“If you’re not haunted by something, as by a dream, a vision, or a memory,
which are involuntary, you’re not interested or even involved.”
― Jack Kerouac, Book of Sketches
Every mark is a sign, a message, a gesture, rooted in the moment. The first artist according to Greek mythology was Kora, the daughter of Butades, the first modeller in clay. Driven by her desire to preserve her lover’s presence, Kora traced his shadow on the wall. The line she drew signified both his presence and his absence.
Many of today’s artists, inundated with a toxic overload of images and visual information, are responding by exploring the most ephemeral of notions — absence. Absence as rejection of nostalgia, as refusal to accept the distortions of history, as metaphor for time’s mutable essence. Absence as utterance of refusal and resignation: as visual articulation of the resistance of memory.
In every great work of art, absence plays as integral a role as presence. What we’re seeing from today’s artists is a nuanced expression of absence through the creation of oblique, obliterated spaces. The result reads as not (only) as extension of the thought-field, but metaphor for a new – and beyond that, neoteric – way of thinking, seeing and perceiving the world. This is accomplished not through the use of what is traditionally thought of as ‘negative’ space, but ‘nullified’ space: not by denying presence, but by negating it. Metaphorically, these ‘negated’ spaces serve as free zones – unburdened thought-spaces which are dislodged from the details and detritus of the past. As though, in these denuded spaces, we could make sense of that which confounds us: as though the mind unencumbered could make sense of love’s losses, of a child’s hopelessness, of the silent grip of our prejudices, of war’s glory and the devouring of time.
“The revolutionary change in photography’s cultural presence wasn’t led by photographers, nor publishers or camera manufacturers but by telephone engineers, and this process will repeat as business grasps the opportunities offered by new technology to use visual imagery in extraordinary new ways, throwing us into new and wild territory.”
— Stephen Mayes, The Next Revolution in Photography Is Coming
We’re living in a time of cameras: it is through the lens that we now communicate, watch and see our world ‘worlding’. Photography is the expression most adept at documenting the moment we are living in, as it is happening NOW. The vernacular photograph is perhaps the most immediate form of expression, as it is the most directly aligned with the ‘daily’ness – with the ‘fact’ness – of our everyday lives. Yet, the snapshot is at the same time the most nimble at belying our expectations of how reality is constructed. Artists of today have embraced vernacular photography as a means of myth making. It is through this portal that we are beginning to see new hybrid forms of expression take root.
It is in these indeterminate spaces, between thought and thinking, between act and action – that artists are exploring synergistic terrain. There is a plurality of approach which today’s artists have embraced: themes of (mis)appropriation, reproduction, (re)presentation, fragmentation, (de)mythification, denotation, disambiguation, (self)promotion, (self)realization. Artists who reside in these interstitial spaces are free to investigate indeterminate realms which invite dread and wonder, terror and reverie, loathing and longing. Artists today live in the ‘knowing’ that memory, like time, is a protean, amorphous construct: a flexible and malleable instrument.
Photography, more than anything, gives us proof, evidence that existence is that which we (have) experience(d). It is as aligned with chemistry and what is quantifiable as it is with alchemy, with the unmeasurable. A great vernacular photograph expresses the dichotomy of existence: that it is equal parts tangible reality which we touch, and ineffable idea which we glean. When vernacular imagery serves to inform the subject matter of Photography, what we see is a complex of commingling of factors which are aligned with concurrent ideas of time, essence, and immanence.
“What everyone agrees on, however,
is that time certainly seems real.”
— James Lloyd, “The Incredible
Truth About Time”,
To be human is to be aware of the passage of time, to be conscious of the concept of the ‘fact’ of its inexorability, its inescapability. The *consideration* of time is factored into every photograph and mark that is ever made. The mind cannot retain everything; that which we do recall is filtered through the sieve of our minds. What remains is that which haunts us, mystifies us, confounds us, seduces us.
When transformed by the artists hand, a photograph has the capacity, more than any other medium, to gives us hope, reminding us that the moment NOW will be remembered: hope, that most fragile mechanism which we hold onto despite the ungraspable passage of time. Hope that the past can be redeemed, hope that the past can be reconstructed, hope that the past can be reimagined, hope that the future will be just as flexible and forgiving.
It was not too long ago that critics were bemoaning the death of photography, but time and truth, as it turns out, are mercurial bedfellows. Just when you think you understand, there is another possibility, waiting to unfold.
— Vanessa Daou