Review: Barbara Probst

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Barbara Probst

When Paul Graham‘s The Present was published and large parts of the photography world went gaga over it, I was a little bit surprised. Make no mistake, it is a good body of work. The book is very well done, and the presentation in the gallery space also left very little to be desired (especially if you enjoyed, gasp!, prints in frames standing on the floor). Truth be told, I’ve always thought that it’s contemporary photography’s inherent conservatism (especially in the United States) that was responsible for part of the reaction to that body of work. It’s probably my background as a scientist that thought Graham could have pushed things a bit more (oh, and I also don’t get excited very easily).

In much the same way, one of the reasons why I am so underwhelmed by pretty much all of the work produced around Google Street View is because it does not address what makes the tool so different from our usual experience. Sure, you can spend days and days on Google Street View, sitting comfortably in front of your computer, and look for haha moments or for your contemporary version of, let’s face it, what other people have done before (and better). There will always be enough curators who are going to be impressed by that alone.

But the very essence of Google Street View remains untouched, unexplored: Here we have a huge number of photographs that can be navigated (so far, so good), photographs that capture almost everything around a given point at the same moment. There is no way you can easily find this anywhere else. Think about it: Our human field of vision is roughly 180 degrees wide, meaning we can see only half of what is around us (to be precise that’s just the horizontal aspect, you need to add to that the rest of the sphere of vision, large parts of which are invisible to us). With Google Street View, you get almost the whole sphere, excluding that relatively small part where the cameras are connected to the car (the system’s blind spot). Thus conceptually, you can do with Google Street View what you cannot do with any other single camera, namely extract moments that are happening at the very same time and that we would be unable to see ourselves.

Here is then where Barbara Probst enters. Probst combines a Grahamian interest in the photographic moment, in how photographs operate and what they tell us, with a general interest in seeing beyond simple photography. The basic idea is fairly straightforward: If you take a photograph with a single camera, you get, well, one photograph, from one particular vantage point. If you take two photographs with two cameras, rigged in such a way that their shutters will take a picture at the very same moment, you move beyond that. You will end up with two vantage points, two photographs of either the same thing or person, from a different angle, or two photographs that show the exact same moment in ways that you wouldn’t be able to see with your own eyes. Needless to say, there is no real reason why you need to stop with two cameras. Use three, four, twelve, however many. In a nutshell, this is what Probst has been exploring.

I doubt my description has made this sound too enticing for most people (possibly excluding those comfortable with approaching photography from a conceptual angle). Once I started looking at Barbara Probst, the book, I also thought I had it all figured out quickly. And I did. For example, the first spread showing one of those sets of pictures has four frames (“Exposure #5: N.Y.C., 545 8th Avenue, 12.20.00, 2:27 p.m.” – the Germans really can’t help themselves when they title work this way; I’ll admit that even though I now chuckle over it, having spent over a decade in the US, it still makes perfect sense to me), each showing a young woman on a rooftop, photographed with four cameras from four very different vantage points, three in b/w, one in colour. The second spread has only two frames, though, and they’re so different that you’re left to wonder what the hell is going on (until you spot the photographer in one of the frames). The fourth spread then had me completely hooked, since it’s essentially a Grahamian game, three frames, a street scene that requires a lot of careful looking to realize these frames were all taken in exactly the same moment.

In other words, what sounds like a very simple and obvious game to play with pictures, something that could become very tedious easily, in reality offers startling insight into how we look at photographs (our expectations based on having seen endless photographs before) and into how photographs operate. As I noted, Probst ups the ante considerably, at times employing  a dozen cameras or more (the book very nicely uses gatefolds to showcase those – here is an example). Studio setting alternate with work done outdoors, and the various modes of photography we know so well are explored – be it street photography or portraiture. You could still think that this would merely be a exercise (like large parts of conceptual photography: you get the concept, and the work, already a bit anemic, deflates like a balloon). But most of the photographs are very good photographs in their own right, with nods left and right to the history of photography. You end up wanting to believe in those pictures, while the very spread you’re looking at reminds you  how much of what you want to believe in is just the result of a game. Barbara Probst thus ends up being completely mesmerizing.

Highly recommended.

