Concept and Intuition, Part 2: Prairie Modern

In Part 1, I proposed a model for the roles of concept and intuition and discussed how it played out in the Prairie Waters project.  In Part 2, I’m going to examine the Prairie Modern project.

It could, and perhaps should, be called Roads and Horizons.  It’s two projects that I banged together after the fact when I put this site together.  I felt neither project was strong enough to stand on its own and they are closely related.  

The roads came first.  I was driving along the highway connecting Edmonton and Calgary taking pictures in my head.  It occurred to me I should make an effort to take some of those photographs with a camera.

I went on excursions to photograph around roads.  I started by focusing on overpasses, but the results weren’t satisfying.  One winter morning I was wandering along a ditch overlooking the highway.  Rather than looking out into the surrounding fields away from the road - a more conventional point of view - I was looking back onto the road.  

Pair, Alberta, 2005

Pair, Alberta, 2005

Roads are often framed as a visual pathway leading into a scene.  The view from side appealed to me because it shows the road slicing through the landscape.

I included objects in and around the roads as integral parts of the composition.  I was interested in drawing attention to mundane details often excluded from the frame.

Farmhouse, Alberta, 2005

Later I began simplifying the scenes into horizontal lines.  This was in part a response to observing how completely these landscapes have been transformed and groomed by people.  It's like the landscape has been machined into this simpler form.  

After Gursky, Alberta, 2005

I also stumbled upon the idea of framing scenes to include the top of the road as the foreground. 

Cracked, Alberta, 2005

Pond, Alberta, 2005

Such variations seem informed by both concept and intuition.  

Driving through the prairie provided ample time to consider concepts, perhaps to the point where I was getting in the way of myself.  

I was seeking more abstract images.  I imagined photographs with a few, simple bands of colour like a Rothko painting.  That contrasted elegantly with the Prairie Waters photographs which I likened to abstract expressionist paintings.  But that search became frustrating because roads are usually a messier affair.  My pursuit of an idealized landscape could blind me to the one in front of me.  Or perhaps I just needed to be more committed to finding those simplified landscapes.  At the time, I felt I was driving into a cul-de-sac.     

One evening, I was driving to an area where I planned to spend a few days photographing roads.  I had gotten a late start, so as twilight arrived I was mostly focused on reaching my destination.  I came upon a pile of grain.  It seemed like a pyramid.  Even though it wasn’t a road I felt compelled to stop and photograph it.

Prairie Pyramid, Alberta, 2005

I liked the idea of that photograph so much I abandoned the roads and spent the next several days making photographs of smallish things on the horizon.  This was one of them.

Tractor, Alberta, 2005

I sought more like this and found a few adhering to the strict format:

Canola Power, Alberta, 2005

Herd of Deer, Alberta, 2006

But again, they were difficult to find and I became frustrated.  It’s an interesting concept, but one that requires more patience.  I was very pleased with the deer.  I wanted some cattle and horses.  Rather than hoping to come upon such a scene by chance (as I did with the deer) I could have improved my chances by working with farmers.    

I made other photographs that were similar, but less stringent in their constraints, more informed by intuition.   

Prairie Sundial, Alberta, 2005

A Touch of Green, Alberta, 2005

When pulled together, the resulting portfolio reflects this series of partially developed threads.  I might have benefited from giving intuition freer reign.  For example, just photographing the roads as I found them without concern for a high degree of abstraction.  The Prairie Waters photographs were never as abstract as I imagined them anyway!  Alternatively, I might have benefited from stronger conceptually imposed constraints.  For instance, I could have photographed from the tops of roads, but always using the same focal length and placing the far edge of the road on the ⅓ line.  Or I might have continued to work on the ‘things on the horizon’ project to slowly accumulate more.  Of course, there’s nothing stopping me from trying any or all of these approaches in the future. 

There was certainly a lot of toing and froing between concept and intuition.  It generated interesting sub-themes and variations.  I might have achieved greater impact by more cohesively developing fewer ideas.  Or I could have generated more variation with a less constrained approach.  I wonder how it comes comes across in the Prairie Modern portfolio?  Let me know in the comments.    

Six Bins, Alberta, 2005