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A Planet in Our Solar System

Permanent Link: http://ncf.sobek.ufl.edu/NCFE004076/00001

Material Information

Title: A Planet in Our Solar System
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Dillon, John
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2009
Publication Date: 2009

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Art
Photography
Science Fiction
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This body of work was made over the course of two or three years around my home in Chicago. Originally my project began as a formal photographic exercise as I explored my environment with several late nineteenth and early twentieth century painters and photographers in mind. I was specifically interested in ideas concerning the representation of three dimensions on a two-dimensional canvas or piece of paper. As I continued making images, I became more interested in the photograph's potential to alter the world that it depicts and even to create an entirely new kind of world while at the same time maintaining a superficial but convincing semblance of reality or truth. I actively engaged in the creation of a new world, specifically one that I quickly came to think of as science fictional, and sought to provide the viewer with the opportunity to look at his or her own planet as an outsider. What follows is not a comprehensive explanation of my work, but rather a few of the many thoughts I had while creating and considering that work.
Statement of Responsibility: by John Dillon
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2009
Supplements: Accompanying materials: 1 CD with images.
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO NCF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Freedland, Barry

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2009 D5
System ID: NCFE004076:00001

Permanent Link: http://ncf.sobek.ufl.edu/NCFE004076/00001

Material Information

Title: A Planet in Our Solar System
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Dillon, John
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2009
Publication Date: 2009

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Art
Photography
Science Fiction
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This body of work was made over the course of two or three years around my home in Chicago. Originally my project began as a formal photographic exercise as I explored my environment with several late nineteenth and early twentieth century painters and photographers in mind. I was specifically interested in ideas concerning the representation of three dimensions on a two-dimensional canvas or piece of paper. As I continued making images, I became more interested in the photograph's potential to alter the world that it depicts and even to create an entirely new kind of world while at the same time maintaining a superficial but convincing semblance of reality or truth. I actively engaged in the creation of a new world, specifically one that I quickly came to think of as science fictional, and sought to provide the viewer with the opportunity to look at his or her own planet as an outsider. What follows is not a comprehensive explanation of my work, but rather a few of the many thoughts I had while creating and considering that work.
Statement of Responsibility: by John Dillon
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2009
Supplements: Accompanying materials: 1 CD with images.
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO NCF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Freedland, Barry

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2009 D5
System ID: NCFE004076:00001


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A PLANET IN OUR SOLAR SYSTEM BY JOHN DILLON A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Art New College of Florida In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Barry Freedland Sarasota Florida December, 2008

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ii ‘I dismiss all knowledge, all culture, I refuse to inherit anything from another eye but my own.’ -Roland Barthes ‘During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence. -Walter Benjamin ‘…this whole world of ours is just a bit of mildew that grew over a tiny planet…’ -Leo Tolstoy ‘But we worldly men have miserable, mad, mistaking eyes.’ -William Shakespeare

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iii TABLE OF CONTENTS List of Illustrations………………………………………………………………………..iv Abstract…………………………………………………………………………………...vi One: Form…………………………………………………………………………………1 Two: Anthropology and Science Fiction………………………………………………….5 Three: The Photograph…………………………………………………………………..10 Four: Tools………………………………………………………………………………14 Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………….22 Plates……………………………………………………………………………………..24 Bibliography……………………………………………………………………………..37

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iv Illustrations Fig. 1. Harry Callahan, Chicago 1953. Gelatin silver print. (Julian Cox, Harry Callahan: Eleanor .) Fig. 2. Henri Matisse, Blue Nude I 1952. Paper cut-out, 116x78 cm. Foundation Beyeler, Riehen, Basel. (Pierre Schneider, Matisse .) Fig. 3. Harry Callahan, Eleanor, Chicago 1947. Gelatin silver print. (Sarah Greenough, Harry Callahan .) Fig. 4. Picasso, Nude 1931. Etching, 5 1/8x4 in. (Wilhelm Boeck, Picasso .) Fig. 5. Harry Callahan, Providence 1967. Gelatin silver print. (John Szarkowski, Callahan .) Fig. 6. Harry Callahan, Port Huron, Michigan 1952. Gelatin silver print. (John Szarkowski, Callahan .) Fig. 7. Harry Callahan, Camera Movement on Flashlight 1946/7. Gelatin silver print, 24.5x19.5 cm. (Britt Salvesen. Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work .) Fig. 8. Harry Callahan, Portugal 1982. (Keith F. Davis, Harry Callahan: New Color: Photographs 1978-1987 .) Fig. 9. Harry Callahan, Kansas City 1981. (Keith F. Davis, Harry Callahan: New Color: Photographs 1978-1987 .) Fig. 10. Henri Matisse, Interior with Eggplants 1911. Tempera and mixed media on canvas, 212x246 cm. Muse de peinture et de Sculpture, Grenoble. (Pierre Schneider, Matisse .) Fig. 11. Henri Matisse, Red Studio 1911. Oil on canvas, 181x219 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. (Pierre Schneider, Matisse .) Fig. 12. Harry Callahan, Ireland 1979. (Keith F. Davis, Harry Callahan: New Color: Photographs 1978-1987 Fig. 13. Richard Estes, Sunday on 2nd Avenue 2003. Oil on Canvas, 90x167 cm.

