Vision

Informing Contexts: What's the Narrative 2

I have continued to ruminate about the theme of narrative and how this is created photographically throughout this module, as well as trying to find answers in the work of other practitioners. Aside, from the challenges that have presented themselves over the last three months away from the course, this subject has been the most difficult for me to grasp and then relate to my own work. 

I have found myself increasingly uninterested in the work I’ve been making, at least in the way that I’ve previously produced it. I realised that I’d become frustrated with a sense of repetition and of being in a visual rut. Towards the end of the previous module I started to realise that it would not be possible to elevate my work without a closer focus on the intention behind the work and the way this was then translated into the image itself.

I think I have a clearer idea of what visual narrative is now, particularly having reflected on how other practitioners manage to capture your attention and challenge your imagination with their work. 

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the work of Gregory Crewdson recently, the Twilight and Cathedral of the Pines projects in particular. 

The work of Gregory Crewdson, from    Twilight

The work of Gregory Crewdson, from Twilight

Aside from the beauty and elaborate complexity of his images, the thing that strikes me most about his work is the fact that each image provokes a question (often many). What happened here? Where are her clothes? How could that have gotten there? There is always a sense of transience, being invited into the space between events that have just occurred and those that are about to take place.

These questions oblige you to stay with the image, searching for the answer. When, as is almost always the case, the answer isn’t immediately apparent in the photograph you are transported to your imagination or to speculation to look for it. Either way the image has captivated you and taken you beyond the immediate fact of looking at a two-dimensional representation on a screen or in a book. These unanswered questions are everywhere in Crewdson’s work, often provoked by the simplest of small details. When I saw his work at The Photographer’s Gallery last year I was intrigued by how almost all his interior shots included a half empty glass of water somewhere in the frame. It’s a motif that is too consistent to be a coincidence, and it fascinates me even now…

The half empty glass of water on the bedside table...an intriguing element of many of Crewdson's images. This, from    Cathedral of the Pines

The half empty glass of water on the bedside table...an intriguing element of many of Crewdson's images. This, from Cathedral of the Pines

Why are they there? What do they mean? 

The ability to provoke these questions in the viewer is key to creating narrative I think.

The ability to provoke questions is also seen in the work of Lynne Cohen, who achieves this despite almost exclusively shooting empty interior spaces. Her work asks you to consider the actions of people on their environment and surroundings, to consider their activities and behaviours and how they connect to our own, in spaces that we all inhabit. 

The work of   Lynne Cohen

The work of Lynne Cohen

Similarly, the work of Lynn Saville in the US (primarily New York City) and Rut Blees Luxemburg (most notably in London) asks us to consider how we respond to our urban spaces and how these environments reflect our behaviours and our concerns. The fact that they both use the night as a key part of their visual toolbox is of course particularly interesting to me. Again, without including people in much of their work, they invite questions about the world we inhabit and thus require the viewer to engage with their work and with themselves.

Aplomb St Pauls by Rut Blees Luxemburg,

Aplomb St Pauls by Rut Blees Luxemburg,

A further lesson about narrative has occurred to me following a recent visit to the Gursky exhibition currently showing at the Hayward Gallery. I was not very familiar with Andreas Gursky’s work prior to visiting this show, but seeing his work you can’t help but be confronted by his vision and the consistency of that vision throughout his career. His work, to me at least, seems to repeatedly explore the behaviour of humans, their interaction with space, and the way we see. It struck me that he has adhered to a set of technical and conceptual ideas throughout his career, and in doing so the underlying motivation of the work becomes clearer. 

The Gursky exhibition at Hayward Gallery

The Gursky exhibition at Hayward Gallery

By this I mean that one who devotes their career to exploring a particular subject compiles a body of work that in total communicates much more clearly than someone who makes a small project on the same topic. This consistency of thought is one way that narrative is created I think, by the repetitive consideration of an idea from various angles and perspectives, showing it in different forms and contexts…this ultimately builds into an eloquent story. 

Again, relating this back to my own work, I feel that my interest in solitude and urban life is not exhausted by any means. There are so many facets of this issue that remain to be explored and this allows me to envisage how my work will develop beyond the MA. The consistency of vision is not something to be underestimated or devalued, but will hopefully become a key pillar in my work that ultimately results in a more articulate whole, regardless of what other work I also go on to produce. Along with the idea of trying to create questions with my work and leaving enough space for imagination to expand the scope of the image, I think I have enough to be moving forward with.

References:

THIS IS LOCAL LONDON. 2015. ‘London Dust exhibition featuring Rut Blees Luxemburg photos opens at Museum of London’. This is Local London [online]. Available at: http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/news/12927124.7_arresting_images_showing_London_s_changing_financial_district/[accessed 19 April 2018].

