Photography and the icon.
A photograph is a strange bird in that it documents a situation – yet this situation which is documented or re-presented ceases to exist, or perhaps simply diverges in existence from the time the photograph is created. As the photograph is made, an archive is created, yet as the original event or situation which is documented ceases to exist in the manner re/presented, the relationship becomes gradually less clear and the photographic document develops an aura of singularity. Thus the photograph becomes both re-presentation and original simultaneously.
A non-photographic document of an situation has a flavour of attribution which denotes and focuses it’s role as the child of the original it documents, and yet in the photographic re-production the aura of singularity problematises this relationship between referent and descendent – they might share a history, but they do not share a present, nor a future. This absence of a fixed referent is something which makes the photograph different from other re-productive strategies in that the photograph can re-order a formerly linear archive in a manner which questions the role of re-presentation.
In traditional forms of art the closest simile to this paradoxical relationship which I can find, is that of the christian icon. A painting which is intended as a reflective depiction of the ineffable seems somehow semantically close to a photograph being an image with a functionally obscured referent. It is also somewhat axiomatic in as much as people speaking of photography often refer to images as ‘icons’, or as ‘iconic’, yet these words are seldom used in more traditional plastic arts (with the noted exception of christian iconography).
I am interested, in my art practice, in investigating the concept of the photograph as a means of creating icons of things which would, or could not otherwise achieve this status.
My research question is essentially as follows;
“Is there something inherent in the medium of photography which is particularly given to the making of icons from things which would not otherwise achieve this status, and does this work differently to other mediums on this level”
As far as method and methodology goes, I have several modes of investigation which I will utilise in this study, the first of which are research strategies;
The first research strategy will be to research examples where a photo has achieved a status which could be considered iconic, Some examples of this could be Alberto Gutiérrez’s ‘Guerrillero Heroico’, better known these days simply as “Che”, Edward Westons photographs of peppers, or any of a range of other great works from photographic artists.
A second investigation will be into Photographs where the referent is consiously obscured, yet the resultant photographs don’t reach iconic status, examples being Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled film stills”, and Thomas Demand’s work with photographed constructions.
Parallel to this will be a research into traditional icons in the religious sense along with any particular secular works which also seem appropriate in order to compare them to the aforementioned photographic works, and to study the parallels and differences between them – this research will be done in a fairly organic .
In concert with these historical and academic researches I will also work with physical media in a manner to investigate and make sense of what I discover, this will be in line with my usual kinaesthetic methodology which I use to investigate concepts in my practice, this is very much an experimentation and play based strategy which I use to translate academic concepts into physical strategies.
So in essence, my research will lead, but will be translated into physical work so that this can be returned to the theoretical in such a manner that each may feed or edit the other reflexively – thus making the aspects of my practice work in concert and hopefully in a self sustaining manner.
At this point I cannot be sure as I intend to be working in a range of technologies during the process of producing the works, thus intending one output over another at this point would unnecessarily limit my reflexivity whilst working through the proposed processes.
For the first three months approximately of the school year I will gather information fairly rapidly and to do a fair amount of experimentation
in order to build up a largish body of work and an archive which I could analyse.
At that point I would intend to spend time analysing what I have, and working out the boundaries of my proposed research for the remaining time. This would be a point of consolidation and reflexive analysis which I would use to define my path of study, and to possibly redefine my research question.
I cannot be a great deal more expansive than that with regards to a proposed timeline as the research that I am proposing to undertake would be variably referential rather than based on a rigid proposal and thus timeline.
I do also have several outside exhibitions which I can use to test work in the public arena over this time as well, this is an integral part of my working practice.
Contribution to the field.
I intend to elucidate on the relationship between the photograph and the icon.
At this point I do not see any major ethical or legal hurdles which will cause undue problems, there are some potential (mainly moral) issues around using images of people, but I am not intending to do this, so essentially I’ll negotiate any decisions as they arise.
I’m referencing people rather than books as most of these people have written multiple essays in their respective fields, this is a start point.
J. Derrida I am Interested in his concepts around the referent, his thoughts on photography, but also iterability as well as his thoughts around resistance and hauntology – Particularly relevant is the text “Copy, Archive, Signature”.
R. Barthes I am particularly in his text “Camera Lucida” and his writing on existential phenomenology with regards to photography.
H. G. Gadamer I am interested especially in this thoughts around hermenuetics and the assignation of meaning to objects. His writings around the concept of ‘historically effected consciousness’ in particular are of interest to me, as well as ‘Wirkungsgeschichte‘ or ‘history of effects’.
M. Heidegger I am interested in Heidegger’s writings about the relationship between metaphysics and aesthetics, as well as concealment and the referent. His text “The Origin of the Artwork” is of especial interest to me.
J. Kristeva I am interested in what she has written especially about intertextuality, as well as semiotic systems and assignation of value to signs.
M. Foucault I’m interested in his discussions around ‘truth’ and ‘meaning’, rather than the historical digging that Gadamer does, he seems more interested in the logic that lies behind ‘claims’ to truth then in the actual truthfulness of the claim itself, this structure of the claim is interesting to me. His writings on societal norms and paradigms is also peripherally interesting.
W. Benjamin Although I don’t agree with some of what Benjamin says with regards to the separation of art and literature – his analysis of technological
reproduction and his thoughts around translation and the philosophy of history overlap in ways that are interesting and helpful to me.
