Archive for the 'photographic commentator' Category

23
Mar
09

The Passing of Memory: resurrecting a photograph for the series ‘The Shape of Dreams’

 

“Fragments of harmonic lines assemble and collapse as the meaning of each interval must be continually revised in light of the unfolding precession of further terms in an ultimately unsustainable syntax. The mind’s ear tries to remember the sum of passing intervals, but without the ability to incorporate them into larger identifiable units each note inevitably lapses back into silence, surrendered to the presence of the currently sounding tone, itself soon to give way to another newly isolated note in its turn.”

Craig Dworkin1 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

Marcus Bunyan
‘Oakland, 7-’51’ from the series ‘The Shape of Dreams’
2009

 

 

Thinking about this photograph

I bought an album on Ebay that contained an anonymous aviator with snapshots of his life: photographs of him in Oakland, California, Cologne in Germany and flying out of Italy – photos of his buddies and the work they did, the places they visited, the fun they had.

This one photograph has haunted me more than the rest.

Who was he? What was his life like? Do he get married and have children? Is he still alive?

When scanned the image was so dirty, so degraded, that I spent 7 weeks of my life cleaning and restoring the photograph working all hours of the day and night –  I was obsessive almost to the point of obstinacy. Many times I nearly gave up as I thought the task impossible – thousands of dots and hairs inhabited the surface of the image and, surely, it was just another photograph one of millions that circle the world. Why expend so much energy just to resurrect this one particular image?

 

shape-v-man-plane-before

Before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

After

 

 

Some things that can be said about this photograph

It is small measuring only 9cm high by 7.5 cm wide

It is printed on cheap glossy photographic paper which now has a slight yellow tinge to it.

The image is creased at top left.

The back is annotated ‘Oakland, 7-’51’

The dark roundel with the wing on the side of the aircraft has faint text that spells out the words ‘AERO ACE’.

There is no engine in the aircraft and it looks from the parts lying on the ground that the aircraft is being broken up or used for spares.

The man is wearing work overalls with unidentifiable insignia on them, a worker on the aircraft being dismantled or just a fitter on the base.

Someone standing on the ground has obviously called out the man’s name and he has turned around in response to the call and lent forward and put out his hand in greeting – a beautiful spontaneous response – and the photograph has been taken.

 

shape-v-man-small-before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

 

Some other things that can be said about this photograph in passing

The sun splashes the man’s face. He smiles at the camera.

His arm rests gently on the metal of the aircraft, shielded from the sun.

Perhaps he wears a ring on his fifth finger.

He is blind.

 

This photograph is an individual, isolated note in the fabric of time. It could easily pass into silence as memory and image fade from view. Memories of the individual form the basis for remembering and photographs act as an aide-memoire both for individual memory and the collective memory that flows from individual memory. Memory is always and only partial and fragmentary – who is remembering, what are they remembering, when do they remember, what prompts them to remember and how these memories are incorporated into the collective memory, an always mediated phenomenon that manifests itself in the actions and statements of individuals, are important questions.

Images are able to trigger memories and emotional responses to a particular time and place, but since this photograph has no personal significance what is going on here? Why did I cry when I was restoring it? What emotional association was happening inside me?

“To remember is always to give a reading of the past, a reading which requires linguistic skills derived from the traditions of explanation and story-telling within a culture and which [presents] issues in a narrative that owes its meaning ultimately to the interpretative practices of a community of speakers. This is true even when what is remembered is one’s own past experience… [The] mental image of the past … becomes a phenomenon of consciousness only when clothed with words, and these owe their meaning to social practices of communication.”2

 

shape-v-tyre-feet-before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

 

His blindness stares at us while underneath his body walks away into his passing.

I have become the speaker for this man, for this image.

His brilliant face is our brilliant face.

 

In this speaking, the phenomenon of making the image conscious, the gap between image and presence, between the photo and its shadow has collapsed. There is no past and present but a collective resonance that has presence in images.

