Image 1 – The Form as a Window to Narrative.
Photography is a language. We look at an image, it is a sign, we understand the sign and therefore the image becomes classifiable. What I have constructed over the course of this year is an awkwardness within this understood language; I have attempted to disrupt the harmony of ostensibly pleasing geometric compositions.
Sontag tells us that ‘the formal qualities of style – the central issue in painting – are, at most, of secondary importance in photography, while what a photograph is of is always of primary importance.’ This idea is an inversion of the sensibility I have been exploring; what I have attempted to create are images whereby the formal aspects act as a window to narrative.
Image 1 we first notice the formal qualities, in terms of the image as a pair, because of the strength of the composition. The images have been put together in such a way that the stronger compositional lines run between images, creating an asymmetrical composition. By this I mean there are enough reflected shapes and forms in both images to hint at symmetry, but it is not a perfect symmetry by any means. This disruption in the composition gives a sense of perpetual movement in the image.
Derrida’s notion of difference is relevant here; the images are defined by their opposition to each other, yet at the same time there is a strong likeness in their composition. The problem with some of the pairs in our Lines exhibition was that the symmetry was too strong to arouse much more than what Barthes refers to as studium interest; ‘a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment’. Some of the Lines images were too harmonious and lacked the disruption in the composition which is necessary for the reader to pause long enough for the narrative elements to materialise.
The increase in the scale of the prints here, as opposed to the exhibition at Stew has been perhaps the most important part of the development in the work. The larger scale highlights some of the smaller details as well as retaining the overall quality of a luminous object with a distinct colour and tonality, which the smaller prints at Stew had. My initial instinct to use backlit film also made me apprehensive that my work might be seen as a pastiche of some of the artists I had been researching [see above] and that I ought to stick to a smaller scale to differentiate my work. I feel however, as the project has gone on there is a notion of voice in my work. What I have honed is not a language, but an idiolect; a distinctive application of language.
In these final prints there is more room for the lines to really create some movement within the frame. This movement guides us around the image and the narrative qualities begin to surface in the image as we take more time to absorb what we are confronted with.
Walter Benjamin wrote that the photographs of Eugène Atget were ‘like crime scenes.’ His deserted compositions almost seemed as though they were photographed with the purpose of establishing evidence. The form then, acts as a window to the narrative, which is comprised by the images’ lack. This is borrowed from the theatrical notion of the mis en scene, where what occurs off the stage is as important as what occurs on it. In both Image 1 and Image 2, we are guided around the image like investigators, seeking out narrative clues. The punctum effect, Barthes’ ‘prick that wounds me’, is this investigation.
Image 2 – The Narrative as a Window to Form.
Sontag writes that photographs are ‘clouds of fantasy and pellets of information,’ indeed the reader of images looks at the elements within the frame and decides what they mean, he/she is not told. Photography has largely failed to as a device to capture beauty, as it can never match experience; photography however is a tool for creating beauty. It is a peculiar unnatural way of seeing, with the potential to make us pause over a simple composition such as two sheds and make us consider the scene, perhaps endow it with poetic value.
The aforementioned idea of an investigation is arrived at somewhat differently in Image 2. The composition is not disrupted in the same way as Image 1, therefore the image is more easily understood as a sign and the reading is not immediately snagged on the formal qualities.
When considering an image in a gallery context ‘photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have the right to observe.’ As such the reader is more willing to actively seek narrative. Here, in contrast to Image 1, we are immediately approached by the narrative of the image.
Because the image is immediately classifiable the narrative aspect causes our initial pause, producing this studium effect. In this small pause it becomes apparent that the formal qualities of both Image 1 and Image 2 speak a very similar language; they are a similar size, feature triangle shapes in the roofs, the shapes of the windows are similar, both have blanched skies and make use of imperfect symmetry. In noticing the similarities however, the reader is simultaneously inclined to notice the differences between the images. This brings in Huyghe’s notion of the Third Memory.
Huyghe juxtaposed the same story told by two narrators, using similar but varying language. The effect of this was to imply that these texts are what we might consider translations of the event and that the third memory is the world in which these two applications of language belong and collide. This idea is similar to Tomas Tranströmer’s notion that the poem exists independent of language, that all poetry is an act of translation. The idea of the third memory comes into play in my work in the unexplained elements of the images. There is a distinct idiolect which draws the images together, informs us they are related, but at the same time the narrative elements are sparse and the reader is left to create the third memory based on this desired investigation.
Full Show Documentation