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related exhibition:
Photography in the museum
7. July 2013. - 20. October

Mónika Perenyei:

Photography in the museum




I. Photo as panel picture

Hiroshi Sugimoto has been taking photos of places of where people watch movies since the end of the 1970s. His series includes drive-in cinemas, but the majority of his photos document cinema interiors. Constructed to integrate and enhance the effect of the movie scenes, the interiors are composed in a strict and disciplined manner.

Sugimoto composes his images consistently, always from a viewpoint positioned high up, on the balcony and in the axis of the auditorium, close to the projector. The glaring white projection surface, which repeats the plane of the photograph – picture within a picture –, opens up the photos’ depth towards the infinite: a gate to the fantasy world, a harbinger of the projection that enriches the worlds of experiences, it creates a suspense that holds so much promise.

The glare of the monochrome canvas, however, is the product of a remarkable image making technique: the photos were made perfectly synchronously with the movie-event, that is, the exposure time as well as the amount of light that produces the photograph is determined by the film projection. [1]

Using this method, Sugimoto subverts the commonplace notion that associates photography with momentariness, and he inevitably calls attention to the community practices that use the technical image to record and share events and occurrences as fast as possible.

Here, the photograph is not the print of an ephemeral moment on a surface but the materialisation, shaping and spatialisation of a lengthened stretch of time. The images of the projected film cancel one another in the long exposure time of the photography, they are eliminated, while the projection canvas, which basically absorbs the moving image, glares more and more as it gets saturated with light. At the same time, as a source of light, in the magic darkness of the cinema theatre the projection makes possible a photographic developing of parts of the space that are invisible and motionless for the spectator.

Conceived in the illusion of movement, the ephemeral movie experience is replaced by a sensory cognition, anchored in space: the theatrical scene of the movie is revealed in the still image emerging from the film’s glare, and this scene offers itself to observation and a theoretical approach. While it enriches the photographic image with a further dimension, the mise en abyme structure of photographic images also opens a space in the discursive space of the theories of photography, and seems to challenge the temporality-based theories of technical images.

Separated as genres by the nature of their temporality, film and photography come to blend here. Although according to the prevailing commonplace notion, the photographic image as the basic unit of the celluloid film is inferior to the moving image, by expanding to encompass film-time, Sugimoto challenges the hierarchy of genres, which attributes a kind of extra quality to film because of its temporal dimension. The photographic act, which exploits, accommodates or even devours, renders the chattering of the movie silent; the clattering rhythm of the moving image quiets down, and with the glaring of the projection surface and by highlighting the interior’s magnificence, the halting of the animation that creates the illusion of movement becomes solemn.

Of course, with the decline of the movie theatre, whose mementos are Sugimoto’s photographic objects, the dominance of the moving image is far from over. In community practices using technical images, such as news programmes, it is hard to compete with the speed and amount of moving images produced with video cameras. Recorded moving images are a source of information for TV news channels as well as the print media, given the fact that video footage can be cut and frozen however and whenever necessary. It is the function, the editor’s intention that determines what you highlight in a stretch of moving images.

Viktoria Binschtok’s large panel pictures, ’frames’ cut and blown up from video news streams, we witness the moments when it is the greedy frenzy to record images, the effort to highlight moments that blur the details of the sensational spectacle; the snap images where light itself blights the recording of the moment are accentuated here by way of framing.

The art photo object on the wall of the exhibition space uses the same source and technology as the media image in the news, print media products and virtual space, however, it is radically different as it is intended for representation, installed accordingly, and the spectator encounters and interprets it in a different situation. “Genres are not technical definitions but acts of exclusion and appropriation which tend to reify some ’significant other.’ ” [2]

Stretching the boundaries of the film as a genre, a productive blending of the photographic still image with the moving image, that is, the interaction of the technical images that use the same material but offer different possibilities for representation has always inspired artists. [3] They images approached images more bravely than theoreticians, who were motivated more by the hubris of categorization, classification by genre and making clear distinctions. Over time, the desire of theoreticians to grasp the nature of photography has become more and more distant and unachievable, as due to the development of technology and the changes in the practice of its use, photography is changing constantly.

