ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY II Artefact exegesis
D. I. M A R T I N
This catalogue recounts a collection of considerations that instigated the production of the following projects as well as, the ideas that I discovered through both the making and exhibiting of this work.
In the process of
making art my mind freely imagines and conceptualises aspects of the world that I would otherwise not contemplate – the subsequent processes of installing the work in an exhibition space adds further ideas to those generated in the making processes.
My work practice is not about
delivering preconceived ideas it is about discovering aspects of things, the world, and myself in new and alternative ways.
In loving memory of my Dad, Ian Edgar William Martin 1928 – 2009, who spent many hours traveling across the country assisting me install my exhibitions. Not always understanding what the dickens was going on in my artwork he thoroughly charmed staff and artists at a host of galleries throughout my career.
A photograph is a chair. Jean Paul Sartre told me so. Rene Magritte made a painting of it, turned it into a pipe, and then said it wasn’t really a pipe at all. Roland Barthes later found that the chair was indeed a photograph. It turned out to be a photograph of his mother - but not one that he recognized. Barthes decided not to show it to us because we wouldn’t have recognized it either – we probably would have concluded that it was really a chair after all.
Artefact 1 Ten vintage 120 roll films on Perspex stand, in vitrine on plinth. The films have been exposed but have not been developed. From the vintage of the film stock, it is deduced that the films were exposed in the 1950/60s – over forty years before the death of the photographer.
Films from the estate of Geoff Lithgow, Broken Hill, NSW
When I look at photographs my mind always turns to thinking about the photographer. I think about the photographer there, before the subject.
I think about possible relationships
between the photographer and the subject. I think about the decisions that the photographer has made when photographing the subject. I think about the processes the photographer has used. I think about what the photographer may have intended to convey with the photograph. I think myself into another’s mind. Artefact 1 comprises ten films arranged on a black tiered stand, which itself stands on a black perspex shape inside a museum-like vitrine. The tiered stand and footplate are integral to my conceptual intentions. Their blackness represents the inside of the photographer’s mind; like the blackness I see when I close my eyes – the boundless, murky blackness, within which ideas, imaginings and phantoms reside. The stand is an approximate of the area of the human head; the shape of the footplate is that of a human skull when viewed from directly above. Artefact 1 points to a photograph being a product of the mind – in both its inception and reception. This work is a reflection upon the latent shades and shadows imprinted on these rolls of film, as the latent forms and ideas that once existed in the photographer’s mind. The films are arranged on the stand, just as a photographer might arrange the elements comprising a photograph. This may seem an odd thing to write, for surely the world – such as seen in a landscape photograph – is there, in a specific order, already, and all the photographer does is stand before it and ‘click’? In actuality the photographer is visually trained in ‘how to see’ – consciously or otherwise.
This results in the photographer
positioning the camera in such a way as to align the to-be-photographed elements in accordance with the edges of the camera frame as well as contriving their positions in relation to each other. Although the elements of the landscape may exist in fixed spatial coordinates, within the photographic space they can be manipulated to suit the photographers’ purpose. This is affected by choice of view, proximity to subjects, choice of light – time and type of day, selection of lens, as well as the selected depth-of-field. All of these things affect the apparent space, spatial proximity and relationships of fixed co-ordinate subjects, as well as hiding, diminishing, magnifying, compressing, expanding, emphasizing, or distorting them. Thus what appears to be an objective, matter-of-fact view of the world-as-it-exists is actually an effect of the photographic ‘process’. The world may appear to us to be just like
it is in a photograph, but this could well be a sustained after-effect of photographic creation. These ‘exposed but never developed films’ bring the act of photographing to the fore in my thoughts, and I wonder, ’how large a portion of any given photograph’s potential meaning lies in the act of photographing itself?’ The act of photographing is a primary factor in much experience-of-the-moment type photography. I’m sure that we can all remember a time when we have been somewhere and had a dire urge to photograph something that was before us – to capture that experience we are having, or that emotion we are feeling. This moment of being, which contains something so necessary, so vital that it ‘has to be photographed’, ironically produces a photograph that is subsequently only looked at once or twice, before it is consigned to an anointed receptacle for faded memories. This resultant photograph is only a minor adjunct to our experiencing, a strange material remainder of that experience. The important component is the actual act of photographing. The action of getting out the camera and framing the gaze differentiates the moment, as the film is indelibly stamped, the act confirms and authenticates the experience. It is as if the act of photographing validates the experiential moment, and only when the photographic validation has been performed can the particular experience be fulfilled and complete. The films of Artefact 1 – which represent less than one fifth of the original exposedundeveloped film stock from Geoff Lithgow’s estate – confirm the idea that it was primarily the act of photographing that was important, while the subsequent development of the film and printing of photographs had, for this photographer, become unnecessary. These cylinders of paperbound film are like funerary vessels containing the latent presence of Geoff Lithgow’s experience.