Barbara Probst; photographs (and installation shots) by Barbara Probst; essays by Felicity Lunn, Jens Erdman Rasmussen, Lynne Tillman, and an interview with Barbara Probst by Frederic Paul; 192 pages; 2013

Eva Vermandel’s Splinter

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Eva Vermandel

I have literally no idea who any of the people in these pictures are, yet I am interested in each and every one of them. Their world for sure doesn’t look like mine, and most of these people might be a tad more hip than I am (not that that’s hard to achieve). At the same time, they all are perfectly ordinary, in the way that we all are perfectly ordinary, well 99% of us anyway. But there is no fuss made about how ordinary they are, there is no fuss made about how they all are special. These people aren’t celebrated, to use that term that usually gives me the chills (not in a good way btw). There really isn’t all that much to celebrate in most people’s lives. To appreciate, yes – but to celebrate? I don’t think so. And what need would there be to constantly celebrate anyway, especially since we all know what a sham such celebrations end up being. So then, let’s appreciate. To appreciate can mean all kinds of things. In photography, it means to become aware of a moment that might signify something to be appreciated, to then capture it as a photograph so that it can be looked at later.

Try applying the idea of appreciation to any of those discussions of what I tend to call social photography (Instagram etc.), and I suspect they will fall apart (the discussions, not the photographs). To appreciate something means you take it for what it is, and you realize there is a value to it. Or maybe more precisely, there is more value to it than you might have realized earlier. Of course, almost none of the photographs on Instagram amount to anything. But let’s face it, that is why most of us aren’t good artists. Instagram doesn’t devalue photography, as some people claim, because it creates a flood of photographs. Instead, it shows our collective desire to hold on to special moments, and it elevates those very select few who consistently create something bigger out of these moments (and for that to happen you need to move beyond Instagram: You can write a draft of your novel on Post-It notes, but once it gets published a stack of Post-It notes won’t do).

All these people in Eva Vermandel‘s Splinter are being appreciated for what or who they are, or for what they do at some seemingly completely random moment in their lives. Mind you, this could all be some elaborate trick, some great staged-narrative production by the photographer. How would we know, given it’s not apparent from the photographs? But this doesn’t really matter, since we end up with the pictures and only the pictures. Even if these were done staged-narrative style, they make me believe they were found and taken in a different way. And that’s what I care about. Show me a little magic trick, but don’t reveal it to me (and don’t expect me to ask about it).

It’s almost as if one encountered any of these people, having opened a door and then stumbling upon them. While in real life one would probably excuse oneself or merely disappear quietly and quickly, here the photographs allow the viewer to remain and to look. But they also force the viewer to remain, since there is no possibility to close the door that the photographer has already opened. In other words, we are made to intrude, but through the photographs we are not made to feel like one. We are turned into acquaintances of these people. Thus we can enjoy looking at the woman standing by the kitchen window, at the couple sharing an affectionate moment on the couch, at the naked woman sleeping in bed, at the self-assured man almost posing by the window (for someone else, possibly himself – he seems to be very aware of his effect on other people).

Splinter displays an almost astonishing lightness of touch – one of the hardest things to achieve in photography. In a day and age when so many photographers are trying so hard, too hard, where one of the most popular endeavours is to produce very clever self-reflecting (and thus oddly solipsistic) photographs, Vermandel shows us what can be gained from “just” making good pictures. The resulting book easily is one of the best this year, an intimate production. To make a book with these pictures, you need to have the confidence that the photographs will carry their own weight – there do not require any embellishment. I probably would have preferred the book without half of the two-picture spreads, since some of the pairings simplify both images. But my (usual) nitpicking aside, Splinter, lying on top of a pile of books right next to my computer, has been magnetically pulling me back ever since I received it in the mail. It’s the kind of book that will let you see a little something else every time you look at it; a book that you can look at, and after the umpteenth time you stumble upon a picture wondering whether you missed it before.

(book: 112 pages; Hatje Cantz; 2013/14)

Hans-Peter Feldmann’s Katalog/Catalogue

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Open Katalog/Catalogue by Hans-Peter Feldmann in the middle to find the Director’s Foreword, that inevitable piece of writing directors of important exhibition spaces feel compelled to produce for any given exhibition catalogue. While I usually have no problem simply ignoring these kinds of pages, here it’s hard. Where else would once see a very formal portrait of Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist (Serpentine Gallery), both shown cross-eyed? Elsewhere, this theme pops up again. There is a spread that shows four paintings, their subjects (three people plus a pair of dogs) cross-eyed. What’s going on here?

In more ways than one, Hans-Peter Feldmann is a trailblazer. To describe him as a “conceptual artist” probably is correct – I imagine the same people who actually do read these aforementioned texts by directors might nod their heads now (or whatever they do when try to nonchalantly show approval); but in another sense, this label deprives the artist of too much for it to be truly useful. For a start, the term “conceptual art” is such a massive turn off for most people outside of academia and the very narrow confines of the academic part of what is commonly called the art world that it might be better to retire it (assuming, of course, that we would want a larger number of people to engage with this form of art).

