Working on narrative

In Dominic Willsdon’s essay “Hiroshi Sugimoto Aegean Sea, Pilíon 1990” published in ‘Singular Images’ ed’ by Sophie Howarth we take at face value the title of the print; it defines so much for us, the viewer/reader. The Aegean Sea at Pilíon looks across the water towards Troy on the Anatolian coast, he mentions the nearby Dardanelles, Gallipoli, Thrace, Constantinople, Macedonia, and in three short sentences conflates three thousand years or so of history. pp 100. “This is the dead centre of the Aegean Sea. From a European perspective, or at least from any perspective oriented, critically or otherwise, to what used to be called the ‘European mind’, no body of water in the world is as heavy with history and mythology.” pp100. Willsdon goes on to reflect on the Iliad and The Odyssey, drawing also on the earliest literary references of the Adamic language – Genesis in the Old Testament – before reflecting on the influences of modernist photographers, the likes of Ansel Adams and his perspective of Yosemite. This burden of reference on an image that might otherwise be suggested as being an exercise in tonal containment, or as Ansel Adam himself might have put it; zones two to eight.

These comments on Sugimoto’s photograph (not awfully well reproduced in the book) had me wondering when I started to try and edit a set of images for assignment three – A Narrative. Of course I am not trying to draw together my images and Sugimoto’s, however I am thinking (again) about the directive use of text. If, for example, the Sugimoto image had been mis-read – like for example in the introductory essay to Hatje Cantz 400 page tome entitled “Hiroshi Sugimoto”, where Kerry Brougher talks about one of Sugimoto’s  Dioramas, taken in the American Museum of Natural History, “…of a polar bear hovers over his victim. Caught just after the kill, the photograph shows the beast poised over a freshly dispatched penguin, suspended forever…” The print doesn’t depict that of course, how could it. The good folk at the museum wouldn’t pair a slaughtered penguin from the Antarctic region with an Artic carnivore. So it could be that we might be misled, especially with such an enigmatic image such as that with which we are presented with, quite poorly in this case, by the usually fine publisher Aperture.

The narrative of Sigimoto’s image is, in Willsdon’s essay, guided wholly by the author’s flight of fancy, informed perhaps by a classical education and schooled in European history. Sugimoto himself has spent a good deal of his life in the west, living as he does between New York and Tokyo, but as far as I can find out has offered no reason for the view he chose, above looking at atlas’ finding seas with interesting names, going there, spending a few days before making a few exposures. A great concept, if you can afford it. But that’s not the point, or rather it’s not the reason why Sugimoto’s image, or Willsdon’s reading of it has come to mind.

I have over twenty images strewn over the carpet in my lounge trying to elicit a narrative that might comply with the brief on assignment three – A Narrative. The images all have two photographs per print. The one having an image of a paper butterfly with an anonymous wish written on it and the other a reflective image culled from another set of images that provided, in my view, a reflective comment on the butterfly wish. I am considering the notion that I might be able to conjure any number of narratives from any formulation of sequences. I can envisage differing complexions of stories depending on how these images might be viewed – from left to right, from top to bottom, two banks of five, five banks of two. I have already discovered that by randomly assembly the images other tales might be woven together.

A beginning, a middle and an end is what the brief mentions. It is entirely possible to create a fiction from any set of texts, the reader’s interpretation of these wishes will demand a response that creates a narrative, the gaps will be filled in, the narrative journey from one set text to another will be bridged in the sub-conscious. And so, on the one hand the brief will have been met. The start of the narrative will be defined by how the set is laid out, the central section – those five or six texts – will, with any amount of clashing scripts, provide a conduit to ‘the end’. The viewer will know it’s the end as there won’t be any more in the series, no more images to travel to, no extensions, no epilogues. Amen.

Willsdon provided the reader the directions to those sites of civilization as if Sugimoto had intended to take us there. The archipelago jutting into the Aegean was a presentation of Willsdon’s mind, his sub-conscious, informed by his life experiences and served as a self evident truth. But what if, like Brougher the image hadn’t been the one we, or he, had thought. Aperture had either slipped up and introduced another image altogether, or the sub-editor had misnamed the image ‘The Sargasso Sea, Bermuda”? I have no knowledge whether Sugimoto had ever considered the Sargasso Sea or not. It is certainly a water that has the weight of history and a uniqueness about it that could provide a draw to the artist. And the reason I ask myself this question, is whether I should care about a couple of things. Whether, for example, the fiction is based on a fiction, surely Willsdon’s is, it is his fictive fantasy conjured from his background. Or, whether I should worry about the generation of a greater fiction, by that I mean altering the text, adding a text, deleting a word, a letter to tell better the story that I feel impelled to relate.

My inclination is to continue to think and explore how these images might combine to add to the simple narrative provided with the text. I need to settle with these images, map them, work with them and try to trust my instinct that there is something there to explore.

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4 thoughts on “Working on narrative

  1. Pingback: Thames Valley meeting August 18th 2013. | John Umney - Documentary

  2. There’s definitely something there to explore in myriad ways. They’re the kind of images that invite the imagination.
    I also like the image sequence you’ve used in this post to punctuate your thoughts.

  3. Pingback: John Umney - Documentary

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