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THE VISUAL IMAGE DISCUSSED


less than 50 years.What the photograph gave the world was something it had never had before; a genuine present tense. It captured a slice of time, perhaps a second in the mid-19th century. Less now of course, and even less in bright sunlight. That frozen moment is the truth that lies.


The moment doesn’t exist; certainly not at a neurological or psychological level. Our present is a construct. The seeming veracity of the photograph is an illusion. To be drawn in by a photograph is to extend a welcoming heart to the succulent paradox of the liar who tells you that he (or she) always lies. I learned this at Goldsmiths [University of


London], where I studied psychology; not painting or photography (although I also spent a good deal of time hanging out in the art school). The eye – or rather, the brain, of which the eye is merely an outpost – doesn’t see things the way a photograph does. There is no present tense in the brain.At any given fraction of a second, we only ‘see’ the tiniest fraction of our visual field. Rather, what we ‘see’ is a mix of past experiences, recent observations, expectations, genetic and epigenetic visual archetypes, emotions and predictions. Hence, for example, my insertion of my memory of Mississippi into that Paul Graham photograph. WhatManet did inABarattheFolies-Bergère


was to create a painting that, unlike a photograph, represented the truth of our vision. There are things in the picture that can’t be happening unless they are operating according to the rules of quantum mechanics; being in two different places at the same time. Picasso’s portraits take the same insight further; far further.Many great photographers – Cartier-Bresson, most obviously – privilege painting over photography. For a long time I didn’t understand why. That is probably why. Manet’s painting made clear that the photograph


will always fight a losing battle with our intrinsic desire for narrative which, by definition, must have the temporal element that a photograph can never provide; or at least couldn’t until the arrival of digital restructuring – manipulation is too loaded a word for me. The human brain is always a pattern-maker and storyteller.


Notice though, it’s not photography that is


essentially inhuman, it’s the photograph. Early photographers realised this. They understood both the tragedy of their imprisonment in the moment and humankind’s deep-seated drive for narrative. Many, if not most of the great 19th-century photographs, were not individual images but parts of albums. It wasn’t just theVictorians, either. The primacy of the isolated print – particularly the one titledUntitled, on a gallery wall – is a fairly recent thing. Photographs sat in newspapers and magazines, helped into life by text and captions. Photobooks told stories.Walker Evans’sLetUs NowPraiseFamousMenis a dialogue between his pictures and JamesAgee’s words which, although over-egged, are more ‘truthful’ than Evans’ seemingly artless, yet carefully created, images. For a long time the photobook was the central


medium of Japanese photography, which also confrontedManet’s challenge with its pure, bokeh (grainy, blurry, out-of-focus) aesthetic. Lee Friedlander entices temporality to intrude with the same trickManet himself used; mirrors and their refractive (i.e. not merely reflective) fracturing of the moment. Car mirrors are a central device in his current show at the Timothy Taylor Gallery in London. Even DianeArbus – perhaps the most significant name in the elevation of the print-on-the-wall aesthetic – bemoaned the limits of the individual photograph. Now the technology of the still camera is


collapsing into the embrace of the DSLR. So? So, as the (fairly) easily achieved lusciousness of the unmoving image becomes available to the moving image, so the single photograph is becoming supplanted by multiplicity. So, Simon Norfolk’s recent, stunning show


[Burke+Norfolk:PhotographsfromtheWarin Afghanistan] at the TateModern; a dialogue between his own 2010 series of images and 19th-century Irish photographer John Burke’s secondAfghan war album, made in 1880.And so, Paul Graham’s mowing man and convenience store shelves.A shimmer of possibility, or possibilities. Peter Silverton is aHungry Eyemagazine Contributing Editor


140 www.hungryeyemagazine.com


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