Weekly Challenge – Spirit

Spirit 1


Today’s dPS challenge is Spirit. I immediately thought of the many and varied buildings of worship around Canberra, but then decided to give it a bit more thought. It is a concept that is rich and deep with meaning.  For example, the term is often used to capture the essence of something, as in “The Spirit Of …”.

To explore the Spirit of Photography, I turned to the history of photography. I pulled out my copy of Gilles Mora’s book, Photospeak: A guide to the ideas, movements and techniques of photography 1839 to the present, parked myself in the sun on this chilly Canberra morning, and wandered through the past.  Two entries formed the genesis of today’s image.

First, Vortographs were a type of photograph born of a philosophical and aesthetic theory called, of all things, Vorticism. It dates around 1914, was established in England by poet Ezra Pound, and “claimed for the artist a place at the centre – or vortex – of the energy of modern life.” A photographer called Alvin Langdon Coburn produced some abstract images using three mirrors arranged like a kaleidoscope. These images were referred to as vortographs. Poor chap. When exhibited in 1917, his vortographs were not well received.

These days, it might be hard to argue against the idea that the image maker is the centre of our energised modern life.

The second entry from Photospeak explains how some French theorists got all thoughtful and wordy about the “photographic act”. According to one, Denis Roche, a photographer-writer, “What one photographs is the act of taking a photo”. This statement brings up mental pictures of people photographing themselves in the mirror – taking a photograph of themselves taking a photograph.

The French theorists argued that photography differs to other art forms in that photography contains an automatic or mechanised process, when “the operator is supplanted by the machine at the moment of shooting”. That got me thinking.

Would it be possible to place the machine at the vortex? Would the resulting image capture something of the Spirit of Photography?


On the technical front, the setup and the exposure were the key considerations this week.

Spirit set up 1Thankfully, I had enough portable mirrors that could be arranged as Coburn might have. In this case, three mirrors proved too cumbersome but two placed at right angles proved interesting enough. A couple of test shots later and I decided to place my TV screen behind the camera to clean up the background.

Because of the placement of the mirrors in relation to the light source, the auto exposure produced a very boring and dark image. This was my first chance to play with the exposure using the AV+- button that I only discovered a few weeks ago. I pushed it as far as it would go, +2.

I’m happy with the result. It makes me feel energised.





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