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The glass landscapes of Frances Seward

For my third female photographer I have chosen the British artist Frances Seward. I came across her work a while back and was intrigued as to how she created her stunning images. Born in London in 1967, Frances learned modern foreign languages and worked in publishing before changing direction and taking photography at night class when she emigrated to Boston, USA. In 2003 she moved to New Mexico and studied with Andre Ruesch, Siegfried Halus and Jenny Holzer in Santa Fe.

I find the journeys of these female photographers interesting. So far all three have moved country to pursue their passion, and maybe for Frances, like Uta, it was the quality of light in Santa Fe that opened up possibilities in her work. In 2017 she moved away from creating abstract landscapes and developed a unique style using glass and light to create non-representational images, and they are really thought-provoking and pleasing to look at.

Described as a contemporary abstract photographer, Frances says of her photography: "I do not try to record the world exactly as I see it. It is my goal to create an internal experience with the camera and photo-based media". I find that interesting - provoking an internal response. She goes on to say that "while I draw my inspiration from the photographers Steiglitz, Minor White and Erst Haas (nb all male!) I am also drawn to the classic and contemporary painters Turner, Kandinsky and Rothko" (nb again, all male!). I think it is worth commenting on this gender balance. I recognise that before I started this project I would have been hard-pressed myself to have named three female artists and three female photographers, and so I can appreciate why this was for Frances. I am also clear that it strengthens the case for my own project, so that people become more aware of the work of female artists too. Frances also says: " I am seduced by the emotional effects of light" and that 'I incorporate the five senses into my process'. These phrases particularly hit home with me, as I have come to realise how relevant this mindful approach is to my own creations.

On her website are six series of minimalist abstract images that she notes are reminiscent of land, desert and seascapes. And this is where it is tricky for me! As the Tate states "Abstract art is art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead use shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect", while abstract expressionism is abstract but also emotional and expressive. There is no intended representation of reality, and yet Frances seems to be aiming for a particular outcome in her creations, for example a sea- or landscape. There is a deliberate line across the images to form an 'horizon' and in some a sense of the sun. Many of her images are reminiscent of Turner, and she captures movement beautifully despite being in her studio photographing static pieces of different coloured glass!

I realised that this approach fitted with my journey so far on this project. Constructing a series of images a la Frances Seward would mean that again I could be creative in my own home, drawing on found objects and using natural light. Frances says of her Distillation series that it "employs phenomenological light and the interconnectedness of perception of the mind and the actions of the body to evoke metaphor, feelings and memories that allude to cross sensory associations and experiences. I hope to transport the viewer from an observer to a participant where they use their eyes as gateways to experience the visual elements of each piece with the other senses in their own regard".

With these words in mind I set out to experiment. I was blessed with yet another glorious day with strong sunlight so I decided to work outside. I collected several coloured glass bottles and vases. By chance, I had also poured myself some sparkling water in a patterned glass and soon this provided further inspiration!

I soon found that the possibilities were endless! Combining different colours and shapes of glassware, and changing my perspective, altered the intensity of the light passing through the glass and so the resulting depth of colour. Very little post-processing was needed - some editing of small bits of blown highlights and decisions about cropping and the format.

Here are some of the results. In this first set you can see how I played around with just one coloured bottle to practise the technique. You can also see the way that the light changes depending on the amount of refraction and blurring.

In the second set I tried to create a 'landscape' effect in the way that Frances does and I was really pleased with the results. Quite subtle hues, reminiscent of scenery and yet not, making one look again. Imbuing a sense of peace perhaps.

and these moved my thinking further on:

More experimentation made me realise how the possibilities are endless! Changing positions of the different glasses, shooting through sparkling water and not being sharp with the focus lead to the images below. The pink/blue/green combination is pleasing to the eye, with the flashes of light creating interesting shapes:

In this set I aimed for bright colours a la Elaine de Koonig and Fanny Sanín (a Colombian artist) and I love the playful light, which provokes an internal response from me - joy!

Here the orange palette provides a vibrant energy that is very uplifting:

So, although I started with Frances Seward's approach, using glass and light, the images I have produced are distinct. And I have yet to play with composites!

NB Here are the resources that I used in creating these images with my Canon R and Sigma Macro 105mm 2.8 lens.

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