Artist Study: Fiona Crisp/Long Exposure/Pinhole Photography

My tutor recommended that I studied several different photographers and the one I was most inspired by was ‘Fiona Crisp’  She captures incredible large scale photographs of subjects that are not only different to look upon, but also quite sinister. The places she choses are those with dark or powerful histories, they evoke the mood suiting to the situation. For instance she photographed the Early Christian Catacombs in Rome and An Underground Military hospital in the Channel Islands.   She spends long periods of time getting to know her subject and exploring every inch to perfect the photograph. Then when she takes it it isn’t just a snapshot, these are perfection timed long exposures, some of up to three or four hours long.  With such a long exposure she is really pressured to capture the photo first time.

What makes her photography even more extraordinary is that she doesn’t use the most prestigious camera equipment/brands, instead she captures all this with a pin hole camera. She stated in an interview here (  )   about her photographic equipment, The pinhole cameras I make have a hole drilled in copper for a lens and no viewing system. I have used these cameras on several projects in the past as a way of removing the primacy of sight from the photographic process. This may seem like a bizarre idea since photography is an inherently visual medium, but when I was in Rome, for example, I found the visual spectacle of the city so overbearing that it was almost impossible to work with conventional cameras without producing a visual cliché. With a pinhole camera you can never ‘see’ the image as it is being taken. It is only later, when one is removed from the time and space of the site, that one perceives that place as an image.”

In this same interview she spoke about her time in Italy photographing the catacombs, “I took a guided tour of one of the catacomb sites and was struck by the sculptural presence of the labyrinthine tunnels that are, essentially, an architecture made by extracting matter. I ended up working in the catacombs over a period of several months, taking negatives in this environment that was intensely interior, where the climate, summer and winter, is absolutely stable and the silence is profound. All these factors made it an extraordinary site within which to make still images because many of the basic precepts of photography – light, time, space – are partially or wholly suspended, meaning I was making a still image of an environment that was, in essence, already ‘still’    This powerful experience and its bearing on the visual and conceptual life of the work became a precedent for the subterranean sites that I have since chosen to work in.”

Something that struck me that the interviewer said was this.

When viewing these images, you are aware that no people are pictured, but our role as a viewer means we participate. This sense of the viewer somehow ‘completing’ the work seems highly significant?

Fiona Crisp: The relationship that exists between the time and space of the photograph being taken, and the time and space of the viewer’s experience of the work in the gallery is something that has always greatly interested me. We’ve just been speaking about the different layers of time within the work and the viewer is crucial to this dynamic. For me, this is where the work ultimately exists, in the viewer’s ‘act of encounter’.

This provoked me to further explore my thoughts regarding people in photography.

It’s a question that is always being posed, the inclusion of people in photography, such as landscape. Some believe that you should capture the pure soul of the unscarred landscape with no human intervention included, whereas people are viewing the image and seeing others in photography resonates with us as Michael Freeman said, “We as humans are naturally drawn towards other human in photographs.”  I read an article in one of my favorite magazines, “Outdoor Photography” and was struck by something the editor said. He was in town in the Winter and the view was stunning with snow and ice creating such a magical vista, he framed his photo but realised there were many people in the photo. He lifted the camera so only the natural landscape was captured and all at once it lost it’s beauty. What has always stayed with me is that he didn’t take the photo. This seemed so strange to me as surely the point of photography is to find those beautiful moments and to capture them, regardless of rules of human inclusion. The photograph would have been a beautiful one, that would resonate with people but instead he chose to lose the photo due to those rules.

 Returning to Fiona Crisp’s work 

Finally, one of the effects that hits me in her work is that you feel you could walk right into it. The effect of long exposures

She really attempts to go beyond photography, capturing subjects that both move, enthrall and evoke emotions in the viewer,

Check out a full interview with Crisp here

I will leave you with these words that seem especially poignant.

“The apparently disparate locations for the images were chosen primarily for the sense of a dislocated physical power that they evoke but many of the sites are also tourist destinations where complex relationships between heritage, leisure and history are brought into question.  Here, contrary to a location’s specific historic purpose that allowed access to a defined group of users, these sites have now been opened up for tourism where the boundaries between modern experience and historical truth are unavoidably blurred.”



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