Fontcuberta and the difficult light

Fifteen Twelve

Fifteen Twelve

Fifteen Twelve

Fifteen Twelve

“All photography is a fiction that presents itself as true”. This quotation, attributed to Joan Fontcuberta in an essay by Andrea Soto Calderon and Rainer Guldin “To document something which does not exist” is troubling. First of all I haven’t read the work that Fontcuberta has written – it is from a work called “El beso de Judas” which is only available in Spanish – I have asked the artist (through his assistant, Mar) whether there is a english translation, but unfortunately there isn’t. I shan’t be funding a translation. I instinctively know that this quotation and others seem to find an echo with the work I am investigating with light. It is difficult to allow myself to develop this theme without trying to predict where it will travel to, I find this artist’s work influencing how I approach the topic.

Lavandula angustifolia 1984, reproduced with the kind permission of the artist Joan Fontcuberta

Lavandula angustifolia 1984, reproduced with the kind permission of the artist Joan Fontcuberta

Fontcuberta tells of a time in an art museum in Houston where the curator was discussing with the artist Eugene Smith’s archive, which is resident there and how Fontcuberta had spotted some ‘work’ done on the negatives. The curator acknowledged that Smith had indeed ‘doctored’ some negatives of the ‘Spanish Village’ series, but the essential truth still exists of course. Smith’s work has been held up as an exemplar of the sort of Documentary work that seeks to ‘expose the truth’ with the Spanish Village and Minamata and so on. And whilst Smith’s work is still, rightfully held up, almost as a beacon, the notion that it might be constructively ‘untrue’ is a thought worth considering. In the same Spanish text Fontcuberta states “…photography always lies, lies instinctively, lies because its nature does not permit it to do anything else.”

Lavandula angustifolia, appears to be a brassica, the stem, the large leaves and the firm head of the vegetable, all visual clues. Of course it isn’t a vegetable at all, let alone a member of the cabbage family; it is an image of one, perhaps more than that it is a simulacra of an image; it is, maybe, a monochromatic image of an image of something, that we think we might recognise but we aren’t quite sure. When we fix that the head of the ‘plant’ to be that of a tortoise from underneath things start to fall into place. Fontcuberta has made a series of these images, at once an homage to Blossfeld with his close-up monochrome images of flora, but equally a subversion of that same work. These interpretations have at it’s core the notion of truth. This is a ‘true’ image, as true as any image that Blossfeld made; that Fontcuberta presents his image as only an image – this visual construct seems to me to be a direct reference to the notion that all photographs are constructions – something that Fontcuberta speaks about in the audio file in this post. But once the ‘game’ is up, the fiction is very clear – it’s obviousness a fundamental part of the construct; none of this image has ever truly existed. It is a lie.

Dendrita Victoriosa 1982, reproduced with the kind permission of the artist Joan Fontcuberta

Dendrita Victoriosa 1982, reproduced with the kind permission of the artist Joan Fontcuberta

It is a fictive narrative, having only vestigial connection to a reality, whether born on or beneath the soil. The fiction invites the viewer to construct their own version of a ‘truth’ given the available information: monochrome (no colour misfitting), sombre setting, very reminiscent of Blossfeld’s curios. These are reverential settings, amplified by their projection against a blank background allowing nothing to ‘upstage’ the reading. The ‘latinised’ caption with date reference implying a scientific, almost ‘Linnaeus’ schema – but not quite; just as the flora’s title isn’t quite the real thing, neither is the image – all adding up to a multiple subversion strategy to test the gaze of the viewer. It has been suggested that the ‘Victoriosa’ is a reference to the two digits, I like to think of them as ‘two fingers’, slightly more than ‘cocking a snoop’ at the Blossfeldian tradition of mimicking, and perhaps trying to upstage the scientific indexical properties of photography.

Fontcuberta invites us to scrutinise these images and I think he challenges the viewer to accept them for what they are, a means by which the artist wants to communicate, though the communication isn’t prescribed, it will be whatever it turns out to be. Where this informs my own work is both simple and difficult to explain. Simple in that I want to construct fictions with the use of an emotional response to a place which is likely to be physically close to me by documenting the instances and how they invoke fictional constructs. At Fifteen Twelve this fiction presented itself as a self evident truth, I can no longer test the veracity of it’s previous existence, it is no longer there, was never there to begin with, so cannot return to that place for which it has no memory.