Such reasoning questions the separation of past and present in a fundamental way. As a consequence it becomes fruitless to discuss whether or not a particular event or process remembered corresponds to the actual past: all that matters are the specific conditions under which such memory is constructed as well as the personal and social implications of memories held.”3

‘The personal and social implications of memories held’. Or not held if images are lost in passing.

It is such a joyous image, the uplifted hand almost in supplication. I feel strong connection to this man. I bring his presence into consciousness in my life, and by my thinking into the collective memory. Perhaps the emotional response is that as I get older photographs of youth remind me of the passing of time more strongly. Perhaps the image reminds me of the smiling father I never had. These are not projections of my own feelings but resonances held in the collective memory.

As Susan Sontag has observed,

“Remembering is an ethical act, has ethical value in and of itself. Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead. So the belief that remembering is an ethical act is deep in our natures as humans, who know we are going to die, and who mourn those who in the normal course of things die before us – grandparents, parents, teachers and older friends.”4

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

 

Remembering is an ethical act. It is also a voluntary act. We can choose not to remember. We can choose to forget. In this photograph I choose to remember, to not let pass into the dark night of the soul. My mind, eyes and heart are open.

This is not a simulacra of an original image but an adaptation, an adaptation that tries to find resonances between past and present, between image and shadow. As such this photograph is no longer an isolated tone that inevitably lapses back into silence but part of a bracketing of time that is convulsingly beautiful in it’s illumination, it’s presence. The individual as collective, collected memory present for all to see.

The form of formlessness, the shape of dreams.

 

M Bunyan

 

 

 

1. Dworkin, Craig. Grammar Degree Zero (Introduction to Re-Writing Freud ) (2005) [Online] Cited 23rd March, 2009 at http://english.utah.edu/eclipse/Editor/DworkinFreud.pdf

2. Holtorf, Cornelius. “Social Memory,” part of a doctoral thesis Monumental Past: The Life-histories of Megalithic Monuments in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany) submitted 1998 [Online] Cited on 23rd March 2009 at https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/citd/holtorf/2.7.html

3. Ibid.,

4. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p.103.

20
Mar
09

Review: ‘Order and disorder: archives and photography’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2008 – 19th April 2009

 

“Archives contain elements of truth and error, order and disorder and are infinitely fascinating. As both collections of records and repositories of data, archives are able to shape history and memory depending on how, when and by whom the materials are accessed. Their vastness allows for multiple readings to be unravelled over time.

Photography is naturally associated with archives because of its inherent ability to record, store and organise visual images. With this in mind, this exhibition brings together artists drawn largely from the permanent collection of the NGV who explore the idea of archives as complex, living and occasionally mysterious systems of knowledge. Several of the selected artists act as archivists, collecting and ordering their own unique bodies of photographs, while others create disorder by critiquing the ideas and systems of archives.”

Text from the NGV International website

 

 Patrick Pound. 'Writing in a library' 1996

 

Patrick POUND
New Zealander 1962–, worked in Australia 1989–
Writing in a library 1996
photocopies, oil stick, card
169.4 x 127.2 cm (image); 180.2 x 137.2 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1997
© Patrick Pound  

 

 

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

T.S. Eliot


An interesting exhibition is presented in the permanent third floor photography gallery at NGV International, Melbourne on a subject that deserved a much more rigorous investigation than could been undertaken in this small gallery space. Presenting single works by Ed Ruscha, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Patrick Pound, Robert Rooney, Simon Obarzanek, Penelope Davis, Candid Hofer, Linda Judge and Charles Green and Lyndell Brown the works seek to investigate the nature of the relationship between photography and the archive, between the semi-permanences of an archival memory and the spaces of a transgressive intertexuality marked by fragmentary, ironic counter-performances.

As noted in the catalogue essay by NGV curator Maggie Finch the archive is a place for holding knowledge that contains elements of truth and error, order and disorder; archives are able to shape history and memory, depending on how, when and by whom the records are accessed. Any disruption of order, governance and authority can lead to alternative readings and interpretations as the arcane ‘mysteries’ of the methods of classification are overturned. Since Victorian times when the body came under the self-surveillance of the camera and was found wanting, photographs have documented the faces of criminals, the physiognomy of degeneration and the fever of war.

