The Touch of Time: Temporal Sequence Photography as Works and Theory
The study takes as its starting point a theoretical discussion of an experimental photographic method and the imagery produced with it. My motive for the further development of art-focused work was the fact that it could be possible to expand expression and the communicative ability of photography with this method. In the pictures presented in this book, the moment of taking a photograph becomes a series of events with one take. The main point of focus is the interpretation and signification of the photograph. This perspective has a special relationship with the theory of contemporary photography, presented in background discussion on art-theoretical signification of the 1990s.
Within the framework of art-focused research, photography and the art theories of the 1990s are approached through the process of photographing. The signification of photography is viewed and discussed in this study from the perspective of the photographer. The work at hand is to be understood as an experiment entailing contemporary discussion, as its background consists in the theoretical changes that permeated culture and photography in the past decades. The study has emerged in an interstice of discursive change in art, in an undefined area lying between things experienced and the experimental. The discovery of new perspective was thus one of the starting points of the work.
The focus of research is on the 1990s. Basing on personal experiences of photographic art, I constructed in 1991 the photographic apparatus used for the illustrations of this book. In response to issues that arose in the course of the process, I used the apparatus for a series of three thematic exhibitions addressing the temporal features of photography. These exhibitions, Ajan arvoitus (The Enigma of Time) from 1993, Ajan kosketus (The Touch of Time) from 1996 and Ajan kudos (The Weave of Time) from 1999 are interrelated from perspective of underscoring the unpredictable nature of the photograph.
As a photographer, my own relationship with photography dates back as a hobby to the 1970s. In the early 1980s, I began to follow events in the field of photography in Finland. The basis of the present study is my 1999 licentiate thesis Ajan kosketus: Liikkeen valokuvaamisen problematiikan tarkastelua ajan ja tilan rinnastavan kuvausmenetelmän avulla (The Touch of Time: Problems related to description of motion by means of a photographical method which draws a parallel between time and space). The processual nature of the photograph, which was addressed in my licentiate study, led to the present book and its approach. The present study focuses particularly on the relationship of the artistic process with theoretical problems. The research problem of the study entails the effects of unpredictability on the process of creating a photograph and when it can lead to imagery that is not based on combining any ready-made theoretical preconceptions?
One of the chief points of debate in recent decades in the theoretical signification of producing art involves the difference of perspective between creating something new and following the agreed-upon principles of the art world. The question, therefore, is whether art should conform to existing theoretical views or offer such views of its own accord? The approach of the experimental photographic method differs from the aesthetic concepts of photography that prevailed around the turn of the 1980s and 1990s and the contemporary theorizing that was associated with photography at the time. My method distances itself from earlier ones, while questioning the assumption arising from the art theories of the 1980s that photographs are in general terms ultimately variants of each other. The concepts of pastiche, appropriation and simulation are associated with this art-theoretical perspective. The assumption that, as the mode of representation of their time, photographs are often created on the basis of existing imagery, cannot be excluded, but it is discussed critically as a generalizing claim in the study.
In the 1980s, photography took on new tasks, whereby it not only entered a new period but changed itself and became shaped by new requirements. The creation of things completely new and of inimitable style was replaced by approaches of non-intrusiveness, mixing and things that had already been done. The international field of the arts also taught Finnish photographic artists to comprehend borrowing as one of the contemporary methods of creating art. In the first stage, this fact in particular motivated my research perspective and a closer discussion of the nature of my working methods.
The design of the photographic apparatus came from the need to expand opportunities for expression. Temporal structures photographed with the aid of a slowly sliding focal-plane shutter in a large-format camera are flexible recorded adjacent to each other without becoming mixed. The narrow slit exposes onto the image surface a continuum that can be viewed in set order and interpreted as a temporal structure. The manner of photography is not image processing, as the expression refers to the processing or manipulation of an existing image that has already been taken. In this sense, photography with a sliding shutter means taking pictures, not making them.
