PHOTOGRAPHY THESIS BY MAEGAN WESTDORP
without being spoken, a simple idea will sometimes of it's own accord
What drives this body of work is the search for the sublime in the production of art. I approach every artistic endeavor from a faith-based perspective of all my experiences in life, but more specifically photography. As a result, the concept for my thesis project involves an exploration of the major themes surrounding the subject of the sublime. I chose to work on the sublime because I am routinely motivated to work within the genre of spirituality in my art, and I was very curious to more thoroughly investigate the peripheries of the issue.
From collaborated sources, my understanding of the sublime describes an object or image that inspires awe. There is a presence of something untranslatable, and spiritual when you see that there is something amazing and wonderful about that object or image- whether it holds beauty or intelligence. Because these images are of flowers, there is also the presence of sensuality through the flower itself being a sensual being, and there is the visual discussion of life and death through the interesting biological parts of the flowers themselves.
intentions for this body of work, was to share the revelations I have
experienced in the past year in a visual manner. In the simplest sense
of my goals, I hope that my artwork inspires awe to the viewer and brings
them into a space where they can also contemplate why (if they do) they
enjoy the images, and then maybe they may come to understand more of
the sublime. I think that the viewer will only be able to connect the
spirituality in my work when they understand that these may hold elements
of the sublime.
started this year trying to embody spirituality by working with photographs
in the landscape genre. Though they held elements of the sublime within
them, they did not speak with a clear visual voice as to what I was
trying to illuminate. With some guidance, I started to deal with the
real issue of how spirituality and beauty intertwine within the two-dimensional
plane of a photograph. Thus, I began studying the sublime not yet knowing
its existence as a formal aesthetic criterion. Through reading some
philosophically challenging essays concerning the theoretical grounds
of the sublime and what it stands for, I found that my images of complex
disintegrating flowers are a reaction, rejection, and simulation of
what I now understand the subject of the sublime to be.
body of work contains 8 pieces. Each image is a portrait of a flower
which I have chosen for its sustaining elements of beauty. Each flower
has past its bloom, and has started to wither. All the photographs were
taken in studio with 4 x 5 color film for high-resolution images. The
final size of the prints are 20 X 24, and are uniformly similar in composition,
along with white backgrounds. There is only one visual element to this
project, which is the straight photograph.
used 4 x 5 color negatives because they retain their integrity and high
detail. I think this was an important step of production because my
intention is to bring the viewer to recognize the major ideas and elements
of this work through the detail of the flowers. These plants and flowers
all hold the quality of decay and life within themselves, and were chosen
because of those very qualities. They were also selected because they
each held their own presence of delicacy, so that, while studying them,
they drew me closer and I found myself just enjoying the search for
the perfection of creation, the imperfection of decay, and the beauty
of the biological. It is also interesting to note that, in most of the
images you cannot tell whether they are all dying or they are just regenerating
themselves, which leaves discussion open to the issues of new life,
death, rejuvenation, details of physical creation, and even the possibility
of beauty in decay. I chose to print the final project 20 x 24 because
my intention is to draw the viewer into a space where they can contemplate
and experience them in an intimate manner, and I think that if they
were made smaller (or larger), it would not be so.
help strengthen and mold my understanding of what the sublime is I have
read many essays and books. Kandinsky is the first artist who has helped
me see clearly my personal mission in my work. However, his work regarding
beauty and sublimity delved further into abstraction whereas mine branches
into minimalism, or into the concrete. His perspective has opened my
eyes to not only the communication of the sublime and beauty through
visual art, but also in other artistic experiences one might encounter
(i.e. music and dance). I have also been looking at Karl Blossveldt's
photographs, and they have helped me grasp and understand the element
of sublime that makes you gaze in awe at the image. The cinematographer
Steve Cosens for his work in the Canadian film Flower and Garnet, which
debuted in the 2002 International Film Festival in Toronto. His work
is important to me because of his style portrayed in the film, and the
melancholic backgrounds which help illustrate the solemn story that
is being revealed in the film.
more recent philosophical influences include Kant, Hegel, Plato and
Kandinsky. Kant writes of a separation between beauty and the sublime
into discrete segments. And though he does express how they are different,
he is also sure to mention how the one helps the other to evolve. He
describes the differences between both quite well, "The sublime
moves, the beautiful charms.... Sublime is sometimes accompanied with
a certain dread, or melancholy; in some cases merely with quiet wonder...
The lively sensation of the beautiful proclaims itself through shining
Through my personal excursion to develop an understanding of the sublime, I have created a body of work that holds those efforts through the visual photograph. My hopes are that these images will bring the viewer to a place where they can enjoy the images for the sublime aspects that they hold.
Karl Blossfeld Botanical Study - Verbena canadensi, Male Fern, Sea Holly, Yarrow, Monkshood
Cinematographer Steve Cosens for his work in the Canadian film Flower and Garnet, which debuted in the 2002 International Film Festival in Toronto.
Blossfeldt, Karl. Karl Blossfeldt: Fotografie. (Germany: Cantz Verlag, 1994).
Brand, Hilary and Adrienne Chaplin. Art & Soul: Signposts for Christians in the Arts. (Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2001).
Bredin, Hugh and Liberato Santoro-Brienza. Philosophies of Art and Beauty: Introducing Aesthetics. (Edinburgh University Press, 2000).
Burke, Edmund. "A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful", (1757), Aesthetics: The Big Questions, ed. Carolyn Korsmeyer, (Blackwell Publishers, 1988).
Hickey, Dave. The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty. (Art issues/The Foundation for Advanced Critical Studies, 1993).
Kandinsky, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Trans. M.T.H. Sadler. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1977).
Kant, Immanuel. Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime, Parts 1 & 2. trans. John T. Goldthwait. (University of California Press, 1960).
Longinus, "on the Sublime", from Aristotle/Horace/Longinus, Classical Literary Criticism. Trans. T. S. Dorsch. (Penguin Books, 1965).
Maplethorpe, Robert. Robert Maplethorpe. Ed. Dimitri Levas. (Tokyo: Parco co., 1987).
Plato. The Essential Plato. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1999).
Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1973).
Maegan Guérette for P(r)o(ph)etic Productions, 2003.