As Yiannis Papatheodorou has observed when reviewing Jacques Derrida Mal d’Archive

“Derrida declares that since the dominant power of the archive derives from the economy of knowledge, it also provides the institutional responsibility of the interpretation. The localisation of the information transforms the inscription, provided by the function of the archive, into the impression of a memory’s trace, conscious or unconscious …
The preservation of memory, the access to information, the “resources” of the sources and the working environment are not just the representation of a future memory. They are active practices and discourses that create hierarchies and exclusions. The archives are the languages of the past, activated however dialogically, according to scientific and social demands. The content of our choice is marked by the way we are seeking information. Far from being an abstract principle, our choice is an ideologically oriented negotiation closely related to the politics of interpretation.”1


An there’s the rub. Not only is this exhibition a reordering of an unpublished memory by the artist (for that is what an archive is, a unique unpublished memory whereas a book has multiple copies) it is also a reiteration of the authority of the gallery itself, the “institutional responsibility of the interpretation.”2 Deciding what was in this exhibition and what to leave out creates hierarchies of inclusion and exclusion – and in this case the inclusions are mainly ‘safe’ works, ones that challenge the ontology of existence, the cataloguing of reality in a slightly ironic way but oh – nothing too shocking! nothing too disordered! Nothing here then of the archive of images that substantiate the horrors of war, the trans/disfiguration of men in both World Wars for example. There are few images to haunt us, none to refresh our memories in a problematic way.

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed RUSCHA
American 1937–
Every building on the Sunset Strip 1966 
artist book: photo-offset lithographs, letterpress, concertina, cardboard cover, silver-coated plastic-covered slipcase, 1st edition
17.8 x 760.7 cm (open); 17.8 x 14.4 x 0.8 cm (closed); 18.6 x 14.6 x 1.4 cm (slipcase)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Ed Ruscha, courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York

 

The more successful pieces, the works that challenge the order of the archive (“what is no longer archived in the same way is no longer lived in the same way”)3, are the ones by Ed Ruscha (above), Penelope Davis and Simon Obarzaneck (below).

Ruschas vertical inverted cityscape is trapped in a display cabinet opened out on the horizontal plane in concertina format, like one of those optical illusion images in which you see an image looking from one direction and a different image from the other direction. Ruscha’s personal experience of driving down Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and his anthropological recording of the urban experience has been disseminated in a mass produced ‘artists’ book. No unique unpublished archive here. Beneath the facades of the shops other narratives emerge – images are stitched together, cars chopped off, people dismembered – all in a very linear, conceptual way; a journey from one point to another, one that is both subjective (the voice  and hand of the author) and objective (the en masse production of the book).

As Chris Balaschak has noted, “The images, taken during the day, capture only the facades of the buildings. Ignorance is given to cars or people, both of which are often cut in half between separate exposures. The imperfections of matching the facades are cracks along Ruscha’s drive. Through these cracks we find Ruscha, not such an anonymous author after all. Splitting cars in two, and mismatching facades we become keenly aware of the passage of time. The facades of buildings may appear as stage sets but they are active points on other itineraries, anticipating future and past narratives.”4

This is Ruscha’s trace through the city but also our intersection with his journey, our chance to make our own itineraries as Balaschak in his insightful writing rightly points out. The fragmentary dismembering becomes the space between, the disorder of the linear into a heterotopic space of remembering. We the viewer create our own narrative, flitting through the cracks in the archive of memory, the photographer, the author of our own journey.

 

Penelope Davis. 'Shelf' 2008

 

Penelope DAVIS
Australian 1963–
Shelf (2008)
from the Fiction-Non-Fiction series 2007–08
type C photograph
90.0 x 70.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2008 (2008.100)

 

 

Penelope Davis photograms are luminous objects. She makes resin casts of the spine of discarded books and places the casts directly onto photographic paper and then exposes them to light. The books glow and hover in the blackness, the words on the spine reversed. Stripped of their context, of their memory, they become ethereal books, phantom texts, liminal images that hover between what is known and what is imagined. As Davis has said, Most people assume that when they look at a photo that they are looking at the thing photographed – but they are not. They are looking at a photo. Books and photographic images and archives are enigmatic – you can’t be sure of a singular definition or meaning.”

