Sunday, 20 November 2016

A Mosquito Trapped in Amber

I am aware of the increasingly high production values of both film and television drama and even some reality shows. Many films and television programs now have incorporated incredibly high standards of photography, beautiful light and composition that envelop and support their narrative. This work is equal to the abundance of aesthetically beautiful but ultimately shallow still photography that floods the market presented as fine art photography. It would be fair to say that perhaps there is some element of chicken and the egg going on here, in so far as it is the still image that has inspired film to raise its game incorporating classic and contemporary photographic themes. This is exciting, we can see our work and ideas seeping into the zeitgeist, becoming part of a standardized repertoire to reflect modern life but I feel that many still images defined as fine art now feel like nothing more than a still frame lifted from somewhere else.

So, the challenge now and initial arbiter of quality for any photograph, is whether it is capable of elevating the technical aesthetic to a level that can only be explored by the still image. What defines a great photograph above and beyond a transferable aesthetic to the moving image?

First and foremost there must be an acknowledgement within the work itself that there is a reason for interrupting the timeline, for cutting into the inevitable flow and observing the content 'In stasus''. As a portraitist I am particularly interested in the complexity of emotion expressed by the human face, the 1000s of barely observable muscle movements that betray our emotional state, only fleeting and overlapping in film, barely registered as part of a complex narrative. With the still image there is a frozen moment that can be scrutinised outside of the normative timeline. We can hold an emotion and not let go of it like a mosquito trapped in amber.

I have never found that two dimensional beauty is enough, both in people and art, it is fleeting, seductive and disarming, I want to possess it definitely but once I have consumed it I tire of it quickly, I find myself only seeing the flaws. Beauty is a successful mask that hides that which is most interesting in us; it is more often an instrument of deception than an arbiter of knowledge or truth. Beyond this shiney surface is a seam of complexity that transcends conventional time. Normative beauty has become (and perhaps has always been) part of our medication to assist in our survival as we engage with the complexities of our present, it is the art equivalent of Prozac and many images commercially fulfill this transient criteria, as amyl nitrate hits my brain and floods me with pleasure for a few seconds, so does much work we are exposed to everyday satiate our desire as we drive past a poster or flick through a magazine but it fades quickly and leaves me with a headache only cured by the consumption of more of the same. Further I find myself seeking the flaws in anything presented as perfection hence I cannot spend too long with that which is presented as close to it, the longer I am with it the sooner I become bored, then angered and finally threatened by it as I fail to compete on an existential level with the message of purity. So what elevates an image from the morass of perfectly lovely but ultimately shallow beauty to one of lasting value?

The inclusion of the immediate historic narrative within the image, the cars, clothes, technology, anything which is present in the landscape that is representative of the era within which we are passing through, deliberately or incidentally, is an essential element in increasing an images chances of future value, this may include elements that in the present moment might feel unattractive, especially to the nostalgist; a MacDonalds sign, a rubbish bin, a Toyota Prius. Included in this is the technical make up of the production of the work itself, the very nature of the image can indicate the era of its creation. The addiction to nostalgia as a prop to elevate work in the moment in the pursuit of the transient 'hit' from our audience is my main gripe; we are sacrificing our works' long term value reducing it ultimately to the fish and chip paper of history. I see few reasons to create a photograph that merely replicates an era of photography long dead and this has been my argument against the use of analogue film techniques in my article 'FILM IS DEAD' for Hunger magazine. There are some exceptions that play off these ideas by juxtaposing contemporary content with nostalgic processes but mostly I immediately disregard all works that do not negotiate in some way with the present. 

The path of least resistance is not the solution to great work or work with any sense of legacy, mostly we must explore and celebrate the present and if we find the present to be a place we do not want to explore or that we do not find attractive, we should examine why that is within ourselves but ultimately we should be vigilant to the unique powers of the defining moment, the value of suspending emotion and action in time, creating an immediate history.

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