Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Defense of Leaving the Single Image Behind

Wow.  Let me just start somewhere, eh?  In defense of what’s above, but also in defense of letting oneself embrace the rambling mind.  Tangential threads – welcome!  I don’t know if it’s the nature of secluded time during an artist’s residency (certainly in part) or if it’s more to do with this newfound freedom I’ve embraced, of yes, leaving the single image, for one.

Now, this is not a new thought for me.  I’ve known for some time that I was no longer interested in the photographic “moment” per se.  And that gets back to my fixation on the instant, or instance (is instance plural of instant? – an instance, as encompassing a duration, but yet an instant occupies a duration as well, but do we think of it as inherently being more brief, I wonder – and then what about “moment” – for whatever reason that conjures within me a more lingering, poetic passage of time, one “brief moment” could seem to endure for a painfully long time, whereas we think of things being “over in an instant”).  At any rate, you can see where the (my) problem lies.

So I choose to work with multiple frames – generally those that were captured (in time and in space) very close together.  I’m certain this also has to do with a general shift in subject matter over the years and also a different set of preoccupations.  I work fast/slow – both methodically and stupidly.  It’s always in response to the world, but either that which has been sitting there for quite a while, with minimal transformation other than seasonal/environmental (landscape type spaces) or that which is in my immediate surround, also mainly sitting there pretty quietly, aside from my random interventions – but mainly it’s just me looking at a space, a corner, a slice, responding to something that was prompted simply by virtue of perception. (I rambled off the next paragraph and in the midst had to take a break to photograph the bedspread in the sunlight, because I noticed something when I walked back to the desk from fixing my tea – how many bedspreads in sunlight can I photograph?  Apparently, quite a few.  They’re all different, of course – maybe a separate post on that later). 

Right so, back to the single image chit-chat.  I realize this is not a new notion – photographers have certainly worked with multiples of similarity before and there are many examples out there (Meatyard comes to mind quickly, with some of his repetitive landscape abstractions), and there are even more examples with contemporary work (yes, Uta Barth, I know – but many others as well) and I suspect that more and more of this will become common.  We are now very accustomed to a photographic type or way of seeing, and many of us realize this does not necessarily attach itself solely to one view of a subject from a fixed vantage point for a predetermined fraction (or sometimes longer) of a second.  

What we get from that type of representation (which can certainly be remarkable) is a stable relic of sorts – or maybe even a suggestion that eternity has been fixed in an instant (to paraphrase Cartier-Bresson).  But what has been fixed, really?  (And this is sort of hard to get at in relation to a Cartier-Bresson quote, because I can understand his perspective as a street photographer, thinking about the flux of humanity, rapidly passing in front of his lens and indeed, isolating a solitary fragment from the flow – fixing, perhaps, a bit of the optical unconscious.)  But how then could we attach this idea to images of landscape, or those that sit still – even a formal portrait, perhaps?  When time presents itself as its own entity (part of the subject matter, or even as subject itself) the single photograph confounds our expectations, operating differently in response to subject matter that does not move than to that which can (possibly) be captured or halted.  The descriptive qualities of the photographic image are mesmerizing, to be sure, and to be able to fix our gaze for “an eternity” is one thing – but to suggest that somehow an instant has been captured is problematic.  There is duration.  And there is no saying where that duration starts, or where it ends.  Hence, the filmic representation can only do so much as well – always decontextualizing the world, that’s all any re-presentation can do.  

So there’s no solution to this through use of the multiple either (thankfully).  It’s simply another way of drawing out this kind of photographic seeing in relation to, I suppose, metaphysical questions of being and knowing.  I choose to emphasize the fragmentary nature of photographic depiction by replicating and reiterating, thereby emphasizing the gaps within perception in general.  I’m still in love with the notion of the transcendental photographer as suggested by Laruelle (in an earlier post) and also with Hollis Frampton’s notion of an “infinite cinema” – the camera always having been running and will continue to run forever, we plunk out little bits at a time – and also with Crary’s emphasis upon the inability to represent the temporal experience within the camera obscura – all of this is jumbled around with my thinking about the multiple, but more specifically about what we expect from or desire from the camera, and the camera image.

Frame (Follows) Focus

Studio wall after first batch of work proofs

Reducing, rearranging, re-printing
Just sitting in a chair, staring at a wall, looking, thinking.  Damn, that’s not so bad.  I’m in residency mode – too bad it’s already been a week, and I’ve only got another left.  Perfectly fine though, it’s been a solid week of a ridiculous array of stuff.  For instance, I just now got up off the floor, where I was lying on my stomach pouring out a glass of water over a piece of crimson fabric, watching it almost immediately soak back in and evaporate on the wood paneled floor.  What led me to do that?  Who the hell knows.  I was screwing around with this fabric, and some thread and scotch tape – not really getting anywhere, looking at it and moving around, re-framing, both my body and my camera.  At first I created peaks that seemed miraculously able to hold their form toward the sky with no support – unless I focused on the silver threads or thick chunks of tape.  But, I wanted something else that would add to the material(s), something else to visually fixate upon in relation to that material in both a visual and imagined (or imaged) space.  So I got up to get a glass of water, so I could add small drops.  Then, I liked the small glass as well.  So I decided to include it in the scenario – plunked it down and tipped it over.  It was really quite perfect, the way one of the gaps in the wood flooring functioned as a dam of sorts, keeping the water from reaching the camera body.  Didn’t much matter anyway, as it soaked right back into the floor in a matter of moments (ah, that tricky term again – you see though, I mention a matter of moments – decidedly distinct from a moment. Perhaps….) 

