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SHUTTER SPEED: DECONSTRUCTING A PHOTOGRAPHIC IDEAL BY CLAIRE KRUEGER A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Rich ard Herzog Sarasota, Florida April, 2010
ii List of Illustrations Figure 1. Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled 1954 Figure 2. Stability 2009. Figure 3. The Pyramid Village 2009 Figure 4. Frame Box #2 2009 Figure 5. Frame Box #3 2009 Figure 6. #1 2009 Figure 7. #2 2009 Figure 8. John Baldessari, Hitch hiker (Splattered Blue) 1995 Figure 9. #3 2009 Figure 10. Robert Rauschenberg, Erased De Kooning 1953 Figure 11. Dust Spot #2 2009 Figure 12. Walead Beshty, Dust 2007 2008 Fi gure 13. Matt 2010 Figure 14. Larry Sultan, Dad on Bed 1984 Figure 15. Christian Boltanski Reflexion 2000 Figure 16. Claire Morgan, Fluid 2009
Table of Contents INTRODUCTION5 CHAPTER 1: REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING .9 CHAPTER 2: COLLECTIONS OF TIME...25 CHAPTER 3: TRANSITORY..29 CONCLUSION....36
iv SHUTTER SPEED: DECONSTRUCTING A PHOTGRAPHIC IDEAL Claire Krueger New College of Florida, 2010 ABSTRACT As the 20th century progressed, the increasing availability of inexpensive photographic technology allowed for a majority of people to document their memories in a tangible form. However, the link between our photographs and our memories is not always concrete. My thesis, a creative studio project, examines this connection between our tangible memories (photographs) and our abstract mental memories. Through the manipulation of found photographs and the documentation of transitory moments, my art challenges the viewer to re examine the relationship between photographs and our memories. Sculptures, altered prints, and found materials represent passing time, memory and mortality; the concept of time passing implies human mortality bec ause we grow older and closer to death with each day. This thesis takes the form of an art exhibition consisting of photographic portraits, interactive sculptures incorporating found photographs, and flipbooks. This artwork draws influences from Roland Bar thes, Robert Rauschenberg, Christian Boltanski, John Baldessari, Diane Arbus, Larry Sultan, Claire Morgan, and Susan Sontag. Richard Herzog Humanities
1 INTRODUCTION As evidenced by all the discarded photographs which I found, fa mily photographs are disposed of when they are no longer relevant. When a relationship ends, or a person passes, we throw or put away photographs pertaining to that person or event. A generalization can be made that family and friend snapshots are treated as material memories, in their turn discarded as a method of forgetting. Families and individuals often use photography as a way to permanently keep memories in a material fashion, such as in scrapbooks or photo albums. However, in actuality those photo graphs fade, disintegrate, are lost or given away. Families and individuals are nostalgic for their memories: "R egardless of what it signifies, any photographic image also connotes memory and nostalgia, nostalgia for modernity and the 20 th century it" (La Grange 2005, 58 ). Photography offers a connection to reality with which we associate feelings and memories so strongly, it seems as if destroying them or hiding them will help us to feel better, especially when we attribute or assign negative or sad connot ations to that memory/photograph. The same concept is applied to good memories; we display our photographs proudly on the mantel, our walls, or in our wallets. The found photos in my art are not based on what I would consider to be "good" or "bad" photog raphs. They are simply what I have found. The way bad photos are generally identified is if the subject pictured doesn't believe it looks like himself or herself. They may identify other photos that seem very similar but if they slightly more
2 like the fac e they see in the mirror, they would consider it a good photograph. In my Blinking Portrait Series most of the subjects consider those images to be bad representations of themselves; because mid blink is not a face they often see. Roland Barthes identif ies two aspects of any photograph: studium, the symbolism in the image, and punctum, the small detail or part of an image that pricks each viewer individually (Barthes, 2001, 23) In a great deal of my work I am trying to eliminate the studium, I am focus ing on the details that intrigues me and that I wish to highlight. However, I realize that for others the part that interests me may not be as interesting to them. It is in the framing and fragmenting of the photograph that I am interested in and how other s will view this. The rectangular "frame" of photography is what draws our attention in "The central act of photography, the act of choosing and eliminating, forces a concentration on the picture edge the line that separates in from out" (La Grange 2005 18). Photography creates interest by only showing the partial picture, by framing' a part of a scene that holds the viewers attention. Stephen Shore writes of the frame in a similar way, "We know the world exists beyond the frame but the photograph is a self contained world" (La Grange 2005, 23). I use the frame in my art to re contextualize the fragments of photographs into new images altogether, such as the holes cut in the Frame Box Series that highlight certain details. A fragment contains none of t he narrative of the photograph and it detracts from the representational quality placing greater emphasis on the medium. The viewer's attention becomes more focused on the two dimensional nature of the photograph, and the latter's content is sublimated by the medium. The fragmentation takes away any larger meaning behind the photograph, leaving only its aesthetic value.