For many decades, the theory of photography was dominated by the terminology of semiotics (index, icon, symbol), which also marked out its limits. As Roland Barthes also recognised – while his followers less so –, semiotics and the verbal structures of language for the expression of time comes up against its limits when it endeavours to describe the temporality of the photograph. That is to say, if the photograph has temporality at all, and we would not be better off if we tried to find the traces of time experiences and time images more in the convention of photographers’ practices, in the intention to create technical images and attributing a function to them. [4]

Due to the popularity and dominance of the film, the problem and analytical use of the photography appears earlier in film making than the use of film elements in photographic still images. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), the photo journalist confined to his room because of his accident uses his camera as a telescope and not as an image making tool. With his investigative work, the journalist appears as a last representative of photojournalism, an activity becoming extinct, a world where people still look out the window, and do not yet fix their eyes on the TV screen.

As David Campany also points out, an interesting area is that of composite pictures, made out of movies’ publicity stills, images published in magazines and presented in cinemas, and the posters made of photos and stills taken during the shooting (that is, photos taken of films, or frames cut out of films strips). [5] In other words, while in the film’s narrative, photography is a metaphor of absence and mystery, in advertising for movies the photograph and the narrative potential of editing become more significant.

In his Blow-up (1966), Michelangelo Antonioni dismisses the authenticating and evidencing function of the photograph through the gaze of a popular fashion photographer. Burnt out in the artificial milieu of glamour, a professional photographer gets entangled in a perplexing situation when he embarks on a documentaristic experiment. Blurred details of photos he took while rambling in a park (later identified as a crime scene) point to a mysterious murder. However, by blowing up the photos we cannot enter the image and thereby into the reality that would provide the solution to the mystery. Instead, we come up to the material reality of the image breaking up to grains.

In Pál Zolnay’s film drama (Photography, 1973), the image of the characters recorded on film using improvisative methods differs sharply from the touched-up surface of the idealised photo portraits taken during the film shooting. The photos are meant to preserve memories for the generations to come, and they set the process of remembering into motion. Their creation is accompanied by a narration of family tragedies. The photo portraits are adjusted to the self-image and to expectations of beautification. They are made for the family, and are easy and quick to look at in order to recollect memories. The discordance between their mask-like rigidity and the plasticity of the film images that the audience get to see is shocking, as are the dramatic stories breaking forth from below the surface.

The never fading effect and timelessness of Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), a photo movie on the theme of time travel, results partly from the fact that in the presentation of the story oscillating between the past, present and future, the photo is not tied to any of the time planes exclusively. Accompanied by voice-over narration, each still frame is held out long, stimulating the viewer’s imagination and mental images, unleashing the temporal flexibility of static photography, which Roland Barthes attempted to describe as the illogical association of linguistic tenses in his Rhetoric of the Image. [6]

However, it was The Third Meaning, another essay by Barthes, also published in Artforum in English, that eliminated restraints and allowed free way to the enthusiasm and competence of artists working with photographic images. [7] Arguing for the object of his maddening passion, the still image, Barthes takes revenge on the moving image, enjoying every moment of it, as he dwells on the details for Eisenstein’s film stills and is led to the staid conclusion that the filmic can be grasped not only in movement and the film scene, that is, paradoxically, not in the film’s “natural” but in its artefact, the still image, the image quality of the frames.

. The relationship of photograph and film can be conceived of as a palimpsest without vertical sub- and superordination, a surface of images fading into one another. This can best be perceived when the images are frozen. Using the techniques of re-viewing we not only free ourselves from the constraints of the narrative and the director’s intentions, but scanning the full surface of a film still, dwelling on the details gradually revealing themselves also allows us to enrich the levels of meaning by discovering the latent relations between the narrative and the frozen image of a scene, as well as the image of a scene and the material.

1973. A year in the times when several American film studios sold their immense still image archives. When these images appeared on the market, artists were also among the people who began to collect cinema photos (movie stills, audience photos, film shooting stills), and create archives, collections of visual sources that ignored or rearranged the structure of the film industry (studio, director, movie star, film genre). Such artists include John Baldessari, considered as the Californian god-father of conceptual art, who considers that the greatest artist of the 20th century was not Andy Warhol, but Jean-Luc Godard, who used all sorts of still images in his films (posters, paintings, pages of newspapers) very meaningfully. [8]

By the end of the decade, photographic panel pictures of acting out imaginary film scenes (Cindy Sherman) or re-enacting everyday situations in a film-like manner [9] (Jeff Wall), that is, photographic images appropriating the methods and techniques of film production (designing scenes, adaptation, casting, test shots, montage, post-production) get to be exhibited in museums.