If anything, Feldmann shows that you can engage with photography (and visual art in general) in ways that disseminates what it does and how it is being used, while at the same time providing that insight in ways that not only unmask the spectacle of photography, but that also give insight into why we go about all these strange ways of making or dealing with pictures, and that is fun. And funny. You don’t ask the writers for your catalogue to pose cross-eyed for nothing.

“I like humour a lot. Humour is always an attempt to outmanoeuvre or dissolve something very serious. Humour is something with a serious background. There is no ad lib humour – there’s always a kind of desperation behind it. It’s an easy way of approaching a problem and an attempt not to despair, to do something about it.” – Hans-Peter Feldmann

Many of Feldmann’s earliest investigations of photography date back to a time when such an engagement was actually new. Given how ubiquitous work with archival or vernacular photography has become these days, there is something amazing about seeing it being done before it was en vogue. This is not to diminish the various efforts done today – many of them are clearly very good. But in Feldmann’s varied output you can see many of the strategies that now seem so familiar applied first. What is more, photobooks have always played a bit role for the artist.

Katalog/Catalogue comes with a long conversation between Feldmann and Obrist, a lively exchange that really helps put the artist’s work into perspective. In addition, seeing all this different work together in one place greatly faciitates understanding more about the ideas. It’s one thing to see, let’s say, spreads from his “Pictures” booklets (“12 Pictures,” for example, contains twelve photographs of planes in the sky). It’s quite another thing to see formal classical paintings of people where there has been a clown nose painted on top of the faces. “One Pound of Strawberries” shows photographs of all the strawberries contained in Feldmann’s particular pound.

Confounding when seen in an isolated fashion, taken together all these various pieces are part of Hans-Peter Feldmann’s universe: Things are either taken at face value and then driven to its (seemingly) logical conclusion; or they are subverted in the most straightforward way. It’s conceptual, and it’s not. It’s dead serious, and it’s just ridiculous at the same time. It’s very German, yet it speaks of something utterly universal – our desire to understand what is going on, our occasional desire for all this seriousness to fall away, and even if it’s just for a short moment.

What do you do if you win a major art prize that comes with $100,000 and an exhibition at the Guggenheim? Why, of course, you display 100,000 $1 bills in the exhibition space. That’s not really conceptual, that’s just dada driven to a contemporary extreme.

Highly recommended.

Katalog/Catalogue; photography/art piece by Hans-Peter Feldmann; conversations with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Helena Tatay; 232 pages; Walther König; 2013

(source of quote: taken from the conversation with the artist included in the book; I changed the English translation of Feldmann’s words slightly)

TBW Books

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TBW Books

Those following the world of photobooks very closely might be aware of Paul Schiek and TBW Books. Or maybe not. Given photobook making has become so popular, the number of publishers has grown at a rate that makes it hard to keep up, especially if (like me) you’re not going to each and every photobook fair. TBW Books is one of those publishers that I’ve always thought deserved a bit more attention (you might remember my 2008 interview with Schiek).

I will admit I have a weakness for those who really believe in something and who then make it happen, doing whatever is necessary. Schiek is one of those people. When graduating from art school, he decided to make a book of his photographs. And things took off from there. Soon, there was the first set of books from newly established TBW Books, four books, which you would buy via a subscription. You pre-pay, and once the books are done, you’ll get them in the mail, one at a time.

The books in a series are all produced the same way; and across the series the books have centered on the idea of having an artist make a book out of something that would not have made it into a book elsewhere: Outtakes, experiments, something unusual… Schiek has the books produced locally, overseeing each and every aspect of their production. They emerge from the intersection of his vision and from the fact that financial resources are not infinite. This is, I’m happy to argue, the perfect spot: Restrictions, after all, fuel creativity.

The fourth of the subscription series is now available. The price, $150, might confuse people at first. A single book for $150 would indeed be pricey. But here you get four books (of size 9″ by 11″, or 23cm by 28cm), meaning it’s less than $40 per book, with each book made in the US (and thus not printed cheaply elsewhere). I’m a subscriber, and I asked TBW to ship me all the books at once, so I can write about them here.

As in the earlier series, there are four photographers: Alessandra Sanguinetti, Christian Patterson, Raymond Meeks, and Wolfgang Tillmans (they’re going to be shipped in the order Patterson, Sanguinetti, Meeks, Tillmans). In the following, I’m going to talk about them in order of preference (needless to say, your order might be rather different).