3 Another way to dematerialize the narrative is by aestheticizing the illusive nature of time. I use the substance and nature of dust to exp ress time in photographic form; by enlarging specks of dust found on photos and collected on plates, I describe time that has passed. The collected dust speaks of a narrative, because dust contains pieces of all the events and people formerly present in th at space. The photographic dust spots show that even in the short period it takes to process film, dust has fallen and forever marked the film and photographs with time. My thesis contains many found, family photographs. I choose the found photographs ve ry loosely on the basis of content; I use photographs that include families or individuals trying to document family events, childhood, and posed studio portraits. I place other peoples' photographs over my own to remove myself from the images, and to form my own relationships with the images that are different from photographs of people or events that I know. Apart from found photographs, I have included seven photographs I have taken in the Blinking Portrait Series These staged, studio portraits depict a transitory moment: my attempt to freeze time at a moment that is seldom documented. When we think of people, we think of them with their eyes open. When the subject is caught blinking in a photograph, we consider it to be a bad photo, and the picture i s often discarded because the image does not depict the subject in the way that we picture them in our mind's eye. By taking pictures of a moment that is rarely seen, I ask the viewer to confront a moment that is in between time. Every photograph we take i s a transition between the present and the next second, and this also goes for the action of blinking our eyes. This series holds some aspects of memory seen in my other work, in that I am playing with the
4 conventions of studio photography. Studio photogra phy is meant to hold a timeless memory at certain benchmarks in our lives such as senior year of high school, prom, or the beginnings of creating a family. I am staging timeless renditions, but my images are meant to be only a split second of time, holding no memory, except for my own memories of the subjects themselves.
5 CHAPTER 1: REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING My mother has not kept or taken many photos. She says that it is because she does not want to be overly nostalgic or attached to th e past or past events. In a drawer of family photographs in my parents' house, there is a picture of my mother and her siblings from the 1970s. The face of a man standing next to my mother has been thoroughly scratched out with a pen. By scratching out thi s man's face, my mother has erased this material reminder of her past marriage. She has erased her ex husband's face so not to be reminded of bad memories. Has she been successful? She has kept the photo for so many years and by marking out the man, he has only become more visible. The photograph fades more each year, but it is still present. Each time she looks at it she is reminded of that time in her life. We are constantly reminded of past experiences of family, relationships, and happiness that have been captured in photographs by the look on our faces and the narrative a photograph presents. Through this, photography presents a measure of time. We can relate to photographs through our own life experience as they allow the viewers to understand life, death, and generations as they pass and continue (Barthes 2001, 84). Our bodies remember sensations and our brain relates it to past experiences. Marcel Proust wrote that, "When a noise, an odor already heard or sensed in the past happens to be heard or s ensed again, at once in the present and in the pastthen the permanent and habitually hidden essence of things is released, and our true se lfawakens" (Richard Brassai 2001, 137). Photography lends itself to vision as a nostalgic reminder that may "take u s back to that time" just as a smell, or noise would.
