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.

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