Photo-based moving and still images are finally merged in the archive of our visual remembrances – in our memory, which stores visual impressions mostly as still images. The line gets blurred between our mental images and the technical images untied from their medium. Set-ups, locations, colours, moods and effects function as references for the interpretation of the stream of visual impulses that we constantly encounter and also for our creation of images. Film experiences (and media images) become parts of cultural memory, and leave readable trace in the iconography of visual arts.

Stephan Huber’s Shining, a visual object consisting of two light boxes refers to Stanley Kubrick’s eponymous thriller (1980) not only by its title and visual world. The Austrian artist built up the film’s location of fears and mysteries, the snow-covered mountains around the Overlook hotel, from a material resembling confectionery. The self-revealing presentation of how miniature stage sets are used to create monumental effects is also an ironically saccharine representation of conspiracy theories still surrounding the film today. As the documentaries Room 237, Shining Code and Shining Code 2.0 demonstrate, a film can excite and inspire the audience’s imagination for decades, but it can also manacle their minds.

Ian Flemming’s (the author of the James Bond stories, also a former agent) 1971 James Bond story, in which 007 discovers the movie studio in Hollywood where the scenes of Man stepping on the Moon were shot (Diamonds are Forever), and the suspicion of Kubrick being the author of the footage documenting the Moon expedition (Apollo 11) can be related as elements of a disquieting mystery. Conspiracy theory fans would be overjoyed to find out that Kubrick’s Shining is a visually coded disclosure of this mystery. Just like in Huber’s light-boxes titled Shining, where the attractive but also caricature-like staging of the visual effect, revealing to the viewer what is behind the representation, is part of the author’s intention.

The paradox of photographic stasis animated sequences of film image (that is, the immobility of the image in the film frame and the movement of the film image) inspired the practice of many directors, including Alfred Hitchcock and Roberto Rossellini. It is not by accident that with the advancement of digital technology, and the ensuing opening up of genres, movies became the sources of works of fine art as well as of theoretical studies on reception theory and genre crossover. [10]

In his classic thriller, Psycho, Hitchcock has no mercy on the protagonist, and even less on the audience. Instead of ending the story with the protagonists getting married as expected, we are confronted with the trauma of death, suggesting equivalence between two usual ways to end a story: passing away and happy end, which is also a slightly sarcastic comment on the institution of marriage. The dreadful shock calms down with the camera slowly zooming in and then concluding in a long sequence with a still-image effect, the victim’s eyes in premier plan.

By doing so, already at quarter of the way through the story, the director creates a link between the usual closing motif of film narratives unfolding in motion (death or marriage), which is also the act of stopping the moving image, with the static photographic image, the basic unit of film. Having crossed this threshold in the space of self-reflexion, [11] in the rest of the story Hitchcock leaves the celluloid, which is for recording and preserving still images and is brought in to motion by way of animation, to preparations, such as the eerie (in Freud’s term unheimlich) world of the living dead Norman Bates, who mummifies his mother to keep her ’alive’. While less explicitly, but at the same more poetically, Rossellini had earlier experimented with the presence of photography in film in his Journey to Italy.

South Italian relics of art and archaeology, such as ancient sculptures, artefacts unearthed in Pompeii with the method of positive-negative (!) casting and the remains of human bodies in church crypts can be related associatively to photography, which, according to Bazin, can be conceived of as a cast or a mummy, that is, as a unity of model and image, thereby embalming time. [12] The cultic statues now displayed in museums are memories frozen amid the flow of life, these, and other dead objects that set memory work into motion come alive in the gaze of the camera closing up, and in the sensitive viewer’s exploring gaze. [13]

