A Durational Space

Capa, Sugimoto and Woodman

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Robert Capa’s image of a soldier in the Normandy landings is gritty and full of movement blur but is shows a man in a desperate hurry, at risk if life. It also focuses the attention on his face and the determination shown by him. Other images, while fascinating and often actually giving more information about the event, such as this one, do not have the immediacy or drive shown in the most well-known image.

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Images courtesy of Magnum Photos.

It is difficult to know whether this movement blur was deliberate, done as an accident or simply occurred in the processing, whichever one, it is very effective.

Hiroshi Sugimoto is a Japanese photographer who has experimented extensively with the use of time in his photography. He tends to work producing series of images. He says “the vision comes first……imagine the way I photograph the things…… bringing my camera into a movie theatre……I opened my shutter when the movie begins…… I leave my camera open……when the ending credit shows up I close my shutter…… the interior of the theatre shows in the white light coming out of the screen.     ……the people were in the theatre but they all disappeared…… the movie theatre…… holds the emptiness” (Sugimoto, 2009). The images are eerie and beautiful with the cinema walls illuminated by the light from the screen.

 Sugimoto has also taken a series of images concentrating on light. He found that when he was processing photographs he was plagued with random bouts of static which he calls ‘the demons in the darkroom’ (Sugimoto, 2011). He went on to deliberately generate static electricity and shoot the resultant flashes of light, man-made lightning. He then printed these images at an enormous size to form an exhibition which I was lucky enough to see in Edinburgh several years ago. The images are sharp white on a deep, velvety black, simple in appearance but they draw the eye in and you find yourself following the path of the discharge around the image.

Michael Wesely takes the concept of long duration photography to an extreme, photographing buildings being renovated, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, with the camera running for months or still life images of flowers slowly dying. The pictures of the buildings show layers and layers of lines as there is slow progress, they look somewhat like a pen and ink drawing of an artist’s conception of the building, but they appear more ‘real’ and obviously they are. Some of the images can be viewed at:

http://www.graphicine.com/unusually-long-exposure-photographs-by-michael-wesely/ (accessed 24/06/17)

http://itchyi.squarespace.com/thelatest/2010/7/20/the-longest-photographic-exposures-in-history.html (accessed 24/06/17).

Wesely says “”the lines in the sky put our existence, us, our planet into context with the Dance of the Universe, which coexists on an entirely different time scale [from us] …. The moment is fading, all that remains is the permanent overlapping of movements of all kinds, political or personal. The technologies of our times fuel this fire of restless ‘Online-Existence’. One day computers won’t have an on- or off-button anymore. We will always be online.” (Klenke, 2010).

A fascinating variant on this is when he takes long exposure, 5 minutes, images of people In the Museum of Modern Art, New York, looking at the even longer exposure images of the renovation works of the actual building. The people are visible, but look like ghosts.Other images are in colour, some are surprisingly delicate, others, mainly the flowers from ‘Stilleben’ are intensely coloured, almost violent, shocking given that they are showing the death of the flower..

 In the introduction to a recent book, Time Works, Harten describe these as ‘decidedly distinct traces of specific processes …… take on the form of a delicate, diaphanous mist …… like transparent gossamer made up of innumerable moments’ and also ‘what we experience in Michael Wesely’s photographs is the …… transitory visibility of the long since invisible’. (Wesely and Harten, 2010).This is the complete antithesis of the ‘decisive moment’. The images may appear dreamlike, often abstract, but are actually the opposite, time rules as absolute. Time held still.

An alternative view of time is used in the film Chungking Express where the opening scene uses a blurred movement to catch the attention of the viewer. This gives a sense of urgency to the film, and has drawn me in enough that I will watch the rest. The colours are intense, it is difficult at times to make out what you are seeing, and the scene feels immensely pressured, the opposite of the sense stillness captured by Wesely.

Francesca Woodman’s (1958-81) images are highly charged and often, but not always, personal.  Berger defines art as either private or public, but her work spans both, ‘intensely private photographs for public consumption……Woodman regularly appeared naked within the frame, her body contorted, her flesh blurred—at once visible and intangible. Each image feels viscerally revealing of something, or someone, beyond the frame—something public photographs can’t do.’ (Christoph, 2015). Her suicide, age 22, inevitably alters people’s perception of her work, partly by the simple fact that there is a limited oeuvre, not all of which has ever been published, but also because there is a temptation to read everything she has done in that context, rather than as early work of a woman who might, given the time, have gone on in a totally different direction.

Much of her work is monochrome, with stark tonal contrasts, showing images that are partially blurred, a jumping person in apparently derelict room ‘Untitled, Rome, 1977-78’, or showing only part of the person ‘Seven Cloudy Days, Rome 1977-78’. Other images use wildly contrasting juxtapositions of people and items such as in the Eel series, where a blurred person lies next to the sharply focused bowl of eels.

Badger says ‘she clearly sought to escape the strictures of the single image and still, frozen photographic stasis. And in her off-kilter compositions and constant roulades of wispy, swirling flight, she appears to hammer at the boundaries of the photographic frame itself’ and ‘Woodman’s oeuvre seems to have informed by the apparently inconsolable thought (for her) that society’s cards are irrevocably stacked against her sex. That no matter how hard she might try to escape constriction by gender, only in her art could she be free,’. (Badger, 2017. I wonder whether, if she had been working now, her work would have been less ‘constricted’ in this way bur equally how her view has led the way for the wide variety of female photographers today, many of whom take images of women and also how it feeds into the ongoing discussion about whether (or not) females perceive other females differently from male photographers and therefore make images that are fundamentally different. (Jansen, 2017).

In the context of thinking about the impact of blur on the emotional reading of the image it is clear that in Woodman’s work it is crucially important, in a similar way (although in a very different setting) to the Capa image on Normandy Beach. I find her images often disturbing, often beautiful, at times mesmerising and I am left wondering what she might have produced in an unknown future. She was born just after me, into a very different life, but I am unsure if I would have ever understood her and her thought processes.

References

Badger, G. (2017). Gerry Badger  Francesca Woodman. [online] Gerrybadger.com. Available at: http://www.gerrybadger.com/francesca-woodman/ [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017].

Christoph, S. (2015). FRANCESCA WOODMAN. [online] Brooklynrail.org. Available at: http://brooklynrail.org/2015/03/artseen/francesca-woodman-mar15 [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017].

JANSEN, C. (2017). GIRL ON GIRL. [S.l.]: LAURENCE KING PUBLISHING.

Klenke, S. (2010). The Longest Photographic Exposures in History – The Latest – itchy i. [online] Itchyi.squarespace.com. Available at: http://itchyi.squarespace.com/thelatest/2010/7/20/the-longest-photographic-exposures-in-history.html [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Pro.magnumphotos.com. (2017). Magnum Photos. [online] Available at: http://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Sugimoto, H. (2009). Contacts vol 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mcbEgEv2kUw [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Sugimoto, H. (2011). Hiroshi Sugimoto, Nature of light ; [Izu Photo Museum, Shizuoka, Japan ; October 26, 2009 – March 16, 2010]. Shizuoka, Japan: Izu Photo Museum.

Townsend, C. and Woodman, G. (2016). Francesca Woodman. London: Phaidon.

Wax, R. (2014). Unusually Long Exposure Photographs by Michael Wesely | Graphicine. [online] Graphicine.com. Available at: http://www.graphicine.com/unusually-long-exposure-photographs-by-michael-wesely/ [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Wesely, M. and Harten, J. (2010). Time works. Munchen: Schirmer/Mosel.

 

 

 

 

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