Unreal Nature

June 7, 2017

A New Reality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… what was in front of the camera?

This is from The Photograph: A Strange Confined Space by Mary Price (1994):

… The fashion among abstract painters to call their works Untitled had its origin in a reaction against words as corrupting agents that obscured rather than clarified vision. Indeed, when the content of a painting is not representational, use of conventional description limits the interpretation. A new vocabulary of criticism had to be invented to describe without limiting, one emphasizing sensations, feelings, dreams, and their connection with thickness of paint, color of paint, and its texture on surface — all the physical characteristics that could be described without attributing to their disposition any specific prototype in the world of objects. The use of Untitled is a tribute to the power of words.

… But what has this to do with photographs? The photograph is not a constructed artifact comparable to a sculpture or a painting, or not comparable in its constructed aspect. The sculpture or painting reflects the intention and the handiwork of its maker. Both the intention and the instrumentality are integral to the final work. The eye as well as the hand is instrumental. But in photographing, the hand is virtually absent, and only the intention and the eye govern the result. It is literally impossible to photograph what is not there, although it is entirely possible to distort or arrange subjects and pervert or destroy scale.

[line break added] The intentional use of a camera, with resultant photograph, requires questions that are not asked of other constructed works of visual interest. One legitimate question is, what is it?, meaning, what was in front of the camera? Was it arranged or selected? Is this to be taken simply as literal, or does it have a meaning beyond the elements in it? For a painting or sculpture, what is it? means both what did the maker intend us to see and what do you see. It is taken as given that the painting or sculpture was purposeful, with a meaning beyond its elements, even when the observer cannot instantly tell precisely what that meaning is. The very act of painting or making a sculpture requires intention.

[ … ]

… Art and illusion are not restricted to one form of image-making. Making and matching are ways of creating available to all makers. Photographs transcribe some reality, but the photographer has to determine what reality it will be. He makes the photograph by using the convention that it is impossible for him to do anything except transcribe conventional reality and then makes it possible to see in his transcription the new forms that he saw. What the viewer thinks he recognizes as reality is effectively a new reality.

… Even now, when the critical tendency is to discount the trustworthiness of the photograph, there is an equal and opposite tendency to believe what is seen in it. The question is then removed one step to ask not whether what is seen can be trusted but first to name what is seen and then to interpret it. That way of proceeding, that way of talking about the photograph, gives the power of words back to the viewer. When the words complement the photograph, any deception no longer deceives.

[line break added] If photography were a field in which anyone were as good as anyone else, achievement would be accidental and mechanical. It is better to begin with the generous assumption that the photographer transcribes what he sees and that he does so because what he sees is in some way memorable, remarkable, moving, sensational, or typical. To describe and to name is to continue the process of seeing by interpretation. Naming is interpretation, even when the name is Untitled.

My previous post from Price’s book is here.




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