So a quick note on the frame follows focus bit – that’s kind of what I was up to, or what was happening as I sat in the chair here (same one I’m in now, a slight pivot to the right and my sight line shifts from the studio wall covered in prints – and the glass and fabric on the floor – to a desk and paned window with sticklike trees spattered across).  Each shift of my body prompts my vision to respond by focusing on a new point, no matter how close or far together, and it’s quick this shift, we don’t generally notice.  But with each shift in focus, a new frame follows.  A frame of reference, a frame of pattern, of space, of self as well.  And I found this happening quite a lot today, all week really.  I’ve been especially aware of each new set of images that result from this kind of focal variance, and subsequent framing.  What’s interesting is that (and I may be very wrong about this, but) it seems as though the focus is instantaneous whereas the framing is just a bit more purposeful or conscious, or at least more conscious.  This leads me back to thinking around notions of what Bergson calls pure perception (that which is of an immanent sort, containing immediacy) and apperception, which relies on the comingling of things coming together/experiential understanding and knowledge that we have stored. 

I’ll get into this a tad more in relation to the admittedly disparate work I’m creating these days.  I know it all stems from a common set of concerns, and a general response to the world, but I need to sort out for myself how to either work on several things simultaneously, or determine where they come together (and if even this is necessary).

Not so easy to get on-line up in these parts.  Couple more posts will follow, likely.  Then, back to my once per week Sunday style.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

From Time (To Time) - and a Hiatus

Gotta take a break for a minute.  Too much to catch up on – end of semester craziness, random deadlines looming, various thisthatandtheotherness.  I’m only allowing myself this break from weekly posting as I plan to write on an (almost) daily basis during my upcoming winter residency at Hambidge beginning soon.  I’ll be there for almost two weeks, and plan to do some serious multi-tasking.  With limited internet, posting will be a tad difficult, but I’ll get some thoughts and some imagery up at least every other day.

But, a quick thought before I take this short break.  That phrase up there, the title of this post, you know.  It’s from a series/project that I started in 2007 or so.  It was the first thing I did that got me really going on the still/moving thing with multiple panel photographs and identical moving imagery.  It was a bit short lived and was abandoned (I think) too quickly.  And it was just called from time to time.  Not, from time (to time).  The phrase was used to infer both the ideas of “occasionally” as is its common use, but also to speak to the flitting around from “space to space and time to time”.  But I was thinking of it again today and really fixating on the specifics of language within the phrase. 

What does it really mean to say that you think of, or do something “from time to time”?  What an odd turn of phrase really.  Because if it means occasionally, or on occasion – I suppose that refers to an instant or a time – an occasion.  So, more accurately one would say “sometimes” – which we also do.  Sometimes.  Referring to multiple occasions or instances.  But not, “from time to time”.  That’s different than “sometimes”.  To go from one time to (another) time.  That infers movement and distinct periods as well – and refers to the passage of time.  And so I suppose that phrase is sort of bound to memory, pretty specifically, or at the very least notions of the past as relived in the present.

Any rate – my new (or continued) thinking is still tied to all this, so I may bring back the phrase.  It also relates (a bit) to my continued use of tracking shots – as being distinct from the pan that turns around an axis (the tracking shot in fact moves in a direct linear motion from one time/space to another).  Yeah so, from time (to time).  I’ll get back to you on that.

I’ll leave us with a short, unedited video clip from last week.
Next transmission – from a cabin in the mountains....

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Glitter, Glitter, Everywhere But Not A Drop to Drink

And so it goes, this week.  Free association mania, you might say.
No time to sit and write anything of substance this week.  Instead, just some pictures.
I’ve got movement too, that I can work with.  Last few weeks I’ve fiddled with the static multiples.  Video comes next.  Probably.  Below is a working draft of a statement of sorts for the current batch of stuff.

No One Was With Her When She Died
2009 - Ongoing
A Work in Progress

These images were made in reaction and response to my daily surroundings within and throughout the home, studio and landscape.  They serve as recordings of my efforts to make visible perceptual inconsistencies between experienced and recorded time.  Trees, weeds and leaves along with dew, sparkles, plastic and glass are the materials at play within these fixated non-moments, where only a peripheral glimpse is captured within an endless optical flow.  These scenes sit empty and alone.  I sometimes lament that we cannot “know” things in time, but only through recollection, which can be temporally very near or very far.   And so, I look through and to the camera as both device and mechanism for perceiving and being in space and time.

