stopping time

I find it incredibly difficult to talk about how and why I produce the work I do.  I have been accused of lacking focus or narrative because on the whole I photograph what I find when I take walks.  I use to think it goes without saying that the walks are a conduit to the photographs.  I realise that this is insufficient, but I have been struggling to find a way of linking my inner impulses to my output.  In an effort to find a way to talk about what I do, I’ve been looking at what people have to say on the subject of photography and what it actually means.

I have been reading an interesting take on the history or photography, well an alternative history of photography called ‘Revisions’ by Ian Jeffrey.  It’s actually a catalogue to re rejigged National Museum of Photography, Film and Television from 1999.  There is a section on Muybridge and Marey which gently torpedoes the notion that film was the logical culmination of their work in particular.  In reality there was no cosy unified theory of image making that was heading in the direction of 48fps digital amazeballs from Muybridge and Marey’s work. It is lazy thinking that has allowed this to become accepted truth.

Jeffery’s thesis is that the projects of Muybridge and Marey were intended to both represent movement in its original time and to bring it to a standstill in order that it might be more easily analysied and appreciated.  They were attempting this within 50 years of  Niépce

View from the Window at Le Gras. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce 1826

View from the Window at Le Gras. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce 182

Niépce called this process heilography, sun writing, but that doesn’t make it story telling.

Muybridge and Marey were building comprehensive studies of routine movements, not examining the cadences of a story.  There is no catharsis in a dropping cat or trotting pony.  Their work was an attempt to manage time, to examine what was happening as it passed, but not to garner meaning.  The two men investigated in different ways and that is made clear in their out-put.  Muybridge’s work is impersonal and abstract where as Marey’s seem more fluid and it is Marey’s work that appeals to me most for this ability to isolate the beauty in the commonplace.  I particularly like the first loops of hands moving at the start of this clip:

Jeffery maintains that Muybridge and Marey were proposing a way to conquer time in order that time itself could be managed and decelerated.  Muybridge’s output is more familiar but it is Marey’s that interests me more because of the quality of his images.  He anatomizes the body and in doing this points out how strange, how exquisite the living breathing form is.  His work is not documentary, there is no comment, just a bald fact of the living thing in front of the lens.  If anything they were calling a halt to the narrative, the very opposite of what we refer to when we talk about film now.

I like his thesis, why does there have to be a narrative for something to make sense.  I am not sure it justifies my, ‘i photograph the shit in front of my camera’ shtick, but it goes a little way to help me understand why I might be being so bloody minded about it.