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,
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.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

And What If Not Silver

No, not in terms of currency.  Not exactly at any rate.  But for the photograph.  And I suppose it’s not so much about the silver, but about what stopped the silver from continuing to go dark – but I’m not fixated (no pun intended) on the technological evolution of the medium (support?) of photography/the photograph, but instead strangely fascinated by the very nature of what this particular kind of representation is and does, and why.  So, these silver salts get exposed to light and they form an image, a re-presentation of whatever was in front of the lens (modified though by various mechanical manipulations and operator decisions, and then further by the viewer who perceives/receives the image in a particular context, etc.).  At any rate, I’ll delve further into this in future posts.

But, I’ve been thinking around this stuff via a few books recently – among them is Francois Laruelle’s The Concept of Non-Photography, a complex read to be sure, but uses photography and the photograph as an interesting metaphor in (I think) discussing a shift from transcendental perspectives of thought that are tied to dichotomies and moving toward an understanding of “being” via science and ideas of radical immanence – and ultimately picking apart why photography is suited for negotiating this shift.  I tend to relate closely to passages that dwell on notions of an unmediated immediacy that might be experienced in various places within and throughout the act of making/taking a photograph and of being witness to the resulting representation (or not, as in the case of photographs not “taken”).  And speaking of photographs not taken, that brings me back to the title of the post.  This is what I love about Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer.  He argues against the linear evolution of perspectival tradition (at least as attached to technological progress) and locates the emergence of photography within cultural shifts in perception and in relation to the embodied observer that moves through space and experiences time (which was rapidly changing in the early 1800’s – not coincidentally). 

Anyway, Laruelle has this great opening bit equating “a legend of the birth of philosophy in the spirit of photography” and describes a “transcendental photographer…with no camera, and perhaps for that very reason destined ceaselessly to take new shots of that first flash – consigned to extinction – constrained thus to comment interminably on that first shot by taking yet more, to engage himself in an unlimited-becoming-photographic – so as to verify that the flash, the World, the flash of the World – that is to say, philosophy – really  has taken place, and was not just a trick of the senses” (Laruelle, p. 2).  And I just love this visual, or this suggestion of relating our experiential understanding of the world through images in a photographic manner – with OR without a camera, that this kind of photographic thinking has been ever-present, both before and after silver, and certainly WELL before the camera as a hand-held or even box-like apparatus.  The phenomena of the camera obscura has been observed for thousands of years, but Jonathan Crary warns against “conflating the meanings and effects of the camera obscura with techniques of linear perspective” and of understanding the world in terms of a two-dimensional representation.  “The camera obscura defines the position of an interiorized observer to an exterior world.  Many contemporary accounts…single out as its most impressive feature its representation of movement.  Thus, the phenomenological differences between the experience of a perspectival construction and the projection of the camera obscura are not even comparable…the movement and temporality so evident in the camera obscura were always prior to the act of representation; movement and time could be seen and experienced, but never represented” (Crary, p. 34).

Exactly.  Never represented.  So, I’d like to get back to recording slices and glimpses with my cameras – since in fact I can document ephemeral flickers (to an extent) using equipment and materials at hand, while remaining mindful of the photographic-ness of the world sans camera (and I don’t mean photogenic, although aesthetic concerns do drive my decisions – but that is true whether I am looking through the lens of the camera or with my own eyes).  Still sorting out what this all means (for me) of course.  I understand (as in the image that accompanies this post) that this will take more than a few pictures of some condensation on a window and its shadow, or that same dew made mobile in the form of a moving image, but it’s my starting point, for now.

This was rambly.  Such is the nature of thought and unedited journal writing.

Next week, some thoughts on the index from an essay by Tom Gunning included in an anthology edited by Karen Beckman and Jean Ma called StillMoving:  Between Cinema and Photography (and another image or two).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Welcome to This

A few from this summer's excursions

So, what’s this all about?  Well, that remains to be seen.  For now, I’ve decided I need a place to compile things – notes, pictures, video clips, quotations, excerpts, ephemera – so I can go back through everything and make a more concerted effort to bring it all together.  As this summer came to a close, I felt that familiar feeling of my artwork and the research/thinking around it starting to slide off into the background as I geared up for the school year.  Inspired by my friend Jessica Auer’s research/photo blog, The Viking Explorer, I decided to try something a bit similar.  I’m going to use the forum of a blog as an on-line (and public) journal, where I’ll hopefully be able to accomplish a few things, 1) keep the work going by imposing a requirement/promise for one post of original content per week, 2) get the writing out on the page/screen, without worrying about formality, creating an archive of already typed out notes, 3) possibly, maybe, engage in conversation about some of my thoughts/ideas/imagery with those who come across my posts.

Now, I don’t necessarily expect much of an audience for this clearly self-indulgent venture.  Like I said, it’s really more of a place for me to plunk the stuff, keep it out there, get it going, etc.  But, I really would like to chat about ideas and images and will gladly welcome any comments/conversation.  And, if you’re in my part of the country/world (Winter Park, Florida and Asheville, North Carolina) getting together in good old-fashioned real time would be fantastic.  (I’ve got some absurdly grand plans to host a residency based around visual art and philosophy during the summer months in the next year or two – if that sounds like your idea of a good time, let’s chat!)

And, about the blog title – Between the Already and the Still More – that’s paraphrased from a (translated) Alain Badiou line in Being and Event (thank you, Leigh-Ann Pahapill for suggesting this text).  It actually reads, “Infinity is the Other on the basis of which there is – between the fixity of the already and the repetition of the still-more – a rule according to which the others are the same.”  Yep.  Admittedly, one of my main goals is to sift through the dense texts I struggle with, but that excite me to no end in terms of how I think about applying these critical and philosophical ideas to my work in photography, film and video.  Ever since I was introduced to Henri Bergson in graduate school (thank you, ShonaMacDonald), I’ve found that I can think more clearly about my own work, and can discover what my true interests are, what I’m really trying to get at, via the thoughts of minds much more complex than my own. 

Here’s a caveat, of sorts.  I often find myself torn between two poles.  I’m not a trained philosopher by any stretch, and I’m barely an intellectual.  Maybe ¼ intellectual, ¾ dirt road.  I engage with this stuff because it’s what I enjoy and what seems authentic to me.  I’m not going to make any apologies for being too theory-based, or for not being theory-based enough.  And believe me, I feel pressure from both “sides” often enough.  But, that’s not what all this is for.  So, keep that in mind (note to self).

What’s up for me in the coming weeks?  Next week I’ll post some work-in-progress photographs from some stops-and-starts from 2012.  I’ll include a particular image that I think is going to prompt the direction of my thinking for a bit.  In the following weeks I plan to include short video clips of in-progress sequences, notes and sections of text and my response to certain passages, etc.  So, basically, the idea is to get up new visual work and some writing that relates to it each week.  I’m planning to do lots of work in the studio with the 4 x 5 camera using b/w film, but will continue to shoot color digital and video – might combine things. 

Tomorrow, I start on next week!
See you/me, then…..