 Click on the image for a larger view

Sunday, November 4, 2012

No (One) Was With Her When She Died - Part II


Click on image for enlarged view

Let me just get into this phrase a bit, and why I fixate on it, and why I’m wanting to use it to guide this latest group of imagery.  A few things, I’ll try to break it down and go through them briefly.  First, it’s the phrase itself – the poignancy of course but also its precise matter of factness coupled with an uneasy ambiguity.  Second is the action and the time inferred in the phrase – the inference of one/with/when.  Third is its relationship to a photographic kind of thinking (I guess, if there is such a thing – more accurately I could say my own peculiar way of thinking photographically). 

So about the phrase – not only this one but so many others like it.  I’m working with this one now because it’s leading me along these other threads, but the reason I acknowledge others like it, is because we’ve all got our own set burned into our brains – images too.  And really, I guess a phrase is also an image, right?  But I want to continue trying to think beyond, but also in between melancholia.  So maybe only beyond far enough to come back from the another direction, because I’m not interested in stopping when the maximum level of sentimentality is reached, I want to know how it/we got there in the first place.  So at any rate, yeah, we’ve all got these things burned into our minds that rise up unbeknownst to any kind of voluntary cognition, and they comingle with one another (these phrase-images) and if you don’t grasp a corner somehow, you’re fucked.  They’re gone.  That kind of failure interests me.  The tension around those missed moments (they’re not moments really, need to think of a better term, maybe). 

So that sort of takes me to the second bit.  The time and action in the aforementioned phrase.  The wording suggests that no “one was with her”.  This is different than “nobody was with her”.  It makes me think of the one that cannot be counted (I’ve still got some major re-reading of Badiou on the horizon, but I’m led to think in this manner when I consider this phrase fully).  So the one as absent, and so “not one” – the void (please don’t kill me philosopher friends).  In essence then, there was no ONE with her when she died.  The one could not be counted.  So, we’re not simply talking about being alone or without a companion of any sort, but truly in the midst of nothingness.  Holy christ, that makes the phrase even more crushing to me.  Which of course, I love (now, this relates back to the paragraph above – why?  Why is the intensity of loss and longing such a rich and powerful experience?).  But another aspect I fixate on is the “when” in the phrase and also the “was”.  There is a suggestion of time present and time passed.  And of course all of this bundled together within a phrase about mortality.

And that’s what brings me around to the photographic.  I guess anyway, somehow.  It’s something to do with the very nature of photography and image “capture”.  This leads me back to Laruelle’s introduction to The Philosophy of Non-Photography (that I wrote about a few weeks ago) where he speaks of the idea of the photographs we take without a camera (and/or prior to the camera)– simply by virtue of being in the world and burning these images into our brains.  This is what we do with the aid of the camera as well.  The camera image is (sometimes) fixed; the mind/body image is not and/or at least not in the same form – can’t really be conjured up in the same way every time as in a photographic re-presentation.  But, now, I know I can’t explain this last bit well because it’s not a fully formed “idea” of any kind, it’s just a notion, something to do with how each moment (oh, how I’m beginning to despise that word), or how each instant, or each image passes by and in a sense, dies instantly.  Whether it has been recorded with our brain via perception or with a camera via film or a light sensor, that particular image has died (removed from it’s specific position in time and space).  So for whatever reason, this is yet another way I’m dealing with the phrase – as an image, and as loss or failure.

Clearly I’m all over the place, and tangents are likely to occur in the coming weeks.  Should be good fun.

The images attached to this post are a few work proofs from this week (be sure to click on them for an enlarged/detail view).  While working, I moved a box and found a dessicated lizard underneath.  She makes an appearance in some of the photographs.  Seemed apt.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

No One Was With Her When She Died

I knew there was a reason I fixated on that NPR story about E.B. White and the 60th anniversary of Charlotte’s Web recently.  I blathered on Facebook the other day about the breakdown I had after searching down the exact phrasing from the last section of the book.  Talk about visceral reactions.  Man. 

But I’m not going to get hung up on all that just yet.  All I want to mention right now is that I had another of my long run epiphanies today – and that phrase (above) is going to serve as the working title for my new project-type-thing.  I’ve got a fairly clear idea of how I’m going to start getting at this, likely beginning during my upcoming residency at Hambidge this winter.  That phrase so clearly activates (for me) so much of what I’m constantly thinking about and working myself around in circles trying to get back to.  I make work because it excites me to think about ideas and how to apply them to the realm of the photographic, but those ideas (for me) are always first and foremost about poignancy – and beauty and all that crap, and of course loss and longing as well.  I don’t really care if it (poignancy) is seen as an empty word to some – it’s somehow managed to sustain the whole of my life up to and including this very moment, so I’m going to keep working on it.