Davis is ‘messing around’ with the idea of veracity, the truth of photography and the ordering of the archive of our mind through the images we collate. We seek to grasp the original memory of an event, of the reading and ordering of our life through images and none is available to us, for as Foucault has observed memories are only ever fragmentary and distorted representations, partial truths a best. Like Jorge Luis Borges’ journey into the infinite universe of The Library of Babel for Foucault the psyche is not an archive but a mirror, like the shining silver foil surface of the cover of the Ed Ruscha book:

“The search for the self is a journey into a mental labyrinth that takes random courses and ultimately ends at impasses. The memory fragments recovered along the way cannot provide us with a basis for interpreting the overall meaning of the journey. The meanings that we derive from our memories are only partial truths, and their value is ephemeral. For Foucault, the psyche is not an archive but only a mirror. To search the psyche for the truth about ourselves is a futile task because the psyche can only reflect the images we have conjured up to describe ourselves. Looking into the psyche, therefore, is like looking into the mirror image of a mirror. One sees oneself reflected in an image of infinite regress. Our gaze is led not toward the substance of our beginnings but rather into the meaninglessness of previously discarded images of the self.”5


This leads us nicely onto the images of Simon Obarzanek.

In a great series of photographs, the only ones of this exhibition that seemed to haunt me (as Susan Sontag says images do) Obarzanek photographs people in an ordered almost scientific manner. Photographed face on against a non-contextual background using a low depth of field, these repetitive, collective, unnamed people remind me of the images of Galton. But here the uniformity is overwhelmed by quirky differences – the placement of eyes and lips seem large offering a strange, surreal physiognomy. These images resonate, the challenge, they remain with you, they question the order of things as no other photograph in this exhibition does. From simplicity comes eloquence.


Simon Obarzanek. '6 faces from 123 faces' (2000–02)

 

Simon OBARZANEK
Israeli/Australian 1968–, worked in United States 1995–2001
6 faces from 123 faces (2000–02)
gelatin silver photographs
(a) 33.1 x 25.4 cm; (b) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (c) 33.2 x 25.3 cm; (d) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (e) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (f) 33.4 x 25.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2003 (2003.86.a-f)
© Simon Obarzanek

 

 

To finish I must address the elephant in the room, in fact two elephants!

There is not one digital photograph contained in the exhibition, the work being collage, Type C colour or black and white silver gelatin prints. There is no mention in the catalogue of the crisis of cultural memory that is now permeating our world. Some believe the ever expanding digital archive, the Internet, threatens our lived memories “amidst the process of the ‘digitisation of culture’ and the new possibilities of storing.”6 This vision entails the fear of loosing cultural contents, hitting the delete button so that  memory passes into forgetting. This is a vision to which I do not subscribe, but the issue needed to be addressed in this exhibition: how are digital technologies altering our re-assemblance of memory, altering photography’s ability inherent ability to record, store and organise visual images? What about the aura of the original or was there never such a thing?

Furthermore, it would seem that with photographs becoming less and less a fixed essence, with the meaning of the photograph more and more divorced from its referent, with the spectators look the key to reading photographs and the performance of the photograph a cut and paste reality then perhaps we are left not with the two polar opposites of order and disorder but some orthogonal spaces in-between.

The second elephant in the room in the gallery space itself.