The world of the dead, which upsets the world of the living with remembrance, becomes a key motif in the film’s narrative. Full of the conceit and self-confidence of the English aristocracy, the Joyces arrive in Naples and the fragile harmony of their relationship soon topples over the rich cultural memories of the Italian city, which had seen natural disasters and historical cataclysms, always re-emerging from them flourishing with the passion of life and the proliferation of extremes. Arising memories of a suitor who died young leads the couple to follow separate paths when they set out to discover Naples. The personal memories evoked by what they see, memories arising of the dead thwart even the most delicate attempts to get close to each other, just like in James Joyce’s short story, The Dead. In Rossellini’s last film with Ingrid Bergman the documentaristic recording of Naples is interwoven with the inner journey and reception as a love adventure, as Katherine’s husband calls her solitary walks ironically. We recognise here a viewer’s attitude where the subject orchestrating his or her far-from-innocent visual experiences plays an active role in the inevitable merging of fragmentary impressions and volatile memories. And therefore, the subject plays a responsible role in getting ahead.

II. Photo as performative act

The decline of the cinema, the appearance of DVD editions, internet access and multi-channel television makes possible, or rather forces, the emergence of viewers’ techniques – for example, in the case of movies constantly interrupted by TV commercials – which seem extravagant compared to the protocol of watching films in a disciplined manner in the cinema, but they also carry the promise of shaking off constraints and allowing more space for the personal. Victor Burgin recalls André Breton and Jacques Vaché’s favourite pastime, aleatoric film watching, zapping through cinemas in Nantes to condense visual impressions, ignoring ready-made and therefore boring film narratives. [14]

According to the usual manner of watching movies between the two world wars, their casual walking in and out of cinemas was not considered as extraordinary. At the same time, carrying this arbitrary cutting of projected films to the extreme, the ’personal montaging’, of accumulated visual experiences appears as a form of overwriting and mocking the film industry’s visual regime. Meanwhile, Roland Barthes regarded as much more intriguing and worthy of attention the cinema, the space of the film experience, the locus that condenses the modern eroticism of the big city, brings viewers who do not know one another close and relaxes them. [15]

These little but all the more pleasurable avant-garde techniques of the personal diversions of film narratives have become routine by now. Abounding in flashing images, the Media Age, where works are known only fragmentarily, this form of viewing moving images has become customary. We preserve our film experiences in our memory, but we also record images flashing as we walk down the street and scan the media surfaces, and they crop up later to influence our perception, cognition and imagination. Linked into sequence-images, [16] fragments of films flashing unexpectedly as memories in our stream of perception can also influence our moods. Besides the challenges posed by an intrusive mediatised visual environment, this psychological aspect of recognising and processing images also plays a part in reception receiving more and more attention in the theory and analysis of art.

More than just recognising how VCR and DVD players have changed our film-viewing techniques, Laura Mulvey develops new ways to analyse films from them. Her method is a practical realisation and further development of Barthes’ desire expressed in The third meaning, quoted above. Mulvey distinguishes the enthusiastic spectator, whom she calls the possessive spectator, one who immerses in the products and the star cult of the film industry without reflection, and the pensive spectator. Of course, this theoretical distinction between the types of spectators is not absolute. Mulvey also notes that they can blend. Nevertheless, this strict and simplified conceptual framework makes clearly visible the challenges posed by the visual environment dominated by fragmentary impressions, as well as the consequences of our perception and the spectator’s potential responses.

By slowing down the images, repeating or freezing them and taking time to observe the details we can enter films distributed in a digital format. As a result, the entire celluloid film universe can become a terrain for discovery (obviously, films’ availability sets a limit to this). In this delayed manner of viewing films the fictional time of the moving image becomes secondary, while the temporality of the photographic image (which serves as the basis of the moving image), freezing the moment and breaking the limits of linguistic tenses, moves into the foreground. [17]

The topographic exploration of film images, observing the relationship of the details and the whole, may lead to recognitions and realizations that would be lost in the movie experience. Mulvey’s method of delaying can also be applied to fine art photo objects that fit far more into the tradition of the painterly image. These are also stills, however, not in the same sense as frozen film images are, but as ones that continue the tradition of painterly compositions with a structure (tableau), and genres, such as landscapes, portraits still-lifes, and theatrical tableau-vivants. They are still spatial and temporal constructions. Jacques Ranciére uses the concept of the pensive as an adjective to describe a work that combines various modes of representation. [18] The photograph is ambivalent as it records and represents at the same time, inspiring the model’s role-plays and also documenting the unintentional details. This makes it a paradigmatic example of the pensive image (the concept presumably deriving from Roland Barthes’s pensive text and a note in Camera Lucida) [19]. Ranciére brings Rineke Dijkstra’s works as representative examples of the pensive image.