I’ll delve more deeply into my thinking around the formal and process strategies I have in mind for the unfolding of this work in the coming weeks.  I do know that it seems a logical next step for me to continue sorting through the (my) recording/documenting divide as well as recent thinking around notions of animation.  I know that I want to both reveal and conceal the artifice in certain scenes/situations and use both organic and man-made materials and spaces.  The image included here is from a very quick test I shot today.  Just going to sit with this thinking for a bit…

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Re-visiting Goldfields

I’m tired today.  Expended a lot of energy over the last few days thinking and chatting and questioning and pondering – with some very good friends and some decent enough wine.  It’s exhausting though, really, that kind of banter – but in a good way, of course.  We were gathered at a conference where I co-chaired a panel on time and memory in lens-based media, which included presentations by Lisa Zaher and Leigh-Ann Pahapill, who also co-wrote the essay for my video installation of the Goldfields work in Australia this last summer at Screen Space.  So, it was great to get a chance to bring that thinking back around to some things that came up on the panel as well as the dialogue between Lisa and Leigh-Ann that is archived within the essay itself.

Like I said though, I’m tired right now and my brain is a tad mushed.  So, I need to sit with this all some more before I can write coherently about it.  Because I need to.  For several reasons. I’ll be giving a talk on this work in Asheville, North Carolina in December as part of the Media Arts Project (MAP), Off the MAP lecture series, and so I’d like to write up a new talk that pulls in my recent research in relation to that work.  I’ll also be showing this work again in Portland, Oregon in February (no contract in hand yet, so I’ll wait to officially announce venue) and giving a talk there as well.  And then I have the amazing opportunity to show the video in relation to the still photographs in a large gallery space at Murray State University in Kentucky next August.  I plan to possibly reconfigure the video sequences for this show and play around extensively with installation in terms of projecting video onto variously sized and placed surfaces (moveable walls) and also with the scale of the photographs and presentation methods.  And finally I’m planning to write up a response to the dialogue between Leigh-Ann and Lisa that points to the role the still photographs play in this work alongside the video (as the dialogue within their essay refers to a specific incarnation of the video work as a triple-screen projection, and not to the project as a whole – if there even is such a thing).

But, I went back and looked at an old email that I sent to Lisa and Leigh-Ann after the essay for the catalogue was finished, and I think this serves as a good starting point for my own writing/response.

“On another note, I wanted to be sure I let you both know how much I appreciate your incredibly close read of my work.  I struggle quite a bit with reconciling form and content and am often left frustrated by conversations with others that fixate too much on one or the other, without taking time to consider how one informs the other - often resulting in a lack of authentic engagement and/or a type of engagement that is detrimentally bound to an assumed discourse.  It's really hard for me to keep working photographically sometimes - but I think I just need to keep working toward finding the right audience.

But, my point is - I'm left incredibly encouraged by the response the two of you had.  You've both beautifully articulated so much of what I've been thinking about/working toward over the last several years.  It's like a big fucking sigh of relief!

Quickly though, I just want to share a passage from each of you that I had a strong response to, and that related perfectly to my thinking:

from Lisa,
" But in Goldfields, what is the entity that becomes known, and who or what performs the acts of knowledge?  Do we interpret Goldfields as addressing selfhood and Being, or cultural memory and historical belonging, or medium-specificity?  Or, is there something about the nature of Goldfields, its subject matter, its media and form of address, that brings together an inquiry into the ontological status of Being, history, and photographic media in a manner that is not a trivial overlapping of three divergent questions, but rather a claim to the fundamentally integral character of all three?

from Leigh-Ann,
"I want specifically to raise the issue of the relationship of lens-based practices to truth, and in particular to wonder what is at stake when the documentary image shifts in and out (as I feel it does here) of ‘authenticity’ and whether this failure to fix representation allows Dawn to represent the unrepresentable.  Put another way, does her refusal to determine, to reconcile, and to identify a politic, a point of view allow a glimpse into what structures the axiomatic presentation, to the view of what in-consists, the impure multiplicity,to the multiple units of thought by which we create meaning?"

I’ll continue this thought next week…..
FYI - the entire essay referred to above can be downloaded from my website HERE.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

To See What the World Looks Like (Photographed)

Quoting each other – that’s certainly what we do.  Especially when using a camera, or referring to/thinking of oneself as a photographer, an artist, a poet, a whatthehellever.  So, today’s ramble is going to be (a bit) less about my own work specifically, and more about some things I’ve been thinking about lately in relation to the enormous realm of the photographic (and I think of this space as pretty damn all-encompassing – I mean, is there a visual we have in our minds that we don’t also know in photographic form?).

Alright, so the post title – a recognizable portion of the Garry Winogrand quote “I photograph to see what the world looks like photographed.”  And yeah, why not?  And I believe him – eminent street photographer that he was.  He knew that his experience of that world as he made his way through it was markedly distinct from how it would later appear in its photographic re-presentation.  Now, his process was part and parcel of his work – the way he roamed the streets with camera at the ready, spontaneously pressed to eye instinctively, intuitively (I’m imagining, at any rate).  To be in the world while simultaneously recording it – playing it back later to see how it differed, which bits of the optical unconscious were revealed. 

