I have been reading through parts of Graham Clarke’s The Photograph (1997) – in particular a section which caught my eye was ‘The Photograph Manipulated’ (Pages 187-205). Usually I would skip by chapters such as this as I have in the past preferred to keep my photos in general realistic and so I would be less interested in a chapter of this nature.
This was slightly narrow-minded as I usually post-process my photographs so they are manipulated to a degree either way (just not in content usually). However, I decided I would try out reading this chapter because I was enjoying the parts of the book and I perhaps thought in my mind reading a chapter of this nature might prove to be more useful than I previously imagined.
The chapter immediately grasped my attention when it began with a statement concerning ‘pure’ photography. ‘Pure’ photography postulated an ideal image which transcended the everyday world.’ – (Clarke, 1997). I had come across ‘pure’ photography in landscape photography along with ‘straight’ photography. Much of my photography to date has been these kinds of photography.
(Clarke, 1997) goes on to say: ‘From the 1900s onwards we can chart a series of photographic responses [to ‘pure’ photography] that seek to recast the photographic act in the new language of modernism. Such photography sought to manipulate the image’. The fact that image manipulation in the language of modernism subverted a lot of the kind of photography I had been practising so far made me interested to see what these ‘photographic responses’ looked like aesthetically and semantically.
The first work that struck me was by El Lissitzky called The Constructor (1924) and this was because his self-portrait held a lot of narrative to it by use of unusual composition combined with the juxtaposition of hand and eye. This composition and juxtaposition suggested to me the meaning that as constructor, the hand and eye work together mutually and accurately. The meaning was quite rigid rather than inferred. Part of this reason was that the image was obviously manipulated which allowed meaning to be more easily invoked.
Although Clarke deduced a rather wider meaning than mine from The Constructor (1924), parts of the meaning deduced was similar. He also raises an important point: ‘this is literally a manifesto on the way we do not interpret our world so much as construct it (or have it constructed for us).’ – (Clarke, 1997). I had begun to come to terms with such a point in my own work for Assignment 3 where using images in combination with each other, I was able to construct a story.
Further along in the chapter, I looked at montages and in particular Gingo Hanawa’s Object (or Complicated Imagination) (1938). One reason I had shied away from image manipulation (of contents) in the past was down to the unrealism of montages or collages. This image however, seemed to address the very nature of montages or photographs by playing on what constitutes an object. It used multiple objects juxtaposed to make one object and it was this juxtaposition of objects that created meaning.
Although the meaning was obscure and the image was unrealistic, when meaning was inferred from the image this negated the unrealism. This was because ‘Object is this a play on the nature of the object and meaning, … Object moves us back into the three-dimensional world and recalls us to the play between image and photograph which is the basis of the photograph.’ – (Clarke, 1997). The image Object (or Complicated Imagination) (1938) in my opinion was ahead of its time because it addressed itself.
Lastly I looked at the work of Victor Burgin in Clarke’s book, specifically: Office at Night, No. 1 (1986). Like Hawana’s Object (or Complicated Imagination) (1938), it was a montage, however it used a variety of media including photography, painting and typology. This postmodern approach for me explained the image within itself well by drawing on these various forms.
It was interesting how the image of the office-worker by the filing cabinet to the left was a painting (from the painting Office at Night (1940) by Edward Hopper) and yet this was mirrored by the photograph of the office-worker by the filing cabinet to the right in pose. This mirroring in my eyes signified the questioning of reproducibltiy which was further magnified when I realised the image of the office-worker by the filing cabinet to the left was a painting. This was because if read from left to right across then the photograph mirrored the painting; perhaps suggesting while photographs were inherently reproducible, paintings were not.
All of these works made me wonder whether I could somehow incorporate image manipulation into my own work and I was glad I read the chapter after all.
Burgin, V. (1986). Office at Night No.1. [Photograph] New York: John Weber Gallery.
Clarke, G. (1997). The Photograph. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.187-205.
Hanawa, G. (1938). Object (or Complicated Imagination). [Photograph] Osaka: Sanya Nakamori Collection.
Hopper, E. (1940). Office at Night. [Oil on Canvas] Minneapolis: Walker Art Center.
Lissitzky, E. (1924). The Constructor. [Photograph] London: David King Collection.