Some are, some aren’t. Either way, it’s about that time..
Lots of ‘controversy’ recently over the ‘manipulation’ of images and whether they bear any resemblance to reality. One commentator noting that if you want to manipulate your images “beyond what was in front of you then become a painter.”
I actually do work like that.
Here’s one I took a year or two ago for a documentary book project, photographing an island community through a year. It’s actually a collaboration of sorts. But involves no Photoshop trickery.
I walked into an island woodland on a sunlit day. And found a wood sculpture placed by an artist. It was beautiful and evocative in the dappled light. I thought we (the wood artist and I, a photographer) might collaborate.
So I did the mundane stuff that the painters do:
I erected an easel. (For me this is a tripod.)
I chose my palette. (For me this is ‘white balance’, a setting in a menu – ‘Cloudy’ was my choice – gives warmer colours, you see!)
I chose my canvas size. (RAW: large file, lots of detail).
I chose the time required to complete the work. (1/45th second @ f2.8)
And before I took the image I went in front of the lens and expressed my feelings about the scene in front of me, going “Wowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!” all over the glass filter. It made the colours bleed and the light diffuse.
All as a consequence of my breath on the glass before taking.
Breath. Taking. Manipulation.
Must I now call myself a painter? A ‘real’ artist? That would be nice.
There were several mentions of dementia in the news yesterday, eerily coincidental, as I was in the middle of writing something about the disease.
First was a theatre production ‘Inside Out of Mind’, which sounds intriguing, described as:
And then shortly afterwards it was announced that Arnold Peters, one of the cast of The Archers had died. His Telegraph obituary noting:
There’s long been a place in the arts for issues around mental illness, for raising awareness, educating and informing, so it makes sense to do the same with dementia, so here’s a thought to consider: Tracey Emin should collaborate with the Alzheimer’s Society. Why Emin? Bear with me please……
I don’t care much for a lot of the conceptual art I’ve seen. Too much of it seems to crave exclusion, the shutting out of those of us who could care less about, or fail to understand, the wordy artist’s statements containing too many big words and too few commas that accompanies it. It’s often work which, shorn of its rigorous intellectual scaffold, gives me the impression it would collapse like a pile of baked beans on sale at the supermarket after one pernickity small child pulls out the wrong tin, too low down.
But I don’t dismiss all of it, there is some conceptual art that’s intrigued me, such as that produced by Tracey Emin. Unlike some of her artistic peers whose work is rooted in some place I am totally unfamiliar with, it always struck me that Emin’s work had some ‘connection’ to the real world where I spend most of my time, an echo of the familiar.
However it would be fair to say that Telegraph columnist Ruth Dudley Edwards isn’t quite so accommodating of Emin, as she proclaims in her piece “She may be a CBE, but Tracey Emin is still naked”:
No mincing your words there then.
However, in a world where its currently somewhat fashionable to dismiss photography and it’s significance I was heartened to read a very touching and insightful comment about photography by Tracey Emin in the Guardian recently, in an introduction to her new book ‘My Photo Album’, one that really struck a chord and made me think:
It struck me that Emin could have been talking about dementia, for it does this too. It takes your memory of who you have been, and how you appeared, and rips it into tiny pieces. It is like sitting in a photo booth and looking into the mirror only to see a stranger gazing back at you. Nothing left to prove to you who you actually are. Well, nothing except the image of you reflected in the memories of family. Memories that, in time, become priceless to them.
I’ve written several times about Alzheimer’s on duckrabbit and the articles have been well received, so last year I offered to share some of my writing with the Alzheimers Society. They were interested: “Please submit to our blog” they said. But I ran into a ‘rights’ problem in their T&C’s:
This surprised me, but I am aware that in order to manage a blog a certain degree of ‘control’ over content is required, and permission is needed in order to undertake the ‘digital duplication’ that of necessity occurs when moving data around, but I’ve not seen it written quite like this. So I queried their need to obtain all rights in submissions from (perhaps) vulnerable people, but in particular when this is undertaken “without any duty to account to you”.
I queried this justification, noting that:
I continued to press them for an explanation of why they felt this degree of ‘acquisition’ was necessary, but got nowhere. The final comment from the Society’s representative regarding any likely response from their Legal Dept. was:
I’m not sure why this particular issue upset me. But it did. My dad suffered increasingly from dementia before he died, and my mum currently lives with this dreadful condition. ‘Control’ over the memories of my parents are all I have left of them. These memories are priceless, and if I was to share them with the Alzheimer’s Society I would not expect them to be traded “in whole or in part without any duty to account to you.”
