I’m still processing our visit to the Qu’est-ce que la photographie? exhibit at the Pompidou, and looking forward to the arrival of the catalog (ordered via Amazon) and the challenge of reading the French text that accompanies the images.
Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to break out of preconceptions about stuff you think you know about –to see the familiar in new ways, and to find context and meaning for the unfamiliar. The Pompidou exhibit flung down just those challenges, and I’ve been exploring them ever since our visit. I’ll try to unpack some of that in what follows.
Consider two rather startling images, neither of which was familiar to me (and I’d never heard of the photographers either, which just goes to show my own insularity):
(see the Pompidou pages for Mulas’ Una mano sviluppa l’altra fissa and Rautert’s Sonne und Mond von einem negativ; and take a look at the website for Ugo Mulas (1928-1973) and a recent New Yorker piece on work by Timm Rautert (1941-))
Neither is quite what it seems at first glance, and the viewer struggles a bit before catching on.
Mulas inverts tonalities and flips horizontally: one hand becomes two. Rautert tweaks a single negative to represent two different celestial bodies.
It’s interesting to explore the notion that multiple renderings of an image can disclose things hidden or obscured in any one version, and the kindred idea that any photograph is potentially many photographs. Where does ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ lie? Is our perception of an image all subjective prevarication?
Digital tools put these questions at the ends of our fingers.
Inversion of tonalities and mirror-imaging are two techniques that are easy to play with using GIMP, and I’ve done quite a bit of that as I’ve explored tessellations of Betsy’s and my own images (see some examples and a few more). Is such manipulation merely a gimmick, or is there something more to it? This is a question that comes up often in the world of Art, and I’m learning to enjoy the ambiguities and widen my purview.
An interesting challenge came my way shortly before we left for France, as I read through the announcement of an exhibit that will open soon at the deCordova Museum in Massachusetts: Integrated Vision: Science, Nature, and Abstraction in the Art of Len Gittleman and György Kepes. Len Gittleman was our teacher in 1963-1964, and we revere him, but the description of the show brought me up short:
Gittleman’s Lunar Transformation portfolio is a series of ten vividly colored serigraphs created from black and white photographs taken during the Apollo 15 mission to the moon in 1971. Gittleman’s discerning use of color transforms the craters and crevices of the lunar surface into vibrant, colorful abstractions which aesthetically parallel the art movement of Abstract Expressionism. The serigraphs’ strong graphic presence reflects the awe-inspiring nature of their source material.
Wait a minnit, I found myself thinking, that’s not photography… and then I heard myself and had to laugh at stick-in-the-muddism. Of course it’s photography, just maybe not the comfortable and predictable sort that I know I like…
As I’ve suggested in recent posts, visiting the Griffin Museum and Florence Henri and Qu’est-ce que la photographie exhibits has been ramifying across my own photographic life. This morning I woke up thinking about alternative presentations of an image that’s been a conundrum for me over more than 40 years: Poor Alice G.. I remembered that I’d once scanned a slide of the photo, but happened to reverse it, and I thought well why not? …and so
I’m not sure that either bit of trickery illuminates the tale of Poor Alice G. any further, or that these renderings have any place in Nova Scotia Faces, but the exercise did get me thinking about how confining a straight-ahead descriptive take on that gargantuan project would be.
Remember to breathe…