6 I use found photographs that make me feel nostalgic for another time, even though I have no other personal connection to any of the images. I use many old found studio portraits of children, or famil y photos. The photographs range from the 1960s through the 1990s. I often feel most nostalgic for the 1990s images, as they remind me of my own childhood. A viewer of a different generation will likely identify with those images of a time most familiar to their childhood. Photography is always the past, and can remind us of bygone eras, and trends. I often use images where the viewers are posed for the photograph, such as around a Christmas tree, or getting their school picture taken. These poses convey a sense of timelessness, because they are not in action, while at the same time the objects, or clothing speak of a specific time. Even a freshly taken photograph immediately becomes a representation of the past, and the way we relate to that photograph is through the memory of what has happened. I have created sculptures that incorporate photographs to give the two dimensional medium of photography a sense of three dimensionality. This bridges the gap between the snapshot, documentary nature of family pho tographs and art itself. Robert Rauschenberg often spoke of "bridging the gap between art and life" and had a similar technique of combining paintings and freestanding sculptures in a series of artworks entitled Combines (Stuckey, 1997, 98) Untitled (figu re 1.), is an example of a combination of two mediums similar to my series of photo pyramidal sculptures. In my sculptures, viewers must interact with the work, not necessarily touching them but interacting with them in their positioning to see more of a h idden image.
7 Figure 1. Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled 1954. Stability ( figure 2.) is a structure made of salvaged wood pieces that form the outside angles of a four sided pyramid. An old wedding photograph fills one of the angles but is cropped to be incomplete. All that can be seen on either side of the double sided photograph is the lower bodies of the bride and groom. On one side there is a triangle of red plastic over the photograph that obscures more of the image. Figure 2. Stability 2009.
8 This piece contains a snapshot of an anonymous couples' apparent stability: their marriage and the day they were supposedly partnered for life. The photograph depicts a moment in time considered to be permanent but often, in r eality, is not permanent at all. The photograph is a lasting reminder of that perfect day, but just as our memories fade and fragment, the photograph itself has yellowed and aged. This couple is no longer young. They may no longer be together, they may not even be living, however this photograph is a relic of a life they once had. It is a signifier of time passing and dissolution. This piece was not included in my thesis show, "These Shutters Are Overtime", because it was too literal and primitive compare d to my other works. It has important ideas involved, but the wedding photograph was too literal a representation of permanence. It was also the only work of its kind, and I find series' work better than single pieces for the points I am trying to get acro ss. The Pyramid Village, (figure 3.) is a group of pyramid shaped sculptures composed of various pieces of salvaged wood that has been stacked together. The wood used has a variety of diverse textures; some is newer and cleaner, some is older, almost all is marked with nails or paint. The pyramid shapes look to be toppling over and their shapes are mathematically imperfect. Photographs are glued on the top of two or more sides of each pyramid. The viewer may not notice the photographs unless he or she is paying close attention. Some of the images on the pyramids are enlarged and/or cropped so that they are obscured beyond recognition, or at least beyond instant recognition. The viewer must find the proper angle above each pyramid, aligning the slats in the ir vision in order to see the image, only to discover the image is forever incomplete.
9 The photographs on the pyramids are almost hidden, and sliced into fragments. This can be likened to the way that a memory is a solid block of time of which we only Figure 3. The Pyramid Village 2009. retain segments of. Each slat of the pyramid holds a portion of a photograph, a snapshot of a moment. In choosing the images used for the pyramids, I have selected images of child ren or pets. One of the larger pyramids in The Pyramid Village (figure 3.) has two images of
10 household pets along the tops of the slats. Pets are a large part of many a childhood memory, yet their lives are short and fleeting. Especially in a child's devel oping years, pets are a reminder of mortality. Parents take many pictures of children as they grow, to later look back and remember how their children changed as time passed. Many of the images I used for these pyramids are dated in the 1980s on the orig inal photograph. The children have grown up and moved on from that stage of their development shown in this work. The past is inherent in this work. The Pyramid Village is made up of eight pyramids with two images on each. By grouping the pyramids with s pace in between each sculpture, the viewers can explore the images. This offers the opportunity for reflection and exploration that is an inherent quality of a photo album. The Frame Boxes series references another kind of photo assemblage: the commercial ly available collage frames made of paper or mat board that have many holes to highlight numerous smaller photos within a larger frame. Sometimes the shapes cut out are letters that form a word, such as "love" or "family" or they can just be a variety of r ectangles, circles, and squares. These are quite popular as a way of placing many photographic memories into one frame, in a sense summarizing people's lives into one two dimensional assemblage. Frame Boxes (figure 4. and figure 5.) is a series of intera ctive three dimensional mechanical wall sculptures. A knob is used to rotate photographs that are partially obscured that can be viewed only through cutout shapes. The identity of the subjects in the photographs is unknown, they are anonymous. I invite vie wers to turn the knob and
