This post introduces another invited scribe for this blog: Rodrigo H.. Though it’s not his first post as a newcomer, he has made a singular contribution to accompany his visual work, which is entitled to its own post. From here on Rodrigo will wonder adrift amidst his affair with curiosity and the places it leads him to. From now on, we will be fortunate enough to share.
Why do I photograph?
I photograph out of plain “simple” curiosity or, perhaps, nosiness. I am an observer. I ask questions, lots of them, everyday and about everything; although most of them are not —cannot be— verbalized. I have always been what some would define as shy but I’d rather refer to as “quiet”.
I don’t see the world as a spectacle —this word makes me uncomfortable, it is too patronizing, too cocky (too French) and too simplistic for the complexities that surround us— and neither as a stage. There is something overtly teleological about this other word, as if there were always a final purpose, a closure dictated by a script.
However, it is true that our lives are filled with dramas, stories and epic struggles; after all, we are —that is, our minds are— hard-wired to spot patterns and causalities in each and every one of our activities, thus it could be said that we evolved to create narratives.
But I prefer to think of the world not just as stories, but also as problems to be pondered upon, as explanations to be sought. I long to understand the things, the objects that surround me. I want to find the order of causalities, to grasp their consequences. I want to find relations. I want to be able to understand; to know. Not to find a purpose, or a motive or even a structure, just phenomena, things that happen not for a specific reason but for a series of circumstances so complex we have not yet learned how to imagine them.
And that is, perhaps, my only true ambition.
The problem, as Craigie Horsfield often has said it, is the difficulty we all face when we try to “say” the world. It lies in the incompleteness of our language, in us being unable to fully communicate our experiences, to —objectively— share the minute details and subtleties of our daily existence in all their uniqueness. A sort of “phenomenological handicap” that is. A paradox which, simultaneously, makes us feel frustrated and forces us to keep trying. It makes us look for common grounds, for metaphors, analogies, formulas to identify with others and with the world. Ways in which we could be able to “say” how we really apprehend beauty, pain, concern or any other feeling or experience which moves us.
I chose photography not so much as a way to do this —to tell the world— but as a way to ask, to wonder if I can actually do it. Rarely I have been able to “tell” something visually, to formulate a message, to articulate a discourse. In part because I always feel obligated to assume a certain responsibility not to leave “open” my telling or, at least, not to leave it all in the vicinity of ambiguity, as it often seems to be the mainstream formula nowadays.
I also chose —mainly— chemical photography as a method of slowness, of pause.
Photography, as everyone who takes it seriously knows, has to do a lot with chance, more than we usually care to admit. But it also has to do with readiness, with the ability to extract something out of that chance, it means to be able to “jump” —Vilem Flusser has an excellent reflection on the etymological meaning of the word apparatus and its relationship with photography— and preserve whatever we saw or felt and that might be worth communicating.
Of course, this doesn’t always comes as we initially thought. Something goes wrong. The end result is innocuous, wordless and bland; redundant. And that is when we try to revive it, to fiddle with whatever scraps of visual meaning we can extract out of it and try to turn it into a valid formula that someone else —anyone else— might also find interesting. Digital workflows make this process so much easier and fast.
And I have nothing against them, except, that they no longer “works” for me. They make me anxious.
Good formulas are hard to derive, they are built on general principles, valid principles —some might say “universal,” but I feel that this is too big of a word. These formulas are able to function not only as good descriptions but also as tools, as starting points, as referents. We always come back to them, we tear them apart, we try to understand them, to read them. But they always seem to have more meaning, more narrative, more memory underneath.
Good formulas take time and a lot of trial and error to be built, and, of course, a lot of luck too.
I assumed chemical photography because it is —more— vulnerable to human mistake, it functions at a slower pace, it makes me wait. It allows me to think if my questions are well articulated, if I am actually making any questions or just collecting random visual data out of a mere temporary “interest”. It gives me time to build a purpose for my initial curiosity. It allows me to learn —as Horsfield would say it— this «method of a vulnerable time» that, I’ve come to believe, is photography.
Rodrigo H, Lisboa 2013
1. Horsfield, C. (2006). “World and Word.” In: Craigie Horsfield. Relation, edited by Catherine De Zegher, 43 – 68. Lisboa: Jeu de Paume [Paris] / Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian [Lisboa] / Museum of Contemporary Art [Sidney].
2. Flusser, V. (2006). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Translated by Anthony Mathews. London: Reaktion Books. Original edition, 1983. Reprint, 3d.
3. Horsfield, C. (1999). Im Gespräch / Conversation [Exhibition Catalogue]. Edited by Uta Nusser. Stuttgart: Dumont / Württembergischer Kunstverein.