This short introductory section on Photography has certainly been for me another voyage of discovery into the unknown as it had already happened for Visual Communications before. Like everybody else I live surrounded by photographic images of every kind and have often found certain photographs beautiful or artistic for various reasons, or some photography exhibitions particularly interesting and compelling but never before I had truly had a chance to focus my attention on photographs as objects in their own right, having their own specific unique features, or on photography as a genre.
Being exposed to a series of very different images and artists in a structured way has greatly raised my level of awareness both when I look at a photograph and when I take one. I know that my knowledges are still really limited but a process has started. Also reading for the first time books on photography has been important, especially Shore’s The Nature of Photographs (2010) and Edward’s Photography: A Very Short Introduction (2006) because both of them have in different ways prompted my curiosity and answered some first questions on this medium that may seem deceptively easy and approachable but also elusive and difficult to define.
I have been particularly attracted by the narrative use of photography that some artists make, by the capacity to tell stories with photographs that could not perhaps be told as effectively and poignantly in other media, like for instance by Robert Frank’s photographic diary The Americans or by Alec Soth’s poetic series Sleeping by the Mississippi, or by the skillful juxtaposition of industrial sites and daily life made by Mitch Epstein with his ongoing project American Power. I had never really thought about the possibility of successfully narrating stories through a sequence of still images, instead of choosing perhaps more obviously moving images to do so or a fiction, or that the choice of the photographic medium produces a totally different impact.
Another feature of photography that has strongly interested me is its very intimate and unavoidable relationship with time and as I said in the exercise about family photos (Project 2 – It’s about time) especially the double nature of photographs: they frieze moments of the past making them present and preventing them to fade into oblivion and so act in this regard as ‘memento vitae’ but they are also intrinsically sad because of course they make us remember that that past is lost forever, that our present will change too and vanish and so act also as ‘memento mori’ like a vanitas painting.
A last short note: as I was writing my essay on David Hockney’s ‘joiners’ I happened to think how this artist, who has repeatedly criticized photography for what he sees as its limitations – its special capacity to capture that ‘tiny spark of contingency, of the Here and Now, with which reality has so to speak seared the subject’ (Benjamin: 510) – has dismissed the very elements of photography that other artists have chosen instead to give voice to their artistic visions.
Benjamin, W. (1931-1934) Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings. Harvard: Harvard University Press [online] At: https://books.google.com/?hl=it (Accessed 27/06/2017)