U. Eco Eco has written quite a lot about the problems inherent in translation between systems of signs, his focus is essentially intralinguistic for the most part, but it is useful when it comes to the framing of questions around intersemiotic translation.
As for works of art: They would be works such as Alberto Gutiérrez’s ‘Guerrillero Heroico’ , much of the most famous work of the photo succession and the f64 group. There is a very broad scope for seeking out materials which are appropriate to the task at hand, this as well as traditional eastern orthodox icons as well.
I think this needs a bit more clarification, but this is how it’s being handed in for a first draft – I’ll rework it further, especially with regards to the idea that an icon can be personal, and does not have to be cultural or ‘group based’ – an example of a personal icon could be mortuary photography in the 19th century – which could well be only for one or a couple of people – also that an icon can be secular and still invoke a personal response. This is fruitful ground, and many people have written their tracks across this territory as they’ve attempted to chart it’s geography, but there’s an interesting lack of agreement even in basic terms… Fun no?
Some of the meta themes I’ve worked with in the past.
Perhaps I didn’t state it clearly enough in the first essay, but What I find compelling about photography as an artistic medium is it’s facility as a storytelling medium. To me sketching is analogous to this sensibility, as such much of what I have looked at through the lens, as it were, of photography is the snippets of information, the traces which imply the presence of a greater narrative.
These traces are the basis of a fair chunk of my work to date, I seek out the traces that people leave behind in their daily lives and frame them in a manner which allows extrapolation from any viewer. Obviously I use a photographic vernacular in framing these images, composition, printing techniques, and presentation strategies which are of, or have been co-opted by photographic sensibilities.
When I first began to play with photography as a medium I began with pinhole imagery, speed of vision is something we are very much stuck with, to slow down or to speed up vision is very much the domain of photography, perhaps more-so than just seeking particular lighting.
I’m more interested in exploring things that re-present to me a reality which our senses cannot percieve. The hyper fast, the super slow, the spectrally invisible, these are all of a realm, which is to us, extrasensory, this fascinates me in that I am learning whilst making such images, to perceive the world at large in a different manner to that which my naked senses suggest.
In making use of these photographic and non-human visualities I have, of necessity, experimented extensively with the medium of photography at large, these experiments ranging from learning new printing methods, or the capabilities of different technical modalities (camera’s, lenses, etc), through to physically rebuilding (cheap) digital camera’s in such ways that their descriptive abilities no longer match a nominally human view point.
As I have gathered images, negatives, prints and digital files I have started to see themes which emerge, and which bend under the weight of their neighbors. The intertextual and the semiotic have developed interesting complexities within my archives, and this has fed back into long standing (considerably pre-dating my engagement with the photographic idiom) fascinations with linguistics, language, translation, language, and the persistence of archetypical presentations.
One thing which I have not worked with to any great degree yet (and do not intend to start with now) is photographing people, this is due to the fact that I am intensely aware that to frame something in a photograph is to speak for it, to re-present the thing in a nuanced manner. When I am doing this with a trace that a person has left I am comfortable, because I am not challenging a pre-existing narrative, I am not speaking over something attempting to speak for itself.
However I am aware that when I frame a person photographically, then I speak for them in a manner which is authoritative. This, in and of itself, is not problematic, it is, after all the point of having a photographer at a wedding – however I do not personally seek to make stories of people, nor to have people act out stories for the camera. This aspect of re-presentation is something which I am intensely aware of and is something which I am looking to work more deliberately with at this point.
More amazing google mappage.
I sometimes wonder how we got by before google maps.
Trying something new – I’m putting my artist refs in here – I tend to digitally edit the pics anyhow, and this will probably make retrieval easier. These are from;
The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography ~ Katharine Harmon (Author)
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; 26,5 cm x 23,5 cm edition (September 23, 2009)
Lake trail (top L) Jetty (top R)
Highway Topography (bottom L) Lycian City (bottom R)
I am fascinated by one particular contextual element, which is the compass roses, Until the invention (of the function of) magnetic compasses Most maps in the European world were based on the presupposition that the top of the map (the modern day north of the compass rose) was in fact oriented to the East – the direction that the sun (and of course stars) rose in. In Northern china most maps were oriented south – the direction that summer came from – south being warm, vibrant, and life giving (red) – as opposed to north which was considered to be cold, sterile and life taking (white) – these beliefs are still codified to this day in the practice of Feng Shui.
I spent a while earlier this year trying to work out how to situate a map that I was constructing, and as a response to this I came up with the idea of ‘psychologic north’ being an orientation that is arbitrary and varies from person to person – the view down a valley, the lie of the land, the direction that a loved one lives in – surely these are just as valid to a person who lives on the ground and only navigates by foot as an invisible force that pulls a magnet.
Yumi Janairo Roth
I’m intrigued by the fact that the artist asks people to mark her body with these maps the territory is placed onto her – but she then removes or displaces (by means of a camera) it, archives it, reproduces from that archive and then uses it to ask people to help her to place her body within the map – it’s an interesting re/de territorialisation of both the body and the archive – a bodily detournement after a fashion.
I like this use of the artists body as a canvas for the transcription of a journey into a map, given that his body has been to these places which are “reduced to a simple line” gives that supposedly simple line a far greater degree of semiotic complexity than a mere line on paper would. The map, in this case, has made the journey, rather than just describing it.
I like this work, the idea of mapping that which is invisible, or ineffable appeals to me – it’s also a nice use of materials.