11 change the view of the images. Through tactile interaction, the audience is more likely going to remember the experience of my art. The turning of the knob rotates the image and different portions become visible. However, the view er will never see the entire image because it is obscured. Through this process of fragmentation, the photos become anonymous and lose their original meaning. They are now generic faces, and a representation of any life. The act of turning the photographs is analogous to the turning of a clock, and through turning the photographs the viewer is initiating a cyclical movement which references the cyclical way that our culture views time. Figure 4. Frame Box #2 2009. Figure 5. Frame Box #3 20 09. The images used in this series are school portraits that have been found at thrift stores. The idea of school portraits is to watch children grow up by keeping a record of how they change each year through school photos. By using these photographs and
1 2 fragmenting them, they have lost their original meaning and become anonymous and devalued. They are no longer chronologizing someone's youth. I re imagine found photographs by combining images from different sources to create a new dialogue between the i mages. In doing so, I remove their original memory preserving content. They have no reference except for the relationship they have with the other images in the same piece, and that relationship is vague and creates no chronological narrative. The images a re no longer memorializing a specific life or individual. They are an example of the idea of memorializing a life; they have become an anonymous face. Family photographs are a particularly vivid way to see mortality and aging. The family continues to age and when looking back at old photos we are reminded of how much time has passed. Christian Boltanski, an artist working with memory, anonymity and photography, wrote, "family memory, as opposed to cultural memory, is not meant to be stabilized or eternal b ecause it is restricted by the temporal limitations of life" (Spies 2001, 92). Family photographs often mean little to non family members, as they do not evoke the feelings of nostalgia and other emotions. Obscuring the photograph encourages viewer inte raction. In The Frame Boxes series, the viewers must move the image themselves, while in The Pyramid Village they must re position themselves to see more of the image. In Frame Boxes the details are highlighted so the viewer must focus on what is often u nnoticed. Roland Barthes wrote that what often pricks, or stands out to the viewer in a photograph are the details (Barthes 2001, 43). When thinking back to a photograph, what a person often remembers best are specific details of the scene, not the entire scene. They may remember that favorite shirt
13 they wore in the photo, or their dad's funny glasses, but maybe not remember the poses accurately. The Pyramid Village contains only partial views of photographs, the viewer is forced to investigate only the det ails of the photograph. In fragmenting photographs, the tone or feeling has been taken away because it is no longer a full scene or part of a narrative. This fragment becomes flat and lacks emotion. A photograph is made up of constants, details, such as people, clothing, and objects. By fragmenting the photographs, I have drawn the attention to the constants and eliminated the overall scene or situation. A photo is naturally subjective but through fragmentation the photograph becomes objective. After fr agmenting photographs through sculpture, I began to obscure photographs and place emphasis on details directly with paint, through printmaking, and collage. Middle Aged Couple at a Wedding is a series of collage and mixed media prints. There are multiple c opies of the same photograph depicting a middle aged couple smiling and posing at a wedding. I originally began using monotyping to obscure the images, but it seemed like an extra step to take when the same effect is achieved through paint. Each photograph is obscured in different ways including paint blocking out part or most of the image, or the photograph being spliced with another image. The photograph was selected because the subjects appeared frozen in time. This couple seems as if they are not moving as evidenced by the plastered smiles on their faces and their stiff poses. Obscuring each print only amplifies the frozen faces and posture of the subjects. The lacking context adds to the obscuring of the image. In #1 (figure 6.), of Middle Aged Couple at a Wedding, a photograph of a forest splits the middle aged couple's photograph into several parts. The bottom of the forest
14 photograph fades to white. Representative of when memories; get confused, merge together, when a situation reminds us of previou s situations or memories. Where the photograph fades to white is symbolic of when memory fades, becomes fragmented or fails. Figure 6. #1 2009. In #2 (figure 7.) of this series, most of the image is blocked out by orange paint isolating and s howing only a few small areas of the image. The areas shown are analogous to the cut out frames referenced in Frame Boxes We are looking through the orange frame and only getting a glimpse of the hidden image behind it. Like Frame Boxes the images are ob scured and the viewer is forced to focus on the details that remain.
