“The magic of photography is that it is the object which does all the work. Photographers will never admit this and will argue that all the originality lies in their inspiration and their photographic interpretation of the world. As a result they take photographs which are either bad or too good, confusing their subjective vision with the reflex miracle of the photographic act.”
“In art it is difficult to say something which is just as good as saying nothing at all.”
It has taken some time but I have increasingly come around to the view that there is much truth in what Baudrillard says in the quote above (well, not just Baudrillard, Barthes, for one, has said much the same). I say “come around” because I’m not totally in agreement (being a photographer probably has something to with that and most likely explains my reticence to fully “let go” of my illusions, if “illusions” they indeed be…). In truth, I still hold fast to the belief that a truly great photographic image (and here I probably still mean “print”; a physical object in other words) can indeed be a thing of beauty, an “art object”, in its own right. Albeit that I still feel a little uncomfortable with the realisation that the values attached to what is, after all, a potentially infinitely reproducible article (the more so in our brave new digital world) have been artificially constructed and inflated to suit the needs of a burgeoning art market in such “objects”. Be that as it may, I find myself more interested now in actually what a photograph (and here I almost mean any photograph) is, or can be. Or more precisely what it may mean, how it may mean and what it is possible for it to express. Or in other words how much of any notional meaning is actually communicable to the viewer with any degree of reliability.
To answer my own question, especially in the case of the single, “one off”, “art object” photographic image I have come to the conclusion, “not very much…”. And here I should explain I refer to “meaning” as to the intent of the photographer, not meanings and associations as projected onto an image by the viewer according to how an individual may “read” it. In fact the whole notion of “reading” a photographic image is, in itself, problematic… a discussion for another day, another post, however. At any rate, the upshot of all this pondering, which may or may not be of any interest to the reader, is that I no longer feel a need to chase the chimera of the “beautiful”, “elegant” (and all those other terms people use to describe an “eye-catching” image) single, one-off image (dare I say the “masterpiece”?), something of which I have been as guilty of as anybody, even when I may have appeared to work in discrete “series”. Perhaps more than a little Baudrillardean logic has infused me, after all. Perhaps there is no need, any longer, to try quite so hard. At least for the issues I now seek to explore, it has maybe become an unnecessary “distraction”…
As related to the images I showed yesterday, the image above actually precedes them (not as images, obviously, but in their “treatment”). Looking at the image it is fairly self evident that it “represents” a sort of map of my perambulation around my garden. If indeed “reading” an image is possible, this one would seem straightforward. But there is also more than that to it. My close friend Anna Lee Keefer has referred to the image as the “shape” of my walk, which seems as succinct a description as I could imagine. You will notice that, starting from the bottom, at first my “steps” before stopping and taking a snap appear to be short ones, lengthening as I progress. I should add that the composite image here is a faithful representation of both the shape of my garden and the points where I stopped to take a snap. On the face of it, this “lengthening” of my steps establishes a kind of “rhythm” to the walk. It could mean (“mean” as in depict a fact) I sped up as I progressed. What it actually “means”, or shows, quite prosaically, is that I rapidly realised that at the rate I was stopping and photographing I would end up with an unwieldy number of images and so I “slowed down” not in speed but in my rate of stopping and image making, adjusting accordingly so that I could “represent” the shape of the garden in the subsequent composite image. No more, no less. In the end, I like the “rhythm” thus established. That is purely accidental, however.
In the sense I have described above the resulting images, especially in the composite shown here, may or may not be appealing to anyone (they may like the resulting “shape” for example). But it is pure documentary, honest and faithful too, of an act which, as I have “performed” it hundreds (if not thousands) of times before, is of little interest to me per se and I see no reason why it should be of any interest to anybody else. A photographic record of a purely banal act resulting in individually banal images. It is through the banal that I believe, however, is the best route to exploring the formal issues of photography that I spoke of above. Indeed, banality is, I believe, a crucial aspect of the photographic enterprise as opposed to the “heroic” image making of say, Ansel Adams et al, which speak of many things perhaps, but have little to say about the essence of photography, or indeed image making in general. But on that, to some no doubt, “heretical” note I shall leave the discussion for a future post…