Was watching an art program on television today and the artists had been challenged to create a piece of work that encapsulated the content of a specific book. The winning piece would then become the cover art for the book in question. It was an interesting exercise for all the artists and of how they view what could be deemed commercial art rather than fine art, but what those who felt the work was beneath hem failed to realize was that some of the greatest artists have been commissioned to create or had existing work chosen to adorn the cover of a specific book. The chosen piece visually striking, I have not read the book in question so do not know if it reflected the content accurately. On thinking about the challenge later was how much our choice of book is decided through the strengths of the cover art? For me I have my set of writers I follow and the covers could be anything, I choose the book simply for the content rather than appearance. Now if I am stuck for reading material between favorite authors I so have a hunt around on the book shelves. But again I tend not to go for cover art but keep picking up titles and reading the blurbs, I tend to find the written information more informative at times than the chosen cover art. Although the art work may be striking and beautifully done, it is very challenging to give a well informed and rounded synopsis of a book in a single image. That is not to say this holds true for all titles, there are those who manage to encapsulate the essence of the respective book with breathtaking visuals, that resonate with the book buyer. But I think that in employing the methods I do in choosing new titles perhaps I loose out on the excitement of discovering a great read because I did not like the cover art and vice versa.
I am really not having much luck with technology today everything seems to be going a tad nuts, I would hazard that is due to me not the machines in question. Its been a quite day, but as ever no matter how hard I try I always seem to attract the more unusual members of city travelers. Today on the Luas (Dublin’s tram system) I was blessed with two distinct gentlemen, and I though they were a safe bet for a quite journey. One spent the entire journey talking to himself, afraid he made no sense to me, but his conversation with the mysterious absent friend seemed to be quite interesting. The other gentleman decided to sing a range of contemporary chart hits, off key and at deafening levels. He was having a good time, not sure the rest of the world was quite so supportive. Meeting such eclectic people seems to be one of my given gifts, even if the entire bus is full the only drunk person on it will choose me to talk to, additionally I get cornered by every dotty dear out doing her grocery shopping, and have been saved more than once by the bible brigade. Although at times these meetings can be quite odd, I have had some very interesting conversations and met some wonderful people, who have a very unique view of life. Which at times help you to see the world in quite a different way, and on more than one occasion have helped me see that even if the world has gone to hell in a hand cart, there is always a positive to be had, I suppose I envy them there freedom from conventionalities and that they can experience the world with all the wonder and awe of a child. The world is a richer place with them.
Yesterdays post got me thinking, which at times is not the best thing for me to be doing. I could understand why I felt photography was more valid an art form than painting, but what I have never really sat down and considered is why photography at all. Considering I failed my first ever undergrad assignment in the subject. Over the following years I did do better, but as one professor stated “she’s happier when it all goes wrong”, which was true especially when trying to process color photographs. I suppose I found the photographic requirements for graphic design too controlling and did everything I could to push the limits. For you can only do the crazy stuff in university, once you leave you do have to conform to the world at some point. For me photography is a perfect balance between creativity and science, where without one the other becomes untenable. What fascinates me is that photographs are deemed the one medium where the subject matter should be self explanatory, as it is an accurate depiction of a specific moment in time. But in actuality it is anything but, for the more your read beyond the surface of the photograph the more becomes apparent. But to truly see beyond that single moment you need to view the contact sheet from which that specific photograph was taken, for when the second before and after is made visible, the meaning and truth of the photograph will again alter, proving or disproving the viewers interpretation. In addition to this interpretation of the photograph itself is what process as utilized to produce it, Walter Benjamin in his text The work of art in the age mechanical reproduction posits that photography is a mechanical art where man is in essence surplus to requirements. For the traditional lens based cameras this holds true, but when applied to the pin-hole camera, it becomes less applicable. This form of photography of which I love using the most, is probably the most free of all methods to create a photographic negative, because the photographer has absolutely no control over what the camera captures on the light sensitive medium being used. And to produce the negative and final positive photographic print, man is a necessary component. For me this is why I love photography, for it is its most basic form that brings to life what it must have been like for the first photographers witnessing the invisible being made visible. When photography still retained some notion of magic. For me that magic remains, for in order to create a photograph an alchemy is preformed between light, the camera, you and the darkroom.