Whilst the curators of photography at the National Gallery of Victoria do an amazing job running large exhibitions such as the Andreas Gursky and Rennie Ellis shows that have starred this year, the NGV ‘International’ is shooting itself in the foot with the current permanent photography gallery space. Small, jaded and dour it seems an addendum to other larger spaces in the gallery and to be honest photography and Melbourne deserves better. Personally I feel more alive in the fashion gallery that is on the floor below and that, for an photographer, is a hard thing to say.
As the theme for this exhibition deserved a greater in depth investigation so the gallery needs to expand it’s horizons and give the permanent photography gallery a redesign and overhaul. Where is the life and passion of contemporary photography displayed in a small space for all to see in a gallery that sees itself as ‘International’? In an occularcentric world the key word is intertexuality: the gallery space should reflect the electri-city, the mixing of a gallery design ethos with images to surround us in a space that makes us passionate about contemporary photography. Now that would really be a new order of things!

M Bunyan

 

 

1.  Papatheodorou, Yiannis. History in the promised land of memory. Review of  Jacques Derrida, Mal d’Archive, Paris, Éd. Galilée, 1995 [Online] Cited on 20th March 2009. http://www.historein.gr/vol1_rPapatheodorou.htm 

2. The archive is understood as collective reservoir of knowledge fulfilling diverse functions and conditioned by three main factors: conservation, selection and accessibility. How are contents stored and which media are used to conserve them? What is selected for storage and what is decided to be cleared out and thus forgotten? Who decides what is archived and who has access to the resources? All these questions paint the archive as a political space where relations of power cross aspects of culture and collective identity.” 

Assmann, A. (2003) Erinnerungsräume, Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnis. [Memory Spaces, Forms and Transformations of Cultural Memory] Special paperback editon, 1st edition publ. 1999, München: Beck, p.343-346.

3. Derrida, J. (1996) Archive Fever, A Freudian Impression. Transl. by E. Prenowitz, p.18 orig. publ. as ‘Mal d’ Archive: une impresion freudienne’ in 1995, Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press.

4. Balaschak, Chris. Itineraries [part 3] [Online] Cited on 20th March 2009. http://glowlab.com/lab2/artist_project.php?project_id=114&artist_id=5

5. Hutton, Patrick. “Foucault, Freud, and the Technologies of the Self,” in Martin, Luther and Gutman, Huck and Hutton, Patrick (eds.,). Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. London: Tavistock Publications, 1988, p.139.

6. Featherstone, M. (2000) “Archiving Cultures,” British Journal of Sociology, 51(1): 161–184.

14
Jan
09

Lecture/Performance by Hans Aarsman at The Photographers Gallery, London

 

Hans Aarsman. 1236 sheets of negatives from the 1980s, thrown away on 19 August 2004

 

Hans Aarsman
‘1236 sheets of negatives from the 1980s, thrown away on 19 August 2004′

 

“Hans Aarsman presents From Ugly to Pretty and Back Again. The Mysterious Ways of Beauty in Photography.

In this lecture Hans Aarsman examines the miriad of questions involved in taking photographs for purposes as varied as advertising, documentation and personal momentos. How does our understanding of the beauty in these images differ depending their final resting place, be it ebay, family album, specialist magazines or museums collections. Through his own experiences Aarsman asks if, and how, artistic ambitions, aesthetics and useful photography can coincide. 

Hans Aarsman (b.1951, NL) worked as a photojournalist until 1994. He currently works as a writer, in particular on photography, and is co-founder of the magazine Useful Photography. Aarsman displayed, and invited contributions to, his project Photography Against Consumerism here at The Photographers’ Gallery last July. He is based in Amsterdam.

£5.00/ £3.50 concessions”

 

Date: 21 January 2009 19:00

More information from The Photographers Gallery website

13
Nov
08

Sontag, Susan. “Photography: A Little Summa”

“5. In a modern society, images made by cameras are the principal access to realities of which we have no direct experience. And we are expected to receive and to register an unlimited number of images of what we don’t directly experience. The camera defines for us what we allow to be “real” – and it continually pushes forward the boundary of the real. Photographers are particularly admired if they reveal hidden truths about themselves or less than fully reported social conflicts in societies both near and far from where the viewer lives.

Sontag, Susan. “Photography: A Little Summa,” in Sontag, Susan. At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2007, p. 125.




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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘The Songs of Eternity’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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