But does this thinking only apply to the street, or to the rapidly unfolding world – order out of chaos type of thing?  I mean, we could apply it to huge swaths of landscape photographs as well – giant ass mountains that just sit there under puffed up clouds (that seem to be) frozen in space, or just the ground with no horizon and nothing to tell the viewer that this image is also a moment.  But, these images too are markedly different from the scene as it existed to the camera and the photographer that once or twice (or more) stood in its proximity.  As photographs, they are nothing more than, “a piece of time and space well described,” as Winogrand would say of his own work.

Having never worked in the street photography mode, I find it interesting how impactful that Winogrand interview with Bill Moyers was on me as a younger student.  Looking back it seems even my earliest “serious” photographs, though in a decidedly more traditional documentary style than my current work, were still concerned with those primary questions that encountering a photograph prompts – what am I seeing, how am I seeing it, why am I seeing it, why am I seeing what I know so differently than how I think I know it?

Dawn Roe:  Zoe with Cigarette (2000)
And this is where a problem comes in – and it’s a problem with a lot of what constitutes good photography (as designated by the current tastemakers – of which there are of course many, and whose opinions are of course varied).  But, there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s not questioning things anymore to the extent perhaps it should.  To depict and express what we “know” in photographic form to simply illustrate what it looks like is fundamentally distinct from asking us to think about what it “looks like photographed.”  Now, that might seem ridiculous, but I believe this.  And I believe this because it has to do with an investment in the question(s).  To look through the viewfinder and click the shutter (or role the tape) because you noticed something (or arranged something) that looked interesting (or cool, or artistic) is not enough.  What could that possibly tell us, or prompt us to question, rather than its relation to other images we know (which admittedly, at times can be an interesting territory of pursuit, but not if that’s not the intention).

So this is where I find this nice link between Winogrand’s sentiments and those of Uta Barth.  Which brings me back around to my earlier point about these notions not solely being the territory of the street photograph.  Barth’s work is decidedly quiet and contemplative, and has the quality of being simultaneously quickly happened upon and painstakingly constructed – not entirely dissimilar from Winogrands perfected compositions (it’s not incidental that my current students consistently read his work as having been staged).   But here again is this implicit concern with how these perceptual experiences are transcribed in photographic form.  These are not paintings (although they may share more aesthetic reference points with the painted canvas than the printed photograph), they are photographs – straight photographs.  Purposefully so.

Now I’m thinking about all of this because as I mentioned above, we quote each other.  And yes, most certainly, my own work is made in full awareness of the work of Uta Barth (and Luisa Lambri and Elisa Sighicelli and Andres Tarkovsky and countless others who’ve influenced me).  But, if someone says “that’s too much like Uta Barth, or too much like X,Y,Z” that doesn’t mean I stop.  It means I extend the question.  So I guess that’s my point today – I want to see more extension (oh, and you better believe that relates directly back to Bergson’s notion of duration, and to endure).

What the heck kinda fun am I going to have next week?!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tilts and Swings (Part I)

I once had my work reviewed by a fancy New York gallery owner who did not care for it, and let me know immediately by holding up the first print and exhibiting the “gas face” expression.  Obnoxious as this was, he did have a few useful things to say.  His primary issue with the group of images being reviewed was that they were shot with a DSLR camera, and he felt it was “view camera work”.  He was actually right about that.  The kinds of landscape images I was making at the time really did seem to belong to the large-format tradition, and it’s certainly true that you need to think about the right tool for the job.  Problem is, I wasn’t really on to the right job.  Now, I had a few successes with some of those images and working in that manner was helping me to address some ideas I had about landscape, but I really wasn’t interested in creating highly detailed depictions of very specific spaces, the kind that the view camera is so good at.  I’ve always been much more inclined toward a mid to shallow depth of field, rendering portions of the frame less comprehensible and pinpointing another (of course, something else the view camera is very good at).

So, I did start using the view camera again (having only very limited experience with this device in prior years, but always knowing that I needed to find a way to spend some time with it).  And I did go right back into those same landscapes I’d been looking at with the small format digital camera, but I certainly wasn’t looking at them the same way – how could I have?  I had no intention to either – I knew I wanted to take advantage of those tilts and swings to skew perspective and (less so) scale.  And this (I think) gets back to my recent fixation on documenting/recording.  Now, if I simply wanted to document these spaces for objective reference or as part of a seemingly neutral collection, indeed I may well seek the clarity offered from the huge amount of detail the large negative can hold.  But, if instead what I want to do is record my experience in/of these space, it seems to me a (seemingly) objective representation couldn’t quite offer that.  I ran into some trouble thinking about this when I realized that of course I’m not recording my experience of these spaces, I’m recording the camera’s experience of these spaces (as controlled by me, the operator).  But that’s part of what I’m interested in – the distinction between experience as it is occurring and as its re-presentation, both temporally and physiologically. 

