Inside Out: Twenty+ Sentences
I recently came across this list of twenty sentences on photography by Norwegian born, L.A. based, Torbjørn Rødland:
1. The muteness of a photograph matters as much as its ability to speak.
2. The juxtaposition of photographs matters as much as the muteness of each.
3. All photography flattens. Objectification is inescapable.
4. Photography cannot secure the integrity of its subject any more than it can satisfy the need to touch or taste.
5. Good ideas are easily bungled.
6. Banal ideas can be rescued by personal investment and beautiful execution.
7. Lacking an appealing surface, a photograph should depict surfaces appealingly.
8. A photograph that refuses to market anything but its own complexities is perverse. Perversion is bliss.
9. A backlit object is a pregnant object.
10. To disregard symbols is to disregard a part of human perception.
11. Photography may employ tools and characteristics of reportage without being reportage.
12. The only photojournalistic images that remain interesting are the ones that produce or evoke myths.
13. A photographer in doubt will get better results than a photographer caught up in the freedom of irony.
14. The aestheticizing eye is a distant eye. The melancholic eye is a distant eye. The ironic eye is a distant eye.
15. One challenge in photography is to outdistance distance. Immersion is key.
16. Irony may be applied in homeopathic doses.
17. A lyrical photograph should be aware of its absurdity. Lyricism grows from awareness.
18. For the photographer, everyone and everything is a model, including the photograph itself.
19. The photography characterized by these sentences is informed by conceptual art.
20. The photography characterized by these sentences is not conceptual photography.
I find these 20 points to be particularly refreshing/enabling/supportive, as someone trying to make art with a camera. The medium's history has been wrought with self-doubt. From its origin, photography's function was varied and it became culturally ubiquitous immediately. In school, we often talk about Flickr, Facebook and Tumblr in discussions about contemporary photography. We talk about the hoards and piles of images, the infinite quantity uploaded each second. We try so hard to justify our own decisions, so that we're not like "them", the masses, and we stress out a lot about whether or not what we're doing is worth a damn. (A former professor of mine said graduate students think too much and look too little). It's tricky, with a medium that renders reality, and articulates "truth"—how can it be unique, or one's own, or say something new? Some folks react by using photography to be non-representative, turning toward abstraction. I enjoy looking at work like this (as if "abstract photography" is one thing. It's not.) for the formal qualities, and I think it does do good things for the medium (and carries on a tradition from modernism). My way of wrapping my mind around the self doubt/guilt of being a photographer is to try to embrace it and realize that something made is better than something not. It's easy to look at picture after picture and feel defeat, but not contributing to the conversation is the greater failure.
One of my favorite contemporary photographers is New York based Irina Rozovsky. She is unabashedly a photographer, and never predictable. Rozovsky's camera seems to be making record of something the eye can't see at all, there is aura and essence around her subjects. Her controlled color palette is transportive. In a recent, in progress, series Wonder in Captivity, (images above) Rozovsky is making work in a specific place, though the resulting imagery is not nescarily of a specific place. Perhaps the location is clear to some, but for me it's a dreamt land. The images are of a future, the earth ancient and used, a cumulative humanity.
If you happen to be in Boston in the Spring, I'm going to be part of the Flash Forward Festival in May this year. Cultivated: New Photography from New England, is curated by Leslie K. Brown and Michelle Lamunière, along with some really wonderful artists and friends/colleagues: Nelson Chan, Andrew Fillmore, Christine Collins. Plus others I don't yet know, it should be a great show and festival.
Or if you're in Providence, don't hesitate to be in touch. I've really appreciated this opportunity to write. Thanks!
Image: Scott Alario, 2012. From the artist's book Frontier Fathers
"These digital collages start with historic images of explorers. Babies and children are then added to scenes of otherwise man-only adventure."
The images were sourced from the Library of Congress's Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.