Diving for pearls

posted in explaining myself

Diving for pearls

I watched this video about August Sander’s photograph of “Three farmers on the way to a dance”. It was revealing, beyond the fact that none of them were actually farmers.

I was pleased that it was possible to trace the three men and not only discover two were miners and the third worked in the mine’s office, but research also revealed what happened after the photograph was taken. Two survived the first world war, one did not.

Another thing that was compelling about the short film was although John Green is at pains to talk about the facts of the image, he was unable to refrain from assigning character traits to the subjects, most about Ewald Klein, the figure to the right, based upon how he was looking at the camera, despite already making clear it was a long exposure and all of the tells that Klein appears to display, could just be artifacts of standing still.

Nevertheless, it is a thoughtful piece and well worth 9 minutes of anybody’s time. I frequently make recourse to Ariella Azoulay’s Civil Contract of Photography because of the way she talks about the way meaning in photographs is altered by the spectator. I can’t help wondering if we are just hard wired to impose our own narratives on everything and this is something that is niggling away at me with the Oyster Shell and Little Races Projects.

I agree with Green’s conclusion:

A picture is not a life. The young farmers photograph is about what those boys don’t know. But it is also about what we don’t know and a reminder of what pictures cannot show us.


John Green on The Art Assignment