Category Archives: Part 3

Project and Exercise 3.6: The Memory of Photography

Project and Exercise 3.6 The Memory of Photography

 David Bate (2010) The Memory of Photography, Photographies, 3:2, 243-257,

DOI: 10.1080/17540763.2010.499609

The notes below are a distillation of comprehensive notes I made whilst reading the essay.  They make sense to me but, given my shorthand way of making notes, may not make sense to the reader.

David Bate’s major question appears to be “What contribution has photography made to the practice of memory in human culture”? (p. 243) and he travels a road from William Henry Fox Talbot’s photograph of Trafalgar Square (1843) to answer it

The Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square under Construction: William Henry Fox Talbot (1843)

Bate follows a convoluted route to get to the conclusion that:

 As composite formations photographs, like childhood memories, have a sharpness and innocence that belie meanings that have far more potential significance than is often attributed to them, which means that in terms of history and memory photographs demand analysis rather than hypnotic reveries. (2010:256)

In this respect, Sigmund Freud’s concept of ‘screen memories’ offers an alternative framework.

David Bates’s route map is:

  • Sigmund Freud’s views human memory and Culture and memory.
  • All types of collective memory can involve manipulation and the deletion of historical information, including domestic photography and family albums
  • Photographs produced by the state, media, the Arts and independent social groups are also archives that establish the ‘truth’ of social remembrance; events worthy of presentation, a unifying factor, as monuments of and to the past.
  • Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (1996),The ability to inscribe events, descriptions and traces is a site of social power: a means for some social groups to impose their will over others”. (I have already written about this here 
  • Jacques Le Goff, History and Memory (1992)  “The photograph has a capacity to incorporate and absorb many other already existing visual memory devices within photographic re-presentation”. It can store and reproduce other objects as a visual image.
  • If we think of photographs as artificial memories what effect do these have on actual human memory? Negative critique (e.g. Michel Foucault on ‘obstruction’ of memory flow. Literature on family photography tends to reinforce these ideas that an archive is never actually accurate anyway. ‘Partial truths’ re-emerge in public debate across fields of practice – state, media and arts – as realms of fiction or the manipulation of facts.
  • Freud pointed out how artificial devices/aids are modelled on the human sensory functions they’re designed to supplement – e.g. the eye and the telescope, the retina of the eye and the “photographic camera” – retention of fleeting visual impressions. He also posited a notion of ‘the mystic writing pad’ (1925) as an artificial memory device (NB like an etch-a-sketch toy which can be written on and then cleared yet the trace remains). (See my earlier link to Jacques Derrida and Archive Fever )
  • Bate explores what relationship photographs (as memory devices) have to actual human memory. Do these ‘artificial’ memories create uncertainty because they are memories not necessarily experienced or experienced in a different way? Freud – some people remember through sound (auditifs), others as gestures and actions (moteurs) rather than visually (visuels). However, Freud insists that childhood memories are primarily visual and he terms them ‘Screen Memories’.
  • Caveat by Freud – unlike auxiliary apparatus built on sensory functions, natural functions have unlimited receptive capacity for new perceptions yet lay down permanent – even though not unalterable – memory traces of them (back to mystic writing pad?). He refers to two different systems of mental apparatus – perception consciousness retaining no permanent traces, so can react like a clean sheet, and “mnemic” systems lying behind this which preserves permanent traces of the excitations which have been received.
  • The ‘unconscious’ contains no memories as such, only mnemic inscriptions – the ‘trace’ left by the memory.
  • Memory is located in the pre-conscious – can be recalled at will and brought into consciousness – i.e. this also means a ‘temporary forgetting’ so that consciousness has space for the constant new reception and experiences. It is this space of memory which is subject to ‘screen memories’ – fixed images of childhood. Paradox – earliest childhood memories seem frequently to preserve what is indifferent and unimportant, whereas, frequently, no trace is found in the adult’s memory of impressions dating from that time which are important, impressive and rich in affect.
  • The ‘screen memories’ serve as a displacement or shield from other significant memories.They are not to be dismissed as ‘false’ but subject to analytic enquiry, as in psychoanalysis, the challenge being to extract the ‘essential thing’ with which the memory trace is occupied that has been obscured by repression and distortion of the trace of the memory left behind.
  • Screen Memory works in three different ways in different temporal differences – retroactive, ‘pushed ahead’ of directly connected to what is screens and it functions through repression and displacement. Freud suggests they offer, “a remarkable analogy with the childhood memories that a nation preserves in its store of legends and myths”. Fairy tales can be made use of as screen memories, similar to the way a hermit crab occupies an empty shell.
  • A favourite photograph might also be an “empty shell” for the favourite story about childhood, the image being used as a space, a location for memory traces. This notion leads on to a lesson that can be learned from Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida (1981), with Bates relating Barthes’s concept of the punctum to Marcel Proust’s ‘involuntary memory’ (In Search of Lost Time).
  • Studum is akin to voluntary memory (public or cultural associations can be consciously recalled). The punctum is an involuntary response to a photograph, where an image, inexplicably, makes us react and, so, surprises us. If we follow an associative path from the image to our memory it can lead to other memories – even a supressed memory – and, with critical work, to an essential repressed memory-trace.
  • Bate wants to suggest that historical and canonical photographs can be treated with precisely this type of critical model for interpretation. Photographs may be considered in analogy with screen memories, “As with human memory, we can no longer verify the original experience or sensation of the photograph, but the image provides a scene in which we may bring voluntary (studum) or involuntary (punctum) memories to bear upon it. Voluntary memory is like the work of history, but involuntary memory belongs to personal affect. These are both often interwoven in complex ways”. Bate provides an example of this from the photograph of Trafalgar Square that he started with – what Fox-Talbot was showing in a historical sense­- and Bates’s interest in the photograph – the linkage back to his childhood memories from living in Portsmouth where “The Victory” ship still stands in the old Naval Dockyard. Thus, as an ‘artificial memory device’ a photograph intersects with a ‘natural memory’ in complex ways.
  • Photographic images do not destroy personal memories but interact with them in very specific ways, which may not always be conscious. With photographs memory is both fixed and fluid; social and personal. As sites of memory, photographic images offer not a view on history but, as mnemic devices, are perceptual phenomena upon which a historical representation may be constructed.
  • Social memory is interfered with by photography precisely because of its affective and subjective status. So, in the demand for an intellectual response to pictures or for the priority of their subjective affect, the concept of “screen memories” offers an alternative framework. As composite formations photographs, like childhood memories, have a sharpness and innocence that belie meanings that have far more potential significance than is often attributed to them, which means that in terms of history and memory photographs demand analysis rather than hypnotic reveries”.

