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.

No comments:

Post a Comment