“Only photographs can be objective because they are related to objects without being an object themselves. However, I can see them as an object as well. So after all they can no longer be and are no longer meant to be objective; and they are not document anything.” Gerhard Richter (1970)
I slowly moved to an abstraction in late 2019, I felt I reached limits with my representational or figurative work so far .
There is long history of 20th century cameraless photographic abstraction (documented in Tate exhibition ‘Shape of light’, 2018). I see the culmination with Wolfgang Tillman’s blow-ups of his darkroom experiments – excellent ‘Freischwimmer’ series in 2004.
At the times when darkroom equipment was disappearing, photographic film being discontinued, I realised that coming from the post-film era my work was deeply rooted in digital photography from the very beginning.
These cameraless images are the result of shifting of digital pixels in computer software rather than light manipulation on light sensitive paper.
I didn’t hire a developer or consult with a technician; it was very important for me to find my own way through the trial and error method, and to see all the means inside the ‘black box’.
Stepping into unknown territory; will the viewer still see them as photographic and connect them automatically with reality or will they see them as a pure artifice, ‘metaphysical’?
“In this culture we tend each to think of ourselves as the protagonist of our own drama. There is little precedent for playing a subordinate role in someone else’s – N” Nancy Christopherson (from Diane Arbus Diaries)
Gap between intention and effect
Michael Fried makes the case of the problematic nature of portrait photography in his book ‘Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before’. He makes the argument that portrait photography can be seen as anti-theatrical. ‘Theatricality’ is when a picture looks deliberately outwards and declares itself to an anticipated audience. ‘Anti-theatricality” – Absorption, when the elements of a picture are constructed without any visible concession being made to an audience, or even to the idea of an audience, and the figures within the image belong to a world of their own – in other words, when the work does not require the audience’s participation to make it complete. (1)
Let’s look closely at absorption in Rineke Dijkstra’s photographs, works of Diane Arbus and Milos Forman’s movies.
Rineke Dijkstra is interested in what Diane Arbus described as ‘gap between intention and effect’ of her subject; the key is the relationship to the photographer. Both artists are looking at the lack of control the subject has in the picture that is being taken. Teenagers in Dijkstra’s photographs try to present themselves in one way but they cannot help and show something else as well. It’s impossible to have everything under control.
When Milos Forman was starting to make his first movies in early sixties in Czechoslovakia, he lived in a dictatorship where censors were controlling everything. He could not stand a ‘theatre’ of pompous, pretentious socialist realism films and their actors. That’s why he wrote his first movies as exact opposites – banal everyday-life stories on the cinema verite basis. He casted unknown teenagers, non-actors because of the authenticity. Also he wanted his audience to fully immerse in the story rather than to watch actors they already know and to think where they saw them last time; in other words established actor’s theatricality was potentially disruptive to the film’s storyline.
Dianne Arbus and her husband worked closely with fashion magazines in the beginning of their career. Once after a fashion shoot together with her husband and magazine’s stylist, she broke down afterwards and cried all night. Strangely the pioneer portraitist of post war America had most of her magazine assignments left unpublished, and was misunderstood by its editors. A person who shared experience working with Arbus as her subject, described her as ‘charming, engaging’ during their shoot together but she collapsed in tears after a day long fashion shoot earlier in her career. It might have been that her creative freedom was denied or was she only excited when she had full control of the process? (2)
(1) Michael Fried: ‘Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before’
(2) Diane Arbus: ‘A Chronology, 1923-1971’