 

I enjoyed the journey with David Bate, especially as it was a refresher on earlier reading in the Digital Image & Culture Module on Sigmund Freud, Jacques Derrida and also Marshall Mcluhan (although Bate doesn’t refer to the latter, which is a shame because McLuhan extended Freud’s views on artificial devices and human sensory functions from printing to modern technology ). Bates’s essay was written in 2010 so views on the interactions between photography and memory may have been expanded with new information/research – perhaps from psychologists who follow theories other than Freudian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Memory of Photography

Project and Exercise 3.4

Project and Exercise 3.4: A persuasive image

Uğur Gallenkuş @ugurgallen

Gallenkuş is a Turkish digital collage artist who portrays two different worlds in a single image – one of a Western world which is privileged and peaceful and the other of war-torn countries and those suffering privation and poverty.  His images are always striking and make me think. He matches them very skilfully for maximum effect – choosing the ‘split’ aspect to fit the images.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BvZZNnzATaF/

Each image is different and, together, they build a picture of how this World of ours is so divided by the have and have-nots.

One thing I feel very strongly about is the growth of food banks in this country. I feel guilty every time I go into a supermarket – trollies often piled high with all kinds of food and then the not very large container near the exit asking for food donations. Someone said to me, “Well, there’s people who go there who don’t really need them”. That isn’t true.  It reminds me of the story I heard about my paternal grandfather who worked for the Unemployment Assistance Board for a time because he wanted to help people and him having to go into people’s houses and tell them to sell furniture to get some money.

Sometimes I think there’s no so much difference between Elizabethan Poor Law, Victorian Workhouses and today.