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v Fig. 14. Dwelling and Flora .Fig. 15. Paul Czanne, Montagne Sainte-Victoire 1887. Oil on canvas. 66.8x92.3 cm. The Samuel Courtauld Trust, Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London. (Philip Conisbee and Denis Coutagne, Czanne in Provence .) Fig. 16. Dwelling Fig. 17. Paul Czanne, The Railway Cutting c. 1870. Oil on canvas. Bayerische Staatsgemldesammlungen, Munich. (Philip Conisbee and Denis Coutagne, Czanne in Provence .) Fig. 18. Piet Mondrian, Tableau No. 1 1921. Oil. M. Moser-Schindler collection, Zurich. (Michel Seuphor, Piet Mondrian: Life and Work .) Fig. 19. Ivy covered wall Fig. 20. Henri Matisse, Tea 1919. Oil on canvas, 140x212 cm. Los Angeles Museum of Art. (Pierre Scneider, Matisse .) Fig. 21. Dwelling and Flora Fig. 22. Dwelling and Flora Fig. 23. Lines Fig. 24. Dwellings and Lines Fig. 25. Aircraft and Flora Fig. 26. Dwelling and Human Fig. 27. Dwellings Fig. 28. Ray K. Metzker, Untitled (John Szarkowski, Looking at Photographs .)

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vi A PLANET IN OUR SOLAR SYSTEM John Dillon New College of Florida, 2008 ABSTRACT This body of work was made over the course of two or three years around my home in Chicago. Originally my project began as a formal photographic exercise as I explored my environment with several late nineteenth and early twentieth century painters and photographers in mind. I was specifically interested in ideas concerning the representation of three dimensions on a two-dimensional canvas or piece of paper. As I continued making images, I became more interested in the photograph’s potential to alter the world that it depicts and even to create an entirely new kind of world while at the same time maintaining a superficial but convincing semblance of reality or truth. I actively engaged in the creation of a new world, specifically one that I quickly came to think of as science fictional, and sought to provide the viewer with the opportunity to look at his or her own planet as an outsider. What follows is not a comprehensive explanation of my work, but rather a few of the many thoughts I had while creating and considering that work. Barry Freedland Humanities

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1 One Form My project began essentially as a formal exercise in photography. When I started taking pictures for my thesis I was influenced by the work of certain photographers and painters. Several nineteenth and twentieth century painters, including Czanne, Matisse, Picasso and Mondrian, were of particular interest to me. One idea that many of these painters addressed in one way or another was the seemingly simple idea that the canvas is flat. Subsequently I saw Pollock and Rauschenberg, among others, and eventually Richard Estes. All of these artists helped me to appreciate photographer Harry Callahan’s work in new ways. I was able to relate various formal devices used by the painters I looked at to the pictures of Callahan and in turn to the work of many other photographers, specifically those devices having to do with the relationship between the threedimensionality of reality and the two-dimensionality of the picture plane. There are extraordinary similarities between Callahan’s pictures and many paintings from the twentieth century. In some cases these similarities are overt and visually striking, and in others they are subtler or more conceptual in nature. Callahan’s Chicago 1953 (Fig. 1), for example, makes the figure of his wife look just like one of Matisse’s cutouts (Fig. 2). Eleanor, Chicago 1947 (Fig. 3), too resembles a painter’s simplified representation of the female nude: Picasso’s Nude 1931 (Fig. 4). And in terms of texture and rhythm, Callahan’s photographs Providence 1967 (Fig. 5), and Port Huron, Michigan 1952 (Fig. 6), look quite a bit like many of Pollock’s drip paintings – although in this case the subject matter does not match, Callahan’s picture being

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2 representational and Pollock’s abstract. Callahan’s work is related to Pollock’s on a more conceptual level as well, as Callahan himself observed. Discussing a series of pictures in which he moved a flashlight in front of a camera (Fig. 7) – essentially “painting” light onto film – Callahan said, “You open the shutter and let the world in. That was about the time Jackson Pollack was painting. Dripping… I felt the same way about my camera movement that I thought Jackson Pollock felt” (Ware 17). Callahan’s color work implements certain devices that flatten three-dimensional space onto the two-dimensional picture plane and that are similar to techniques used by painters. The use of large blocks of pattern or of bright solid colors, as in Portugal 1982 (Fig. 8), and Kansas City 1981 (Fig. 9) for instance, function like the patterns and colors in some of Matisse’s pictures (Fig. 10, 11); primary and neutral colors divided into rectilinear shapes (Fig. 12) recall Mondrian. There are parallels too between the devices used by hyper-realist painter Richard Estes and some Callahan paintings. For example, Estes often uses strong verticals to undermine the sense of depth provided by lines converging at the vanishing point (Fig. 13). In Ireland 1979 (Fig. 12), Callahan uses verticals to the same effect, and in fact used an object – a telephone pole – that Estes often uses himself. And so it was with these formal ideas in mind that I began making my pictures. I sought to flatten space, using devices I saw in painting and photography to do so. In some cases I consciously used specific devices and in others I noticed only afterwards that a picture or a group of pictures corresponded to certain paintings or photographs. For example, I intentionally made pictures with overhanging branches (Fig. 14) because I noticed that in Czanne’s work they seemed to compress space by merging with the sky