So, one of the things I’m trying to get at with these trees, weeds and leaves has to do with the fixated moment(s) amongst the peripheral glimpse.  And the rapidity with which this optical flow occurs.  We certainly cannot “know” these things in time, but only through recollection (which can be temporally very near or very far).   This leads me to use those tilts and swings to obscure horizontal or vertical planes of the image in order to mimic or at least reference the experience of perceiving a space in time.  The view camera allows the operator to precisely define a very specific area of focus within the two-dimensional plane, which is essentially what we do when observing any scene – our eyes cannot fixate (precisely) on more than one point in space at a time.  So, I’ve got to keep thinking about this.  Just a brief intro this week, more later.

Next week, in Part II, I’ll focus on how I’m thinking through some of this in relation to the video component of this work, in terms of the overlapping formal language of photo/video in relation to optics and lens attributes, as well as the very separate formal languages of presentation in terms of space and time. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Space Is (As) Time Arrested

Right, so I attribute that phrase, or well the phrase “space as time arrested” to Henri Bergson in my mind.  And I’m pretty sure that’s an authentic memory of some sort, but it may well have gotten mixed up somewhere along the way as I can never find that exact quote in any of my Bergson stuff, as hard as I’ve looked and read and re-read.  So, maybe it was someone else, or maybe it’s a conglomeration of phrases, a different translation or something.  Anyhoo….

To bring that back around to my rambles of last week – about recording versus documenting and then ending with a few words about duration (and that which we endure, and how), I want to get back to that thinking.  So, that opening phrase – “space as time arrested” is such a great one to get mixed up in for a while.  You know, what does a photograph do?  Yeah, it arrests time – or at least it can or might, I suppose.  And, how do we understand space (especially as, perhaps, distinct from place)?  To me, space is gravity or something – or space is what holds us down and fixes us into (a) place, and we have to push our way through it/against it – I have this visual of slogging through (outer) space with a giant frickin’ spacesuit all heavy and burdened, but yet you’re weightless and float, but still you have to slog.  So anyway, it seems like that’s also about duration – how long it takes us to wade through all the shit – or, more poetically we could say, the stuff of life.  But what we have to endure – that’s a lot of shit. 

Alright, so back to the phrase – “space as time arrested”.  And that “as” becomes important.  Because, if space is where all the particles come together and matter is what we are at all times (always already) up against, then time needs to be defined.  What kind of time are we talking about?  Bergson lovingly picks this apart in Matter and Memory when he suggests that, 

The essence of time is that it goes by; time already gone by is the past, and we call the present the instant in which it goes by. …But the real, concrete, live present – that of which I speak when I speak of my present perception – that present necessarily occupies a duration.  Where then is this duration placed?  Is it on the hither or on the further side of the mathematical point which I determine ideally when I think of the present instant?  Quite evidently, it is both on this side and on that; and what I call ‘my present’ has one foot in my past and another in my future.” 
(Bergson, p. 176, 177)   

Yep.  So, how to extend the instant, sort of.  Maybe that’s what happens when we think of “space as time arrested” – it’s like a stop-motion animation of the mind, and I say stop-motion because, for me, even though the suggestion is to “arrest” time which I guess means to stop, we recognize this impossibility – even in the photographic image, because all that does is give us a two-dimensional re-presentation of a moment that’s reactivated when it’s perceived and immediately compresses past/present/future together – and that’s active, and incredibly rapid.

Now, I’m going off the cuff here – if I really wanted to be solid about this, I’d immediately refer more carefully to my Bergson and dig through my Ponty and figure out what they say about matter/space/time – cuz they say a lot (as do Heidegger, Deleuze and others of course, of course) but that’s not (entirely) what I’m using them for.  What I can retain is all that’s really useful – no way in hell am I ever going to truly understand or be able to “do” philosophy – I just need it to help push me along, and give some direction to my meandering – and to burn a few phrases in my head here and there that I can “see” – and lead me to some pictures. 

And of course this is why I’m combining the still and moving image as captured via the time-based mediums of photography and video – if you want to get at the relationship between perception/memory/time, in a visual manner, of course you’d go to the source.   Why are time-based media the source, you ask?  Refer back to my earlier post discussing Crary’s Techniques of the Observer.  And, god-sakes, they’re called time-based media for a reason, eh?  Conversely, if you’ve become so enthralled with the materials you use and their very nature – both in terms of the apparatus and resulting imagery, of course you’d be led directly to considerations of time/memory/perception, and you’d wind up spending loads of time tracing their lineage and sorting out how they work on the viewer in the way that they do – what exactly is a photograph in-and-of-itself and how does that mode of seeing translate to film/video and our relationship to our selves and the world – regardless of subject matter.  Another helpful Bergson quote for good measure, 

“We are dimly aware of successions in nature much more rapid than those of our internal states.  How are we to conceive them, and what is this duration of which the capacity goes beyond all our imagination? …To perceive consists in condensing enormous periods of an infinitely diluted existence into a few more differentiated moments of an intense life, and in thus summing up a very long history.  To perceive means to immobilize.”
(Bergson, p. 274, 275)

And every time I start to really think about this – my mind immediately wants to visualize a cluster of birds in the sky, or a bunch of dust particles in mid-air against a black background (just the way I saw the toilet paper lint pop into the dim light of the black bathroom stall one day), or a stream of leaves in mid-air – you get the point, all this fast shutter speed stuff.  The arresting time.  And sometimes I get stuff like this and I’ve made my way into this territory, but I always seem to let it go for some reason.  I think it’s in part because I need to fabricate the perfect scene to get what I want – and these kinds of scenes (either found or made) are pretty damn elusive and frankly I’ve just not been able to get what I want yet.

