Ian Talbot: Retrospective – Shitake Mushrooms :: Objectivity
Chapter 39 of the ongoing series Ian Talbot : Retrospective by British fine art photographer Ian Talbot.
Shitake Mushrooms :: Objectivity
© Ian Talbot
“To attempt to improve one’s power of observation by looking through a lens, one must renounce the attempt to achieve knowledge by means of the other senses or from hearsay.” Michel Foucault
Todays image is one I made some time ago while still somewhat in thrall to the influence of Irving Penn. My aim here, as far as I can recall, was to simply present the bunch of shitake mushrooms to the viewer in as elegant and simple a fashion as possible. Although these mushrooms are indeed eminently edible this is not intended to be food photography; there is no clue provided as to whether they are good or, indeed, even safe to eat. In many ways it is merely a celebration of the “thingness”, the objectivity, of the natural form.
Of course such simple presentation is no trivial thing. There is a certain craft to be employed; placing the subject within the frame, the reproduction of tonal values, a delicacy in the split toning of the monochrome image etc. Penn would have most likely opted to have the image be sharp all over but here I depart from his influence. To be “in thrall to” implies a certain slavery or bondage, albeit an intellectual one; naturally one feels the urge to break free at some point. I made the decision to restrict the plane of sharpness for two reasons: I feel that there is a point where a degree of sharpness provides all the necessary information, any more being superfluous. And most importantly I simply think that it looks better.
Photography is in some ways a strange and unnatural enterprise. It is somewhat unusual to stare at, to study at length. In the day to day world of vision the glance most often reigns supreme. Of course, one employs the same sort of method when drawing or painting but the end result is not the same at all. At its most prosaic the photograph is irrefutable evidence that something existed at a certain time and in a certain place; something that no drawing or painting can aspire to. The quest to impart something more than mere information or “evidence” about any given subject, however, is the ever present challenge implicit in every photographic endeavour I may seek to undertake.
The more I think about Foucault’s quote above the less I am convinced by it; or should I say the less I may hope to ever be convinced by it. For to acquiesce to his notion would mean my quest is over and has failed.