This has been the most profound week of my life as my wife, Karen, passed away peacefully and beautifully on Monday 27th January. She has been ill with Multiple Sclerosis for a long time and chronically ill for the last ten years. She chose to end her life with dignity with an assisted suicide at Dignitas in Switzerland. I am relieved she is no longer suffering but devastated at the loss of my soulmate for the last forty years.
A couple of months before going to Switzerland Cemre asked me if I would be taking my camera. My initial reaction was that it was not appropriate. As I thought about it some more I challenged my own assumptions and considered the value of taking my camera with me. Could it be helpful to make me see more and fully experience the moment? Could it be helpful to all of us in the future to give us something more solid than our own memories to remember the moment. By the time we went on Sunday I had moved on from just taking my iphone to taking my camera with the intent of making some images. It was not an issue with my family as they are now very used to me taking out the camera at what would previously have been seen as inappropriate moments.
I include some here as it has relevance to this weeks work on context. From a Sarkowski perspective the above image breaks down in to the thing itself ‘blue house’, some detail ‘lights windows a patch of grass, a chair….’, the frame ‘chosen by me’, the time ‘chosen by me and the night before my wife died’ and the vantage point ‘there were many choices but this is the one I chose.’ Valuable as it is to follow Sarkowski’s breaking up of a photograph in to component parts it doesn’t really get at the context of this image.
Shore perhaps adds something with the mental level but still his classifications do not get to the essence of these images. I need to find the quote but this week in the reading the idea that a good photograph is one that shows what is not there within the material chosen in the frame. The images of my wife and children are a good example of this idea as it is clear something is going on beyond just their presence in the image. The blue house is more complex and needs input. This could be provided as context if the images of my wife and children are included in the set.
This bed shown on its own could be banal, uninteresting and initiate little discussion. Put with the images above it might raise further questions. Knowing it is the bed I slept in the night before my wife died and is in the second room in the blue house in which assisted suicides happen gives this bed a different context. The photograph alone may initiate little discussion. Given the context then a lot more happens.
Context can be critical and there is a choice to give it before the images, with the images, after the images or not at all. Each choice will have different impacts on the viewer and the question for the curator is what experience does she want the viewer to have with the material presented.
There is a lot of discussion about whether a photograph and photography represent reality. I am struggling a little with this. Photography, philosophy, reality and ontology all have one thing in common. They are all words. Words are a very poor mechanism for explaining to ourselves what existence is all about. No human discipline has yet succeeded in addressing reality in a meaningful way. Philosophers and linguists have failed, they handed it to scientists who have failed. It remains a holy grail for all and so important to all of us who are ‘real’ and ‘exist’.
Does photography or a photograph represent reality is really asking does it represent something we do not yet understand or can explain. As a mathematician I used to like the process of presenting a hypothesis which can then be tested to see if a proof is possible to make it a theory. My hypothesis for photography is that it is the closest representation of reality human beings have created yet. It is a great hypothesis to test and a starting point is I don’t believe anybody else can present a better hypothesis in relation to photography. Is this right? Further exploration to follow.
Szarkowski, J. The Photographer’s Eye. Secker and Warburg.
Shore, S. The Nature of Photographs Center for American Places (Harrisonburg, Va) (1998) Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore.
Watts, A. The book on the taboo against knowing who you are. (2009) Souvenir Press. London.