-key pale version with more of a pencil drawing feel to it. What I am sure is that they are all more interesting and interpretive of the original pattern than what came straight out of my camera.

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