Webp.net-gifmaker

 

Project – Marks of Conflict and Exercise 3.3

Exercise 3.3: Late Photography

Part 1 Summarise essay by David Campany “Safety in Numbness”:

I also looked at the first part of the documentary film to which Campany is referring – a television report from Channel Four (UK) as they followed Joel Meyerowitz – the only photographer granted comprehensive access to the scene and clean-up operation. Reflections of Ground Zero Part 1a (artswat, 28 February 2007)

  1. The most telling aspect of the documentary was the contrast drawn between the complexity of the geopolitical situation and the simplicity of Meyerowitz’s camera and working method. Not so simple! See 9 below
  2. The photographs were positioned as superior to the television programme in which they were presented – with the suggestion that photography might be the better medium for ‘official history’ and ‘images of record’. Following Meyerowitz’s point – “I felt if there was no photographic record allowed, then it was history erased”.
  3. Campany suggests that the act of sanction itself (the granting of comprehensive access) is significant – a need and desire to nominate an official body of images and that these should be photographs.
  4. Description of Meyerowitz’s imagery as “the trace of the trace of an event” and it being ‘a particularly clear instance of an approach that is becoming a commonplace use of the medium’. Recognition of an already changing patterns (see 8)
  5. The style/mood of the images assume an aesthetic closer to forensic photography and are an example of ‘cool photography’ as opposed to the dramatic ‘hot’ photography of events (cf Peter Wollen https://thenegativeaffect.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/fire-and-ice-1984.pdf ).
  6. Campany states that, whilst such photography has a different relation to memory and history than does the spontaneous snapshot, we should think of both of these in relation to other media – the structure of memory being, in large measure, culturally determined by the means of representation at our disposal. There is a difference between the ‘frozen’ still from a film/video camera and the ‘pre-frozen’ quality of a static photograph, taken after an event, which complements and underscores the stillness of the aftermath. This stillness only becomes apparent and definitive in the presence and context of the moving image. Interesting point re photography and memory. Campany doesn’t enlarge on that in this essay but wrote on the topic subsequently .
  7. Campany then refers to changes in the social history of photography – photography becoming the definitive medium from the 1920s but being supplanted by video/media technologies from the early 1970s. Video gives us things as they happen in the present and today it is very rare that photographs actually break the news. Campany was writing as citizen journalism was only just coming into prominence.
  8. The influence of photojournalism has declined but is not yet dead as redefinitions are beginning to emerge which seek out new contexts. (e.g. photojournalists going to Kuwait to document the leftovers of the Gulf War -creating images which often had a post-traumatic disposition and were often accompanied by similarly melancholic writing, which became a ‘seductive mode’ for the still image. Good reference point for text/image.
  9. ‘late photography’ has become a central trope within contemporary art. Its images can offer distanced reflection; appear to separate themselves out from the constant visual stream from electronic image technologies and refuse to be overtly ‘creative’. However, Campany points out that, although Meyerowitz described his photography as an automatic process, he has very specific skills honed over several decades, knows what makes a good photo and does have a very strong formal aesthetic which clearly overlaps with a popular sense of what a photographic document of a ruin should look like. In a footnote (x) he also reminds us that, whilst Meyerowitz first came to prominence shooting ‘decisive moments’ on the streets of New York, he later moved towards a slower way of working, using a large camera and photography of a longer duration.
  10. Campany sees dangers in using ‘late’ photographs such as those of Meyerowitz as a vehicle for mass mourning as mourning by association becomes merely an aestheticized response. He refers to the banal matter-of-factness of the late photograph, pointing out that there is a fine line between the sublime and the banal which is political.

Part 2 Respond to Meyerowitz’s images noting what value this ‘late’ approach has

I looked at images online on artblat.com  from an article on an Exhibition in November 2011 at the Miami Art Museum.  Meyerowitz spent nine months on the site.  One aspect that came into mind was the documentary nature of the work as opposed to the photographs being ‘Art’ – notwithstanding the fact that they were shown in an Exhibition and are in a Museum archive. They’re not photographs taken in ‘stillness’; they are documenting action and taken with feeling, i.e. Meyerowitz became almost a participant in what was being done there rather than being an objective observer. His thoughts and feelings are more with the workers.

 “The nine months I worked at Ground Zero were among the most rewarding of my life. I came in as an outsider, a witness bent on keeping the record, but over time I began to feel a part of the very project I’d been intent on recording… the intense camaraderie I experienced at Ground Zero inspired me, changing both my sense of myself and my sense of responsibility to the world around me. September 11th was a tragedy of almost unfathomable proportions. But living for nine months in the midst of those individuals who faced that tragedy head-on, day after day, and did what they could to set things right, was an immense privilege.”