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3 and other background elements (Fig. 15). In Czanne’s case the tree branches push and pull and blend with the sky behind them because of the overlapping brushstrokes and ultimately undermine one’s sense of deep space, forcing foreground and background to interact on a single plane. In my work I used a small aperture to achieve a large depth of field, so that both foreand background objects are equally focused in a way that the naked eye could never perceive them. On the other hand, it was not until after I took several pictures with large expanses of grass or cement in the foreground (Fig. 16) that I noticed these pictures functioning in the same way as many of Czanne’s paintings, in which he often paints his foregrounds in such a way that space and depth are ambiguous (Fig. 17). I consciously used other techniques as well, such as Mondrian’s grids and rectilinear compositions (Fig. 18), which I saw, among other places, in the bricks and windows of walls in Chicago. Pictures of ivy and brick (Fig. 19) and other surfaces recall the flatness achieved by Matisse’s use of repetitive textures (Fig. 20). Ivy-covered walls (Fig. 21), tree branches (Fig. 22), and telephone wires (Fig. 23) all echo the textures and movement of Pollock’s abstract paintings. As the photographs resulting from these formal exercises grew in number, I began to see a world taking shape in this series of images. This world was markedly different from the “reality” of the city that provided the raw material for the images. It was certainly a strange world, yet it felt cohesive and consistent, as if it was regulated by its own set of natural laws. Because of certain interests and influences I quickly became at least as interested in this new aspect of my work as I had been in my original, formal

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4 concerns. I sought to understand how this world had come to be and so that I might develop and enhance it.

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5 Two Anthropology and Science Fiction Two interests of mine were instrumental in determining my reaction to the world I saw emerging in my photographs, if not wholly responsible for this world in the first place. These interests are anthropology and the films of Werner Herzog. It is because of these influences that I thought about my own picture taking the way I did, and it is because of them that I chose to pursue and advance the creation of this strange world. During the early stages of my thesis project I was actively interested in anthropology, the result of which being that I began to look at the world around me – as well as my photographs – with this subject in mind. In a broad sense, I was inclined to try to understand my environment (which was the material for my photography) in terms of the study of man, the social animal. As I studied strange and distant societies, I naturally noticed more and more the peculiarities and the strangeness of my own surroundings, and began to have a better feeling for my own cultural biases and prejudiced worldview. My greatest interest in anthropology, however, was perhaps opposite that of a good social scientist. Where the scientist seeks an objective vantage point in order to better understand a group of people, oftentimes with the intention of determining how this group is basically the same as the other groups, I was most interested when I lacked cultural understanding, when the tribe or clan seemed like a group of strange animals in some strange world, when they appeared almost as aliens. My favorite part of the ethnography is the beginning, in which the scientist is lost and confused, unable to comprehend the language and actions of the natives he has come to study.

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6 Werner Herzog acknowledges that his films may be considered anthropological “in as much as they try to explore the human condition at this particular time on this planet” (Cronin 213-4). It was Herzog’s films that suggested to me a way of thinking about my work and helped me to define what it was that I wanted to accomplish. Fata Morgana and Lessons of Darkness are incredible in their destruction of the line between documentary and fiction – specifically a particular kind of science fiction. Herzog uses footage of the world to create films that feel like science fiction stories (and sometimes, as in Lessons of Darkness narrates it that way too). His use of science fiction is less employed as a means to imagine a future than as a means of imagining some standpoint other than our own, or seeing our world from a vantage point from which we would be led to question our present day habits of vision (Prager 175). Not only did this concept reflect my particular interest in a sort of strange, subjective anthropology, but also it seemed an appropriate way to approach photography, or approach using photography, a medium that inherently raises countless and complex questions about how we look at and see the world around us. What struck me most profoundly when I first saw Fata Morgana (my introduction to Werner Herzog) was the feeling that I myself was an alien. This feeling undoubtedly defined my attitude towards anthropology and had a huge impact on my artwork. Once I saw that some kind of alternate world was taking shape in my photographs, I immediately knew that I wanted to use these pictures to illicit a similar feeling in my audience. And so I have attempted to show Earth, in my photographs, “how aliens perceive the planet” (Herzog 47).

