Unreal Nature

June 8, 2016

A Chafing at Its Limits

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… it is precisely this unpredictability of impact that is so attractive about any photographic approach that disorders the domicile of vision and upsets the furniture of interpretation.

This is from The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography by Lyle Rexer (2009):

… I want to see them split open, turned inside out, exposed. The result will be a book of photographs without pictures, or rather photographs that refuse to disclose fully the images they contain.

The obvious question about such a collection is: Why the concern with photographs that withhold at a time when photography inundates us with pictures that disclose so much, and when surely nothing is now left unseen or unknown? Why “photographs without pictures” at a time when the concrete particularity of photography, its factitious insistence, has never been more relentless or more widely embraced in the world of art?

Kasten_Scene_III,_2012
Barbara Kasten, Scene III, 2012

[ … ]

… Viewed in this light, the long history of photography looks very different from the formal, sociological technological, or biographical descriptions we are used to. We find that the investigative dimension of photography is its one constant, intrinsic to its modernity, an outgrowth of its positivist, scientific roots. Indeed, this photography makes us rethink our notions of positivism, because in both post-Newtonian science and photography there is a conviction that experience manifests deep unities that are not logically or immediately perspicuous.

[line break added] We can broaden the vision of Moholy-Nagy’s eyes outside our bodies from the perspectival and scientific realms to the aesthetic and spiritual. We feel throughout the history of photography a chafing at its limits, an impatience with mere visuality, and a wish for some more intimate expression of the world’s relation — but one somehow made available through the eyes.

This makes the photographer a strange kind of artist, at least in the modernist sense — part showman, part magician, part stage manager. The photographer does not “create” but harnesses and directs. The photograph itself is a piece of performance art, and the performer is light — its passing through and encountering things in the world.

I propose a history of photography that comprises an archive of experiments, intuitions, metaphoric apprehensions, eccentric, sometimes mad projects, apparent distortions, embraced accidents, and always, contradictory impulses. We begin to see these experiments and accidents not as some byway of photography but as its undercurrent, the index of its self-awareness and proof of its continuing urge to transcend the visual through the visual.

… what often begin as calculated critical acts end in objects and installations of unexpected poignancy and open-endedness. Beginning from a program, their works cannot in the end be reduced to those terms. Whatever they intend, they become, in László Moholy-Nagy’s phrase, light-space modulators. They change the field of physical perception as well as of emotional response and cultural interpretation.

Perhaps it is precisely this unpredictability of impact that is so attractive about any photographic approach that disorders the domicile of vision and upsets the furniture of interpretation. As motive for the creation of new documents, cannot the play of light, the interactions of time and chance, the interventions into set methods of production, and the willful introduction of untoward elements justify photographs without pictures?

[line break added] Are these intuitions and provocations “concepts” or something more fundamental? Doesn’t photography give ceaseless expression to the belief, the conviction, the apprehension, that the seen is always only a suggestion of reality, even of visible reality? As Duane Michals once remarked, “Photography deals exquisitely with appearances, but nothing is what it appears to be.”

Kasten_Constructpc4b
Barbara Kasten, Construct PC/4B, 1981

To be continued.

-Julie

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