INTERMINABLE CHAIN ('In this ragged pyle...The Sixth of Five Several Workes')
The title of this work references a text by Jacobo Siruela defining beauty (the central enigma of art - 'the goal never attained’) as ‘impermanence’. Beauty emanates from the interminable chain of being. Beauty is impermanence through its ambivalence to what is desirable and undesirable. The sub-title references an extract from a 1610 description of a 6th-century hermitage cell built into a rock outcrop. Nature (as the mother), elemental force, art, industry, abandonment of society/solitude in non-human nature, and time: 'Time, who, as she is the mother, and begetteth, so is she the destroyer of her begotten children; and nothing that she bringeth forth is permanent’.
The work is underpinned by principles central to the philosophical aesthetics of Wabi-Sabi: impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness. In Wabi-Sabi metaphysics, all things are either emerging from nothingness or heading to it. In this work, impermanence is referred to as ‘present time’, and ‘present time’ in relation to ‘nothingness’ - where there is nothing else, there is only nothingness and present time. Impermanence demands we live in the 'present'.
In Small Things in Silence, Sireula says Masao Yamamoto's photos evoke: “That original, natural state of being that transports our deepest imagination to the lost world from which we were torn centuries ago, whose reality still awakens in us a strange and vague unconscious desire to go back to the origin - the return to ourselves.” (in Yamamoto, 2020). This quote has informed my work since its inception. These sentiments are echoed in Awoiska van der Molen's statement for The Living Mountain: ‘Regardless of how personal the starting point of my work may be, in the end, I hope my images touch the strings of a universal knowledge, something lodged in our bodies, our guts, an intuition that reminds us of where we came from ages ago. A memory of our core existence, our bedrock, unyielding certainty in a very precarious world’. (van der Molen, 2020). It is this elemental lost world of our natural origins, I too wish my audience to visit emotionally. In this emotional state, we can philosophically reflect on the concepts in wabi-sabi (impermanence, imperfection, incompleteness) where all things are metaphysically either heading towards or emanating from 'nothingness' - we can take wisdom from this to resolve mental health challenges and promote wellbeing and mindfulness by staying in the 'present'. We can also reflect on the reciprocity of our relationship with nature during precarious times.
In Interminable Chain, time subscribes to the temporal dynamics of Henri Bergson's Durée (Duration). Time is considered in a present and experiential dimension, as opposed to a fixed chronology of unique sequential narratives. Durée / Duration is a 'phenomenology of time'., not a way of conceptualising it. 'Duration deals in the confusion of temporal distinctions – between past, present and future – drawing the spectator into the thick braids of paradoxical times. […] One might say, then, that duration nearly always involves the collapse of objective measure. Whether it is short or long in ‘clock time’, its passage will be marked by a sense of the warping of time, an opening of regularity to other phenomena or inchoate orders. Duration will often be accompanied by the spatial sense of expansion, suspension or collapse or by reverential, chaotic or cosmic phenomena, as notions of temporal distinctions are undone. Time arises in the experience of duration, in its indivisibility and its incapacity to become an object of thought, analysis or representation.' (Heartfield, 2009:22).
Photographs without event subscribe to the notion of Durée - without event, they are without foundation. Eventless images can be seen as an 'undoing' of time. Eventless photographs are anonymous - they remove all context, date-line and specific identity of the place that is photographed. Eventless photographs talk of what simply is. Eventless photographs force us to exist in the present - they oppose chronological and geographical context and exclude cultural representation. We are only ever in a qualitative spatial-temporal dynamic of the 'present'.
In Bergsonian thought, spatial and temporal dimensions cannot be measured or itemized, because space and time are not respectively geometrical or chronological/sequential. They are both subjective experiences informed by the coexistence of memory (the past) and perception (the present), however, the past is perceived and perception only ever takes place in the present. 'Our relation to space develops according to a ‘natural feeling’ ... 'So, like duration, space cannot be itemized or measured... he (Bergson) calls space an extension emanated from the subject' (Van Alphen, 2014).