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7 It may seem unusual to call a story that takes place in the early nineteenth century and is based on true events “science fiction,” yet Herzog discusses The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser as almost a science-fiction tale that takes in the age-old idea of aliens who arrive on our planet, just like those in the original script of Fata Morgana They have no human social conditioning whatsoever and walk around confused and amazed. The real question is perhaps anthropological: what happens to a man who has crashed on our planet with no education and no culture? What does he feel? What does he see? What must a tree or a horse look like to such an arrival? (Herzog 115). In my own work I raise similar questions in similar ways. I have not attempted to create an unrecognizable futuristic world, but instead I have photographed a familiar one in a way that makes it strange. The science fiction I am interested in creating is not made up of literal aliens or flying saucers. It is rather a manipulation of Earth into a strange world that allows the viewer to feel like an alien. In Kaspar Hauser we watch the “alien” interact with the world, whereas in my work the interaction takes place between the audience and the world depicted in photographs. Intricately bound to these ideas are questions of perception. It is apparent that there is an infinite number of ways of perceiving the world and that sight specifically is learned and culturally based. It is impossible then to say that one kind of sight or perception is the correct one. Herzog “wants to depict all acts of seeing as mirages, because seeing takes place primarily in the mind’s eye” (Prager 147). He describes indigenous people who cannot understand photographs – they see them simply as abstract, two-dimensional designs. It seems worthwhile to explore these alternate modes of perception in order to broaden our understanding of how we as humans relate to the world and to recognize some of our cultural preconceptions and prejudices. A photograph inherently offers an alternate kind of perception, one which may act as a metaphor for the

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8 way another culture perceives and interprets the world while simultaneously acting as a legitimate way of looking at the world in its own right. Herzog describes two kinds of truth: the accountant’s truth or the facts, and ecstatic truth; it is the latter that he attempts to show us in his films. In order to get at this ecstatic truth he is perfectly willing to “lie,” as far as the facts are concerned, and will even go so far as to script and rehearse scenes in documentaries. Herzog explains that only through invention and fabrication and staging can you reach a more intense level of truth that cannot otherwise be found. I took a ‘fact’… and played with the ‘truth’ of the situation to reach a more poetic understanding. We react with much stronger fervor and passion to poetry than mere television reportage… (Prager 253). My own work also engages in this type of manipulation of the facts. I have created a science fiction world using “footage” of reality. A photograph may be considered a kind of lie (probably no one actually sees the world exactly the way a photograph represents it) that helps reveal some truth (there are alternate ways of looking at the world besides our own, culturally determined one). Looking at the world with an alternate subjectivity rather than attempted objectivity can serve as a helpful means of getting at some kind of truth or of reaching a more complete understanding of our existence. I often think of this process as a sort of triangulation. It is essentially impossible in to reach a complete and objective view of things, and equally impossible to understand the world from every infinite subjective viewpoint. Instead it seems most effective to understand as many various subjective perspectives and then to triangulate our way toward what may be more essential and complete truths. Lastly, I have attempted to create science fiction by simply revealing or highlighting a few examples of what I think of as “real science fiction.” We take for

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9 granted so many real things which, when made sleeker and shinier by Hollywood appear fantastic and unbelievable. But giant airships roar over our heads dozens of times daily and we take hardly any notice of them. We live in a world that is very similar to and in some ways surpasses in unbelievability the books and films that try to depict distant and futuristic worlds. In my photographs I have focused on a few such instances of “real science fiction” that interest me particularly. Airplanes, for instance, were an early focus of my work and appear throughout my project. Later I became interested in nature (specifically plants) within the urban environment where I took my pictures. It has become increasingly fascinating to me the way in which man controls and manipulates nature in the city, and how nature often transcends this control.

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10 Three The Photograph Minor White: When the photographer shows us what he considers to be an Equivalent, he is showing us an expression of a feeling, but this feeling is not the feeling he had for the object that he photographed (Sekula 101.) I have always been suspicious of Stieglitz and White’s Equivalents, and, In particular, the denial these photographers engage in: the “incredible denial of the image’s status as report” (Sekula 101). By relying solely on aesthetic principals (borrowed in large part from painting and music and other arts), they ignore one of the most important and powerful qualities of the photograph; that is, the photograph’s relationship to its referent. On the other hand, Pierre Bourdieu’s position that, as Rosalind Krauss explains it, “photographic discourse… can have no aesthetic criteria proper to itself (Krauss 18),” also struck me as another kind of denial. Where White’s statement acknowledges aesthetics above anything else, Bourdieu’s position is extreme in its denial of any properly photographic aesthetic. Krauss goes on to describe Bourdieu’s position that any apparent difference between “art photography” (which we assume has formal and aesthetic rules that makes evaluation of quality possible) and the common man taking snapshots is a sociological effect rather than an aesthetic reality… that photography has no aesthetic norms proper to itself; that it borrows its cach from the art movements with which various serious photographers associate themselves… (Krauss 21). My own position is somewhere in the middle. I disagree that photography lacks a unique aesthetic, and I believe it is deceptive to pretend to ignore the object photographed.