Mulvey’s pensice spectator (like the marchioness in Honoré de Balzac’s short story Sarrasine) [20]) correlates with Ranciére’s emancipated spectator. Emancipated from the interpretations of professional art interpreters, the idea of the active spectator who is open for personal experience and willing to think on his or her own appeared and was encouraged already in John Berger’s educational TV series, Ways of Seeing in the early 1970s. [21]

A painter, writer and art historian, Berger is still a committed advocate of the idea of enriching the space between the work and the audience, a way of writing that leaves space for the audience. Theorists’ observations and desires present from the 1970s converge here into a system of ideas, not independently of literary theory, where the space shaped by the interaction between the work and the recipient becomes a key concept. The preconditions for the interaction that opens up that space are an image object, which leaves the meanings open, is complex in its planes of representation (pensive), inspires the spectator’s imagination and visual memories, and also medial reflexion, which is active in process of the work’s creation as well as in its reception.

Becoming an aesthetic term with time, pensive was introduced into the visual discourse by Raymond Bellour in his influential film theory, analysing a medially self-reflexive film. The stasis, still image (frozen frame or filmed photo) in the film suspends film time physically as well as psychically, and by changing the rhythm, it expands it towards spatial perception. In the still image in the film that articulates the space, the experience of time, which emerges as a result of the long zooming-in, leads the spectator to reflect (be pensive). [22]

The spatial dimension of delayed perception is realised, literally, in the radical change of photography’s status in the museum, in the photograph’s position in the museum space. Presenting the creative process, experimenting in a broad spectrum of the photographic method’s medial characteristics, artists’ photo objects have changed the role of the photographic image in visual representation. The photos’ installation technique (panel, projection) and monumental scale, has raised photography from the sphere of the documentary to that of the myth and myth representation (Dezsõ Szabó, Pál Szacsva y). [23]

A locus hosting image objects determined by their material and by their medial characteristics, the museum has become a space for presenting our myths associated with photos, and for encountering these myths. From documentation, the photographic image shifts towards representation, where the subject of representation can be the mythical scale of the conventions and automatisms related to photography, the role of the photograph in replacing real, physically existing places and sensory experiences, and in influencing our mental images (Alexandra Ranner), that is, a representative problematisation of these socio-cultural phenomena (Anna Fabricius).

The advancement of digital technology and the retreat of celluloid photography have inspired a renaissance of medium analysis in photo theory. Theorists’ intention to systematize extends to making a sharp distinction between analogue and digital imaging, declaring photography dead (reviving the discourse about the death of painting).

The questions they raise are intriguing, their argumentations are convincing, but the approaches closest to my heart are the ones that take a position in their analysis of the medium pointing out the identical features of analogue and digital photography, while presenting the differences focusing on individual photographic image objects, from the aspects of function, technique, author’s intention, participants in the process and distribution.

The practical reason for my position is that in the times of media-convergence the two techniques inevitably merge in the realisation of the image objects, and many authors combine diverse techniques to produce strong effects that lead to recognitions regarding the relationship of visual representation and perception, image construction and our reality (Gábor Õsz).

David Claerbout’s Shadow Piece is a digital montage of an archive photo and video images projected in a monumental size. Scenes with passers-by peeping inside or trying to force the door open are projected accurately and in harmony with the black-and-white tones on the surface of a photo taken inside a modernist building with glass walls, allowing a view of the space outside. Just like the locked glass door makes it impossible for people to enter the building, the surface of the photo image also remains impenetrable. In the cheerful, sunny image, only the long shadows of onlookers ‘get through’ the glass. The oscillation between the inner and outer point of view, surface and the illusion of depth, static and mobile becomes the source of dense layers of meaning.