The Alzheimer’s Society do sterling work all over the UK supporting people with this dreadful illness, for which I am grateful, but they could do it just as well without apparently taking control of the only thing many people will have left of their loved ones – their memories. But I have to say, from my considerable amount of previous experience of questioning this kind of rights acquisition, it most likely represents only the attitude of the A.S. Legal Dept and is not something reflected in the ethos and attitude of the individuals within the wider organization.
Statistics about dementia on the Alzheimer’s Society’s site are very sobering, and given the fact that they estimate there will be over a million people in the UK with dementia by 2021, and two thirds of dementia sufferers are women, Tracey Emin may be unfortunate enough to become a statistic.
Emin’s personal art work is challenging, no doubt to its creator too, and I always wondered, as I pondered her various pieces, where does this come from, what is this a response to?
A hint is revealed in Emin’s recollection:
Conceptual art made as a response to the absence of photographs? That’s something to ponder at length.
Maybe Ms Dudley Edwards will now review Emins’ photography book, and be gracious enough to recognize in her photographs the fact that yes this work “….could have been created….. by tens of thousands of pencil-wielders…” but crucially not “…in a couple of minutes….” but requiring a lifetime of experience.
And she may also realize that in sharing this work Emin, perhaps for the first time, is truly naked, revealing her self in that peculiar and unique way that only photographs can achieve.
Never mind the other work she’s produced, Emin’s ‘photo album’ may turn out to be her most significant work yet precisely because her simple image collection is something we can all recognize ourselves in, identify with the line created by the living of our own lives, scrawled by we “tens of thousands of pencil-wielders”…..and drawing as Emin herself so eloquently describes it…“An invisible line held by the hand of a ghost, moving from one world to the next.”
The Alzheimer’s Society might benefit greatly from collaborating with an artist of the status of Emin to raise awareness of this awful condition. They should take note of the value Emin places on the memories of her younger self, and the fact she has been able to eloquently illustrate in a few sentences, albeit obliquely, the damage that dementia can do, and in a profoundly moving way that we can all understand. No ‘exclusivity’ nor conceptual posturing here:
And in the final line of her final paragraph provides a touching and heartfelt observation that should resonate with all of us, and to which I think we would all aspire:
I sincerely hope she does have the joyous experience of contemplating her younger self when she is old, sees the line she’s drawn from past to present, and is able to celebrate who she has become, but crucially recognizes who she once was.
Memory is a rare thing: it’s something we must hold close and personal, but also something which, if it is to have value, we must of necessity willingly share. But it is not something any of us should ever have taken from us.
( Tracey Emin, My Photo Album, is published by FUEL, price £19.95.)
This afternoon I’ve been making a music CD for someone I love. Hurding up some of the best music I’ve heard in the last few months (there is so much of it) I came back to the songs of Luke Sital Singh. A young man with a tremendous voice and turn of phrase. There’s a good selection of his songs on Soundcloud.
One thing leads to another and Singh got me thinking about the poetry of W D Snodgrass.
Snodgrass was massively underated as a poet possibly because his work was written off as ‘confessional’, which was a turn off for the literary elite when he first came to prominance in America in the 50′s.
Maybe this song and these words will resonate with someone else on this grey wet Sunday. Maybe you.
A Locked House
As we drove back, crossing the hill,
I mentioned that, once, as a joke;
Maybe I should have thought: all
We’d watched friends driven to betray;
The house still stands, locked, as it stood
In the last piece I posted here I argued that the technical evolution of photography has always been leading towards some form of ‘instant’ photograph. By this I meant a photographic technology which makes the elapsing time between photographer desiring an image, and it being shared with that photographer’s audience, effectively imperceptible. I wondered if achieving this might present a challenge to our understanding of photography in the same way photography has often challenged how we understand time, and felt this might be a topic to discuss a little more.
Part of the appeal of photography is its ability to abstract the way we see the passage of time. Photographs by their nature never show events in what we experience as ‘real time’ instead they visually compress or expand a moment, allowing us to see things that the limits of our physiology would normally make invisible, for example by freezing a speeding bullet or drawing out the slow arc of the sun across the sky.
By revealing the movement of the effectively invisible, photography can force us to reconsider how we understand these things, and can lead to a better understanding of time. An early example of this was Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering motion sequence photography, reputedly commissioned to settle a bet over whether a galloping horse takes all of its feet off the ground, something imperceptible to the human eye. Photography allowed Muybridge to settle the question, to dismiss one of two conflicting narratives of the world.
Muybridge’s rather functional, scientific images proved to have huge public appeal, something some theorists have attributed to the pace of change in the late nineteenth century, and perhaps a growing public sense of temporal dislocation as once familiar ideas about space and time were exploded by incomprehensible new technologies. Motion sequence photography captured something of the zeitgeist of the era, perhaps because they offered an opportunity to understand time in a world where it was becoming ever more central and important, and at the same time speeding ever more wildly out of control.