Installation view Artefact 3 and Artefact 1 at CAST Gallery, 2009
The aura of reality
1. Tintype in Carte De Visite mount with studio back-paper, c1875. Mirror 1a
Gelatin-silver photograph – c1890s; x 2 gelatin-silver photographs – c1910s
(photographs confiscated from a Turkish POW by an Australian Light-horse soldier during WW1); tintype in CDV mount – c1870s; tintype in CDV mount – 1860s; gelatin-silver photograph – 1900; gelatin-silver photograph – 1945 (photographed by US Marine, WW2); tintype in mount – c1860s; gelatin-silver photograph, mug-shot of escaped convict – 1923; albumen photograph – 1886; black and white Polaroid photograph – 1966 (My dad and I in a Bendigo camera shop, anonymous photographer); 4 ambrotypes – c1850s-1860s; ambrotype – dated 1845; gelatin-silver photograph – 1945 (photographed by US Marine, WW2) 2. The Outing magazine advertisement, 1912 2a. Underwood and Underwood stereoview, x 2 albumen photographs – 1904 (inscription: Skeleton and cast of biggest known whale, 75ft long, caught off Newfoundland – World’s Fair St. Louis, USA); Spence Spencer stereoview, x 2 albumen photographs – 1880s (inscription: Ithaca and Neighborhood); unmarked stereoview, x 2 albumen photographs – 1880s; unmarked stereoview, x 2 albumen photographs – 1880s; B. W. Kilburn stereoview, x 2 albumen photographs – 1880 (inscription: Enthroned Among the Clouds, White Mts., N. H.); B. W. Kilburn stereoview, x 2 albumen photographs – 1880s (inscription: The Hunters’ Roundup); Keystone View Company stereoview, x 2 gelatin-silver photographs – 1899 (Inscription: Laliberte’s Fur Parlour – The Finest in the World, Quebec, Canada); unmarked stereoview, x 2 albumen photographs – 1890s; Keystone View Company stereoview, x 2 gelatin-silver photographs – 1910s (inscription: Result of a Morning’s Hippopotamus Hunt on Miembe River, Rhodesia, Africa) 3. Photographic magazine, 1947. 3a.
Gelatin-silver photograph – 1910; The Cosmos Series stereoview, x 2 gelatin-silver
photographs – c1890s (inscription: “When Shall We Three Meet Again?”)
Tintype in Carte De Visite mount with studio back-paper, with photo seen reflected in mirror
Installation view of the obverse window of Carte De Visite, CAST Gallery
The project Artefact 3 was developed from several concurrent ideas. It is a work I conceived as a speculative exploration of ideas that are contained within and formulate the construct we know as a photograph. I literally allude to the ‘constructed’ idea of the photograph in the materiality of the work; building stud-frame walls, which are the familiar building sub-structure used in the generic suburban home. Into the stud-frame I insert three double-sided, black, box-frames. Each box is framed to emulate a window. Through the window emulation I am proposing that a photograph is most often considered, or looked at, as though it was a window to a something or, a somewhere else, while the material substance that comprises the photograph becomes nothing more than a portal to the referred-to subject. Within each face of the windowed boxes there are photographs and photographic references. In one side of each box is a single piece of vintage photographic reference ephemera, in the obverse of each are numerous vintage photographs.
