Product and Process
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Working as an artist means determining ones own process for project and idea development. To some, this may mean creating parameters that the work with live within. To others, this may mean assigning value to an otherwise disassociated final product. There are countless ways to produce a work or even generate an idea, but throughout all of this, the building blocks remain relatively the same. These building blocks, what I would define simply as the medium and the message, are, in some fashion, the periodic table for the myriad of effects it can conjure. That is why it is somewhat frivolous to exercise a hierarchy of these building blocks and how to use them, as each one creates its own unique presence and end result. In fact, it is more fulfilling to discuss how to use process, whatever it may be, to influence the elements that we have been given and to change the final product without inherently knowing what the properties of the product will be.
To follow with this thought, let's look at the work of renowned photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. This Japanese photographer and sculpture has a unique and delicate approach to much of his work, with time, and the passing of time, being one the main proprietors of his finished product. One project, which I believe sums of much of his work and process, is some of his earlier work, aptly named "Theaters". This project simply attempts to capture the whole of a film shown in a theater. To do this, he has to take extremely long exposures, up to two and a half hours in some cases. The end product of his process is a set of beautiful photographs containing a well decorated theater and a blank white screen, centered horizontally and vertically in the frame. This screen casts a ghostly haze of light upon an otherwise empty theater, and creates an ethereal glow that would otherwise be unattainable under normal photographic circumstances. My point in bringing up this work is not to discuss technical details or underlying message, but rather discuss this as a specific and effective style of process. His end result is distinctly influenced by his process, but not the reverse. In this case, process is king and the result a mere jester, however enticing the end result may be. This generative process is one of the new styles of producing work, and its function is partially to create an understanding that process is, in fact, the medium. Rather than hope for a specific look or style, the process determines the end result, and as long as the process is consistent and well intentioned, the end result is satisfactory no matter its final visual structure. Here is a photograph of his work:
Cinerama Dome, 1993
This is one of the main processes I work within when creating projects. On the other hand, this is exactly how I do not work when creating landscape photographs. Landscape photographs require, usually, an attentive understanding of the surroundings being captured. That is not to say that this process cannot be applied to landscape photography, in such case as the end result of time lapse cannot be known until the process has finished, but rather the process does not rule the final product, instead both work in conjunction.
As this subject has surely been covered on numerous occasion I won't ramble on about product and process, but rather shift it to an example of my own work. A recent photographic expedition myself and my fiancé embarked on this summer, the result of which was a body of work focused on Superfund sites, followed closely in line with the process of Sugimoto. This is not to say that our physical processes were that similar, in fact they are generally very different, but the effect of our processes holds the same generation of the result. The project focused on capturing elements of Superfund site throughout the Eastern United States, as South as Georgia. I won't explain in complete detail exactly what these places are, that information can be found here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superfund . To further examine this, my goal was to allow the process to define the end result. Each of these locations has their own unique personality, and the affect they had on their community and their surroundings are surprisingly significant. Therefore, I did not want to place an identical process on each place, but rather let the place give me the process by which I will work from. For example, one site we visited was the CTS of Asheville. This place had surprisingly peaceful elements, and did not strike me as overtly threatening, unlike many other locations on our list. To this effect, I decided that obscuring its initial impression by deleting its physical and visual personality would be the process by which I would approach this site. I noticed several striking and overt colors throughout the landscape, a substantial building with a bright pink hue, and the obvious green canopied background. These were the impressions I would capture my photographs from. Another conjunctive process I had been using throughout our travels was the process of rotational long exposures. This would simultaneously obscure the exact details of the landscape while including a wider range of information from the landscape, albeit incoherent information. All of these processes were working in tandem, and very little thought was being given to the final result. To give context, here is the a final result from the process:
This image, although not overtly speaking directly to the idea of Superfund sites, does in fact clearly define the place where the photograph was taken. While disjunctive, this exact set of visual information could not be reproduced anywhere but this exact location, without the help of photoshop, of course. It is through its deletion of structured information that it can breath as its own work, while still beckoning back to the place of its origin. This photograph, in some way, has a connection to Sugimoto's work. The location, parameters, processes, medium (his on film, mine on digital), and result were all different, yet the result still examines a place through time and through qualities that are otherwise unanalyzed. Just as this work can only be reproduced with the exact same conditions in the exact same location, and preferably at the exact time and date (which we know is now impossible), Every movie Sugimoto captures has a different final value. No two films give off the exact same amount of final light, and the hue of that light also differs from film to film. I imagine it in this context; The final impression left on the viewer of the movie Forest Gump is almost certainly different from the final impression of Silence of the Lambs, correct? And in the same way, based on how each was filmed in different places at different times and with different equipment, the final conglomeration of all of the light produced from the film would also be different. Each movie has its own "light signature", if you will. This is how I hope my work will be defined as well. I do not wish to capture the same "light signatures" as others, but rather find my own to capture.
The discussion of my product and process in comparison to Sugimoto's is not to inflate my work to the high reaches of renowned photographers, but rather to open discussion about each photographer's process, and how they compare and contrast. What makes a photo inspiring or otherwise enticing? What does the process used say about the photographer or artist and the message? Is the process more important than the end result? I don't know, but it is surely a topic that can be further explored.