The best camera model in which a relatively large sliding shutter could be installed was the Toyo Field 45, using 4 x 5 -inch film and interchangeable lenses with integral shutters. It was possible to add a sliding shutter inside the camera between the lens and the film. The sliding shutter had to be as close as possible to the film surface to avoid the blurring of the edge lines produced by the slit. In addition, the camera was quite light and easy to move even with accessories. There were no grounds for restricting the photographic technique to mechanical operation and a shutter using only film, but a scanning digital magazine for 4 x 5 -inch cameras was not introduced until later. Developing the technique was thus a practical solution.
In the early stage, the question was raised whether my method was any longer photography at all. A question of this kind revealed contemporary emphases on the boundaries of the photograph and photographic representation with the culture of photography. The loosening of restrictions within the art encouraged me as a photographer to carry on experimental photography. It was my purpose to experiment with something new to me and previously untested in photography on the broad-scale. I photographed not only objects of physical reality but also manifestations jointly created by the objects and the camera. The goal was to seek, with different photographic methods, possibilities for increasing the joint effect of the objects and the camera and to discover structures of increasingly unpredictable type. In the background was the fact that in the early stages of the work, the images contained unexpected features pointing to broader possibilities for using the photographic apparatus.
The section of the study on the actual photographing addresses the momentariness of photography. An important consideration is to conceive of the processes of photographing from the perspective of the future tense. The theoretical discussion includes a mental experiment touching upon the practical aspects, in which several sliding shutters would jointly produce a kind of animation combining the simultaneous and the non-simultaneous. The result would be visual image structure that would be very difficult to imagine prior to the taking of the pictures.
The methodological starting point of the present work was a discussion of photography differing from precedents and of its comprehension, not the verification of some theoretical perspective. A finished photograph is open to interpretations and meanings unintended by the author can be attached to all images. Therefore, interpretation achieves importance alongside intentionality in the creation of imagery. To understand a photograph is a creative process in which it is viewed in ever-new conditions. The same is true of the author’s perspective. The dialectic of individual images and the whole – the latter influencing its parts and vice-versa – becomes meaningful. The result is a spirally progressing hermeneutic circle, in which renewed details help shape the whole. The hermeneutic and phenomenological approaches lie closest to the method used in the photography for the present work.
The temporal sequence photographic material, produced by this method, constitutes the material of the study, comprising a set of problems falling into three parts. These delineations of the photographic method appeared in separate exhibitions in 1993, 1996 and 1999 respectively. The main consideration of the first exhibition was the transformation of the act of photographing represented by the sliding shutter photograph, the discrepancy of the temporal sequence photograph from the traditional photograph. One of the first subjects was a series of photographs visually questioning the single-perspective view, termed, for example, by Martin Jay as ”Cartesian perspectivalism”. The concept of an unblinking eye or conceptual point anchored to a single perspective has provided a visual praxis passed on in Western history since the Renaissance. The exhibition Ajan arvoitus (The Enigma of Time), addressing these questions, was shown in 1993. With regard to the perspective of the second exhibition, the paradox entailed in photographs taken with this method was given a central role. The main theme of the second exhibition was to address the relationship between the differences and similarities of the subject and its photograph in practical photography. Ajan kosketus (The Touch of Time), consisting of photographs, was completed in 1996. The third exhibition, Ajan kudos (The Weave of Time) 1999, addressed the depiction and representation of temporal order in photography. The imagery of the three exhibitions form a three-part temporal framework of questions, a time trilogy.
The unique authenticity of the unanticipated, the unrepeatability of the experiment and the impossibility of the recorded to be repeated in any previous manner give artistically oriented study its unique dispensation from the requirement of verification and repeatability in experimental research. One of the main starting points of the present work has been to relate seemingly obvious concepts to the assumption that conventional approaches which in their own day appeared to be more correct as paradigms than others, are only habits produced by temporary practices and a natural attitude. The Touch of Time pays homage to the renewing and apparently boundless opportunities of the photograph and the written word as differing from convention.
© Petri Anttonen, 2005