Thursday, 16 October 2008

Pentagonal Pool

Last year I finally finished off (in the mercy killing sense) one of my longest-standing photographic projects. There are many Fine Lines in life, which divide X In a Good Way from X In a Bad Way -- genius/madness, endearing/infuriating, laid back/laid off, etc. Well, I have learned that there is a fine line between "ongoing project" and "obsessive compulsive disorder."

The word "project" has acquired a certain negative connotation in recent years, due to its overuse by celebrities as a synonym for "money spinning venture" or "a way to render my idleness endurable." I expect they borrowed it from their artist chums, for whom The Project is a tool of the trade. Some artistic projects are pharaonically grandiose (James Turrell's Roden Crater springs to mind), and some are borderline criminal (example removed by my legal team), but all are a way of (a) getting work done, and (b) giving that work at least a superficial coherence. It is a very useful device for that large proportion of us "art workers" who do not and cannot earn a living wage from our artistic production.

My idiotic project (one of many) involved repeatedly photographing the same pool of water at the same time of day from one of two possible vantage points, ten feet above the water. As the pool is on the university campus where I work, I could visit it more or less daily during my lunch hour. I found that the resulting themes and variations were so endlessly changing, so beautifully suited to mixing and matching, and so rewarding to create, that the act of repeatedly making the same, different photographs genuinely transmuted into a life-enhancing form of meditation. Seriously: it's a great way to spend your lunch break.

Not surprisingly, I didn't want (or need) to stop, and didn't. The original "project" began in 1999, with a self-imposed brief of "only one camera and lens (Mamiya C330 + 65mm)". An early version of Pentagonal Pool was shown on the Southern Arts Fotonet South website in 2001 -- my first proper exhibition. I carried on.

In a moment of crazy liberation, I released myself from the "only one camera" restriction. A new version of the sequence was exhibited in 2004 in the university library's gallery as Dry Light. I kept going. I had become such a part of the landscape that people had even stopped shouting "Don't do it!" as I hung perilously over the rail, gazing into 18 inches of water.

In 2006 I self-published a book Pentagonal Pool using the excellent Blurb on-demand publishing service. Even then I wasn't quite ready to give it up, but last year I began to think that the point of diminishing returns had finally been reached (after nine years!) and made myself draw a line.

It can be tough, knowing you never quite got that shot with the oily wintry sheen on the water, and the reflection of a tiny aircraft deep below in the blue-green depths, cruising between a couple of beer cans and a fluffy cloud. Of course, no-one else will ever know or care (unless there is a God of OCD, which would be really bad news), but ...

I still visit the pool, of course, but now we're just good friends.

Some Pentagonal Pool images, as framed for exhibition:

Want to buy a copy of the book? Just click on the cover below!
(It's worth it just to see the flashy book preview Blurb provides)

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