For me, the stand-out book of the four is Alessandra Sanguinetti‘s Sorry, Welcome, a portrait of her blended family, which comprises her partner, photographer Jim Goldberg, and two daughters. Photographed in black and white, for the most part in the confines of the family’s apartment, the book lovingly shows snippets of their lives, without ever falling into the trap of sentimentality that occasionally overshadows some of Sanguinetti’s other work (in particular in The Adventures of Guille & Belinda).

Raymond MeeksErasure also is introspective, albeit in ways a little different than in the artist’s previous bodies of work. Having relocated to Providence, RI, Meeks trains his camera on the new surroundings, catching the city in bleached-out colour, with the occasional b/w picture thrown in for good measure. The book left me with the same feeling I have in most New England towns when it’s late February or early March, and it seems there just isn’t an end of winter in sight. I don’t know whether that was the idea, but this mood is conveyed perfectly.

For Bottom of the Lake, Christian Patterson employs the same strategies that made Redheaded Peckerwood such a success, mixing all kinds of photographs. Unlike in the earlier book, here things fall a little flat for me. A portrait of sort of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the photographer’s home town, the book leaves the viewer hanging. Maybe with this approach to photobook making you need a stronger narrative, or maybe you need more material.

Lastly, there’s Wolfgang Tillmans’ Utoquai. I’ll be completely honest and admit that the appeal of this photographer’s work has quite successfully eluded me ever since I saw the first pictures. Utoquai hasn’t made me change my mind.

But that’s part of the beauty of the subscription series: You buy the package (you can’t get individual volumes out of a series), meaning in all likelihood there will be one or two books you wouldn’t have bought or looked at otherwise. Even if that means you’ll get a book that you really wouldn’t have bought (like Tillmans’ in my case) you still spend time with it, to see what it has to offer. And there always is something expected and something surprising.

Making a book with Paul is a strange challenge, given that within the parameters of the book (number of pages etc.), a photographer can do whatever s/he wants as long as it’s a bit outside of the box. For photographers, this is a liberating and stressful challenge: You get to be a bit free, but your little game is going to be released into the world, to last a long time. I personally always find it very interesting to see how daring photographers are: How far outside of their own comfort zone are they willing (or able) to step?

With the subscription series, Paul Schiek is thus making us reconsider what we can expect from a photobook. Getting one of these books in the mail means getting a solution to the challenge posed by him to four well-established artists. Their solutions can be quite unexpected. They always have be, and they certainly are, yet again, with series 4.

Photobook Reviews (Week 46/2013)

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We’ve become an inward-looking culture, having replaced a constantly maintained general interest in the larger world with occasional and then usually very frantic bursts of attentiveness. Photography reflects this shift very well, in all kinds of ways. So-called “selfies” have become a hot phenomenon. Visual and occasionally literal high-drama images are now being delivered via sites like Instagram from all over the world, courtesy of mainstream magazines or websites obsessed less with quality of content than with speed of delivery.

In the area of fine-art photography, family photography has become incredibly popular. It’s very hard not to feel a little funny about the large number of family-centered photography projects coming out of art schools, for example.

On the other hand, family does provide a rich ground of exploration if – and only if – it is well done. As solipsistic as we have become in this Age of Facebook, there are those who came before us, and then there are those who came after us. So maybe the saving grace of family photography is that, by construction, it contains the seed of something much larger, something that exists far beyond one’s own navel.

I’m thus tempted to think that for family photography to work well, it also to acknowledge, in whatever ways, that there is a world out there, a world from which a family, any family, is not hermetically sealed. The following three books each navigate this terrain in different ways, offering insights into what can be gained from looking at those closest to us.

If anyone knows that there is a world out there it’s Christopher Anderson. As a photojournalist, Anderson traveled to some of the most dangerous places, risking his own life to get pictures. I can’t help but think that it is exactly that past that has made Son what it is. The sense of wonder witnessing the birth of a child or the sense of dread seeing a father being very sick – these are probably universal feelings. But someone used to going out into the world to find such drama elsewhere can’t help but bring a different sensibility to the table.

It would be so easy to imagine that when you have witnessed the most horrible things elsewhere anything at home would pale in comparison. But the opposite appears to be true. Or maybe it’s not quite the opposite but the realization (however subconscious it might be) that there is a relevance to those things that only concern such a small number of people, the little family, that there is wonder in the smallest things at home. It is that sense of wonder that had Anderson take these photographs, some of which possess an almost childlike appreciation of the world in front of the camera (and I mean this as a compliment).