Dubbed with sound effects, the photographic palimpsest produces its sensory effect in a special space, a cinema constructed in the museum; by hosting moving images, the paradigmatic locus of modernist art, the white cube [24] turned into a special cinema. This contemplative spectatorial position makes possible an analytic observation of technical images, which emerged with modernism, as well as of modernist buildings (as constructions and institutions), while watching the constantly recurring images makes it possible to ‘freeze’ time, and a resulting subjective experience of time enables the spectator to resist the messages imposed by images.

It is fundamentally misleading even to relate photography to the notion of reality, warns Michel Frizot French historian of photography, editor and author of the Nouvelle histoire de la photographie, a representative volume of essays and studies on photo archaeology. [25] Offering concepts promising to bring theory closer to practice, Frizot identifies the characteristics that celluloid and digital photography share. By doing so, he advances beyond the tradition of semiotics. According to Frizot, as we cannot define reality, also since we continually shape it ourselves too (among other things with our imaging technologies and telecommunications technologies), ”photography does not refer to reality any more than painting does.” [26]

The fallacy of identifying the camera lens with the eye has led an illusion that is hard to give up, namely, that what we see in the photographic image is an accurate, mirror-like image of our world. Photography, which is merely a means to record data, can be related only to one single reality: light, which can be conceived of as a totality of photons, Frizot points out, also indicating his intention to avoid references to the rich symbolism and the archaic connotations of the term light. Projection, which can be described in terms of geometry, creates an image that shows an unsurpassable likeness to the world that can be perceived with our eyes, in other words, a homological relationship with that world, and therefore, it strongly stimulates our imagination and cognitive desire. However, this homological projection is far too rich and complex to be described in terms of indexing and semiotics. In a photograph, mechanical data recording is confronted with vision, embedded in culture, influenced by knowledge and emotions, changing in the dynamic interaction of gazes.

Resulting from the fact that it can be distributed and multiplied, the photograph leaves the context of its making almost immediately. Losing the dimensions that would be the most essential for understanding it, it increasingly becomes a means of permanent re-contextualization and visual chattering. If photography, as opposed to the continual metamorphosis of vision, becomes a mechanically created surface getting further and further from any functions of authentication and evidencing, then in it is inevitable for us to turn our attention much more towards practices using photography, and to look in the space of such applications for new angles from which to approach these practices.

We try to understand the surface created in the photographic process not only from the image on or from a set of image-like visual data, but also from the process that leads up to representation, and from the multiplayer playing field of photography. It is also related to this observation with its scope extending in space that we interpret the photograph not only as an image projected on a surface but also as an object that reveals the process of its own creation, and we interpret photographing (and not the photograph!) as a performative act.

It is the simultaneity of the objectual and performative elements of the photograph present in a single image that makes the conceptual works of the 1960s and 70s so exciting. In the case of photos documenting a creative process, performance, land art project or action, it is impossible to tell whether the photo ‘only’ documents or the camera took part in the process as a player also generating the process and the action, such Károly Halász’s work re-enactment of Spiral Jetty. Picture within the picture compositions, situative and tautological images combining various visual registers, as well as the works of Ákos Birkás, Evelyn Richter, Károly Kelemen and Endre Kovács are the perplexing demonstrations of this ambivalence of the photographic act.

Photos born from analytical experiments or through the (digital) editing of existing photographs, by way of constructing scale models of spectacles or re-staging the scenes of an original source image exist as objects in today’s practices of art photography. An artistic practice based on media analysis turns technical and material characteristics, as well as the situation in which the photo is made into formal features. As a result, the presentation of the circumstances of the making of the photo gains significance, and besides the visual narrative, the process of the image’s creation also becomes part of the object.

By encoding the technical and medial elements that generate the meaning, the interpretative framework of the photographic image materialise, while the layers of meaning rooted in the process are also revealed. Narrowing the contexts is not an arbitrary act on the part of the author, but much rather an act of opening towards the spectator who is also sensitive to the medium. The effects of sensory-material characteristics perceived by the spectator (e.g.: scale, the effects of the difference of textures) in the exhibition space make the photographic image object unique, not only in terms of copyright. The uniqueness of the work lies in the inseparability of the objectual qualities, the form and the author’s concept. It becomes resistant, along with its political aspects, to the practical and theoretical questions of multiplication and the de-contextualised circulation of images.