So, I’m going to start working toward making this/these scenes happen – and then I’ll record them, and my response to them (which could in fact be/look somewhat different from the action itself).  I have so much unused work that’s resulted from these failed experiments and my random forays into seemingly unrelated territories.  I think it’s time to fuse the old and the new.  Let’s decimate the archive.

Next week, maybe a look in the drawers.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

On Recording

For whatever reason, I started fixating on this term/this action while out for a run yesterday (as often happens, my mind nicely wanders around and back toward thinking about my artwork during these instances – which shouldn’t be surprising, as it seems these mind-saunters are precisely what I’m always trying to get at or activate with my imagery).  Recording, or to record.  A matter of record, as in an archive or – document.  But why then in my mind do I separate a recording from a document?  Am I recording or am I documenting?  Is there a difference in terms of end product or manner/mode of capture?  Perhaps. 

I’ve recently begun to think about my process as recording my response(s).  I like thinking this word in my head – recording.  And I like thinking about the apparatus of the camera as the device I use to accomplish this – it may or may not be of relevance that I now use the same camera to record both still and moving images (as opposed to previously using a separate still camera and video camera – although, I am beginning to use an additional still camera as well, and this might mix things up, we’ll see…).  To record your response to the world through language is one mode, through sound another and visual imagery the last – I think, unless I’m missing something – maybe something about touch or taste, but that could be sense memory as recorded in the brain, but I digress.  At any rate, what I’m liking to think about is the camera as recording device that imitates/mimics the real, with an ability to capture/retain/reproduce imagery with an oftentimes uncanny verisimilitude that at times provokes the viewer of these images to believe in them truly.  And I actually don’t really care all that much about this sort of response – of course we see something we recognize and say, yes, this is so.  We also intuitively know that the image differs vastly from what it represents – and can only tell us so much.

So back to recording.  Why do I feel that what I’m doing is recording, and differs from documenting?  I could quickly say because of subjectivity, but that could apply to either.  I’m thinking it has to do with time.  I tend to equate documenting with stop/start or beginning/middle/end as separate from one another or discrete parcels of time.  Whereas when I conjure the idea of recording I think of an endless flow, pushing “record” and letting time roll – similar to using those little tape recorders as a kid (the long rectangular ones with the little handle that pulled out, and you could plug a microphone into) – pushing down play and record and knowing that you were capturing that moment and onward until it plunked shut at the end of the tape or you jammed your finger down hard to stop it.  So, when I’m recording both video and still images simultaneously (or at least very near to simultaneously) I’m thinking of it as an ongoing process of recording.  And then, it becomes about playing it back.

I plunked a little video clip in this week’s post – it plays a few things back.  It’s a start that contains some of the visuals I’m going to be working with.  Going back to ephemeral things like wind/air/water – condensation, birds, bugs and glass.  It’s interesting to see how I quickly strung together these clips (with no audio as of yet).  I have a tendency toward montage – to bring coherence to (somewhat) disparate imagery through rhythm/pace/flow.  But that’s part of what I’ve been fighting myself on – I need to allow myself to stretch and prolong and pick apart almost to death an instance (which in mind differs from a moment – is it the quick plural of an instant?) rather than hurriedly rushing us on to the next glimpse – and/or at the very least I need to start being much more cognizant of how I combine these two types of visual experiences.  In short, I don’t want to create imagery that simply evokes memory via expected cinematic or photographic tropes (which is difficult, as my aesthetic tends toward these avenues especially through my use of light and focus) but want to further an understanding or at least a questioning of how still/moving images work on us at all – I don’t want to (only) show you/me these things (time/memory/perception) so that they can be seen, I want them to be thought.  Yeah.  We’ll see…

Next week I’ll think further on this with the help of old pal Henri Bergson.  Obviously much of what I’m flailing around with has to do with duration.  When it comes down to it, isn’t it all really about what we can/have/will endure?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Old and New

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/2727
This week’s post will be a bit quick and dirty, as I’m away from the studio but still want to get down some bits on my current thinking/direction.  I’ve been preoccupied a bit lately with a couple of things – archival photographs/documents, significant historical spaces/places and repetition/reproduction.  This is all coming from a few directions, and the thinking also relates to my reluctance to start a new “project”.