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11 It is true that, early on especially, I (quite consciously) borrowed many aesthetic devices from painting, and, maybe a bit like Stieglitz and White, treated the objects I photographed as “pretext for the accomplishment of a formal idea” (Krauss 18). But I never tried to separate the object and the form. My early experiments might be thought of as “Referential Equivalents,” in which I used form to describe my feelings towards the objects I photographed. These exercises did help me to discover a set of tools that belong more essentially to photography. The development of my project can be explained in part by Lszl Moholy-Nagy’s observation that The creative potential of the new is for the most part slowly revealed through old forms, old instruments and areas of design that in their essence have already been superceded by the new, but which under pressure from the new as it takes shape are driven to a euphoric efflorescence (Benjamin, Small History 254). My project might be seen as a microcosm of this phenomenon, inasmuch as I managed to discover certain aspects of “the creative potential” of photography through experimentation with “old forms.” If certain formal properties of photography look like those of painting, there is a simple explanation: both of these mediums translate three dimensions onto a twodimensional surface. The common flatness of the painting and the photograph was what inspired me to utilize certain aesthetics of painting in photography. Because the aesthetics I was interested in all related directly to the flatness of the canvas, they did not lose their legitimacy when translated into photography (as opposed to the work of the pictorialists, for instance), even if their relevancy was not immediately apparent. These aesthetic elements have a different and unique effect when combined with elements of photography that are not shared with painting, and it is essential to keep these elements in

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12 mind. We must acknowledge what makes photography unique in order to properly utilize those qualities it happens to share with painting. The most obvious and at the same time the most complicated and mysterious of these qualities is the relationship between the photographic image and reality. The assumption is that “the photograph is… a re-presentation of nature itself, as an unmediated copy of the real world” (Sekula 86). However false this assumption may be, there is no doubt that it is a powerful belief, and that it affects how we look at photographs. Looking at a photograph, we tend to think that we know: “something like that was that thing existed .” There are plenty of arguments against this “one-to-one connection with reality” (Grundberg 85) (The theory of the photo as an analogue of reality has been abandoned, even by those who once upheld it – we know that it is necessary to be trained to recognize the photographic image (Eco 222)), but they do not diminish the power of the notion that every photograph has a referent from which “it is never distinguished” (Barthes, Camera Lucida 5) as Barthes says. He insists that there is a “ necessarily real thing which has been placed before the lens, without which there would be no photograph” (Barthes, Camera Lucida 76). Bazin says that “we are forced to accept as real the existence of the object reproduced” (Bazin, 13). All of the various tools I have used in order to accomplish my goals with this body of work function the way that they do because of this assumption that the photograph is at least to some extent a report that a given object is or was And yet there seems to be a consensus that photographs are not exactly the same as reality. Susan Sontag, for instance, suggests that photographs are inherently surreal: The mainstream of photographic activity has shown that a surrealist manipulation or theatricalization of the real is unnecessary, if not actually redundant… Surrealism lies at the heart of the photographic enterprise: in the very creation of

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13a duplicate world, of a reality in the second degree, narrower but more dramatic than the one perceived by natural vision (Sontag 52). Andy Grundberg disagrees with this assertion (Grundberg 1990), but his difference seems to be a matter of semantics (specifically, what is meant by “Surrealism”). Regardless of whether a photograph is unavoidably Surreal, specifically, Sontag seems to have a point in her observation that another world is necessarily created that is different from reality (the challenge then becomes to control what that world is like).1 Moreover, her description of the kind of world that shows up in photography sounds very much like a description of a kind of “ecstatic truth.” It is “narrower,” a manipulation of Herzog’s “accountant’s truth,” and “more dramatic,” a heightened or more poetic world. Again, Sontag: “…the camera’s ability to transform realty into something beautiful derives from its relative weakness as a means of conveying truth” (Sontag 112). Sontag’s “truth” sounds quite similar to what Herzog would call “fact” or “accountant’s truth,” and her “beauty” an opportunity for poetry, or perhaps even ecstatic truth. 1 I do not consider my photographs Surreal because I have not spent much time considering ideas about the human subconscious, a central concern of Surrealism as I understand it.

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14 Four Tools The strange relationship between the objects depicted in a photograph and the necessarily real objects they refer to is central to all the various tools I used or qualities I worked with in pursuit of my goal. Werner Herzog, discussing Lessons of Darkness says that calling it a science fiction film is a way of explaining that the film has not a single frame that can be recognized as our planet, and yet we know it must have been shot here (Herzog 248). While my photographs clearly do not look as alien as the deserts of Africa in Fata Morgana or the oil fields of Kuwait in Lessons of Darkness they do exploit the possibility of an interesting tension that arises from images that look strange but which “must have been shot here.” My photographs do not depict a world of alien creatures so much as they encourage the audience to look at a familiar world as foreigners themselves – both in terms of anthropology and perception. Perhaps, as Susan Sontag suggests, every photograph is inherently a window into an alternate world (Surreal or another kind); in my own photographs, this world is more specifically science fiction, in part because of the subject matter that is the focus of the work: air and land vehicles, wired and wireless communication equipment, human dwellings and man’s influence over the natural world. The fact that these things exist in the present rather than in an imagined future only makes them more incredible. They may indeed be science fact but in my photographs they exist in another world, a fictional world. I’ve used a variety of tools (implemented various powers of the photograph) to create this world and to make it at once cohesive

