Photography is not about reality. The fact that, when using a camera, what we see on film or screen somehow resembles circumstances we may have witnessed, has been complicating the relationship between photography and reality for almost 200 years. Mimese can explain part of the confusion, but not all. When illustrating a scene with photo-realism (which usually means a reference to the time-space continuum where our bodily beings gravitate), drawing and painting always have the potential to represent things as they are experienced/seen, as if photography could do something beyond that, something inhumane (subhuman or suprahuman), deprived of subjectivity.
Photography is a lot of things, as any other artistic expression is. It is an ideia, a complex technique, a visual discourse, an art form, a means of expression, etc., etc., etc. I’d even suggest photography is not a matter of sight, but of a bodily experience, somehow closer to performance than to painting and drawing for example. What photography is not is a copy of reality, proof or fact, that’s for sure. If one creates a portrait and that portrait does not include the subject’s head, then that head does not exist. Thinking about what’s excluded, that out-of-field, is extremely important, but what I’d like to stress out here is that that head exists only in our imagination, it’s a matter of fiction. That’s pretty obvious I know, but somehow I find it’s not always evident. I’m thinking of a particular situation and am not going to illustrate it. There’s this image. It’s a square format. There’s a body there, dancing, there’s a strong sense of color, movement and play composing the dynamics of the image. Then there’s the art critic, writing about the photographer’s decision to cut the upper part of that body, drawing attention to the mechanical act of the photographer, instead of stressing the notion that all that’s in front of that photographer, in that moment, is the photographic. This may sound like rhetoric, but I can assure it is not. It is very much of the order of the performance: the act of photographing.
Photography is always about the future, not the past. But here, once again, things get complicated. One may think that while composing a scene we’re making it memorable, freezing a moment in time and, thus, building an archive of past events that will inform future generations about “the way we lived”, but, as I see it, what we’re always doing is battling the time-space conditioning of our existence and projecting a future without such conditions. Representing things as we want to internalize them is a fictional approach. Our imagination, our sensibility takes over. There’s no reality, only shared reality, and in order for that shared space to gain momentum, there’s a lot of things that need to merge, empathy being one of them. The images we put out there are internal, always subjective, always autobiographical. They are, as any other artistic form of expression, signs of our experiences, works that have the potential to have a soul; not exactly ours, but maybe the soul of the creative process.
Cartier-Bresson’s idea of the decisive moment is meaningless to me. Projected onto his photographs are his passions, his ideas, his knowledge of the medium and the art form, among many other things. I’m sure he understood all this, so the problem is not really the relevance given to this expression – “decisive moment” – but the life that expression went on to live. Although a great chunk of my practice is cameraless photography, I still use cameras on a daily basis. I don’t see myself as a photographer – rather an image-maker -, but I engage with its practice and keep feeling animated by it. Some days I hate it, but most days I’m in love with it. I’m very much aware that when I shoot a portrait that makes my heart pump, what’s involved in that moment is not of the order of sight, but of something else. Of course we all approach the technical aspects of photography in very different manners, so this only pertains to my practice: when I shoot that portrait I’m not observing what’s in front of me, I’m always anticipating what will happen in front of the camera and i’m not too worried about the viewfinder or the composition or lighting (practice guarantees those things come out automatically). The relationship with the camera I’m working with at the moment is of major importance. It has to be of the order of the performance, an extension of the body, not of sight. As I make such a portrait, which rarely happens, I know what might be conferring a punctum to it is the bundle of ideas, emotions and sensations I’m projecting onto that person. So people end up recognizing themselves in those portraits, they see photographic representations of themselves, but all I see is alter-egos and that can be disturbing.
How we experience things is not completely disjointed from how we see them (if at all we do), but there are many other things involved. On the one hand, intentions play a big role on what we create, but also praxis and experience. If one is full of joy or the prospect of it, that will translate in how we experience and see things, and so on and so forth. Often, the idea of a reality check may make us think we’re finally experiencing things “as they are”, but I find it wiser to question that feeling. If something tragic is happening or is about to unfold, our impulses may take over. In such circumstances, it may be simpler to distinguish priorities and focus on what is absolutely necessary. Under such circumstances, things may seem clearer. However, once those circumstances dissolve, we go back to our complex beings, experiencing the marvels of this chaotic world and that’s where we want to be, at least I do: I want to find myself in a place of marvel, be open to it, available to experience and create things that are unnecessary, that do not exist in order to fulfill any purpose, utilitarian, functional, informative or otherwise.
I often share an idea, maybe too dramatic, that if all a photograph is doing is of the order of the icon, illustrating an idea that words could sum up much better, than that photograph is deprived of humanity, meaning it could be done by a programmed machine. Also, if all a photograph is doing is playing with an uncompromising approach to aesthetic truth, meaning playing on the level of mimesis, then it is lacking a more profound understanding of aesthetics, of what sensations are and how we, humans, are moved and informed by them.
What’s going on while I write this worthless and simplistic post exists not in the realm of the visible, nor of words. It’s the result of a couple of recent experiences that are being processed in order to come into the world as cameraless photographs. People’s encounters, the way we project and transfer emotions onto one another, the way we empathize and want to make ourselves available to help and cuddle, but also how we may experience the place where we know we’re just screens for other people’s prejudices and misconceptions… it’s a blur.