Let me try to break some of it down.  Every two years or so I seem to be working on creating imagery that conforms to some sort of idea that relates to one project (sometimes it takes a while to find that project, but ultimately that’s the direction it goes).  And, for a photographer, that usually also means a “series” or “portfolio”.  But the thing is, I’ve been interested in the same set of concerns for years now, a pretty basic set, actually.  Why do we respond to the world as photographed (in any capacity) so much differently than we do when experienced in real-time?  How does the nature of perception play into this, especially as it relates to temporal experience and our reliance upon memory to make sense of ourselves and our environment, and our culture?  So, I’ve really just been coming at this and thinking about it from different angles, be it through self-portraits, images of interior domestic spaces, and more recently the landscape – perfectly suited for all this as it (obviously) turns out. 

Now, I have had a problem with working toward creating the standard set of 20 or so images for some time, yet always seem to conform to this scenario for one reason or another.  But I’m always reading this or that and jotting down little post-it notes that wind up in corners of the studio with ideas for a certain picture that doesn’t seem to fit in with what I’m currently working on/toward.  Well, I’m throwing that process out the window!  No more post-it notes in the corner, I’ll actually make the damned pictures.  I might be going in several directions for the next few years, but I’ve determined that’s what needs to happen – I’m going to make simultaneity work for me.  Somehow.  I’m hoping to get smaller sets going that relate to one another, and will probably continue to make these little “one-offs” that I’ve done in the past as well.  Anything goes, man.

Getting back to the first bit – a few things I’m thinking about for the immediate future are working with sourced, archival imagery through re-photography, scanning and site visits to create original imagery when possible (I’ve been inspired by what I’ve come across while researching material for my students in my class Memory & the Photograph as well as some recent photobooks that combine both found and created imagery like ChristianPatterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood and Daniel Blaufuks, TerezAn).  First stop will be the site of the Hungerford School in Eatonville, Florida.  The image illustrating this post shows the structure as it stood originally.  The original buildings are no longer there, but I’m curious about the trees.  More on this in a later post.

I’m going to close up today’s ramble with a few pertinent quotes related to this line of thinking.  One batch is from an essay in a book I mentioned last week – StillMoving: Between Cinema and Photography, edited by Karen Beckman and JeanMa.  The essay is called “What’s thePoint of an Index, or Faking Photographs” by Tom Gunning.  He picks apart the notion of the index as it relates to the “truth claim” of photography, and in so doing brings in phenomenological and ontological considerations of the photograph especially in relation to the writings of Andre Bazin and Roland Barthes.  And then yesterday I came across a blog post on Still Searching by Geoffrey Batchen that poses some excellent questions by way of an initial reference to Benjamin about the nature of reproduction and its impact on the history of photography itself as well as our experience of photographs.

Photographs are images that are indexically induced by the thing they represent, reproducing that thing, through a reaction to light, as a two-dimensional image. This privileged relationship of original and copy is what has fascinated so many commentators on the photographic medium.”  In discussing an early Henry Fox Talbot photogram of pine needles scattered across a photosensitive sheet of paper, he notes that Talbot “then fixed whatever image happened to result, thereby reproducing the unpredictable operations of nature’s own mode of reproduction.  Both nature and photography, Talbot seems to be saying, are generated through an economy of repetition and difference.”  Concluding this thought, Batchen suggests that what we are witnessing here then is a surprisingly complicated, almost self-contradictory, maneuver that simultaneously circumscribes and divides the identity of the things being represented, whether that be nature and its processes of reproduction, or photography and its” (Batchen).

Reading Batchen’s post had me simultaneously thinking about a lot of what Gunning brought up in his essay.  Referencing Barthes' “The Photographic Message”, he points out that Barthes (like Bazin) share a belief that “a photograph puts us in the presence of something, that it possesses an ontology rather than a semiotics.” And, toward the conclusion of Gunning’s essay, he gets at “photography’s specific relation to temporality, its ability to refer to a relatively brief and very specific point in time.”  He suggests, “This aspect is especially central to Barthes’s discussion and is implicit in many of Bazin’s arguments.  Theorists emphasizing photography’s relation to the index often stress this aspect, referring to the photograph as a trace of a previous time” (Gunning, 35).  (The footnote to this line of text refers back to Laura Mulvey’s book Death 24X a Second, which is a text that I’ll likely bring up in future posts as that book along with Mary Anne Doane’s The Emergence of Cinematic Time are two readings that really got me started down this path of picking apart the very nature of the recorded/represented image as photo/film/video).  At any rate, while Gunning agrees with the importance of the role of time/temporality in a phenomenological understanding of the photograph, he interestingly posits that “while a trace may be an index, an index is not always a trace” and goes on to suggest that “the important relation that the photograph bears to a past moment involves more than an indexical relation, worthy of more in depth discussion” one that asks us to further explore "the actual visual experience occasioned by the photograph.” (Gunning 38, 39).

And explore further indeed is what I intend to do.  Next week, I hope to have a video clip up.  Here’s hoping time is kind to me over the next seven days.