Variation VII: Fragments of a Thesis

I dreamt of a horse, perhaps a pinto, shot dead and beat.
The image of one seascape is no more related to the image of another seascape than it is to the image of an apple.

Backdrop: Time does not stand still.
Photography chooses to mark one moment over another.  That moment can only be repeated and represented precisely by making exact duplications of that image, which only photography, unlike any other mediums, can do.  Any related image is not that moment and distracts from it.  There is enough complexity within a moment to fill an image and our perceiving minds.

Photography delineates one framing over another.  Lines of delineation do not actually exist in environments.  So light, the only line.

She looks different than she used to, smarter as a child.  Hes and shes looking get her all wrong if there were a wrong.  Still young, she gets it all wrong, wanting to fit in and to be remembered. Still she may grow wiser but never near death.  She marks each one and one and one and one.


Fragments of particles of scraps of specks grow larger.  Phototext textphoto photoimage imagesound soundimage, a sculpture a performance and a book, not a sculpture a performance or a book hybrid I, why the hybrid.  Fragments brought in proximity speak to one another.  Three no need to look alike.

It is not black and white what is a series and what is not.  Commonly, a series is a group of images in which what is repeated in the images can be summed up in a generic word or phrase, often the title, and all the images in the series aim to represent that thing.  The images usually relate both stylistically and conceptually.  Sugimoto’s seascapes.  Mapplethorpe’s flowers.  Gursky’s repitition in vast spaces.  Both Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson make constructed images, but think how much more diverse Wall’s images are (less like a series) than Crewdson’s.  Undoubtably, a series may be conceptually necessitated and at times, there are artists who arrive at something unexpected by working in this way.  Sherman’s society portraits.  Dijkstra’s adolescents.  I think more frequently the artist has predigested information and then over-identified a type.  Not only does the series misrepresent the subject in the search for a type, it also misses the opportunity to take a stance.  Rather than the thoughtful, creative artist saying something significant about that subject, ultimately the thoughtful, creative artist just says, “This is mine.”  We need new and varied parameters for how we group images, parameters that allow for dynamic images that speak from the subjects they seek to represent and develop, not to them.  When an image resists categorization, we are asked to look again, to think again.  This time both the artist and the subject speak.
Photographs for Erik
Last week, a co-worker of mine mentioned that his cousin in prison had requested that he send him some photographs.  He showed me the group he intended to send.  I was pleased by the diverse collection that could not be categorized and thought, “These are nicely about nothing.”  They mean everything because they represent everything outside.
Artists have been working in series for centuries, and grouping similar work is certainly reasonable.   The series is not the only way to group images, so why has it become so prevalent and encouraged within contemporary art that it is difficult to find an artist not working in this way? Artists are encouraged to work in series; think of exhibitions, solo or group, and books, particularly artists’ monographs.  Subsequently, even retrospectives frequently place all like work in separate spaces. When looking at artist’ websites, regardless of the work, I am unconvinced of the structure.  And why is the most simplistic of series so endemic to contemporary photography?  Is it a desire to be distinguished from painting thereby emphasizing reproductive aspects of photography?  Is it a false complex about the ease with which a photograph is made compared to a painting, therefore the artist feels the need to develop more “complex” projects?  The series has not always been so pervasive in photography.  Think Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s “Hustlers” versus the work of an early photographer like Andre Kertesz.  The ethos of the early photographers seems to have been to photograph whatever struck the photographer as beautiful.  Of course every artist has themes; even Kertesz often photographed people from above and people reading.  These are themes that I believe he arrived at organically over time, possibly over the entirety of his work.  Often I see an image that “pricks” me, as Roland Barthes would say, and then I see the series and the effect is dulled if not extinguished completely.

Looking further for The Materiality of the Image.[1]

She is a woman she a beautiful woman.  Girls look at her too.  She likes the beach.  She has cherries on her bikini cherries she did not pick.  The birds do not have anything to do with her being a bitch or not, but the sailboats might.  She did not pick those cherries.  Red-handed, he did not pick those cherries. Caught with the diamond cutter.  Re-photographed three shes transfigure more brains more chest more breath her tail recedes upward a sphinx with thunder thighs.  Re-photographed she desaturates becoming more real.  Re-photographed she basks in silver light.[2]

The making of gray, the place of making.  You might say that grey is generic, the flatliner to extremes.  But which grey?  There is only one black and one white.  One, three, four, five…

Within every experience we are either taking a photograph or not.  The more beautiful the experience, the more I prefer not to photograph it.  The textphotos I make respond to this impulse, as if I have lifted the camera to mark the moment and never released the shutter.  Fragments of fiction and photographs of other moments (not necessarily both) indirectly recreate the sense of an experience I have never photographed.  It is not because I doubt the power of the photograph alone.  Rather, I believe the photograph would have its own power divorced from that of the experience.  If the taking of the photograph had not already left the beauty of the experience in ruin, the image, over time, may devour any vitality of the experience altogether.  She should be taken very seriously.  Know the ones you want well, and do not have too many.

“All the authors concur, Sartre says, in remarking on the poverty of the images which accompany the reading of a novel:  if the novel ‘takes’ me properly, no mental image. To reading’s Death-of-Image corresponds the Photograph’s Totality-of-Image; not only because it is an image in itself, but because this very special image gives itself out as complete—integral, we might say, playing on the word.  The photographic image is full, crammed: no room, nothing can be added to it.”[3]

Two does not exist.

Photography and writing are more alike than you acknowledge. Yes, you and also Roland Barthes.  In Camera Lucida, Barthes claims to not be able to remark on the experience of the photographer, only, “that of the observed subject and that of the subject observing.’[4]  I have read Mythologies, and I believe he writes the way a photographer shoots, not because he evokes an image, but because he captures a moment in some complexity.

Now let us begin again.

[1] The Materiality of the Image (Figure 4) is a three and a half by nine-foot close-up of a leg with a mild but colorful bruise in the center.  I titled the C-print after seeing some of Liz Deschenes work.  Deschenes’ nearly black panels are photosensitive paper that record ambient light.  While I appreciate her minimal approach and investigation into the photographic apparatus, I desire that the image, banal or dramatic, remain within the photograph.

[2] For Sphinx I photographed a lenticular of three images of a woman posing on the beach so that parts of all three images can be seen in the new image.   I cut diagonally across the white bands that remain on the sides of the new image from commercial printing as a gesture that redefines what it means to touchup and make perfect.

[3] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1980), 89.

[4]  Ibid. 26.


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