Making stories about the truth.

reprinted with the kind consent of the artist Anna Fox

“‘There is nothing wrong with avarice as a motive, as long as it doesn’t lead to dishonest or antisocial conduct’. Business 1986” – reprinted with the kind and acknowledged consent of the artist Anna Fox

I’m not sure if Anna Fox said those words at the study visit to UCA, I know I wrote them, but I think she did; either way the notion of a fiction about truth found a resonance with this listener. I have written before about this idea, that to explore truths it is perhaps best accomplished by a narrative held in check by a storyteller.

I continue to think that the conquest of fallacy is best fought not with banners heralding the ‘truth and the light’ but with the muted tones of inference and suggestion, asking questions of the reader and not through the ‘imperative truth’ of ‘the answer’. Anna Fox’s fictions are carefully constructed to elicit inquiries from the reader, to suggest though that they are truths is as far removed from veracity as claiming that they falsehoods. These stories are neither, Fox’s constructions are stories. And the stories do not provide a didactic ordering of the universe, rather suggesting I think, of the lifting of the lids of our prejudices.

Text and image, image and text. Anna Fox’s combinatorial use of these twin illustrators isn’t universal in her work, however I was struck by how the artist described her process. In what appeared to be an identical means to how I constructed the narrative in assignment five – “Dear John”, however text isn’t a major factor in most of her her work, unless it is about the text as in ‘Cockroach Diary

Kareoke night, 2011 - reprinted with the kind and acknowledged consent of the artist Anna Fox

Kareoke night, 2011 – reprinted with the kind and acknowledged consent of the artist Anna Fox

The two nouns that I found myself considering quite often through the talk and for some time after were ‘time’ and ‘construction’. The artist opened her talk describing how time is fundamental to her practice and process and indeed, perhaps to all photographers – I’m now not sure that this precept wouldn’t apply to all artists, but be that as it may. Fox prefers film. And large format film at that. Her choice of medium dictates the speed that she can work at, despite often using a digital medium format camera as back up Fox takes time because of the restrictions of the format (mistakes are costly), and her most recent work exacerbates this stretching of time. Some of her most recent work , a commission from France (Rennes, I think) has the artist constructing images with multiple exposures and stitching them together – ‘joining time together’ – half a dozen or more images stitched together. Each image a construction in itself and then combined to create a story from several episodic instances time. I had a conversation after the event about what value the stitching together brought to the narrative – couldn’t for example, the artist employed more people in the tableau and simply made one construct? I have thought about that a lot, my first thought was that on the face of it there might be no additional narrative value in making half a dozen images with the same ‘cast’; but then I wondered about knowing that they were the same players juxtaposed in various locations on the canvass, providing another layer of context to the narrative. And what I got out of the image may not be what others get out of it, it will, in all likelihood denote/connote something other than my comprehension/feeling for the story.

Another aspect of the talk was something that struck me about how Anna Fox acknowledged her accomplices in the work she produced. There was a determined, albeit natural, desire to acknowledge as many of her assistants/directors/fellows as the work she presented unfolded and I wondered if this wasn’t a particular aspect of this artist, or whether it was a feminine/feminist trait. Either way, it was something that appeared entirely natural as it was often, and something to be remembered. I was particularly interested and impressed by the amount of her work she passed round in published book form and how she emphasised that the presentation of the her work, especially in bound volumes is very important to her.

 

There was lots to think about and it was a very rewarding trip to UCA.

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6 thoughts on “Making stories about the truth.

  1. Hi John An interesting read that I have not yet finished … excuse my nerdiness but I want to point out that the quote you mention at the beginning of your blog is taken from Anna’s book called Workstations which I happen to own; she took the quote from a journal called Business. SINCE THE QUOTE RUNS FOR LESS THAN 50 WORDS, SHE DID NOT NEED TO ASK FOR COPYRIGHT PERMISSION AND NEITHER DO YOU! Copyright is a grey area but the 50 word rule which allows one to make a quote seems to be well recognised. Amano

  2. I’ve been thinking about the true/false aspect as well and its application to documentary. Constructing images from stitching parts of multiple exposures is something slightly different for me. I don’t remember Anna Fox explaining why she did it. Obviously, it’s cheaper on labour because you can re-use the same people as it were. I can’t yet make sense of why she wants to do this though – there’s something about control coming up for me – being able to move people around as you wish like having tiny models on a board. It’s quite a leap from feeling infested by cockroaches!

    • Thanks Catherine, I hadn’t thought of the controlling side of things, I know that intervention is something I need to get hold of, a couple of tutors have mentioned it to me. About how to manipulate (sounds wrong in this context I think, but never mind) the scene to make it become what I need it to be to make the picture, the people, the light and the furniture. Good point, thanks.

  3. Pingback: Ornette Coleman and the ‘Open text’ | John Umney - Documentary

  4. Pingback: All the artist can do is devise various facts and test them against the hypotheses (apologies JG Ballard) | Body of Work

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