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15 and also extending beyond the frame of a single photograph and indeed beyond the entire group of photographs. The photograph rends the objects it depicts from their surroundings, which changes these objects in important ways. First, it destroys their natural context. In reality, a given object is, in part, defined by the objects that surround it. In a photograph, on the other hand, we are forced (because we know they must exist) to imagine an object’s surroundings; this imagined world around the object is defined by what is in the photograph – that is, the object itself, resulting in a world that is particular and cohesive, a world that is alien in its homogeny and simultaneously hyper-realistic in its completeness. “…Through the agency of the frame the world is organized into a coherence which it actually lacks…” (Burgin 146). Making a series of images does two seemingly contradictory things, to various degrees depending on the will and ability of the photographer, on what he or she chooses to include and, importantly, exclude. A group of photographs will almost certainly detract from the fictional, photographed world’s coherence because each additional image is an opportunity for more of reality’s random variety to show through. On the other hand, by careful selection the photographer can use a series of images to heighten the sense of a cohesive fictional world. We can imagine for a moment a city block, with twenty-five houses in a row. Twenty of these buildings are unremarkable (based on an arbitrary set of criteria) and five are strange. If we choose to photograph only the five strange buildings, we will create a world that in which strangeness is the norm (and in which we imagine the world outside the frames of the individual pictures is strange as well), and which is cohesive in this

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16 way. Five photographs rather than one do allow for incidental objects to detract from the uniformity and homogeny of the world (a scrap of trash in one, a parking sign in another), but ultimately the series has the potential to reinforce rather than water down these desired qualities. Additionally, the scrap of paper here and parking sign there can act perhaps as what Roland Barthes would call a “punctum,” an accidental detail that has the “power of expansion (Barthes, Camera Lucida 45),” that gives life to the world beyond the frame, a “kind of subtle beyond ” (Barthes, Camera Lucida 59). Another thing happens when an object is photographed: it is, at least to a certain degree, separated from its function. This is particularly and almost hyperbolically apparent in a photograph like Dwellings and Lines (Fig. 24) in which the telephone wires seem to extend straight upwards into the sky, rendering them useless as far as our culturally-based knowledge goes. My work utilizes this effect in order to achieve the sight of a foreigner who lacks this cultural knowledge and to whom these wires are strange and mysterious. These images are combined with titles that pretend to categorize or explain the objects depicted, perhaps in an anthropological sort of way, but are in fact only the crudest attempts at explaining the meaning of objects that are actually loaded with function and cultural meaning. Returning to more formal issues: my early photographs, although they drew from painting, were really exercises in photographic seeing. Certain formal qualities from specific kinds of paintings from the twentieth century served as an appropriate inspiration for these exercises because they dealt with an idea equally important to photography as to painting: the flatness of the picture plane. But my pictures were not paintings, nor did

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17 they try to be; they addressed the transformation of three dimensions to two in terms of photography, in terms of the camera. Photographic seeing is essentially the practice of anticipating how the camera will see objects in space and describe them onto a flat surface (and in this case in black and white). Although I questioned the relevance of emphasizing form and flatness in my pictures (and understood certain arguments against doing so), ultimately I feel that it is a legitimate endeavor and appropriate for my project. “Two-dimensionalizing” can serve as a metaphor for a kind of “cultureless” or “other-cultured” perception. Humans must learn or be cultured to understand the movement of light in front of their eyes as threedimensional space that can be navigated in all six directions. Two-dimensional or depthless sight pretends the sight of a newcomer – an infant or an alien – who has yet to decode this light. Furthermore, the camera itself (whose sight I tried to anticipate) can stand as an outsider, something that perceives the world in an un-human way. Painters translate what they see onto the canvas as fellow humans, where the camera is another creature altogether. Finally, photographic seeing alters the photographer’s relationship to the objects he or she photographs. As Susan Sontag observes, the habit of photographic seeing – of looking at reality as an array of potential photographs – creates estrangement from, rather than union with, nature. Photographic seeing, when one examines its claims, turns out to be mainly the practice of a kind of dissociative seeing, a subjective habit which is reinforced by the objective discrepancies between the way that the camera and the human eye focus and judge perspective (Sontag 97). It’s not that we forget what we are looking at, but how we look at it – we lose some of our visual cultural baggage when we see the world through the camera. By “seeing

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18 photographically” I was able to see as an outsider, a primitive without culture. Sontag again: Despite the illusion of giving understanding, what seeing through photographs really invites is an acquisitive relation to the world that nourishes aesthetic awareness and promotes emotional detachment (Sontag 111). These qualities – curiosity and emotional or cultural ignorance – are perfect in describing the vision of the explorer just landed in an alien world. Sontag meant these observations to raise doubt about the value of photographic seeing, but photographic seeing can in fact be utilized as a legitimate tool in creating images, as long as its function is understood. Lastly, I have used the presentation of my work – scale, organization, titling as mentioned above – to advance my goals. Jeff Wall, during a lecture at the Art Institute of Chicago, discussed his use of scale (many of his photographs are enormous) as a means of giving the viewer the sense that he or she in fact shares the space with the figures in the photograph. Indeed, standing before a Wall photograph, one feels that it might be possible to enter into them, so far as scale and perspective are concerned. They feel like an extension of reality and are specifically scaled to human size. Clearly this is not the effect of my own photographs. Andreas Gursky’s photographs, although they are as big or bigger than Wall’s, in no way make the viewer feel that he or she might walk into them and easily navigate their space. To me this is a much more enticing invitation to try to do so – I must transform my projected self and try to figure out how to move about in a world that seems not to follow the normal laws of our dimension. I’ve sought to create a similarly strange kind of space in my pictures and have, in addition, printed the vast majority of them quite small. This forces further transformation in the imagined self of the viewer who seeks to navigate the environment depicted. One of my favorite rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago contains miniature replicas of rooms from various time