Photographs can also challenge our notion of time and how it works, rather than support it, because of the privileged status of photographs as artefacts that exist inside and outside of the present. While a photograph physically exists as part of the on-going movement of time, subjected to all the physical processes that entails, it shows something irrevocably isolated in the past. This temporal incongruity often has no noticeable effect, but certain photographs can break the thin separation between past and present, projecting an ‘illusion of the real’ directly into the now.
I first experienced this while still at school, skipping through a history textbook I came across a photography of the Russian monk and mystic Grigory Rasputin. I felt an overpowering sense that something was emerging out of the image, almost as if this long dead person was in fact right in front of me. As I became more aware of the effect I experienced it again, the contents of certain images refusing to remain where they belonged. The effect is subjective, the causes unknown, by way of explanation it has been suggested that certain photographs behave in a similar manner to traumatic memories.
Freud compared the functioning of memory to a camera; experiences are recorded, but then must be processed and assembled into the narrative of memory. Theorists including Ulrich Baer have argued that memories of traumatic events, and certain photographs that in some way also defy understanding or resist historical categorisation refuse to be simply stored as part of this narrative. Instead they remain unsorted, uncategorised, repeatedly and unexpectedly intruding into the present like a terrible memory.
Turning to photography’s own traumatic history, it’s only relatively recently that discourses have found voice that describe photography in ambivalent terms. Certainly at its inception and for maybe the first century or so of its existence, photography, a technical and conceptual child of the enlightenment, firmly represented ideas of rational scientific progress. These ideas were undoubtedly undermined by the rupture that followed in the wake of the Second World War.
The use of the products of rational progress to perpetrate brutal and irrational acts and advance profoundly anti-progressive ideologies demanded a reconsideration of the narrative of progress. It lead to the disturbing realisation that technologies like photography are not inherently progressive, but at best neutral, and can as easily be deployed for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ purposes. It can be used to guide a bomb more accurately onto it’s target, or it can be used to locate a bullet in a victim’s skull. Photography is no impartial observer, it takes the side of whoever pressed the button.
But despite this rupture the idea of progress as an end in itself still holds huge sway in the world. We retain a childish belief in things like the apparently endless possibilities of scientific ingenuity, the boundless productive capabilities of capitalism, the limitless resources of the natural world. But hitting some sort of technological glass ceiling, or reaching in some sense the terminal velocity of the medium would perhaps in a very small way challenge this still further by reminding us that progress is finite, that there is not always more, to discover, to produce, to consume, and of course, to photograph.
Phew. End of a mad week. It’s always a mad week. Kick back for a couple of minutes and consider:
I’ve posted a few pieces on duckrabbit about Alzheimer’s that have proved popular with readers. It was suggested by several commentators that I submit a recent one to the Guardian for publication. I went to Google and up came “Guardian Witness: Our new home for content you’ve created” and their message “Your chance to have videos, photos and stories featured on the Guardian.”
Great stuff I thought, and there is even mention of “Assignments” opportunities too. Into the small print I go, and (no) surprise, not only do they NOT pay for your stuff, they want world-wide rights in perpetuity:
I was rather disappointed. But also puzzled. Because there’s a Freelance Charter at the Guardian. Which clearly states their rates of payment for freelance submissions. Surely these rates apply to Guardian Witness too? Email duly sent to the Rights Dept. And a wait, and eventually a reply (NB – my emphasis in bold):
Not clarified for me at all. Because the Freelance Charter says no such thing about it applying only to “content commissioned by us”. What it does clearly state is that:
And even helpfully provides “Definitions” section to ensure there is no ambiguity:
And to cover themselves they also have “Variation of Terms” which state:
So I seek further clarification, but get no reply. SO I email again. Get no reply. Email for a third time:
This elicited the response that I’d be contacted with an answer, but that was over two weeks ago and there has been no further contact. One would assume that an immediate response would be given to such a question, pulled from the shelf of answers that Rights Dept would have as their stock-in-trade, ready for immediate deployment. But maybe I am missing something here, completely misinterpreting this, and deluding myself?
I am curious to hear what actually is the distinction the Guardian makes between contributors to Witness and ‘normal’ freelance contributions. We are continually reminded we are all ‘citizen journalists’ now, so will we receive the appropriate recompense that ‘real’ journalists can expect? The consumers of the work will make no distinction between ‘freelance’ and ‘citizen’ and neither will the advertisers whose copy appears alongside such work. I imagine most Guardian staff are paid, so why are we ‘citizen’ contributors not? Is there some legal definition of ‘freelance’ which the Guardian are using which excludes ordinary punters?
