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The art of seeing #18: Illusion and allusion and the appeal of the negative

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)
About Benedict Brain

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)

Benedict Brain is a UK based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine.

This image was taken as part of an ongoing series I’m working on, ever so slowly. In the series, I’m finding my way through ideas that relate the landscape to Greek mythology. To be honest, I’m not quite sure where it’s going, but it rumbles on in the background and vaguely informs my interaction with the land as I work in various parts of the world.

Naturally, as I’ve alluded to several times in this column, notions of metaphor play a role in adding layers of meaning to my pictures. However, aesthetically and stylistically this image doesn’t fit in with the rest of the series. So, it’s something of an outlier and won’t make the final cut, I’m sure. However, it’s also one of my favourites, as a stand-alone image. I inverted the image in Photoshop so that the tones are totally reversed, like a negative. I used to love looking at the negative images on a freshly processed roll of film. I often felt disappointed after making a positive print that the negative’s magical otherworldliness had somehow dissipated. There’s something about this image which captures that magic for me.

I photographed the olive trees at night and used flash to illuminate them. As a consequence, the negative tones feel quite natural in their tonal rendition, even though something’s clearly awry. I enjoy this quirky aspect. The effect has also captured some strange shadows and even some flying insects. It feels a little like a delicate pencil drawing. The layered tonality receding into the background caused by the limitations of the flash and the night sky also create an effect that alludes to oriental art.

What I like most about the image is that the olive trees feel like dancers in a beautiful terpsichorean ballet, choreographed with a delicate grace worthy of the Greek gods as they reach out to each other in perfect harmony. BB

• Other articles in the Art of Seeing series

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