In the performative act of photographing the characters in the image are also active participants of the multi-player game of photography. Traditionally associated with photography, the exclusivity of the auhor’s viewpoint comes to be challenged, as the images are born from a multi-player performative act. Besides the preferences of the person who makes the exposure, the image is shaped by the intentions, concepts and permanent interaction of those participating in the visualisation as well. This method is also present in the distinguished genre of representational art, the portrait (Péter Puklus, Lilla Szász, Elina Brotherus, Lilla Khoór).

As opposed to photographers’ usual practice of freezing the image into a mask and disguise in a fragment of a second, and to the production of disappointingly alienated surfaces, by multiplying portraits or lengthening the time spent in front of the camera, and also importantly, by ‘painting over’ the photographs, it is possible to render the dignity of the personality, so unarrestably lively in the reciprocity of gazes, and it is also possible to present the diversity of ways in which the subjects identify with their roles. Shown in close-up in Andy Warhol Screen Tests – these portraits documenting the Factory circle – the faces spontaneously play on a delicately calibrated scale of emotional states and moods in the four minutes they spend on camera. Made with long exposure times of several minutes, in Kyungwoo Chun’s photographic portraits (the artist calls these works performances) the contours are soft, the face acquires a depth and it almost seems to move.

In photography conceived of as a performative act – in the inter-play of author, characters and camera – the photographed scene or action unfolds and becomes reality through the process of photographing. The resulting photography is therefore not the record of a phenomenon or event that exists independently of the camera, since what appears before our eyes with photographic accuracy here is much more the photographic presentation, and the recording as reality, of experiments with representation, fantasies, or fictitious roles (Róbert Benke Szabó).

The static photograph can serve not only as an indexic evidence of a past moment, but also as a future-oriented representation of desires, or a timeless, surreal projection of fears. In David Cambell and Nicolas Roeg’s film titled The Performance (1970), photographing and the photo are preliminary signs of the change the characters will soon go through, of merging of their personalities, the productive integration of the roles of the characters absorbed in love. In Nicolas Roeg’s thriller, Don’t Look Now (1973) the photograph is not only a preliminary sign of the future but an element of reality that shapes the future and has an impact on the course of life.

Interestingly, the emergence of the photographic still image as a fiction also subverts our time experience associated with the photograph. From an intransigent definition of the photographic image as one that only acquires a meaning in relation to the past, mummifying events of the past, we progress to a more flexible concept of the photographic image, which is suitable for the presentation and representation of various time-experiences and layers of time.


Translated by Zsolt Kozma

[1] Overexposing the projection screen composed in the picture’s axis, the shining surface also creates the feeling of infiniteness, opening the surface towards its depth. Creating and using depth space enriches the image with spatial directions, and therefore, it dinamizes it too. See: Wolfgang Kemp: Die Raume der Maler: Zur Bilderzahlung seit Giotto. Verlag C.H. Beck (1996) ‘Opening’ the space of the narration in the 15th century is a consequence of the use of the central perspective. However, this geometrical method of construction also dominates the optical structure of the photocamera, and consequently, the method photographic imaging. In Sugimoto’s accurately constructed images, a full movie, a complete story is focused in this depth space.

[2] W. J. T. Mitchell: The Politics of Genre: Space and Time in Lessing's Laocoon. in: W. J. T. Mitchell: Representations No. 6 (Spring, 1984), pp. 98-115

[3] “A rare reciprocity emerges: the teacher learns from the student. It is a reciprocal laboratiry: photography is an experimental field of film – film is a developer of and an inspiration for film.” – says László Moholy-Nagy in his study A fényképezés megújulása (The Renewal of Photography) in the first half of the 1930s. in: A festéktõl a fényig (From pigment to light). Kriterion Könyvkiadó, Bucharest, 1979. p47.

[4] Of course, photography as an image-making method and invention can be related to the concept of time prevailing in the social and cultural environment it was born in. see: Geoffrey Batchen: Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography, MIT Press, 1999.

[5] David Campany: Photography and Cinema. Reaktion Books, 2008. pp.19-21.

[6] The photographic image is the realisation of the illogical connection of the here and now with the then and there. Roland Barthes: Rhetoric of the Image in: Roland Barthes: Image Music Text. English translation by Stephen Heath, Fontana Press, London, 1977. p44.