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More light thoughts

Nineteen twelve

Nineteen twelve

Nineteen twelve

Nineteen twelve

 

Nineteen twelve

Nineteen twelve

Nineteen twelve

Nineteen twelve

Low light, low contrast light shining through the door attracted the lens, the geometric design, the refractions resting on the wall, too late in the day for natural light. Artificial light that didn’t move, the transience of the other light pictures is at odds with this image. Stubborn attraction to the fixed place on the wall that it illuminated, repeating itself through the stasis of it’s existence, challenging the ideas from before. Should the constructed light challenge the narratives that evolve in the stories born of the flow of natural light from its flight past the apertures that provide the ephemeral lighting on the land? Natural seems truthful, seems factual, documentary, fleeting and evanescent. Constructed light seems fictive, imagined, not truthless, rather full of constructed truth, like a story with a purpose, like a fiction to uncover a lie covering a truth.

Still playing with ideas, these two image have been further fictionalised by conversions to mono – thinking about how they could depict further the fictions I want to explore.

More light on the subject

Beige and white at eleven fifty four

Beige and white at eleven fifty four

There are good times and there are bad times, this weekend was a good weekend, a very good weekend. I spent the best of Saturday at an exhibition in London with a couple of other students talking about the work on the walls, the work that we were all doing, inspirations, obstacles and hopes. It is difficult to describe how important these discussions are to me, how I find that being able to talk openly, freely without care or concern with other students I can trust to listen and comment critically. On Sunday I spent the most part reflecting on what had happened on Saturday, even though I was rehearsing for the next production and rigging lights for the stage. I’ve sent correspondence to an artist in the hope of finding a way to start a discussion with him, I’ve watched two videos of Laura Pannack describing her practice.

Beige and white at another eleven fifty four

Beige and white at another eleven fifty four

And I’ve thought a lot more about my next assignment, that at once seems firmly tangible and again seems as elusive as ever. I am drawn to the light, not really as moth to a flame, but the craft photographer in me enjoys the exploration of local contrast. I find beauty in the touch of light on objects, how they enable a sort of transcendence of the object, bringing a sense of alternate narrative to the highlighted thing. My walks around the village and the house – which is in a state of considerable transformation at the moment, the builders have been encamped for four months with at least two more to go – have led me to think about stories. I’m very careful not to veer towards another ‘Edgelands’ as I’ve seen so many over the last few years, most degree shows have had at least three or four variants on a similar theme, but rather I want to explore what it is that these places that light lands on, are being asked to reveal about their past.

Beige and white at another eleven fifty four

Beige and white at another eleven fifty four

About how this image of a wonderful aurora provides an invitation to stop and explore what was or could possibly be. I am though more than a little concerned about the lack of a physical human presence in these images. It might be said, by me many times, that the land and it’s scape can only be a portrait of mankind, much as all photographs are self portraits, then in this land that we inhabit we see a portrait of ourselves. The scarring that we witness is in every vista we view, so I think I need to find a way to place people into the frame. This placement is not about holding people responsible, whether it is the ‘bastard wasteland’ or the ‘perfect harmony’ of Blenheim; rather it is that people have stories that are embedded in the environment that they inhabit, even if only for a short while. I want to consider those stories, not what they are, not the secrets they haven’t shared, more that the people and the land or places visited by this evanescent light that flickers on and off in a place to demonstrate its relevance to someone’s life even for a moment.