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19 periods and regions of the world. Their realism invites imagined habitation, and their small scale makes this habitation or exploration fantastic. It is my intention that the scale of the photographs anticipates the sight of some foreigner or alien who has yet to understand the scale of the world around him and how it might be traversed. I have also thought of old video games when considering my photographs, specifically games in which movement is restricted to two dimensions. I was first struck by this notion when, looking at pictures like Aircraft and Flora (Fig. 25), I found myself mentally steering the airplane through the threatening tree branches. Dwelling and Human (Fig. 26) and certain other photographs with human figures also work this way, with their human characters seemingly confined to moving to the left or to the right. In terms of the order of my presentation, the pictures with less apparent depth (which happen to be the earlier ones, by and large) are, for the most part, placed at the beginning of the exhibition and the pictures with more apparent depth, those which look a bit more like the world as we are accustomed to seeing it, a bit more “habitable,” are placed towards the end. This is in part representative of ideas of evolution, a subject relevant to both anthropology and science fiction, as well as one that is simply of great interest to me. The universe in my pictures can itself be understood as evolving; it begins as lines and points floating in ambiguous space, then tone and texture – atmosphere – appear, then depth of space, followed by solid forms and even living creatures. A sort of evolution could also be understood as taking place in the perceptual capacity of the “alien” viewer, whose sight becomes increasingly sophisticated as he becomes accustomed to this world.

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20 My other intention in ordering my photographs this way is that the early pictures will inform the later ones, that they will prepare the viewer to understand them in a more particular way. Viewed alone, the later and larger pictures might seem less remarkable in certain ways than the early ones, but when viewed in the context of the “flatter” images the later ones will fit well and function as intended. An important aspect of the presentation of the work is the number of photographs. By displaying a great many photographs with like subject matter (buildings, for instance), it is possible to include details (humans, cars) that would function very differently if there were not as many pictures. Normally a human in a photograph wants some sort of identification, judgment, empathy, or a sense of narrative – all feelings based on cultural experience. By placing one or two humans in a large series of human-less photographs, however, these feelings are avoided or undermined. The large grid of small photographs Dwellings (Fig. 27) deals with human beings particularly well. The nature of the photographs and of the display gives a feeling of scientific objectivity or of cataloguing. When I took these pictures I imagined an alien documenting strange objects in a strange world. The humans seem to be unimportant to the documenter. In fact, I am quite interested in the humans in my pictures – and was keenly aware of their presence when I made the images – but I am interested in seeing them from the perspective of someone who or something that is not so interested. I have perhaps used humans as kinds of “false punctums” – false because Barthes describes a punctum as accidental. He says: Certain details may “prick” me. If they do not, it is doubtless because the photographer has put them there intentionally… Hence the detail which interests me is not, or at least is not strictly, intentional, and probably must be so… (Barthes, Camera Lucida 47).

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21 However, by focusing on the buildings while I shot, and ignoring the people even as I noticed their presence in the scene, I attempted to allow for them to act punctums in my pictures, which, as Barthes describes, occurs in the field of the photographed thing like a supplement that is at once inevitable and delightful… it says only that the photographer was there, or else, still more simply, that he could not not photograph the partial object at the same time as the total object… (Barthes, Camera Lucida 47). Ultimately the intention in treating humans this way is that they look like creatures inhabiting a strange environment rather than people we can relate to. The grid also affects the space in the photographs. The pictures arranged in grids are some of the least strange in terms of depth – space and depth are fairly straightforward, shown more or less as we are accustomed to seeing. By placing the pictures in a grid however, this sense of space that seems natural in an individual picture is undermined. Szarkowski observes this flattening of space in the diptych Untitled by Ray K. Metzker (Fig. 28): Viewing the two frames as one image effects a profound change in the visual character of the two component elements. Viewed singly, each exposure represents a figure on a plane which recedes into deep space; viewed together, the ground no longer recedes. Since the twofigures are seen from the same distance, they are read as existing in the same plane… Visually, the two figures are not resting but falling, or, perhaps more precisely, floating: as weightless and disoriented as two astronauts… (Szarkowski, Looking 200).

