Unreal Nature

January 17, 2018

Becoming Aware

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… The act of becoming aware is, ultimately, nothing less than an affirmation of existence.

This is from the essay ‘Walker Evans, Rhetoric, and Photography’ by Daniel A. Lindley, Jr. (1978) found in Reading Into Photography: Selected Essays, 1959-1980 edited by Thomas F. Barrow, Shelley Armitage and William E. Tydeman (1982):

… In Evans’ photographs of the interiors of the Alabama sharecroppers’ houses, for example, are we not moved primarily by the unconscious artistry of the people who lived in those houses? Has the photograph per se anything to do with the perfect arrangement of silverware and containers on a kitchen wall?

… In the process of painting or sculpting or composing music, the artist is engaged in a cybernetic relationship with the work itself. That is, the artist works slowly, and each new gesture adds to, and therefore changes, what has gone before, both in the work itself and in the mind of its creator. The work teaches the artist, the artist changes and adds to the work, learns something new from these changes or additions, adds something else, learns, adds, and so on.

[line break added] Creation and growth become synonymous and inseparable as the work proceeds toward completion. It is a circular process, a cybernetic loop, often with a life of its own. Novelists, for example, often tell of the feeling that the characters they have created “take over” the motion of the plot. Clearly, then, the maintenance of this loop is fascinating, difficult, and (more important here) only possible over a period of time.

… the most important work in photography seems to take place (1) almost entirely in the mind, and (2) before (just before) or even during, the split second of the exposure. The elegant maintenance of the artist’s cybernetic loop through a long composing process is simply never done in behalf of any one photograph. If it is done at all, it is done as part of the general obligation of the photographer to stay aware of the world and alert to its nuances of light and form. But this is no different from similar obligations imposed by their work upon the writer or the painter. The specifically momentary work of “taking” a picture seems very casual by comparison.

… The act of becoming aware is, ultimately, nothing less than an affirmation of existence. Statements, or images, which are already familiar do not have the power to do this. The power of photographs in the high mimetic mode is derived from a sense of continual movement from a state of inchoate but powerful intuition to a state of a definitive, concrete image.

… Much recent photography, particularly that done in the more advanced settings for photographic studies, seems to me to fail precisely because it does not reaffirm our own insight in this way. It is, instead, idiosyncratic, reflecting a strained effort to look innovative. It is self-conscious without being conscious of the self; it is photography about photography, rather than photography about the resonance between the outside world and our understanding of it.

… this is what the medium of photography finally requires: it demands, on the one hand, the taking of a stance toward the world; and, on the other, the knowledge that light and understanding are, at bottom, the same. Evans has both. There are photographers who know more of light and of the medium, and there are photographers who have developed a stance that serves them well. But the combination is so rare that, when we find it, we know we are in the presence of a body of work which clarifies both our world and ourselves.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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