Beige and White at eleven fifty three

Beige and White at eleven fifty three

These lightscapes are less than half the small stories that I want to depict. I shall now try and work the responsible into the frame, the owners of the fables to stand and be situated into the place that has a resonance to them, however large or small

Light and story

Eleven Sixteen

Eleven Sixteen

Eleven Twenty

Eleven Twenty

Eleven twenty seven

Eleven twenty seven

Eleven Twenty Four

Eleven Twenty Four

More perambulations around the village where I live, collecting instances and pondering on what it is that I’m doing – in a positive way. A few days ago, at the height of the recent flooding, I set out to document the river crossings in the village, there are seven, two of which are difficult to discern covered and masked as they are by landowners extending their land boundaries if possible, one other is on private land. The river of course knows no such bounds and flows through much as it has done for a very long time, and at flood it masks the masks. It is this sort of narrative that flows through my meditations, and these instances of ephemeral light occupying spaces for a very short time, illuminating a place where things have or might have happened. I don’t feel ‘flaneurish’ in these walks, I know the area better now than any place I have ever lived, my sense of belonging here is stronger than I have ever felt before. I know some of the stories; this sense of place that I feel now steeped in, despite not having been born here, is nearly thirty years old and approaching half my life.

Eleven O One

Eleven O One

Eleven Thirteen

Eleven Thirteen

Eleven Thirty One

Eleven Thirty One

Eleven Twenty Seven

Eleven Twenty Seven

So I have a feeling that I am collecting stories, or probably better said, parts of stories; with these images. I know how wonderful and how sad some of these stories are, these places that light is shined into, illuminating a space that has born witness; what Fontcuberta defines as a ‘decisive place’. However I am conscious that this place where I live has untold stories and long forgotten stories; it is mentioned in the Domesday Book and the village has families that have lived here for many generations. I’m not under any illusion that these excursions will uncover any new stories for me, but I want to suggest is that these stories are embedded in the core of the village, something about memory and landscape perhaps, but personal, more individual, about the lives of individuals, about the loves and losses of the people who lived and live still in this rural community.

Eleven Fifteen

Eleven Fifteen

Eleven Eighteen

Eleven Eighteen

Eleven Thirteen

Eleven Thirteen

Eleven Thirty Two

Eleven Thirty Two

 

 

 

Fact and Fiction

Photography shouldn’t be taught in Fine Art schools, which deal in aesthetics, but in Philosophy schools which deal in Ontology, which teaches us to think. I think photography is a way to think about reality, to think visually, but, finally, to think. Aesthetics is how we dress your body, but finally the important thing is the body, not the dressing, the aesthetic is the facade. The facade helps you sell the building but the important thing is the architecture, the fundaments, the whole structure supporting the building. Aesthetics is a way to make the communication easier, but the important thing is the content, the context….” Joan Fontcuberta from an interview for LensCulture

Ideas at sixteen twenty two

Ideas at sixteen twenty two

How hard should one try and make an image more aesthetically compelling? This is a notion I have been struggling with throughout the course; should one strive to make an image as visually compelling as possible in order to facilitate communication? Fontcuberta also posits in the same interview “…how we don’t realise that a photograph, as any other human message, is an articulated, constructed, artificial message …. we create to communicate with each other…”.

Struggle at sixteen thirty four

Struggle at sixteen thirty four

Catching an early train for a meeting one hundred and fifty or so miles away sometimes develops a stress all it’s own. Alarm clocks, parking the car, a seat on the train, making connections all add to the fuss of the event. When the notice board at the station cried that the ride had been cancelled it added another piquancy to the proceedings.  My journey, though inaugurated in confusion, relaxed to the original arrival time; the train operator ‘added’ a service half way along the route and I managed to connect to it and joined others, journeying north who perhaps thought that there hadn’t been any disruption in the service. The train that was cancelled at my home station but was available at another station, and stations, further along the route. The service was therefore both available and absent at the same time. I made the meeting on time, returned home in good order; the day went very well.

Ten thirty seven

Ten thirty seven

I’ve come to think that documentary photography, or rather the documentary photographer’s role, is perhaps on one hand, about creating narratives that need not necessarily be founded solely on the indexical strength commonly recognized by and for the medium, but rather what the image has the potential to convey or suggest. Joan Fontcuberta in an interview with Christina Zelich published in ‘Conversation with Contemporary Photographers in 2005 talks about how he recognizes the “…light that illuminates a space that has born witness to an event both personal and public…. Which can be summed up as the notion of ‘decisive space’ as opposed to Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’”. This notion echoes very strongly with the current work I am doing (in trying to find a thread for assignment five); I am looking at scenes, seeking scenes that have ‘a light’. This ‘light’ that I am searching for seems to illuminate for me, so far, very personal reactions to a place and time. The time element seems to be important in that the illumination is transitory, evanescent and bringing with it a sense of an event in the past rather than the present – which is of course the state that the ‘light’ is in when I witness it with an image. Thinking further on Fontcuberta’s position and reflecting on the public space, I’m now wondering whether I should investigate the public nature of the experience in an illuminated space, or whether the image becomes public because I’ve made it so?