15 Figure 7. #2 2009. While in #3 (figure 9.), the entire top part of the photograph blacked out with paint. This cuts off the tops of both heads of the subjects obscuring their identities. Without faces, the artwork becomes less about the individual as people than making them objects. It grants them anonymity and mystery. John Baldessari worked with altering images in small ways to completely change the context or narrative of a image. Figure 8. John Baldessari, Hitch hiker (Splattered Blue), 1995 Baldessari used a technique similar to mine in altering film stills and posters. In Hitch hiker (Splattered Blue) (Figure 8.), he painted over variou s parts and confounded the
16 original intended meaning and produced new connections within the image. He often makes the faces anonymous by covering them with colored circle stickers. He was trying to change an image as little as physically possible while ch anging the entire feel, context, or tone of the image (Jones, 2009, 58). Figure 9. #3 2009. Middle Aged Couple at a Wedding series was not fully resolved because I was mostly experimenting in what I could do to transform and obscure images. However, it was a stepping stone into the next two art series' Erased Family Slides and Flipbooks Erased Family Slides is a series of projected found slides that have had portions removed. These images are no longer whole; they are l acking some detail. Essentially the family to which these photos belonged has had their scrapbook erased. Unlike the prints #2 and #3 there is no chance at uncovering or recovering what was originally there. The slides are the original, the only source of the images and now they have been permanently altered. Digital copies may exist of these slides, but they are mere copies, and they are not actually a "hard copy". I have taken it right to the source, and erased portions of the core.
17 To choose which port ions of an image to remove, I look at something either extremely pertinent to the narrative, such as the subjects face, the large house in the foreground, etc. In some I choose to take away something small that seems unnecessary but in actuality it affect s the narrative regardless. I only remove objects relating to people such as cars, pets, paintings or people themselves. Removing natural objects such a single trees seems much less important to the narrative. Erased Family Slides manipulates the viewer. The viewers assume that the missing parts of slides are as they appear, a person, a building, or a car, has been scratched out of the picture. However, some of these areas that are missing are fabricated objects. They never existed in that photograph. Tho ugh the viewer may never know this, it is changing how they think of memories. By eliminating portions of the images, the viewers realize something has been lost, removed or forgotten. The scene or image in a photograph can never change, but the way we rem ember things over time can. Our memories sometimes mislead us as time passes and details become more faint. Barthes wrote in Camera Lucida "not only is the photograph never, in essence, a memory, but it actually blocks memory, quickly becomes a counter me mory." It is violent, it fills the sight by force and with photographs nothing can be refused or transformed (Barthes 2001, 91). While our memories change over time, photographic scenes stay the same and in looking through old photographs we may be influen ced to feel differently about past times. Robert Rauschenberg, through the process of removal, took the personality and individuality of one of Willem De Kooning's drawings when he erased it in his piece, Erased De Kooning 1953 (figure 10.) By unmakin g' the original drawing, he was
18 creating a new work of art. He took something that required time and effort to create, and took it apart. It was not back to the original white paper, it now had a history and traces remaining. In my work, the covering up an d cutting away at photographs, such as in #2 #3 and the Erased Family Slides the original photographs have had part of their personalities erased or covered up. Like Rauschenberg's art, my slides still have a mark from being scratched away. The empty sp ace is not really empty, it holds the shape of what was originally there and the strokes I used to take it away. Figure 10. Robert Rauschenberg, Erased De Kooning 1953. Another way I chose to represent an altered memory is by slowly disintegrating it. In Flipbook, I created a collection of three flipbooks of which each has an image that partially fades away as the viewer flips the book. Names are given to each flipbook to impose a narrative, though there are no facts to suggest it has any relation to the image.
