Some thoughts on the display of assignments (and pictures generally) online and off it

What follows is what I jotted down in my physical log at about one in the morning when I couldn’t get back top sleep because of toothache.

I had been thinking about the online presentation of Assignment 1, and was looking through John Berger and Jean Mohr’s Another Way of Telling. I began to muse on  the differences between different forms of presentation for photographs.  I then started to wonder how this related to their meaning, particularly when that meaning relies on the relationship between the individual pictures and their layout. 

Think of the differences (and the similarities) between Henry Wessel’s room at Tate Modern, (where each picture led one to the the next  making links – at least in Wessel’s mind) and the book of of the pictures, published by Steidl.

There (the gallery) the preferred viewing order was to work your way clockwise from  the door, round the room and back to the door again; in the book, you could move from picture freed from space, but the pictures were still there in their exhibition order. There was a sequence, it was controlled – as with the Bechers say, where you are primed to see the similarities between the examples of a type displayed as a grid – but you, the viewer could modify that sequence, by missing pages in the book or by reversing your direction in the gallery. You could determine how long you spent on anything.

Then, think of slideshows – Boris Mikhailov, Shirley Baker, the sequence of victims of Stalin’s purges at the Photographer’s gallery – you can only look and then stay on the steady progression from picture to picture until it loops round again, or you get off and look at something else in the gallery. Your viewing is controlled and you cannot go back or forward . You are held – anchored even – tied to the mast like Ulysses.

And then think of Flickr, and of boxing day 2005 when  all this (this stage of my photographic development) really began. Think of narrative as an explosion and the loss of authorial control that this results in. Think of Online v “The News”. Think about how the hyperlink can change everything about your reception of stuff and the way each medium must find it’s own method of articulation…


I will expand more on this, I hope, during part 2 of the course, but for now, the next day – awake and not waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in – I’ll simply add a couple of clarifications/footnotes:

  • I have not been overly happy with the options given to me by WordPress for the display of groups of pictures. I have often been surprised by how poor many professional photographer’s websites actually are. I am aware that I need to roll up my sleeves and try to get javascript to work for me more.
  • I’m not really a fan of automated slideshows. The lack of sound as each image mutely dissolves into the next makes the pictures begin to merge into one, rather like viewing silent movies without a musical accompaniment. I always find myself wanting to see something again as a later picture alters what I thought about an earlier one. I want to spend ages on this and no time at all on that. I want to move at my own pace…
  • On Boxing Day 2005, I was at work with not much (or to be fair, virtually nothing) to do so I started exploring flickr. I found myself following links from one photograph to another, reading comments and then – if a comment had been interesting – following the link to that person’s pictures. I spent the whole day pretty much looking at pictures and moving through the site getting deeper and deeper into an online maze. At the end the day, I posted my first photograph there, Since then, I have often thought about the ways that this unpoliced and unstructured wander through cyberspace (to use a very old fashioned term) typifies the new online world and tried to come up with ways of using it to create online environments that everyone can find their own route through (a story presented as a burst of shrapnel, rather than a bullet passing along a linear path). I am also aware that if this could be made to work, the extent of my control over my work would be massively reduced…
  • Film – for example – only really becomes a medium in its own right when people start to cut and – crucially – stop treating the frame as if it was a proscenium arch, freeing cinema from overt theatricality. I love the story of the producer who shouted at an early director (Griffith?) “I’m paying for all of him – I don’t just want to see the bastard’s face!”  when he was first shown a cut to a big close-up.

References:

  1. Another Way of Telling: John Berger and Jean Mohr (Granta Books, 1989)
  2. Incidents (Room at Tate Modern) –  http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/display/henry-wessel-0
  3. Incidents (book):  Henry Wessel (Steidl, 2013) – https://steidl.de/Books/Incidents-1333373954.html
  4. Henry Wessel’s Best Photograph (Guardian, 06/08/2014) – http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/aug/06/henry-wessel-best-photograph-mystery-california-garden
  5. Photographer’s Gallery Slideshows Mentioned Above:
    1. Boris Mikhailov – Part of: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/primrose-early-colour-photography-in-russia-3
    2. Shirley Baker – Part of:  http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/shirley-baker-2
    3. The Great Terror – Part of: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/burden-of-proof-the-construction-of-visual-evidence-4

All links accessed 08/01/2016

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