A collective REPHOTO project
I am currently contemplating some project briefs. These are intended to give participants some structure if they choose to be creatively inspired by the experience of re-phtographing the locations. In writing these project briefs, I am forced to reflect upon my own experiences of being inspired by HMS Challenger. I had already started to use my Hybrid camera by the time I had re-photograph the locations, so I was therefore already involved with looking through an old eye with a modern brain. So what inspired me to do that? It was a dissatisfaction with a digital photograph. It was the ease in which a digital photograph can be taken. It was the shallow nature of its surface; its lack of physicality; its lack of paper support. To my mind, the digital photograph was truly a medium of the "floating world", where appropriation is common but often a consequence of naivete and saturation. For me, I could see images (millions of them) but I could not see authorship; or a journey.
I guess you could say that my intention was to "root" the digital photograph and visibly assign it a time and space. Popular Ukiyo-e prints of the Edo era in Japan would typically feature the name of the place which the image depicted, no matter how subjective the scene depicted. With 18th/19th century western painting, the tradition was instead to put the name of the place (more often than not, the title too) on the frame. However, with photographic surveys of the 19th century, location names were etched in the surface of the glass plate, as was the case with Challenger's Official Images. In a sense, such an act does root the scene. The difference, however, was that the Ukiyo-e prints seemed to celebrate the location, whereas the 19th century survey style of etching, merely seemed to categorize it.
Hybrid Camera: pegging down reality - in theory
Anyway, I am digressing. My intentions behind the Hybrid camera were to somehow root digital photographs, and not just through one decisive moment, but across a period of moments. If Henri Cartier Bresson's images were that one moment out of many possibilities that the meaning hinged to, then in the digital age, my Hybrid camera treated each individual frame taken as a separate tent peg hammered into the ground, which collectively try to keep the significance of the image from floating away. That is in truth, my problem with digital photography today. A single image is like a leaf on the ground in strong wind.
So, back to the project briefs. There are many possible starting points, one of which is the Challenger's photographic objective itself: "Photograph native races to one scale". But what does that mean? Looking at the images produced in response, it meant the same as any photographic survey: document rivers, religious buildings, significant trees, docks, the odd profile of native people, castles, vegetation, mountain views and waterfalls. What significance were these images to Victorian Britain? They were foreign equivalents of significant things being catalogued there. They were also things that were likely to change as modernization took hold. It was believed that history, and culture with it, was being eradicated
With that in mind, extending the Challenger's objective would simply mean photographing things of significance that may be lost, or changed, in the future. Is that really so challenging? It certainly doesn't leave much for creativity, or does it? Yet it still represents a starting point.
Another point of interest for me in these locations is the local point of view. My views of Japan were as a foreigner. Would participants' views be any different?
All projects need parameters, and these small briefs are no different. There should also be an intended output in addition to a learning outcome (or perhaps that is the teacher in me). What also needs to be involved are technical challenges; a shift in how the camera is used or perceived. It might well be important here to draw upon Flusser's 4 suggestions for playing against the camera. Perhaps I should strongly base the briefs around these:
First, one can outwit the camera's rigidity. Second, one can smuggle human intentions into its program that are not predicted by it. Third, one can force the camera to create the unpredictable, the improbable, the informative. Fourth, one can show contempt for the camera and its creations and turn one's interest away from the thing in general in order to concentrate on information. In short: Freedom is the strategy of making chance and necessity subordinate to human intention. Freedom is playing against the camera. (Flusser, 2000: p80)
Ultimately, the reason that I brought together an antique lens with a digital camera was that it wasn't part of the programme.
That said, it wouldn't be fair to set project briefs that just dealt with Flusser's thoughts, without more support. Wider visual literacy is something that I have repeatedly said that I wish to aid, and projects that addressed that would be of more use to participants – at least for the moment, i should think.
The familiar/unfamiliar angle is probably the best thing to work with at the moment. I will write more and post the briefs soon.
Incidentally, I think it might be good practice for me to also do these project briefs, if they are met with enthusiasm of course.