Two pieces of great company throughout the MA have been Susan Sontag’s On Photography and the recently published David Campany’s On Photographs. Add in a touch of Sally Mann, Roland Barthes, David Bate and Elizabeth Wells and it is time to find a desert island and a chair.
Words can never tame and stabilize images. Words can limit what can be seen in a photograph. As soon as the words literally say this is a ‘p’ then the eye in Gestalt fashion seeks and finds the ‘p’ and stops looking. Mystery and magic between words and images comes when there is ambiguity that makes the viewer look for more. The magic happens as the words trigger something in the unconscious mind of the viewer that helps them project their own experience on to what they are looking at.
I believe we have as much understanding of time now as our ancestors did of the earth when they considered it to be flat. My own experience of taking a photograph when in one state and then looking at it when I am in another state at another time is an enigma. We can say all there ever is ‘is now’ but that is because we cannot conceive of anything else. Yet! In any moment all there ever is is now but photographs are a piece of evidence that there was another now.
It is easy to show that a photograph is not just a piece of paper with ink on it. Give someone an image of their mother or someone they love deeply and ask them to tear it up. Even if you show them you have an exact copy most people struggle to tear up ‘the sheet of paper with ink on it.’
True over one hundred years ago and more true today as there is more competition, more failure and more patience required.
The camera remains a tool for us to use. When we click and what we frame determines the significance of what is captured. Our whole being up to that moment feeds in to that click.
Every photograph taken by a human being contains material that is contingent to them at that moment in time. The optical unconscious also fits with the idea above that it is our own psychological make up that determines what we choose to capture from our contingency. As a viewer we can project on to an image taken by somebody else our own unconscious composition. This is part of the excitement in the exchange between photographer and audience.
I have delved in to trace very deeply over the last two years with Karen’s illness and death. The trace trauma leaves is difficult, probably impossible, to erase but much can be done to find ways of living with what remains. Photography and therapy are important tools in this regard.
The camera is the paintbrush the photograph is the artist.
The mute that speaks volumes.
Our eyes and brain work together to simplify and represent the world around us. The photographers eye, brain, hands and camera put a representation into a stored image.
Everything has been done and nothing has been done before. Some images are better than others but all images have infinite possible meanings so that can’t be true. Every day the possibilities grow. Photographs amaze those who can be amazed. Let’s contemplate.
The image as a time slide or a time ladder is beguiling.
But do we unstoppably pass through time or are we wrapped up in some other way? One thing is certain. When we know the answer to this question I am sure a photograph will be part of the evidence.
Think about this a lot. I have and it is deep. So often a photograph is required to remind us what happened. That photograph then becomes the memory. Without photographs a memory is a reconstruction in the moment of very small fragments of a skeleton that we dress differently with knowledge and context we have at the time.
The world is awash with images. They shape opinions and cause laws to be changed or wars to be fought. This two years at Falmouth has helped me see so much more and understand that there is so much more to see. I want to be twenty again and maybe I will be when we understand time. For the moment just open my eyes.
CAMPANY, D. 2020. On Photographs. HAMES & HUDSON (UK), MIT PRESS (USA), GUILIO EINAUDI EDITORE (IT)
MANN, S. 2015. Hold Still: A memoir with photographs. Little Brown.