19 The words are mainly references to ways we remember or forget people or past times. In Where You There That Time? two small children start out hugging a man dressed in a snowman suit. Nearing the end of the flipbook, the little girl in the photograph has slowly dissolved, to become a white silhouette. Remember That Guy Who Always Told Funny Jokes? starts out with an image of a reunion picnic. There are three father figures standing next to one another, holding drinks and smilin g at the camera. As the viewer flips the book, the man on the left slowly disappears, leaving only his clothing, watch, drink and a white space where his body used to be. Diego Used to Be This Tall begins with a pre teen boy kicking a soccer ball. As the book flips on, the soccer ball disappears off the left side of the frame. As the viewer continues to flip the book, the boy kicking the ball slowly becomes invisible, with the background showing through more each page. Flipbook series is about the flaws in memory. When we look back at old photographs, we see people we hardly remember; maybe we know one or two facts about them after a good deal of time has passed. Remember That Guy Who Always Told Funny Jokes? is a reminder that we may not remember how the y looked, or their names but we have a slight impression of them. Looking at photographs of people we know well, we often remark on how they have changed and grown, this is especially true of children and is referenced in Diego Used To Be This Tall Cinem a divides time into discrete and static units such as frames on a filmstrip, or in this case, photos in a flipbook. When the film is played, or the book is flipped, it gives a sense of time through representation and movement in space ( Kulturprogramm 1997 41). These flipbooks are unconventional because instead of the objects moving, they are
20 simply disappearing which is not a physical representation but more a literal representation of passing time. The only actual moving object in Flipbook is the soccer b all that moves off the page. That signifies something being over and past, because it has moved out of the picture plane. A photograph is a "self contained world" so the soccer ball no longer exists.
21 CHAPTER 2: COLLECTIONS OF TIME Dust i s a material collection of time passing. If time were to be split into blocks, and made into a countable material representation, it could be done through collecting dust gathered on surfaces. Not even a clock is as evident as gathered dust on a surface as telling us how much time has past. Dust Spots (figure 11.) is a series of photographic dust spots enlarged to the point of abstraction. Prints with dust spots on them are often discarded, as they are considered defective. They often show up on photograph s, regardless of the efforts of a person trying to avoid them. Dust is constantly in the air and gathering on surfaces. For color film, between it coming out of the film developing machine and into the print processor, enough time has passed for dust to co llect. This dust adds to the history and memory of the photograph, because it contains particles of the events that the film experienced. The memory and history of an image does not end with the shutter click, it continues through the photolab, in the home as it gets dusty in frames or decays in hot drawers. The photographs used as the basis for this series were found photographs that had tiny dusts spots on the prints from the photo lab. They were scanned but before being cropped, the scanner itself als o had a hard time to detecting the specks of dust on the scanning plate that showed up in the images when they were enlarged. Figure 11., Dust Spot #2, is from a black and white photograph but if the viewer looks closely they will see many dots of color fr om dust on the scanner. Dust Collection of Artist's Bedroom and Dust Collection of Artist's Studio were created by placing glass plates out to collect dust in spaces I occupy. These plates were
22 Fig. 11. Dust Spot #2 2009.
23 then scanned and enlarged showing the particles that landed on the plates over a period of weeks. Particles of the events, objects and people in that space landed on the plates as dust. The end result is a material record of the events that happen ed in those spaces during that time. In his work Dust (figure 12.),Walead Beshty enlarged a photograph of the dust of smoggy Los Angeles and put it on a billboard in downtown. His work is taken a step farther than mine because his sample size is much large r. He uses the entire city of Los Angeles while I use my personal spaces collections as examples of the material history. Figure 12. Walead Beshty, Dust 2007 2008. The Dust Spot Series and the Dust Collection series are similar to the The Pyramid Village and the Frame Boxes in that, a block of time, or a slice of life' is often neatly folded into a particular memory. The dust acts as a material memory of what has
24 happened in the space, much like a photograph. It is a physical fragment of the peopl e and events existing in that space. Dust is a collection of history, traces of dust signify time passing. History being measured and traces of histories left behind on material objects is evident in some of my other works, such as Erased Family Slides o r Flipbook, and The Pyramid Village In Erased Family Slides there is an empty area left behind to signify something missing, and there are marks from the missing objects being scratched out, almost like a trail left behind. In Flipbook there is somethin g of the memory of a person left behind, as evidenced by the blank space in Where You There That Time? In Remember That Guy Who Used To Tell Funny Jokes?, there are clothing and accessories left behind though the body disappears, another trail to a missing memory. In The Pyramid Village mostly old wood has been used and it has a history of use, shown by old nails, paint, and wear. The pyramids made with new wood still have a history, marks, printing, and dents form their path between production and in the final sculpture.