That’s very different from other photographs taken there in the immediate aftermath. For example, when I visited the Handful of Dust Exhibition  at the Whitechapel in September 2017, I saw a photograph by Jeff Mermelstein, Statue from Ground Zero, September 11, 2001.  That photograph evoked my feelings and memories of that day – the cement dust-covered statue appearing as a monument to those who were killed.  Joel Meyerowitz’s photographs are about those who were still alive, survivors as it were, working to recover what they could whilst bearing witness to the carnage. They’re not ‘late’ photography in the sense that I now understand it – where photographers re-visit sites quite a long time afterwards and use various strategies to evoke what happened there – e.g. Paul Seawright Sectarian Murder (1988),  Sophie Ristelhueber Fait (2009)  and Chloe Dewe Matthews Shot at Dawn (2013).

Noting what value’ this ‘late’ approach has is difficult to answer. Meyerowitz’s work has much value in documenting the response to tragedy in an active sense.  Work that evokes events of the further past in a more allegorical sense are imaginative and sensitive in their approach but, I think, might serve more to keep reminding us of what happened – polishing the memory lest we forget. I accept that I’m generalising here and would need to do much more research on similarities and differences and how near or far works fit Campanay’s description. Also recognising that this is an old essay.

 

Project and Exercise 3.2

Project The tourist perspective

Exercise 3:2

  1. Postcard Views

I’ll confine myself here in this short exercise to cards depicting tourist spots rather than other subjects.

Picture postcards evolved after changes in 19th Century postal regulations in the United States and Europe authorized the mailing of simple, undecorated cards with a message., “Notes jotted on postcards were casual hellos, like e-mailed friendship cards”(Mary Warner Marien Photography: A Cultural History p.169) and it’s been roughly estimated that between 200 and 300 billion were produced during the so-called “Golden Age” which began between 1895 and 1900 and faded out between 1915 and 1920.

I wrote about the postcards produced by the Co-optic Group in the 1970s here  .So far as I know, Fay Godwin was a member of this group so I was interested to read the quotation from the interview with her in 1986 (Module Handbook, p. 84). I don’t think the postcards were produced for tourists to buy – rather that they were ‘art’ cards. I can’t quite imagine most people on holidau would go into a shop and buy cards like those below to send to family and friends.

  (Photoworks (2014) p.48)

Postcards are something that can be kept, rather like a small gift that denotes that the sender had you in their thoughts even if only briefly.  I do have some postcards I’ve kept over the years, but they’re tucked away somewhere.  My recollection of them is that the messages are brief and that’s probably one of the advantages of a postcard – there’s not a lot of room for writing on them. I’ll be writing further on some old postcards I collected in readiness for the assignment – one thing I noted was that they seem to have been used more as short missives on subjects unconnected with the views on them. One of our neighbours goes away fairly regularly and sends a card to us.  I have one in front of me of some grottoes in Portugal with an idyllic view of an aquamarine sea.  It’s colourful, makes me think of sunny days in a warmer place. Another is of a marina; he writes that it isn’t the prettiest marina but it’s near to his house. The buildings near the dock do certainly look rather prefabricated, albeit colourful so I guess you could say that the postcard shows a fairly accurate view. I’ve seen another one sent via the internet through the TouchNote app .  On one hand I think such an app is a good idea as you can upload your own photographs, including a selfie, and word process your own message. It looks like TouchNote post from Guernsey so presumably the postage could be generally cheaper, plus it arrives more quickly.  On the other hand, what you lose is the handwritten message and a real stamp so that makes it more impersonal to me.

  1. Response to Graham Clark’s comments regarding the photograph as a travel souvenir – that the landscape photograph ‘implies the act of looking as a privileged observer, the photographer of landscapes is always the tourist, and invariably the outsider.”. “Above all, the landscape photographer insists on the land as spectacle and involves an element of pleasure”. Do I think it’s possible not to be a ‘tourist’ or outsider’ as the maker of landscape images?  Yes it is/was in relation to postcards because some of the professional photographers actually lived in the areas they photographed.  It would take a lot more words though to unpick the words Clark uses and compose a philosophical response.

