Thursday, June 08, 2006

Poplars on the Epte

Claude Monet, Poplars on the Banks of the Epte, 1891

In 1891 Claude Monet painted Poplars on the Epte, Poplars along the River Epte, Autumn and several other views of the same landscape, working outside at specific times of day. He claimed he could only work on each painting for seven minutes at the most, ‘until the sunlight left a certain leaf’. These snapshots of a fixed view in different lighting conditions came to mind recently when I was looking at the images of a webcam on a hotel in Cornwall, which takes hourly photographs of Mawgan Porth Beach. But these webcam images are machine landscapes with no artistic personality, just the disembodied viewpoint of a hotel building. They do not claim to be more than a simple means of checking the local weather. The importance of the viewpoint might be seen in a comparison with another camera set up to film the sea, in Tacita Dean’s Disappearance at Sea II (1997). The views may be similar (and very different from a painted seascape) but in Tacita Dean’s film the role of the artist is clear in the choice of a resonant location for the camera, mounted in the position of the lighthouse bulb, gradually swivelling and gazing out to sea.

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