ARTIST 'S STATEMENT: JOHN OUGHTON
ZERO APERTURE, PHOTOGRAPHER
After reading Yeats, the Tarot and the Golden Dawn by Kathleen
Raine, and The Negative by Ansel Adams
The number Zero is a Fool
an empty O under glass
who seeks more in a scene
but what is, is
the Fool is bottomed in bells
which strike against
the rained grass
a little dog named Dark
dogs his heels
When the sky blasts light
his index finger will twitch
up ahead, where he does not look
the cliff ends. Like a shutter
he will trip
and instead catch his foot
on the living tree which
gives off light
Note: in a traditional analogue camera, the aperture number states how much light the lens will admit in a given time – the lower the number, the more light. An aperture of zero is impossible.
I wrote this poem some time ago, reflecting on the paradoxes in one form of artmaking: photography. The photographer's raw material is the same as everyone else's – the world. To elevate a photo from a snapshot to art requires added value, the “more” that the photographer as Fool wants here. But where does that added value come from if the artist is merely a receptive vessel, full only of the “negative capability” that John Keats described – the receptive, sensitive quality?
Another irony this poem tackles is the question of whether, in seeking this “more”, the artist is in fact missing what is front of him; in his search for the enriched image, he falls off the cliff. Yes there is serendipity in this too; part of my self-identification with the Fool figure is that he can stumble onto unexpected gifts.
I have chosen this poem to begin my artist's statement because it not only speaks to issues I engage, but it also conveys some of what I hope makes my art different:. Elements of my character and tastes – my love of suprise, of unusual juxtapositions, of humour, of finding allure and strangeness in the everyday, trying to understand the world as it exists and as it presents ourselves to my nervous systems and cultural windows -- inform all my creative work.
I think my major motive is not to present myself for others to see, but rather to convey the universe as I see it. To me, poetry comes closest to an uncensored, rich representation of my mental and emotional traffic when I am deeply engaged with something or someone. Its formal freedom allows me to weave memories, fantasies, perceptions, echos, verbal music and the many other elements that constitute poetry. Photography is my next most successful art, as I have a talent for seeing what others overlook, and sometimes presenting it in an arresting visual capture. For me, creating is a continuing pleasure. The exact form or medium of expression is not as important. I find satisfaction also in improvising on guitar and hand drums, although my technique is not as developed as in poetry and photography.
The one artistic goal I see now – which I guess can also be a research objective – is to find or invent a form that allows me to bring my poetry, photography and music together in one artistic whole. I've tried PowerPoint shows, little videos, multi-media performance, but none of them has yet achieved as satisfying an effect as one good poem or photo on its own.
Causes John Oughton Supports
PEN International, Amnesty International, League of Canadian Poets, POR AMOR, Greenpeace