Each piece of
reference ephemera relates specifically to the photographs on the other side of that windowed box – like a note written on the reverse of a photograph. But instead of a linguistic annotation that in some way explains the purpose of the photograph, this ‘note’ is a cryptogram – in a code that the viewer may seem to know, but which is nowhere actually deciphered. Examining the Kodak advertisement contained in one box, of the hunter loaded up with gun and ammunition I think of the photographer setting off on a shooting expedition, exercising his skills and prowess as he stalks exotic ‘big game’, seeking to bring back trophies which he will proudly display, so that we all may admire and ‘feast’ on his heroic exploits. This Kodak advert from the Outing Magazine is aimed at the amateur photographer market of 1912, but could well be a sign pointing to much photographic practice of the twentieth century. The arrival of Postmodernism, in the latter part of the twentieth century, may have heralded the death of this type of photography in art practice, but it did not die. Even now the hunter is still out there – hunting – though now s/he is not confined to shooting trophies in ‘remote exotic lands’, but is more often found hunting in the urban environs – stalking the exotic prizes ‘hidden’ in the mundane ‘everyday’.
The obverse side of the box containing the above Kodak advert displays some vintage stereo-views that have explicit representations of the hunter and trophy, in many guises. The rifleman (pictured) standing astride the landscape was a key component in my reflections of
the photographer as the hunter. When I initially studied this photograph I viewed the rifleman as the perfect analogy for the photographer out ‘shooting’ in the ‘wilds’, hunting for ‘game’, he was a perfect equivalent to the photographer – aiming at and shooting in the exotic places of my imagination.
Upon further study another complex skein of thoughts
began to emerge: The rifleman is aiming, for the photographer who is also aiming. The rifleman is aiming at something beyond the frame – something that significantly I, the viewer, cannot see. The aiming is an action that simultaneously signifies an intention and a target. But, whatever the intention and the target were, I am now only able to imagine. Is this the case with all photographs – we look and we imagine, as we mentally construct the intention, the purpose and the meaning of the photograph we are viewing? Looking at this photograph I have re-constructed a scene, which was possibly an event, inspired by purpose and sieved these thoughts through the screens of my experience and knowledge to arrive at
an aim – a meaning. Yet I know that whatever I may have deduced, the ‘aim’ of both the rifleman and the photographer is largely a product of my own mind. This photograph of the rifleman must surely be the product of a conceptual motive, yet it seems to me to be like a verb in a sentence without a noun. The aiming is an action that I know, but is here a gesture for a cause that I cannot name.
Contemplating how the
photographer meant the gesture to be interpreted intrigues me. Perhaps it was meant to be a signifier of conquest – how the American West was won and all that sort of stuff. In my mind the rifleman aiming at something beyond the borders of the photograph says a lot about how we read and interpret photographs. Of course my latter thought would have been far from the photographer’s original aim. But this does return me to thoughts about how I, as a viewer, mentally construct what I ‘see’ in photographs. If I were a historian I might want to reconstitute a portion of the world from this photograph, as if it were some sort of dehydrated reality.
It is not.
photographer has funneled the ‘language’ and the patterns of thought of his/her particular 'world-view' into this photograph, but whatever reality it may seem to contain, that can surely only exist in the viewer’s mind. What a photograph does seems to contain, or inspire in my mind, is a something that I term the aura of reality. The photographic ‘aura of reality’ is a potent influential concoction; it convinces the mind that what it is seeing is indeed some sort of encapsulated reality. The ‘aura of reality’ affects me like a physical blow, an intangible force that seems to emanate from the photograph itself. The unwary viewer is easily solicited by this aura, leading them to reconstitute the subject, hypothesise scenarios, or whet desire. Through the agency of the photograph a subject can easily supplant itself in my mind almost like it is verily in my present – or I am verily in its presence. In my mind this ‘aura of reality’ is often tempered with my contemplation of the interaction between the photographer and the subject. In many of the photographs in this work there are people in scenes that are quite obviously ‘set-up’, and the subjects obviously pose for the photographer. This obvious complicity between the subjects and photographer makes the ‘aura of reality’ emanating from these photographs somehow more powerful and, in some instances, quite disturbing.
The idea driving the conception of the windowed boxes was their equivalence with photographs.
