Friday, 5 August 2011
15 May 2010.
A couple of months ago I was somewhat at a loss upon reaching the point when it became over a year since the photographs were taken that I have been trawling through and selecting to put up here. A photograph which previously could be described as having been taken last May on such-and-such a day now has to be identified by year too. This occasion of the year swallowing its own tail gave me pause to consider what this accumulation of images might mean to the stray visitor. (For me, the convenience of chronology is to help me locate the originals when I want to make a print. The question of grouping and classification of images, and of archiving, is one that I have hitherto ducked out of, but one that exercises me ever more greatly as I watch in despair the haphazard fate of images piled disorderly in a heap by time's linear ordering. The question is of course a notorious one, riffed upon marvellously in Geoff Dyer's The Ongoing Moment.) The ordering of images by date taken obscures the fact that underlying them extend branches of ideas partially formed and developments of themes, and indeed for many of them that they are leaves on such branches is their very raison d'être.
Over the months I have vacillated between objective titles for images, giving place or subject alone, and more suggestive titles alluding to ideas or associations that, for me, infuse the image. The former course favours the viewer's free interpretation, the latter course can provide a starting point or anchor for elaborating a meaning in the image.
Ideas of course are two-a-penny, it is their concrete realization that is elusive. Further, beyond this comes intrinsically material expression, not reducible to ideas in other terms, not admitting translation. Of course most of the time - well yes, all - such attempts at material realization are failures. This goes with the turf. Indeed, most of the images you see here might better be regarded as formal exercises, soundings of the scope of the medium, intermediate. This is not to denigrate them, more to emphasize the long-term nature of developing a language for expression and the means for creativity. (An aspect of my method of selecting images has been to try to choose some picture from each day I took photographs, in this lying a residual sense of taking photographs being like making a diary, a record of days past. It is inevitable that some longeurs result.)
Many of the images refer overtly to problems of depiction and schemata from drawing and painting, to frames and apertures, to reinterpreted fragments, transmutation of marks into signs, reversion of signs into marks, the relation of traces left to marks made, looking into and looking at. Often, framing an image one sees a suggestion of other images seen. (One might say always. Towards the end of Godard's Eloge de l'Amour the narrator ruminates, “I see a landscape new to me, but it is new to me because I am thinking of another, former landscape that I know, and with which I compare this landscape.”) This remembering is a starting point for one's own seeing.
An anxiety I have overcome is the encounter in other people's work of realizations of ideas that oneself had been gestating, whether this be a possibly superficial coincidence in choice of subject matter or a deeper resonance of concerns. For example, the very day after I had been taking pictures of reticulations in the tarmac on Mostecká near the Charles Bridge in Prague (two of which are here) I walked into the small gallery and shop Ars Pragensis on Malostranské nám. and saw in the small selection of Emila Medková's work showing there the untitled image here of tarmac near/on Charles Bridge. (Here is an introductory Tate Gallery essay on Medková.)
This was the beginning of an appreciative acquaintance with this photographer's work (precipitated further by the delight in seeing in her work so many eroded and marked walls - fields for conjuring images, sites of signs, eroded language, palimpsests). Further, after longer looking at this image, and relating it to others by Medková, the initial striking coincidence of subject changed into the perception of difference, a perception become more finely attuned to the particularities of personality (like visage or gait unmistakeable once known). Past image-making informs present, and meaning arises from how an image builds on those that have been made already. I later returned to taking images of weather-worn tarmac in Strahov Garden, appropriating these graphic marks as elements of triptychs that might to an imaginative eye conjure remembrances of drawings, perhaps of garden trees, or waves, or...
Returning to my former “anxiety of originality”, it is in such overlaps of interest with other people's work that communication becomes possible and modifications of one's own ideas are produced in the light of such prefigurations. In this way I might, for instance, still discover a differently realized version of themes underlying say Lee Friedlander's Letters from the People under the different conditions of my sensibility and the operations of chance and circumstance.
Much of photography is thinking about photography. For this reason I am always interested in reading words about images, and often it helps me in my responsiveness to other people's work, to understand what leads to certain images - what tributaries they have, which sea they lead towards. So I thought I might try here to articulate some of my own ideas, alongside the images. It is perhaps both appropriate and necessary that these thoughts remain fragmentary, maybe incoherent, probably much nonsense, to be discarded as soon as made, from which to move on. But in this the exercise may serve a purpose.