Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Not quite back in the province of my youth, but close. Such a different scale.
Thinking more about Jeff Wall and now this Vancouver born photographer, who graduated from Emily Carr. Karin Bubas series Studies in Landscape and Wardrobe reminds me a little too much of those 70s fashion spreads mimicking that ubiquitous photographer--soft focus, near nude--was it David Hamilton? Interesting, but no sense of the absorption found in Wall, or in Nan Goldin, or Cindy Sherman (referenced here clearly) for that matter. To the extent that the photograph may or may not suggest a narrative seems essential to its power. I've just made that distinction and now I'll have to grapple with that thought for a while. Wall says he think of his images as prose poems, which is in fact, fabulous. Not in the Crewdson sense of the film still which does not, to my mind, have the same quality as a prose poem. All compression, turn, and sprung, or about to spring. Coiled in any case.

The above photograph taken with a $50 Fujipix camera, just before nightfall on Tunnel Mountain Road. Still hoping to replace my digital.


R. said...

"To the extent that the photograph may or may not suggest a narrative seems essential to its power."

I don't think so. No question of the power of Wall's photographs but does it come out of their relation to narrative? In some (Dead Troops Talking, The Storyteller), certainly; in others (Drowned Grave, An Octopus) I don't think so. Many great photographs certainly aren't narrative, or suggestive of narrative. It's that punctum thing that Barthes talks about, I think, that's the coil & spring you talk about, and that's not about narrative. I don't want to fall into the whole "decisive moment" trap here (which is the photographic equivalent of lyric epiphany) -- and I'm not sure I have the critical vocabulary to take this much further. But one other thing: I think there's a lot of parallel between the way a "good photograph" works, and the way a "good poem" works, and I think by now we all know a "good poem" doesn't have to be narrative, or even "make sense". Likewise a "good photograph".

Chien Bâtard said...

On the other hand, composition itself can suggest narrative, be mimetic that way. Octopus does in fact suggest narrative--why is it there? how did it get there? where are we? why now? The questions pop out, and again, the absorption is immediate.

As for poems, to my mind, poems that absorb are equally engaging. You're probably right that it isn't simply a matter of narrative, but a poem that doesn't ask anything, that doesn't come from a scaffold of thought, doesn't interest me no matter what aesthetic school it arises from.

R. said...

Of course composition (in the sense of arrangement) can suggest narrative, and one of the wonderful things about contemporary literature (and art generally) is the way the narrative space is more open to the suggestion of narrative rather than an insistence on it as a sequential machine that has to run on a certain track. But narrative is still about story, and a story has a beginning, a middle and an end, not necessarily in that order (as Jean-Luc Godard said) and not necessarily explicit either, but still present or at least traceable. To repeat myself, I don't think that has to be the case in photography or poetry. That's not the same as being engaging, or making you think, which are certainly characteristic of good art: asking (or answering) questions isn't the same as telling a story. So, sure, I wonder what that ocotopus is doing there, and I could tell you a story about it, but the image doesn't require it. It's just there. Maybe what I'm saying is that while a narrative has a conclusion (again, perhaps missing but always implied) the real world doesn't, and both photography and poetry can get at that in a pretty direct way.

Chien Bâtard said...

Narrative has conclusion? Who knew.