Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Far Near, Near Far

Nov 24, 2017 - Luke Withers

In his essay ‘The Right Distance’, Joan Fontcuberta dissects the relationship between the physical distance of the photographer and the optically transporting quality of the camera lens. He makes an interesting comparison between the experience of the ‘documentary photographer’ and the ‘paparazzi photographer’, one being physically near and optically distant – the documentarian with a wide angle lens – and the other being physically remote but optically near – the paparazzo with the telephoto lens, ‘far near and near far.’


I first used a telephoto lens during my project ‘Wireless’ to photograph the distant islands of Flatholm and Steepholm in the Bristol channel. These were the locations from which many early radio experiments had taken place and where the first successful transmission was received by Marconi in 1897. In my research I had found the event described in the following paragraph:


 “The signals came to us silently and invisibly from the island rock, whose contour was scarcely visible to the naked eye, dancing on that unknown and mysterious agent the Ether.”


The theorist Paul Virillo said ‘All current technologies reduce expanse to nothing, they produce shorter and shorter distances, a shrinking fabric”. I wanted to optically collapse the distance between the transmission point and the Island in a similar manner as the new technology of radio had reduced the expanse of the sea between the points. By using a telephoto lens, I could represent the visual and communicative collapse of distance by both photography and radio, which was itself reflected in Fontcuberta’s writing; “The transition to modernity can be interpreted as a zooming in on the object”.


This is an attempt to visually incorporate the operations of radio technology into the aesthetics of the work, by translating its conceptual workings into their nearest visual counterpart. I’ve since used telephoto lenses during projects in Belfast and Gibraltar where the point of capture is as important as viewpoint from that position.