Sunday, 11 March 2012

Thoughts of time

From the 1st Sequence of Visual Threshold - reprinted with the kind permission of the artist Stefano Bernardoni
I have been thinking about the course and doing a fare amount of research, looking for photographers, talking to photographers, seeking advice and inspiration from wherever I can find it. It has been quite a fruitful exercise. I have found a number of photographic artists, the names of some I have passed onto other students and fellow photographers, some of whom have made me stop and think about my work and where I would like it to go. I am still finding it difficult to “let go” of the years of conditioning, but I am finding some real and tangible thoughts that I want to explore, especially around the subject of “People & Place”; about the presence of a place and the presence or not of a person within that space. The transitory notion of inhabitance.

Zarina Bhimji’s work “Out of Blue” is full of the resonance of “inhabitance” of the real notion of the life once led and how the landscape cannot escape the encumbrance of the life that was had, and how the photographer has inextricably linked them and bound them with her own emotive response to the land and her past.

Stefano Bernardoni has also explored inhabitance and memory “..Bernardoni’s work opens a conversation on how we process our time on earth. His images beg the question: Do we keep memories as they were at the time or in that place, or do we edit and tweak them to our liking? Yes, he might answer. We have two records: one of how we know things were and a parallel – and, in this case, photographic – record of how ultimately we remember them. When it comes to our life histories, our tendency toward image-making performs an important emotional function. It can shield us from the misfortune or disappointments that may have come; whatever we didn’t like then, we can remember through a different lens now. …” Zachary Shtogren  AG No. 50.

From the Third Sequence - Dreams in a Mirror - The Revelations reprinted with the kind permission of the artist Stefano Bernardoni

I was prompted to re-read Julian Barnes’ novel “The Sense Of An Ending” by the Creative Writing group who are interested in views from disparate parts of the OCA. Time is the central motif of this novel (perhaps more accurately and contentiously, a novella), and how the view from one’s memory can either be held, and verified as true, or revealed as distorted. I particularly liked this quote “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation”. In the story the hero decides to confront the larger part of his life – he is now in his sixties and these forced reflections take him back from his schooldays to his present. What he thought was profound is raised painfully into a raw vista for him to confront and make sense of, and what he finds, how he structured his life from those early days now seem questionable on the shifting sand that was a firm and level landscape. Another quote: “How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but – mainly – to ourselves.”
The key difference between these three artists is the perspective; Bhimji looks to drive the demons from her past by exorcising the ghosts that refuse to inhabit her images, other than by inference and echo. Bernardoni through the transient ghost like images that exist, sometimes only on the edge of the frame. The images that I have chosen of his all contain a strong sense of "Person within the Place", other images of his depict the "Place" with only the memory of a life once lived. Whilst Barnes’ narrator has only memory, a memory challenged by a previously unknown fact that has affected his perspective of those he held near and afar.

Photographers are documenters, the process of exposure traps a moment in time inescapably for review, but as Barnes says, we can, should we so wish, make cuts, sly or otherwise. The photographer can embellish as Shtogren points out by adopting a different lens, by cropping, by adding distortion, removing the harshness of the sharpened pixel, mollifying the truth with sepia toners. As Kierkegaard reminds us, we review our lives looking backwards and it takes a strong constitution to spend more than a reflective moment to discover the wake of our lives.

It is a curious thing that this photographic artist, Bernardoni, employs transgressive techniques to illuminate his work. For preference Bernardoni used a Pentacon Six medium format camera, which has an extremely good reputation for high quality image rendition and then applies image distortion techniques such as, amongst others, holding spectacles in front of the lens as he shoots. I particularly like the association with the use of glasses, the means by which we improve our capability of “seeing” is used to corrupt his “view” of memory, but maybe illuminating it and by doing so providing a very powerful visual metaphor to compensate for, as Barnes puts it “..the inadequacies of documentation”, when it is a document that could be used to shore up the “imperfections of memory”.

From the 4th Sequence of Visual Threshold - reprinted with the kind permission of the artist Stefano Bernardoni

These three B’s work all invite us to open ourselves for that process of self-discovery, the use of reflection – which is what photographers record – both physical and metaphorical and is something I will continue to investigate further.

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