The irony in all of this is that the Guardian is currently carrying a helpful series of articles by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society on “Why copyright matters” and “Landmark moments in publishing and copyright – in pictures” and the very useful “Your words, your money” in which the authors state helpfully:
And the hugely significant:
If I was a recent contributor to Guardian Witness I think I’d be tempted to submit my invoice and await payment. Maybe it will help me give up the day job….
I enjoy a good read. I particularly enjoy a good read about photography, whether non-fiction or fiction, but particularly work that is written by writers who ‘know’ photography, whose intimacy with the ‘thoughts of being a photographer’ are perhaps a result of their own experience of actually ‘writing with light’.
Writer and photographer John Edwin Mason’s recently published and very insightful article about David Goldblatt, is a good example. It is not only a glorious celebration of Goldblatt as an image maker by someone who understands photography, but eloquently underlines the connection between Goldblatt’s work and that of writer Nadine Gordimer, that literary giant of ‘African writing’ whose words powerfully expose the hidden currents of apartheid that have rippled through, and crippled, Southern Africa; the unseen made visible. The close collaboration between these two, writer and photographer, is a powerful combination, as any of you familiar with ‘On the Mines’ will know.
And I am still marveling over Lewis Bush’s recent post here on the duck, ‘Google Glass and the Terminal Velocity of Photography’, an astonishingly perspicacious piece that tackles the incredibly complex subject of time, and not just time, but time as it is ‘controlled’ by photography, and photographers.
But when writers don’t ‘know’ photography, and I mean very good writers, those eloquent wordsmiths whose mastery of metaphor and artful alliteration can conjure up whole new worlds we can become immersed in, they lose me.
I read a book recently, or rather I started to read a book recently, by a very good writer. The author conjured up a detailed physical landscape rich in atmosphere and colour, with characters whose very features I could ‘see’ in my mind’s eye. One was a photographer, and the description of this individual rang true, the way he appeared within the narrative space, the way he acted. But then an error appeared, a minor photographic detail, and one that had no effect on the overall plot, but it ‘broke the spell’ for me, reminding me that this was not a ‘photographer’ I was reading about, but someone fictional in a series of events created by a writer who was not a photographer, but appeared to think that because he was a very good writer, that he could create one.
I came across a similar piece this week, ‘The Madness of Crowds: Peak Photograph’ by Will Self. I generally like Self’s writing, it’s often acerbic, ironic and deeply insightful. I didn’t like this piece.
Or perhaps her unhappiness “was simply because” she was accompanied by someone who saw the world very very differently, and much more simplistically than she did, and who was dismissive of her craft?
Whilst affording himself, as a writer, ‘the safety net’ of that old monkeys and typewriters axiom in his dismissal of photography and practitioners of it, what Self fails to realise in his conceit is that he gives the distinct impression he writes from the somewhat narrow point of view of someone who views photographers, and their photographs, as simply recorders, not as creators and interpreters. Self, the writer, and with his limited vision, saw only a clock with a herd of people crowding around, snapping.
When a good writer who is also good photographer contemplates a clock, as Lewis Bush did recently, the result is far more insightful, thought provoking, and yes…timely:
The great irony of this ‘cult of speed’ is that we must wait to see what transpires, but no matter, time is on our side after all. So, lets just do that, and whilst we wait lets see what we monkeys crowding around the clock can produce, and consider what that work says about our relationship to ‘time’ and to each other.
Watch your feet though, that may be me, my eye on the clock, waiting for ‘that’ precise moment when I am compelled to press the shutter button, kneeling in front of you in the throng – a wholly fitting prostration before ‘time’ don’t you think?
So please….don’t tread on me.
It’s rare for a photo book to create a big buzz; especially one that hasn’t been released, nor any preview copies issued. But Jim Mortram’s Electric book (his first) sold out in 24 hours.
I’m not surprised. Mortram is a breath of fresh air.
I was disappointed when Jim’s book sold out. You could argue that limited editition photo books that become a collector’s item and end up on ebay before they have even been released is in conflict with what Jim stands for. But on the other hand rarely has a photographer made his ongoing practise so open and available to so many people through the web. Whilst Jim’s photos may have a classic documentary feel to them his way of bringing that work to the world could not be more in keeping with the times.
The last copy was slipped up on ebay at the beginning of this week without anyone noticing. Looks like someone is going to get an absolute steal (the books at 99p at the moment).
A little bird tells me all the money raised from the sale will be going to a good cause. That’s because this copy is mine.
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