Was looking at a couple of other bloggers sites today, both were looking at art, one from the perspective of what was your favorite form of art and the second on who was the most influential artist between a specific selection. In answering one I suggested that photography is more powerful than any painting particularly in relation to documentary and news photography. To me such photographs examples from these two areas in particular have in their own ways changed or influenced the course of the times. Although there are numerous examples several key ones come to mind, the first Dorothea Lang’s The Migrant Mother, putting a face to the hardships of the depression era. A mother flanked by her two children a look of trepidation and fear apparent, the children dressed poorly and appearing under nourished. Kevin Carter’s award winning photograph showing a stricken child crawling towards a food camp, of all photographs this one instigated a deeper investigation of the effects of famine in the Sudan and Africa. A lone student standing up to governmental control was captured by Stuart Franklin’s photographic record before the blood bath that became Tiananmen Square. The photographers of Vietnam who showed the world what horrors were being encountered by both sides of the conflict. Lee Millar’s documentation of the concentration camps at the cessation of the war in 1945. The iconic photographs showing the destruction of the twin towers, whose repercussions are still being experienced today. Although there exists painted examples of the horrors perpetrated in war, acts of terrorism, pestilence and famine, to me because they are painted there somehow exists a greater physical distance between the subject and the viewer. And the notion that what is being viewed is not real, the use of artistic license. A distance that in-acts a removal of the true evocative nature of the event being immortalized, which is not present with a photographic account. Because the photograph is deemed to be a mechanical reproduction of the documented event, there is not as great an emotional distance between subject and viewer.
Sorry for my tardiness, I feel a little like the White Rabbit at the minute. Like all good intentions, meant to write yesterday evening but got so engrossed in a couple of crime who dun-it’s on television and well lost all sense of time. Me bad. Mind you it was nice to sit down for a change and just hang out and not worry about anything except trying to figure out who the murderer was. Believe me two hours of was it him, no its her, only to discover it was the most obvious answer after all. I think in future I will stick to yelling at the Food Network, very therapeutic. This is an ongoing joke with a god friend of mine, when ever I visit I watch the food programs and start giving out to chef’s that they are doing it wrong, now I am no expert. But when you are deemed general bottle washer and dogs-body in a kitchen, being over seen by your Mother, you learn to do things right, or else a wet tea-towel gets flung at your head. Very awakening you could say. The second crime drama was better but was so confused by the end had no idea what was going on, clear as mud you could say. Then low and behold five minutes from the end all was revealed and all I could say was huh, really it was her. Never saw that coming, mind you I was half asleep at this stage, it was well past midnight and like the White Rabbit very late, very late indeed. In my defense all I can say is sometimes its better to be late than never.
“Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”
Although Wilde was I suspect discussing an actual mask, I think that this quote could have an alternative interpretation when referencing photography. The notion that the photograph itself is a mask, a facade, yet a tangible copy of reality, and due to the very nature of the photograph the viewer excepts that it is a truthful representation of reality. Where in fact although a photograph is a mask of sorts, it does not conditionally tell the truth. For every photograph lies, a photograph is only one split second of time, the time preceding and subsequent to that moment are absent. Additionally, as a viewer we are not the photographer, and as such just composing and framing the photograph removes information. This deletion can also occur in the dark room with alterations to framing. Thus we can not with certainty determine what we are viewing to be an accurate representation of that moment. The photographer makes a choice as to how and what is seen by the viewer, he tells the viewer a version of the truth, but not necessarily the most accurate version. On viewing the photograph again presents an alternative truth, this time determined by the viewer themselves. For no matter what intention is set forth by the photographer, the accurate interpreting of meaning or truth by the viewer is only possible if the viewer and photographer are one and the same. As each viewer brings through life experience, learning and culture their own interpretation of the photograph in question. Yet another layer of truth, hence a photograph is a mask, but its truth lies not in one man but in many.
A conversation I had with a friend today brought up questions of some people’s innate need to view catastrophic events or occurrences, where there has been a loss of life or the possibility of it. What I can not fathom is why? Why slow down the car to get a look at a car accident, watch a forest fire rage, or look at images of war-torn places. There is nothing the viewer can do but watch, they are on the outside looking in. Is it to reaffirm the concept its not me, I am still alive, therefore its ok to look. Perhaps by looking it proves its real, it has happened, for at times in current society it is difficult to separate the real from the imagined, where actual images of war provide the visual basis for some computer games, or shootings that appear movie like in semblance. Where select television dramas leave little or nothing of a violent crime scene to the viewers imagination. Historically the public dissemination of images documenting such real events would have been limited, with changes to technology and news reporting, graphic imagery has become more common. So, then by being inundated with such images people think nothing of viewing such events when encountered in reality. I think to them they have seen worse over their cornflakes in the morning. Unfortunately such prolific dissemination of such images has desensitized us to what the content and meaning of the photograph really is. This ties back to the notion that perhaps historically important photographs no longer carry the power they once did. This was discussed in an earlier post referencing the movie The Bang Bang Club.
Food for though….