Prayer Flag, Bhaupara, Gujarat. India, November 30, 1995. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Wyndstone vellum) from original 8×10 inch negative.
Tree. Bell. Adinath Trithankar Jain Mandir, Ajmer, India. November 7, 1995. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Wyndstone vellum), from original 8×10 negative.
My great aunt moved to this temple in her late teens, and remained here as a nun for the rest of her life. Sacred ground, not for the tragedy of being human, but because of how well it was occupied, how it was a place of goodness, how it cradled light.
In a previous post I wrote about making the same kind of photograph repeatedly, of working from a motif, of walking back and forth on the same bridge. There is a twist to this. Going beyond what others say–
(e.g. ‘The camera generates events other than the photographs anticipated as coming into being through its mediation, and the latter are not necessarily subject to the full control of the agent who holds the camera. The properties and nature of the camera could now suddenly emerge into public view, and it rapidly became apparent that the camera possesses its own character and drives. The camera might, at times, appear to be obedient, but it is also capable of being cunning, seductive, conciliatory, vengeful or friendly…’- Azoulay, Ariella. “Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography.” Verso, 2015.)
–I believe that a core part of this ‘bridge’ we traverse is made of the processes (languages) themselves, ranging not just from camera to photographer to those who look at photographs but also including the lens, the negative, the sensors, the printing process, size, framing, and viewing context. In sum, the photographic print sometimes exists despite the photographer. This temple, Adinath Trithankar Mandir, exists despite my great aunt, and yet, is entirely consistent with what my great aunt means to me.
That is why I strongly believe that art education is at its best when it fosters practices that build on cross-disciplinary (I do not mean multi-media) education and experience. Language is art, is making, and so, in this case, with photography. Language brings humankind to expressions despite what we know and deposits us on the edges of what we imagine (poieses). Alexander von Humboldt, in the concluding sentences of his last major work, “Kosmos”, says this much more eloquently:
‘…laws of a more mysterious
nature rule the higher spheres of the organic world, in which
is comprised the human species in all its varied conformation,
its creative intellectual power, and the languages to which
it has given existence. A physical delineation of nature
terminates at the point where the sphere of intellect begins,
and a new world of mind is opened to our view. It marks the
limit but does not pass it.’
Sunspot On Floor, Ranakpur Jain Derasar, Ranakpur, Rajasthan, India, November 12, 1995. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Wyndstone vellum), from original 8×10 negative.
There is this matter of style. We think of style as a way of expressing that is innate (nature) and born of stuff far beyond our ken. Or we think of this as something that can be shaped (nurture) and subject to reason and formulae. Or, as with the nature/nurture dichotomy, the matter is just blended in varying amounts, depending on how lazy we feel. But, there may be ways of considering style that let us access meaning and substance rather than remain entangled with just materiality. I have heard others say (was it Sudek, or Minor White?) that even though we spew out thousands of photographs, mostly we are making the same kind of image.
The photographs at the Lal Kila (Red Fort) in Delhi, and here, the Sunspot in Ranakpur suggest this sameness. Graphically, certainly, they are similar – that spiraling motif, akin to projections (in-jections?) of the external world in rectangular prisms, both facets and coheres the photographs. And what these photographs are of is related: India, marble, light, architecture for instance. Posting other such images, as I may over the next few days, provides evidence of a stylistic pathway in my work, and brushing my palms, I could lean back and say, done, validated, self-pat on back, jolly good, and carry on. But carry on where, and what have I really uncovered?
I feel that Makers (artists, scientists, craftspeople, farmers, cooks, parents, teachers…) are very much like field archaeologists. They arrive at a moment of action with care. They glean pathways and find those edges of the unknown that are most likely to yield understanding and knowledge, or at the very least some reassurance that what is discovered relates to what came before. An archaeologist detects and discerns, and carefully separates the less significant from the more significant, all the while (ideally) trying to access signals that point to authenticity. Logos. I suspect that these photographs are similar not because of my stylistic leanings, but because I keep seeing the same image, and that this persistence is significant. So, having made several, and feeling the significance of the bridging points, I make more. It points to some kind of logos, or authenticity. The sameness of an image also points to a greater theoretical cohesion or rational. And yet the modes of logos and theory seem in conflict with each other.
There are bridges, such as the one rendered by Alexander von Humboldt (bringing us to Ecology and environmental systems), that connect nature and nurture, or such as those raved about by William Blake that connect logos and rationalism, that together point to a different way of thinking about style. And, by extension, about individuality: is my true face also your true face, what is being projected to where, is it uncovering or expressing, is there an edge or is it all about interstice?
I know, I am not really getting anywhere. But I am trying to go everywhere.
Door. Dolly. Lal Kila, Delhi, India, November 2, 1995. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Wyndstone vellum), from original 8×10 negative.
In a pocket of earth
I buried all the accents
of my mother tongue
there they lie
like needles of pine
assembled by ants
one day the stumbling cry
of another wanderer
may set them alight
then warm and comforted
he will hear all night
the truth as lullaby
John Berger, ‘And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos’, New York, 1991 (p. 91)
Rachel. Lamp. Luca Blurred. Cortona, Italy, April 2010. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Wyndstone vellum) paper from 8×10 inch original negative.
This photograph was made seven years ago. I posted another version of it, printed on Crane paper, with exactly the same sensitizer (1:1 platinum:palladium by molar weight), print-out and same clearing baths – note the huge difference in appearance solely because of the difference in paper.
The Ideal Mathematician, Berriedale, Orkney, January, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder Simili Japon) from 18x24cm original negative.
While I’m thinking, and looking back (see previous post) on old work, about politics, myopia and the environment, this image comes to mind. It was made while reading Daniel Dennett’s and Douglas Hofstadter’s Minds I, of a snow-covered farm field outside my house in Orkney.