Informing Contexts: Week 2 Reflection

The ideal photograph, as I mentioned earlier, stands in a causal relation to its subject and "represents" its subject by reproducing its appearance. In understanding something as an ideal photograph, we understand it as exemplifying this causal process, a process which originates in the subject "represented" and which has as its end point the production of a copy of an appearance. By a "copy" of an appearance I mean an object such that what is seen in it by a man with normal eyes and understanding (the intentional object of sight) resembles as nearly as possible what is seen when such a man observes the subject itself from a certain angle at a certain point in its history. A person studying an ideal photograph is given a very good idea of how something looked. The result is that, from studying a photograph, he may come to know how something looked in the same way he might know it if he had actually seen it. With an ideal photograph it is neither necessary nor even possible that the photographer's intention should enter as a serious factor in determining how the picture is seen. It is recognized at once for what it is-not as an interpretation of reality but as a presentation of how something looked. In some sense looking at a photograph is a substitute for looking at the thing itself”

Roger Scruton, 1981

 

“With these kinds of characterizations in mind, Arnheim's notion that "the physical objects themselves print their image" seems more like a fanciful metaphor than an "acknowledged fact." It is the light reflected by the objects and refracted by the lens which is the agent in the process, not "the physical objects themselves." These "physical objects" do not have a single "image"-"their image"-but, rather, the camera can manipulate the reflected light to create an infinite number of images. An image is simply not a property which things naturally possess in addition to possessing size and weight. The image is a crafted, not a natural, thing. It is created out of natural material (light), and it is crafted in accordance with, or at least not in contravention of, "natural" laws. This is not surprising. Nor is it surprising that something in the camera's field will be represented in the image; but how it will be represented is neither natural nor necessary.

Joel Snyder and Neil Walsh Allen, 1975

 

“The notion that a photograph shows us "what we would have seen had we been there ourselves" has to be qualified to the point of absurdity…By the time all the conditions are added up, the original position has been reversed: instead of saying that the camera shows us what our eyes would see, we are now positing the rather unilluminating proposition that, if our vision worked like photography, then we would see things the way a camera does.”

Joel Snyder and Neil Walsh Allen, 1975

 

 

The work this week explored the idea of authenticity in photography, how an image relates to its subject and whether there is a different relationship between the ‘truth’ of a photographic image and its subject and that of, for example, a painting and its subject. The terms ‘authentication’ and ‘representation’ were introduced and we were asked to consider how we might define these terms and how they relate to photographic images in general and the images we each produce individually.

The quotes above exemplify for me the conflict between opposing positions in this argument. On one hand, commentators state that photographs have an inescapable property of being able to prove the existence of something in the world and act almost as a surrogate for vision. Other commentators would argue that a photograph should be no more expected to reflect ‘reality’ than a painting or a motion picture is.

One of the associated issues in this argument is the idea of photographic intention. Those who propose an indexical link between subject and image are possibly denuding the photograph (and the photographer) of the autonomy of intention and the idea that the image-maker has significant agency over the way the subject is captured and the output the camera produces. Again, the counter argument to this would be that the image cannot be anything other than the index of the subject, and thus it is up to the subject chosen to communicate different messages, as the link between camera and subject can never be altered. Of course, the decision as to which subject is chosen will remain, largely, with the photographer.

To speak of my own perspective, I cannot subscribe to the idea that photography offers an incontrovertible truth. I think the truth of an image very much depends on the perspective of the photographer and the experiences and biases of the viewer. The relationship between the image and the viewer is also influenced by the intent behind the image and the context in which it is viewed. Additionally, the ongoing development of photographic technology and practice further weakens the directly indexical relationship between the subject and the image as it is incredibly easy for even the novice to add, amend or remove elements of the image that was originally captured. This facility must challenge the blind faith in the inherent truth of a photograph in my opinion, we must be wary of attributing veracity to images when it is so easy for details to be changed.

All photographs are a construction of some kind to a greater or lesser extent. The choices made by the photographer of light, location, camera and lens, as well as the functions of the tools used to capture the image, all impose conditions on an image.

In my own practice, the concept of ‘truth’ is more of an internal consideration, with the imperative being to try and reflect my truth rather than represent an external truth as such. This is partly for all the reasons outlined above. There seems to me to be a certain arrogance in presuming that my image can claim to be ‘the truth’ to someone else, when everyone has a different view of the world.

As Bate (2016) wrote:

“Reality is what we believe exists, whereas ‘realism’ is the mode of representation that supports that reality…The realism of an image corresponds to a preconception of reality. A photograph showing ‘aliens abducting soldiers’ no matter how realistic or believable as a photograph, is unbelievable (except possibly to UFO ‘experts’ and other alien-believers) simply because we do not believe aliens exist. The point is that any picture is usually tested against pre-existing suppositions and knowledge about the world.”

p. 31, Photography: The Key Concepts

My feeling then, is that there is no absolute reality and there is certainly no way that a photograph can be blindly accepted as truthful or providing authentication, without further consideration of the elements that comprise the photograph and its creation. The distance between a physical fact and the visual perception of that fact in our occipital cortices leaves too much space for us to be dogmatic about ‘truth’ and ‘authenticity’.

 

References:

SCRUTON, Roger. 1981. ‘Photography and Representation’. Critical Inquiry Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 577-603, [online]. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343119 [accessed 6 February 2018].

SNYDER, Joel and ALLEN, Neil Walsh. 1975. ‘Photography, Vision and Representation’. Critical Inquiry Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 143-169, [online]. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1342806 [accessed 5 February 2018].

BATE, David. 2016. Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.