 

 

References

Marien, M.W. (2010) Photography: A Cultural History3rdEdition.  London: Laurence King

Photoworks (2014) Issue 21: Collaboration, Photoworks, Brighton, UK

Homepage

Exercise 3.1: Reflecting on the picturesque

Project : Origins of the Picturesque

Recap:

In the 17th and 18th Centuries, very wealthy young people could often spend two to four years travelling around Europe to broaden their horizons and learn about language, architecture, geography and culture. Richard Lassels introduced the term “Grand Tour” in his 1670 book “Voyage to Italy”. Guide books, tour guides and the tourist industry were developed.

In the 1780s William Gilpin articulated his concept of the picturesque as a bridge between beauty and the sublime. This concept was entwined with garden design and also travel which was becoming increasingly available to the upper classes. Gilpin’ presented his idea in the form of a guide book to the Wye Valley, already an established destination for travellers. Gilpin was very attracted to fortification ruins and illustrated his book with his own sketches – directed tourists to appreciate the scene in particular ways and steering them away from places that didn’t have such views. When he was criticised for inaccuracies in his sketches he responded, “I am so attached to my picturesque rules that if nature gets wrong, I cannot help putting her right”. I think this is similar really to painters such as Helen Allingham, for example, prettying up views of cottages and altering window frames etc and photographers now who might tidy a scene they wish to photograph.

Additionally, Gilpin barely provided any historical context to the places he visited, even going so far as to suggest taking a mallet to the ruins of Tintern Abbey to remove some parts he considered disagreeable. The Course Handbook refers to Fay Godwin’s comment in the South Banks Show 1986, about postcards and picture books ‘many of which don’t bear any relation to my own experience of the place’ (p. 84). More on tourists and postcards in the next project.

Exercise 3:1 – Thoughts on a successful/effective Landscape Photograph

I still enjoy looking at paintings and photographs that are composed in such ways as to portray harmonious scenes, tranquil and beautiful places and would certainly move if a branch was right in front of my lens and blocking a view. However, in terms of what I consider successful and effective, that would depend on my intentions when making the photograph. I’m thinking here of the examples given of the New Topographics photographers (Exercise 2.3) who used particular strategies to reflect the increasingly suburbanised world around them and the ‘tyranny’ of idealised landscape photography.

In thinking more on successful/effective below are a few other photographers who come immediately to mind as they all use variety of  methods and strategies which mirror their concept. I should add that most of them actually work in series although individual images are effective in their own right.

Nadav Kander looked at the Thames Estuary, using the river, “ … as metaphor for the perpetual cycle of change and renewal”. His editing process echoes the pace as he keeps refining the images, using lengthy exposures layering and over-printing and showing the river as sparse and monochromatic. Some time ago I also went to an Exhibition of his series Bodies 6 Women. 1 Man where, to me, he portrays their nude bodies as landscapes – emphasising their curves, movement, rhythm and flow with the use of white paint

I have previously written about Simon Roberts’s series Sight Sacralization: (Re)Framing Switzerland reinforces his concept – tourists in officially designated areas of natural beauty gazing at them from the safety of stage-managed viewpoints – “A place is named, then framed and elevated, before being enshrined, mechanically reproduced and finally socially reproduced across a variety of media”.  Roberts particularly looks at the picturesque in his series National Property: The Picturesque Imperfect – closed? Looking at the work of the National Trust, showing both the way landscape is ‘managed’ and the way in which people make use of and interact with it with no knowledge of historical context.

National Property: The Picturesque Imperfect

An Exhibition is due in May at Flowers Gallery (in conjunction with Photo London) on his new series The Weeds and the Wilderness where he searches for ancient woodlands that depict the primordial. There is only one photograph on his website but I see that photograph is almost monochrome, he is portraying the ancient site as a dark, twisted, gnarled place where the sun is unable to break through the uppermost branches. The text for the series begins with an extract from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins in Hopkins’s distinctive style of alliteration and assonance utilising “W’ in this case.

I was also entranced by Tacita Dean’s portrait of a tree  “Majesty” creating work on a monumental scale – almost life-size. I saw this at the Royal Academy and wrote about it here

At the moment, in readiness for my Assignment 3 theme I am looking at strategies used to portray water – pools, ponds rivers but will write separately on these.