25 CHAPTER 3: TRANSITORY Roland Barthes addressed photography in terms that each time a person is photographed, he or she suffer from a second when he or she is neither subject nor object, but are transforming from one to the other (Barthes 2001, 14). Once a person has been photographed, the photograph is merely an objective representation of that individual. It is similar in the way that fragments of photographs objectify formerly subjective images, such as in Frame Boxes It is fl at, and only captures a fraction of a second and holds nothing but an expression. This is the transitory moment I am trying to catch in taking portraits of subjects mid blink. Photography is an art of the transitory, as moments can never be repeated and e very photograph documents a different fraction of a second. The Blinking Portrait series is an attempt to capture a moment of transience. Each subject is asked to dress as if he or she were having his or her portrait taken. The subject was posed under stud io lighting as if for a typical portrait session. However, sitters are asked to repeatedly blink as they are having their picture taken, it is often difficult for them to hold their "timeless" smile and posture while attempting to continue blinking. Matt ( Figure 13.), is one of the seven photographs in this series. The portraits in the blinking series are intriguing to viewers because of the uncomfortable feeling on the faces of the subjects. They are not posed or smiling perfectly, though they are close. T hey are stuck in a second in between being ready to have their picture taken and being completely unprepared. The fact that his or her facial
26 Figure 13. Matt 2010. expressions are so uncomfortable draws viewers in, in the same way that hor ror stories are almost too scary to hear, but so enticing. Diane Arbus photographed humans that are often referred to as "freaks" or "unusual" for physical or mental abnormalities. Judith Goldman wrote, "though trained not to admit it, we are fascinated by the aberrant, the violent, and the perverse" (Goldman, 1974 30). These photographs function in the same way as Arbus' images of "freaks." The viewer is fascinated by the unusual depiction of humanity and drawn to the work. These photographs are almost an ti portraiture. Typical studio portraiture strives for timeless perfection, when the subject looks his or her best. When photographic portraiture first began, it was based around a physiognomic culture': the belief that a
27 person's character, subjectivity, or soul can be read in features of the face. This has all but died out in today's portraiture culture (Sobieszek 1999, 20). These portraits, however, are meant to capture in between' takes. The moments we are repositioning ourselves and re adjusting a moment we rarely see because it happens so fast. These portraits may not look how the subjects envision themselves, however, for a split second it is the exact truth of their appearance and a pure measure of time. In an interview with the National Public Radio, Larry Sultan spoke of, "all photographs in a sense are historical, because the moment is gone." Sultan's series, Pictures from Home recreated stills from home movies and photographs. It also included staged and candid photographs of his parents in their home. While some of the photographs seem very poised, others such Dad on Bed 1984, (Figure 14.) appeared as if they were outtakes because, "everything was recorded, including unpleasant, ambiguous and awkward moments" (Sultan 1992, 17). He would tel l his parents not to smile, to be more candid and in doing so was telling his version of the truth, not the truth his parents believed. His father even said that these photographs felt like an outtake from a film, because taken out of context they were a f iction. His series is similar to the Blinking Portrait series in that it shows the "vulnerable introspective side," of the subjects that they may not want others to see (NPR Interview). Sultan spoke of how, in Pictures From Home he wanted to use photograp hy to literally stop time and have his parents live forever. He also explained what interested him in
28 Figure 14. Larry Sultan, Dad on Bed 1984. recreating and documenting his parents' lives was the, "opportunity to watch the body tra nsform over time" (NPR Interview). Photographs visibly show mortality. Photography "slices a moment and freezes it to testify to times relentlessness" (Susan Sontag 2002, 15). That is, in capturing a moment, a photograph highlights its transience. Bolta nski said, "Photography represents mortification and anticipation of death while simultaneously retaining a trace of living and bearing the impression of an individuals life" (Spies 2001, 98). Photography is a way
29 of tracing a life up until death and then remembering it after death through the photographs. Christian Boltanski works with the ephemera of human nature in his art, "We just can't preserve things, or save them from decaying, and that's what my early work is about: preserving objects while being aware of their transient nature" (Spies 2001, 51). Boltanski's piece Reflexion (figure 15) is a series of sculptures that are composed of white sheets hung on metal poles around a gallery and each one is set in front of a glowing black and white image. Ea ch image comes through the sheet hauntingly and the images used are mostly framing special moments such as a wedding day or a small child with his or her mother. This piece seems to be reflecting on the past as passing faint moments, yet still being able t o be preserved through photography. Figure 15. Christian Boltanski Reflexion 2000.
