A Metaphor For Life And Death

‘Another Place’, Crosby, Liverpool, Merseyside
Fujifilm X-Pro1, XF55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS @ 200mm, 30 seconds @ f/10 ISO 200
LEE Seven5 System Big-Stopper.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom: Adobe profile.

“The inclusion or exclusion of people from our compositions should ideally be a considered and deliberate decision.”

A Metaphor For Life And Death

The inclusion or exclusion of people from our compositions should ideally be a considered and deliberate decision. Intruders are unfortunately common-place and usually replete with day-glo clothing, so their presence can be difficult to ignore. Fine-art photographers are at liberty to add or remove offending individuals (according to their personal ethic) in post-processing. Photographers following a more documentary approach have little choice, because for them, it would be dishonest to manipulate things; so their only options are to wait for unwanted visitors to move on before making their exposure, or to accept them as part of compositional reality.

My personal approach is usually to exclude humans, either by choice of viewpoint, watchful waiting or cloning-out in post, because their inclusion would result in capturing a scene which could only be ‘shared’ and never ‘owned’ by the viewer. There are exceptions of course: inclusion of a figure in any scene can act as a subliminal invitation for the viewer to play the same imaginary role. Landscape compositions including people have a consequent shift in emphasis, away from evoking ‘spirit of place’, towards a more immersive human experience.

This month’s image was made on the beach at Crosby, the home of Antony Gormley’s creation called ‘Another Place’. One hundred cast iron life-size sculptures, all modelled on Gormley himself are permanently installed on a wide and relatively flat expanse of beach. The statues all look out to sea and become repeatedly submerged by incoming tides, creating a minimalist photographer’s dream location in virtually any weather conditions.

Positioning of the sculpture in the upper half of the image was necessary to avoid inclusion of the horizon above it, but such placement also provides gravitas. The 10-stop dense ‘neutral-density’ filter lengthened the necessary exposure from 1/30th second to 30 seconds, creating an ethereal homogenous backdrop. With a minimalist image like this, such negative space plays a pivotal role, further emphasising the placement of the main subject.

Many of the statues are now covered in barnacles or algae and some have been adorned with accessories, like this decaying linen scarf. The figures have become a symbol of decay, and the human analogy, ageing; their repeated submersion and emersion, a metaphor for life and death.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.