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


10 thoughts on “Fact and Fiction

  1. Thank you, John, for pointing to the Fontcuberta interview; that’s the first time I’ve ever heard him interviewed and, like you, I’m very much drawn to investigate further. Not least, I’m attracted by someone who wants to spread joy in his work, however serious some of the subject matter might be.

    • Yes, I’ve been very taken with his approach, do you have any other references for him, I’ve found a few and there is (yet another) photo book on the way? He seems to have a lot to say that resonates particularly well with my work at the moment.

      • No I don’t, John, sorry. He’s someone of whom I’ve been vaguely aware without ever exploring further. Maybe he chooses to keep a lower profile than some photographer/artists? Like you, I feel some resonance – his fictions could be informative for some ideas currently washing around in the back of my mind!

    • I’m not entirely sure where this is going – there is a lot going on around me at the moment, so it’s difficult to focus – but I’m enjoying this part of the work.
      Hope everything is well with you and thanks for taking the time Catherine.

  2. it is an interesting quote. I do agree about the value of thinking with photography but think the description of the value of aesthetics is simplistic. Aesthetics plays a very significant role in communication and not just as a pretty wrapper. I don’t pretend to have fully bottomed out this point but am certain that you can’t simply divorce the medium from the message.

  3. PS: Meant to say that I am also enjoying your explorations with light. I think it can be really valuable sometimes to do things that speak to you even when you don’t clearly understand what they’re saying,

  4. Pingback: Fontcuberta and the difficult light | John Umney - Documentary

  5. Pingback: Assignment Five, collecting all the texts and references | John Umney - Documentary

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