30 Humans try to preserve everything, by sealing floors with polyurethane or keeping food airtight in refrigerators, but regardless nothing lasts. I emphasiz e this lack of control over decay in The Pyramid Village by using old discarded wood. In this piece, I begin in the middle of an object's lifespan, not at the beginning with new materials. The objects are thus new to me, through the means of recycling, bu t also closer to decay. Frame Boxes are built of nearly all new materials except for the knob used to turn the images. The knob is cut from fairly old wood that is slowly disintegrating. The knob has been sanded to appear cleaner, yet the edges are rough a nd falling apart. This art is not meant to last. Some of my work, such as The Pyramid Village was made of materials with different life spans. The wood is old and falling apart while the images are on archival photo paper. Through using the medium of ph otography, I am attempting to show that nothing is permanent, even though photography, as an example, is touted as a way to permanently document events. The Pyramid Village was fast and easy to make, and is merely a transitory statement on fragmentation re ferencing impermanence. Claire Morgan creates installations dealing with decay and transitional periods. Her hanging sculptures combine rapidly decaying matter such as leaves and slower decaying materials such as taxidermy animals. By combining objects wi th different life spans, and hanging the objects from the ceiling in a way that seems to freeze a moment, she has made the passage of time more apparent (Axis Web Site). In her piece, Fluid (Figure 16), a taxidermy bird has fallen through a layer of hangi ng strawberries. The layer of strawberries has been disrupted and strawberries are hanging at different levels towards the bird on the floor. The moment of the strawberries
31 falling has been frozen. This piece incorporates the mixture of decaying and preser ved materials, and as the days pass, the strawberries decay while still hanging in the gallery while the taxidermy bird does not change. Figure 16. Claire Morgan, Fluid 2009.
32 CONCLUSION The recent past is constantly being discarded and traded in (Sontag 2002, 68). We trade in our old memories for new ones when we get tired of the old ones. We want to refresh our present lives by displaying more recent presents and discarding the past. Yet at the same time, we strive to document our experience as accurately as possible. Our lives are fleeting and capturing our growing families and annual events helps us to understand the passing of time. We keep articles and belongings that hold memories for us, and photographs not only hold memories but also vi sually display them. With the invention of photography we have come to rely on "our paper phantoms, transistorized landscapes. A featherweigh t portable museum" (Sontag 2002, 68). As we get older, all we know of our lives has been preserved in our memories and photographs act as tangible evidence of these memories. We take pictures to capture a period of time we are experiencing, but the images we capture depict only a fraction of a second. This split second is brief, merely a transition between units of t ime. However, these split second stills can cause us to recall whole periods of our lives. When our memories fail us, photographs act as a supplement to our experiences. However, this can be problematic; when photography is used for the purpose of nostalgi a and as a tangible memory it fails to tell us the whole truth. Remembering, forgetting and falsifying portions of memories is how we have evolved; using photography does not help us overcome this problem, but can serve to intensify it.