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22 Conclusion Through my attempts to distance and alienate my audience from their own world, I discovered several important things about the photograph, things which I was able to use to my advantage to further advance my goals. In trying to emphasize the flatness of the picture plane I began to understand to what extend the camera sees things differently from the human eye and I controlled variables such as depth of field and exposure to achieve specific effects. I was able to look at the world differently by engaging in and considering “photographic seeing,” which allowed my to exchange my usual set of prejudices, the lens through which I normally view the world around me, for another set – one defined by the technical qualities of photographic equipment. And as I carefully chose which objects to include in my pictures and which to leave out, I discovered the effect that the camera has when it removes the things it photographs from their context in reality of creating a world which often looks very much like reality but which is necessarily different from it. One major goal I had in making these images was to provide an alternate perspective from which to consider our world and by extension our existence. I am interested in arts and sciences that challenge our preconceptions by making the familiar strange and making things that at first appear alien somehow familiar. This is one approach to understanding the body of work. It is an inevitably incomplete explanation of how and why I took certain pictures, but it proved to be a useful and rewarding one. More than anything else, perhaps, this line of questioning I

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23 pursued has raised many questions and has suggested many possible avenues of exploration that I look forward to investigating with my camera.

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24 Plates Fig. 1. Harry Callahan, Chicago 1953. Gelatin silver print. Fig. 2. Henri Matisse, Blue Nude I 1952. Paper cut-out, 116x78 cm.

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25 Fig. 3. Harry Callahan, Eleanor, Chicago 1947. Gelatin silver print. Fig. 4. Picasso, Nude 1931. Etching, 5 1/8x4 in.

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26 Fig. 5. Harry Callahan, Providence 1967. Gelatin silver print. Fig. 6. Harry Callahan, Port Huron, Michigan 1952. Gelatin silver print.

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27 Fig. 7. Harry Callahan, Camera Movement on Flashlight 1946/7. Gelatin silver print, 24.5x19.5 cm. Fig. 8. Harry Callahan, Portugal 1982. Fig. 9. Harry Callahan, Kansas City 1981.

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28 Fig. 10. Henri Matisse, Interior with Eggplants 1911. Tempera and mixed media on canvas, 212x246 cm. Fig. 11. Henri Matisse, Red Studio 1911. Oil on canvas, 181x219 cm.

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29 Fig. 12. Harry Callahan, Ireland 1979. Fig. 13. Richard Estes, Sunday on 2nd Avenue 2003. Fig. 14. Dwelling and Flora

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30 Fig. 15. Paul Czanne, Montagne Sainte-Victoire 1887. Fig. 16. Dwelling

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31 Fig. 17. Paul Czanne, The Railway Cutting c. 1870. Fig. 18. Piet Mondrian, Tableau No. 1 1921.

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32 Fig. 20. Henri Matisse, Tea 1919. Fig. 21. Dwelling and Flora

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33 Fig. 22. Dwelling and Flora Fig. 23. Lines

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34 Fig. 24. Dwellings and Lines Fig. 25. Aircraft and Flora

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35 Fig. 26. Dwelling and Human Fig. 27. Dwellings

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36 Fig. 28 Ray K. Metzker, Untitled

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37 Bibliography Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981. ---. “The Death of the Author.” Image, Music, Text Roland Barthes, Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 142-148. ---. “The Photographic Message.” Image, Music, Text Roland Barthes, Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 15-31. ---. “Rhetoric of Image.” Image, Music, Text Roland Barthes, Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 32-51. Bazin, Andr. “The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” What is Cinema Andr Bazin, Trans. Hugh Gray. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. 9-16. Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1985. ---. “A Small History of Photography.” One Way Street and Other Writings Walter Benjamin, Trans. Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter. London: NLB, 1979. 240-257. Burgin, Victor. “Looking at Photographs.” Thinking Photography Ed. Victor Burgin. London: The Macmillan Press LTD., 1982. 142-154. Cox, Julian. Harry Callahan: Eleanor Gttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2007. Cronin, Paul, ed. Herzog on Herzog London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2002. Eco, Umberto. “Critique of the Image.” Thinking Photography Ed. Victor Burgin. London: The Macmillan Press LTD., 1982. 32-38. Grundberg, Andy. “On the Dissecting Table: The Unnatural Coupling of Surrealism and Photography.” The Critical Image: Essays on contemporary photography Ed. Carol Squiers. Seattle: Bay Press, 1990. 80-87. Krauss, Rosalind. “A Note on Photography and the Simulacral.” The Critical Image: Essays on Contemporary Photography Ed. Carol Squiers. Seattle: Bay Press, 1990. 15-27. Prager, Brad. The Cinema of Werner Herzog: Aesthetic Ecstasy and Truth London: Wallflower Press, 2007.

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38 Salvesen, Britt. Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work New Haven: Center for Creative Photography and Yale University Press, 2006. Sekula, Allan. “On the Invention of Photographic Meaning.” Thinking Photography Ed. Victor Burgin. London: The Macmillan Press LTD., 1982. 84-109. Sontag, Susan. On Photography New York: Doubleday, 1990. Szarkowski, John. Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1973. ---. Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960 New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1978. Wall, Jeff. Lecture on “Jeff Wall” exhibition. Art Institute of Chicago. 28 June 2007. Wells, Liz, Ed. Photography: A Critical Introduction New York: Routledge, 2000.


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