Jana Romanova‘s Shvilishvili is a very different kind of book. Presented in hand-made accordion form, it focuses on two aspects of the photographer’s family. There are the connections between people, someone related to someone else who, in turn, is then related to someone else etc. These connections are shown photographically using group portraits, the presence of people in pairs of pictures providing the visual clues for what’s going on. With the subjects living in Russia and Georgia, the world and the things that world will do to people are right there: Families often transcend borders or cultures, and the strain caused by those can be immense.

In the second part of Shvilishvili (remember, accordion books have two sides), Romanova attempts to understand her grandmother’s life through reproductions of photographs and a few ephemera (the book includes some actual objects, which adds a wonderful touch to the experience). Ultimately, there is no way you could ever come to terms with or understand your family, however hard you might try. Any approach inevitably has its shortcomings, photography being too literal, while revealing too little. But it is exactly this that makes this book succeed: One can almost feel the effort that went into its making, driving home the point that without this desire to know and understand (and the ultimate futility of the endeavour) there is no such thing as family.

Lydia Goldblatt‘s Still Here is the most lyrical and understated of the three books, solving photography’s inability to do certain things by working around them. You cannot will photographs to show everything you want them to show, however hard you try, so you might as well release them from that burden. This realization makes a photographer’s position precarious, but it also opens up a world of possibilities, many of them on display in this gorgeous little book.

Goldblatt employs the full range of what can be done with photographs in a photobook, using individual photographs, pairs and short sequences, and, crucially, trusting that her pictures would somehow convey everything they needed to convey (well, almost – I would have preferred the book without any of the added text; I’m sure many people will disagree). The photographs show what is (or actually was) there – the father, they mother. But also make clear that as such, they mostly reflect our desires for things not to change, for things to remain as they are. But they won’t, and that’s ultimately fine. Still Here is a meditation on why that’s fine, why denying that there is a beginning and an end will not provide a way out.

In the end, family is a riddle that cannot be solved, that can only be approached. These three artists each approach this riddle in their own ways, creating three very distinct photobooks, each of which avoids the various pitfalls of the genre easily.

Son; photographs by Christopher Anderson; 96 pages; Kehrer; 2013

Shvilishvili; photographs by Jana Romanova; 106 pages (accordion); self-published/artist book; 2013

Still Here; photographs and essay by Lydia Goldblatt; essay by Christiane Monarchi; 88 pages; Hatje Cantz; 2013

The Challenge of Photography

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Photography does not lend itself to defamiliarization easily, thus making it the unlikeliest of all art forms. As it happens, the challenge plays out on both sides of the process, for photographers and viewers. What happened to be in front of a camera lens can be found depicted in the resulting photograph. However, given the process itself and its myriad of choices, the photograph is little more than a manipulated two-dimensional representation of what previously existed in four dimensions (three spatial, one – often forgotten – time).

A photograph thus is not necessarily a document or fact, and it’s certainly not “the truth” (whatever that term might mean). It is a truth, one truth out of many others, a personal truth: The photographer’s. To assume that this truth then automatically translates into a larger truth is foolish. It might, or it might not.

In photography circles and beyond, photographs are said to be lying. This, however, only reveals a general lack of understanding that is common even amongst many of photography’s practitioners, let alone those who merely engage with it as disinterested viewers. Photographs do not lie any more or less than paintings do, or ballet performances, or these words. As I already noted, they present a truth, whatever that truth might be.

By construction, photography defamiliarizes, at least to some extent: we do not see the world as it appears to us in photographs. For a start, photography lacks the element of time. A photograph is a frozen moment. It is a short moment cut out from the endless arrow of time, forever moving forward. For us, time never stands still, so encountering frozen time in a photograph can make us come to strange conclusions: We still treat someone’s depiction in a portrait, for example, as if we were in the presence of that person, when in reality, that frozen moment is just one out of countless other ones. A happy person, portrayed in just the right (or wrong) moment might thus appear not to be happy at all (or vice versa).

When we see a painted portrait of a person, we take it as the likeness of someone, and we admire the skills of the painter. When we see a photographic portrait of a person, we take it as that person, usually completely ignoring the hands of the maker.

The problem we are dealing with has been made considerably worse by various critics and writers who have used photography’s inherent properties as means for an indictment (most famously Susan Sontag). Since those texts are widely used in the process of photography education, many of the medium’s practitioners leave school with what can only be described as misguided ideas of their own medium. I can think of no other art form that in the process of educating its next generations puts such major impediments in their ways.

