Unreal Nature

December 23, 2015

Gently Onto the Water

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… “When you’re casting you have to time your cast so that the fly on the end of your line settles gently onto the water … “

This is from The New Color Photography by Sally Eauclaire (1981):

Although the history of color photography goes back more than a hundred years and modern film has been on the market since 1936, color photography did not come of age as an art form until the late 1960s.

This time lag is startling, considering that the world exists in full color and photography has been valued since its invention for its mimetic powers. Yet the colors unique to color photography produced what once seemed insurmountable problems. Color film’s exaggeration of subject hue and the concurrent difficulty of formally organizing the visible world’s raucous color combinations gave the medium an aura of vulgarity.

Colors of the same value, such as red and green, which convert to compatibly similar gray tones in a black-and-white photograph pulsate violently when represented adjacently in a color print. According to optical principles, hues advance and retreat from the picture plane with often disconcerting results. … When color photographs are taken in bright illumination, dark shadows often obtrude like silhouettes. The result: disjunctive compositions with prominent spatial discrepancies.

… Working out in the world, where directorial control over illumination, object color, and relative physical position is obviously difficult if not impossible to attain, color photographers mainly fumbled and floundered until around 1970 when they modified their traditional naturalistic priorities.

… their photographs [those of the new, post-70s photographers] revealed the purely visual, two-dimensional viability of the three-dimensional world. By careful framing of a selected section of the world, they learned to anticipate and enlist color film’s hue exaggerations and the spatial codifications imposed by all lenses.

Since many of the distinctively photographic tendencies conscripted for this end seemed suspiciously similar to the unintentional, unwanted by-products of careless snap-shooting (such as overexposure or accidental cropping) some critics perceived this approach as a wholesale indulgence in chance. To the contrary, the most capable photographers applying such deliberate methods employ fastidious tactics intelligently designed to stress, extend, and extract qualities unique to their medium. Though often inspired by an amateur’s accidents, their works are as similar to snapshots as Abstract Expressionist paintings are to oil spills.

… They test every edge, tone, color, and texture for its expressive potential and structural function. Each photograph represents a delicately adjusted equilibrium in which a section of the world is coopted for its visual possibilities, yet delineated with the utmost specificity.

… Conspicuous design is not instantaneously apparent, and so some viewers search in vain for an obvious message. Since the subject matter has not been bullied into exaggerated angles or supersaturated colors, many viewers find the works lacking in impact. Because the new formalists eschew the grand jeté in favor of a strategy that carefully coordinates all components, many viewers are bored. Those receptive to the subtle, sequenced impact of a multilayered image are far outnumbered by the audience who believes a good photograph must be instantly accessible. When the subject seems missing altogether, the photographer may be accused of pulling the wool over the eyes of critics, curators, and the public.

[ … ]

… [Stephen] Shore likens the visual tension of his best photographs to the “constant pressure” maintained by trout fishermen:

When you’re casting you have to time your cast so that the fly on the end of your line settles gently onto the water, thus giving the trout the impression that it’s biting at the real fly. It’s a tricky procedure to master, and the key to it, the way experts explain it, is constant pressure. It’s a feeling of the line on the rod tip that is always there.

[line break added] Without constant pressure the timing falters, and so does the fly line, leaving the caster with a disconnected, where-did-it-go feeling. Of course, it’s very possible to take pictures without constantly paying attention to every decision that needs to be made, but my experience was that when my attention wandered and I started making decisions automatically, there was something missing in the pictures and I was left with that where-did-it-go feeling.

Shore_Elpaso
Stephen Shore, El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, 1975

… [Jan Groover’s] Views of lower Manhattan buildings are to Max Kozloff “dark soaked visions” of going “dramatically blind in broad daylight.”:

These meditative highly personalized studies of stony and highly transparent surfaces depend all the more on color the scarcer it is. It’s as if the pupil has to dilate in order to penetrate spaces grown irrational because they have been reduced into long, deep shards of tonal nothingness. (Her shutter has been gauged only for the light.) The human desolation of these locales serves all the more to concentrate one’s own gaze, drawn, as if in communion, to the inanimate solids of the street. Umbers hold the glance, provide intimacy, and eventual credence. Still, her triptych sequences compound enigma, for even though shaded areas abut each other across the frames, suggesting a common place, differing perspectives wrench it apart.

Groover_triptych
Jan Groover, Untitled, 1976 [this is not the one that is in the book, but it’s similar]

To be continued.

-Julie

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