Some words about some photography that is whirling around in my mind at the moment: That of Salgado, the “Seduced by Art’ show at the National Gallery and the ‘interesting effects’ of infra red photography.
On the cover of the “Seduced by Art” exhibition catalogue is Ori Gersht’s “Blow Up: Untitled, 2007, . An image with quite a big ‘wow-factor’, similar but more ‘explosive’ than this shot courtesy of Bridgeman. In fact it is a high definition image frame taken from a high speed video of the detonation of a ‘still life’ and one of a series of similar pieces of work that Gersht has created. The catalogue isn’t very forthcoming with regard to the artist’s motivation here and I am left wondering. I sat and watched the video being shown at the NG which used sound to build the tension between the viewer and the screen and there was, for me, an elemental and savage beauty in the slow motion detonation of these cryogenically frozen blooms. I remember wondering about whether Gersht thought the same as me about the oxymoronic title of ‘still life’ and whether this was his attempt at subverting the genre in this rather dramatic way. I’m still not sure. What I can say is that it is interesting how this artist and others are using high quality video imagery and extracting frames as part of their work – I mentioned this in my previous post – here – when talking about the decisive moment. About how the photographer can now worry no more about the difficulties of guessing when that moment might be and now just concern themselves about where to point the lens, whilst feeling somewhat assured that the ‘best’ shot can be culled in the comfort of the editing suite.
Thinking of Salgado and how his photography has been lauded for many years now, about how his emblematic series “Genesis” which has been on the go for over eight years and how those pictures continue to make people suck in breath and exclaim how fantastic they are. And they are fantastic shots. Pictures taken in, for most inaccessible places, places for some that were not known about, that if they died out it would be that they had never existed before. About how the people he has documented have – in terms denoted by western liberal democracies – sometimes denigrated themselves in the pursuit of a better life, of an escape to their own personal deliverances. All of his pictures are full of the wow-factor, utilizing the veritas of monochrome photography, depictions that sometimes seem monumental in their proportions and speak of the human and environmental costs in parts of the world most of us will never see. There is no doubt in my mind that Salgado has contributed to the debate on environmental issues, though how much would be difficult to define, and it also true that is fame has allowed his voice to be heard. I don’t think that he has done anything morally wrong, it’s just I have a feeling that his work is just a little too loud, but maybe best a shrill voice than no voice at all.
And then to infra red photography. There is a conversation going on here and here, to which I have contributed, it hasn’t changed my mind about how I feel about the technology. About how the wow-factor of IR has been used by amateur photographers (and I don’t mean to denigrate amateur photographers at all by that statement) to achieve a ‘different effect’, I have borrowed the term ‘tricksy’ to describe how I feel about it. I can understand the ephemerality of the image that presents a visually distorted view by shifting the captured light from a slightly different spectrum. However by doing so it doesn’t alter what has been captured, just how it has been presented. Much as in the early attempts at colour photography and lately HDR photography the presentation of images that defy the human eye’s capability of recognition, but the brain’s ability to decode into a satisfactory conclusion isn’t, for me, justification for using the technology as an end in itself. Richard Mosse has used it to great effect, in my view, by looking at the situation before him and using the medium to present that panorama in a transgressional way that subverts all in it’s path. To simply use the technology as a means to ‘create’ a ‘different’ view of something suggests an easy cop – out, rather than implant one’s capability to generate a personal view that doesn’t rely on a wow-factor. I want to believe that the photographer – at least this photographer in the making – should be able to develop a solid reasoned approach to how the image is constructed without the use of technologies that are an overlay rather than an integral part of the construction of the image.