[7] Roland Barthes: The Third Meaning: Research Notes on Some Eisenstein Stills, Artforum, IX/5 (January 1973). First published: Le troisieme sens, Cahiers du cinéma, 222 (1970) in: Roland Barthes: Image Music Text. Selected and translated into English by Stephen Heath, Fontana Press, London, 1977. pp 52-68.

[8] A Brief History of John Baldessari http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eU7V4GyEuXA

[9] Reenactment, the act of reperforming everyday scenes observed, experienced or known from word of mouth has a decisive role in Jeff Wall’s artistic practice, his ‘one-frame cinematic productions’.

[10] E.g.: Dougles Gordon: 24 hour Psycho; and Laura Mulvey’s collection of essays and studies: Death 24x a Second. Stillness and the Moving Image. Using, among others, Rosellini’s and Hitchcock’s movies quoted here, in this volume, Mulvey presents her method of film interpretation inspired by Roland Barthes, André Bazin and Freud’s psychoanalysis.

[11] Freezing the film based on the photographic image is a tool of film-makers’ self-reflexion. By stopping the image, suspending movement and the narrative, the image and the material of the film come to overlap. The spectator’s reflexion can sart in the experience of time expanded by halting the story.

[12] André Bazin, The ontology of the photographic image. in: André Bazin: What is Cinema? University of California Press, 1968.

[13] In his essay Archives of Modern Art Hal Foster discusses the ambivalence of the museum emerging with modernity, where the institution objectifies and animates at the same time. October 99, Winter 2002, pp. 81-95.

[14] Victor Burgin: The Remembered Film, Reaktion Books, London, 2004. pp. 7-8.

[15] ibid. p34.

[16] ibid. p21. Invented by Victor Burgin, the term sequence-image is used to refer to an object type image rather than a narrative one. It can be described as a successive and not a teleological configuration of memory images.

[17] Laura Mulvey: Death 24x a Second. Stillness and the Moving Image, Reaktion Books Ltd, London, 2006. 183-184.

[18] Jacques Ranciére: The emancipated spectator. http://exindex.hu/index.php?l=en&page=3&id=687

[19] Pensive, as the term to describe the artwork’s openness, the spectator’s active role in creating the work, repeating it and deciphering its code instead of just receiving in passively, was introduced by Roland Barthes in his book interpreting Honoré de Balzac’s short story titled Sarrasine. Meanwhile, in Camera lucida, his essay inspired by his “ontological desire (…) to learn at all costs what Photography was 'in itself’”, (La chambre claire. Note sur la photographie, 1980) writes this: “Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks.” Camera Lucida, Vintage Books, London, 2000. p38.

[20] The last sentence of Honoré de Balzac’s short story, Sarrasine (1830) is this: “Et la marquise resta pensive.” In English: “And the marchioness was lost in thought.”

[21] John Berger: Ways of Seeing. 1972, BBC.

[22] Raymond Bellour: The Pensive Spectator, in: Wild Angle IX/1 (1987) pp6-10. reprinted: The Cinematic, ed. David Campany , Camridge, MA, and London, 2007.

[23] In his fictitious diary novel published in 1958, with its plot taking place between 1952 and 1956, John Berger presents Janos Lavin, an immigrant painter of Hungarian origins living in London, who writes this in his diary: ”Whenever a society has been consciously concerned with its collective legends, painters have been given large walls or ceilings to paint them on. When private property itself became the legend, the small easel picture became the new art form. Today our handicap is a simple one; we await the time when people will no longer just use walls for hiding themselves and their property.” John Berger: Painter of Our Time, Penguin, 1958. p124.

[24] Brian O’Doherty: Inside the White Cube. The Ideology of the Gallery Space. University of California Press, 2000.

[25] Nouvelle histoire de la photographie, Bordas et Adam Biro, 1994. First English-language edition: A New History of Photography, 1998.

[26] Michel Frizot: Who’s Afraid of Photons? In: James Elkins (szerk.): Photography Theory. Routledge, 2007. 269-283. p. 272. „Photography does not refer to reality any more than painting does, in fact, we cannot define reality.”

6. March 2014.
exindex 2000-2008
C3 Center for Culture and Communication