Ten thirty four

Ten thirty four

Recently I had a conversation about fiction; I was asked, I think as a response to some recent research that (the majority of) males read non-fiction whilst females are the opposite, and my response was that fiction has always been a preference with me explaining  that non-fiction is unreliable at best, biased and possibly bigoted at worst. Nearly always challenged by another ‘expert’ at some stage relating how or whether the view of fact is the correct version; whereas fiction deals with the maybe, the possible. The train passenger attempting to get on the seven twenty seven at Banbury one morning only to find that it was cancelled; it wasn’t cancelled in Birmingham, in fact it left on time. One passenger’s knowledge contradicted by another passenger’s fact.

With fiction I want to think about how I can investigate my response to witnessed scenes at once commonplace and banal but having the narrative presence to provide the spectator an entry to develop their own narrative responses.

Thirteen forty nine

Thirteen forty nine

Whilst researching Fontcuberta and thinking about my own work I am seeing a strong connection, small openings of insight, similar sized revelations which seemingly reflect this notion of light that I am seeing. My task I think therefore to continue to make these pictures and develop a sense of self narrative that makes sense to me, to continue to photograph. It may lead to a place that discusses a personal reflection or a personal reflection of a public event or events. I suspect it will end up in the self – these things tend to with me! I suppose what I am saying is that I am trying to build some structural intent to enable me to build a cogent narrative around. That the aesthetically approach I choose might become an added layer to providing an accent to the work, maybe to bring the work to a similar visual setting, or to segment into chapters or paragraphs.

The light still appears to me to mark a time, so far most of the times have been about personal thoughts – at “Ideas at sixteen twenty two” I distinctly had a thought about this idea and ideas and a short while later “Struggle at sixteen thirty four” finding it difficult to express them. It is slowly coming together but it won’t be a swift process.

Joan Fontcuberta interview

Light but no cigar

Thirteen fifty two

Thirteen fifty two

Thirteen fifty one

Thirteen fifty one

Thirteen Fifty

Thirteen Fifty

Thirteen forty seven

Thirteen forty seven

Thirteen forty seven

Thirteen forty seven

Thirteen fifty

Thirteen fifty

Thirteen thirty eight

Thirteen thirty eight

Thirteen thirty six

Thirteen thirty six

Thirteen thirty three

Thirteen thirty three

Thirteen thirty three

Thirteen thirty three

Thirteen twenty four

Thirteen twenty four

Thirteen forty nine

Thirteen forty nine

Thirteen fifty three

Thirteen fifty three

I had thought that with the weather as it was I would find some light that compelled me, lots of pretty shots, but nothing that developed a narrative – just spectacle. It is the quietude that these images are missing, I think they are too excited about the change in their circumstances, too wrapped in their own energy to reveal anything to me.

And then I found this:

Thirteen thirty seven

Thirteen thirty seven

I’m not sure about the narrative, I’ll come back to it later.

Thirteen thirty seven, cropped

Thirteen thirty seven, cropped

Thirteen thirty seven - alt mono

Thirteen thirty seven – alt mono

Thirteen thirty seven - mono

Thirteen thirty seven – mono

Pleasant, but still no cigar, so I’ll leave it as an enigma on my part, something strikes me about the original image, and I don’t know what it is. The rest are there for no real reason, more pleasantness perhaps.

Thirteen fifty three

Thirteen fifty three

Thirteen forty nine

Thirteen forty nine

Thirteen thirty six

Thirteen thirty six

Thirteen fifty

Thirteen fifty

 

 

 

Three thirty four light

3:34 light

3:34 light

The light across the boards has never rested there before, the light on the opposite wall is where my head usually lays and will lay again in a few weeks. The boards will also be gone, taking this light with it to another place, who knows where.