Which is to say, I conceived that each of these windowed boxes is a
photograph. To further elucidate this proposition: a photograph, in a pictorial sense, consists of subjects composed from the shapes and shades of things that constitute the material world – these shapes-and-shades-of-things become a pictorial arrangement in a confined space, which the viewer subsequently interprets. The possible interpretations are dependent upon the particular elements included, the relationships between the elements within the pictorial space, and the viewer’s previous experience of these elements – both in the pictured elements’ material formation in the world, as well as their observations of previous pictorial incarnations. I conceive that each of these window-box faces is a photograph, they are my photographs – I am the author. You may be thinking, ‘how can I claim that these are my photographs?’ I may answer, ‘I have composed these photographs from the shapes and shades of material things which constitute or are a part of what is considered ‘the world’, as is a usual photograph. To engage with these photographs is to think about and consider the pictured subjects and their arranged relationships as one normally does with any photograph.’ Furthermore, just like a photograph, these windowed boxes have a physical ‘barrier’ which allows no more access to the ‘photographic’ subject than any normal photograph. However, paradoxically what may come to the fore in your considerations is that you, the viewer, can ‘see’ that the content of my photographs are actual objects in an actual space.
Installation View Artefact 3 and Artefact 4, CAST Gallery
Artefact 4 This Persil box was given to me. It contained a human skull. It was purported to be Japanese, souvenired during the Second World War. The skull had resided in this box for more than fifty years. The box now contains all of the films that I have used photographing the sky, every day for over ten years â€“ 31 May 1999 to 01 September 2009.
Vintage wooden box, two hundred and nineteen 35mm films in vitrine on plinth
This work was developed after I had made Artefact 1.
As I was considering the
photographer photographing but not developing the films, it occurred to me that many of the films that I expose and develop are rarely looked at again beyond the first inspection. They are sleeved, dated, labeled, numbered, and stowed away in a box. The knowledge that they exist is important to me, but looking at them, or making photographs from them, is not. I photograph the sky every day. I have been doing this since the 31st of May 1999. I imagine that the photographs are about the photographer, about photography per sé, and about their subject – the sky. I imagine many things about these photographs, what they are, what they may represent, and how I might utilize them, but mostly that is all I do with them – as they remain ensconced in a box – imagine. Some people may suppose that I could just imagine these photographs, and conjecture that their material existence is really unnecessary. This may be so but, as far as I can see, all material things have an imaginary component, and if a material object did not exist then neither would its imaginary facets. All the things that we encounter in the world have attributes accorded them that are products of the mind. These “attributes” can range from the mundane associations accorded tourist trinkets to the more complex fetishisation of commodities. We attribute imaginary aspects to the things of our every day, but the imaginary is perhaps more easily recognised when we navigate unknown terrain.
However the imaginary “attributes” are contrived – especially
those implied by third-party sources, such as advertisers – they are not physically manifest in the ‘things of the world’, they are attached ideas that have been imagined.
‘imagined attributes’ often seem so real as to be implicitly tangible in a thing’s materiality. French author Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “the imaginary represents at each moment the implicit sense of the real”, stating that “the world as I find it is already structured as the result of the activity of my imagination.” I might further imagine that it is the imaginary, intangible aspects of things that actually comprise much of our reality. Whatever I may imagine about my photographs of the sky, other viewers of the photographs would recognise and have their own associative relations with the subject – however they may be formulated. But I am not showing you these thousands of photographs of the sky, I am informing you that I have made these photographs and that I have filled this wooden vessel with them, so you, viewer, are put in a position where you may also only imagine these
photographs of the sky. You can also only imagine the contents that the wooden vessel has previously contained â€“ both the soap and the human remains. This wooden vessel in the form of a box was created to carry packets of soap. It has an equivalent context in nomenclature as a platform from which to make an impromptu speech. In the context of all the soapboxâ€™s previous and current contents there is not so much a speech occurring as a silent dialogue. It is a dialogue of interwoven thoughts and imaginings inspired by but not limited to, the juxtaposed relationships proposed by this work and imagined in your mind.
About Photography II. (Artefact) First Exhibited at CAST Gallery, Tasma Street, Hobart, Tasmania in October 2009 as part of a group exhibition curated by Emidio Puglielli www.thinkingphotography.net
ÂŠ David Martin 2011
A conceptual exploration of photographic practice