For its viewers, the situation is hardly any better. Serious discussions of what the medium does and how, and how the use of photographs factors into what ultimately creates their meaning, are almost entirely absent from the same media that use photography on a daily basis. The best one can hope for (yes, I am being facetious here) are discussions of supposed manipulation in news photographs that typically center on essentially Ill-defined (and undefinable) criteria for what is allowed and what is not.

One need not expect any layperson to dive deeper into any of these discussions. Seen from outside the narrow defines of the world of photography, those discussions usually resemble theological arguments about church dogma. Perhaps not inevitably, distrust of the media has sharply grown.

As a result, a medium that is approaching its 200th birthday is as badly understood as ever by both its makers and viewers, the frequent noises about whatever academic/intellectual fad is being followed at any given time notwithstanding (at the time of this writing, it’s still postmodernism). Add to that the digital revolution, and the situation isn’t pretty.

The irony here is that photography is more widely used than ever. It is much more easily accessible than ever, in much, much larger numbers (those who note that such claims have been made before are correct, yet they miss the point entirely).

As it turns out, laypersons usually have a much better understanding of photography than critics or theorists. Whenever I talk to people who are not part of the world of photography, many of the concerns that appear to give theorists or photographers endless nightmares simply don’t appear to exist. Too many photographs? Who says so? Can there be a thing such as too many photographs, and why would that even be a problem?

None of the non-photo-world people I have talked to over the past years has ever even entertained the idea that their photographs on Instagram, say, would be comparable to photographs produced by professionals. People know the difference between apples and oranges very well. Yet in the world of photography, we seem stuck worrying about how since they’re both round and fruits, they must be the same, right?

So we need to go back and give that medium a good, hard look again. What does it actually do?  Not what we think it does, not what we want it to do. Instead: What does it do? And how does it do that? We need to think about that process of defamiliarization.

Instead of whining about the limitations of the medium, we need to start appreciating those very limitations. It is right here that the promises lie. Right here. And the promises are plentiful, much more plentiful than the limitations.

We take photographs out of this world we live in, and the moment we have done that they become something else entirely.

Daniel Reuter’s History of the Visit

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Daniel Reuter

It’s sometimes hard to remember that a world of surfaces – the world of photography – can in fact deal with what is underneath. If you see your camera as that tool that registers what is in front of it, then you might as well also think of a pen as that tool that transfers ink onto paper or of a keyboard as that tool that makes those characters appear on a computer screen. But it’s not about the ink or the characters or the pictures – it’s about what they carry.

It’s obvious to see how writing random characters will merely result in gibberish (unless you have an infinity of time, in which case you have a very small chance to produce a Shakespeare play). It’s much less obvious how taking a picture can be just like such a random act as well. To get beyond the random act you have to be able to see well, but you also have to be able to connect with what is presented in front of you, and to see how the photographs you’re making arise not merely from what is in front of the camera, but for the most part from what is behind the camera.

A good case in point is provided by History of the Visit by Daniel Reuter (who – full disclosure – is a graduate of the photography MFA program I’m teaching in). These photographs deal only tangentially with what they’re presenting. There are rocks in the images, trees and some buildings, but it’s not a story of rocks, trees and buildings. It is, in fact, not even that clear what the story is, while it is very clear that there is one. (I’m going to refrain from spelling it out)

It is quite the irony that the seemingly most descriptive of all media can so successfully obfuscate a narrative, while, at the same time, making it so obvious. There’s always the tempting (and somewhat lazy) comparison with poetry, but photography isn’t poetry, and it doesn’t work like poetry. Photographs attack our visual cortex and then make their ways into our conscious self in ways that poetry can’t: You have to decipher the squiggles first, turn them into words, to then turn those into some mental equivalent, before it’s show time. This is what Francis Bacon spoke of when he said “Some paint comes across directly onto the nervous system and other paint tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain.” (found here)

Just like that, Reuter’s photographs come across directly onto the nervous system. They transport feeling more than they transport information. They transport an atmosphere, a discontent, a confusion. They do their best to resist descriptive approaches to them. The viewer needs to feel them more than to look at them. If anything, these photographs have much more in common with music than with poetry. But they’re a strange kind of music – unlike music they do not seem to become much more familiar with repeated exposure to them. They are just like the feelings we all have, feeling that are so familiar, yet that feel so relevant and fresh every single day.