The term 'landscape' is an ambiguous paradoxical human construct where cultural representation and the external world co-exist (Bal in Van Alphen, 2014). The photographs of Daniel Gustav Cramer and Awoiska van der Molen evade translations of cultural representation by excluding any context (of nature rather than about nature).
My images have no visual context, they are devoid of event. The lack of event dictates they have no affinity with a sequential chronological temporality. However, glimpses at hermitages allude to a human presence in my work. Whilst the hermitage cells are not an event, or a unique specific historical moment in a chronology or sequential narrative, they do allude to a cultural reference. Does this lessen the neutrality of my images and position them into the realms of cultural representation? I would argue my images are an eventless approximation of a humanised relationship with nature (about nature) with images that are of nature.
Present Time is made tangible by eventless photos. Time becomes graspable in Durée. Bergson talks of natural feeling that emanates as an extension of the subject. Eventless photographs in the context of duration become tangible because they force us to remain in the experience of present time. Present time is experiential, and experience is a co-existence of memory and perception. Perception, according to Bergson, is 'an act performed by the body and for the body'. The body is a 'true body-subject with its own desires' (Mullarkey, 1993:119). Bergson wrote explicitly of an 'intelligence of the body' and a 'logic of the body' (Bergson, 1896:137) and moreover, what he calls 'bodily memory' (ibid. p197). This act of perception is lived only in the present time. Visualising 'present time' inadvertently challenges the idea of transferring intangibility onto a 2D surface.
This spatial-temporal dimension assists straight and eventless nature photographs in tapping into an approximation of the elemental 'lost world' Siruela talks about. Eventless photos of nature universally connect audiences to the ultimate subject of impermanence - the earth. Eventless photographs of nature tap into an ancestral and primordial emotional state that ‘awakens in us a strange and vague unconscious desire to go back to the origin - the return to ourselves.’ (Siruela in Yamamoto, 2020). By spatially excluding context, landscape photographs allude to a non-human world, a pre-human world (Gustav Cramer and van der Molen).
The philosophical principles of impermanence, incompleteness and imperfection in wabi-sabi aesthetics can be visually articulated by irregular, murky and austere material traces in timeworn, weathered and decaying landscapes and patinas (rock, bone, earth, stone) embedded in their surfaces. In this respect, the time-weathered surfaces of hermitages have become wabi-sabi - places where people once sought out spiritual enlightenment have, over time, inadvertently become visual objects embodying the very thing they were built, or appropriated, to facilitate.
Perhaps my photographs are 'Nocturnal', sans solaire - my general rule is 'before the sun comes up or after the sun goes down'. Nature at night is Earths true wilderness. In darkness, there is always 'primal, universal and ancestral fear'. Black and white optical theory aligns with biblical tropes of lightness out of the dark. Darkness, like religion, is a human construct - many creatures can see perfectly well at night, darkness is 'a product of our own retina', and highlights the vulnerable limits of human capacity.
Working in black and white not because of nostalgia but because of the critical position that black and white is 'concrete' and thus 'true', not because the world is black and white but because photography's origins lay in 'optical theory'. 'Black and white photographs are images of concepts that belong to the theory of optics, they are generated by that theory. Black-and-white photographs are beautiful because of the beauty of the conceptual universe'.
Eventless photographs are 'straight' photographs. They are the opposite of 'La nature du spectacle'. They are objective in their strategy of letting nature photograph itself. Turning the camera away from itself (away from Flusser's Program of the Camera), the photographer removes all trace of himself and exclude all trace of representation from the frame. Eventless 'straight' photographs are objective photographs in a consciously subjective dimension. 'his [Jude] encounter with place feels intimate — the pictures are steeped in emotion, in awe — but also deliberately depersonalized' (Ollman, 2018).
Like Ron Jude, Awoiska van der Molen and Daniel Gustav Cramer, my photographs are straight, eventless and of nature rather than about nature. Ron Jude aligns himself with the Dark Mountain Project manifesto: ‘Among the principal concerns of this movement is the urgent conviction that literature and art need to pivot away from “the myth of human centrality,” and to “re-engage with the non-human world.” He asks of his work:"In doing so, this work asks: how does one depict the indifference of the non-human world to our egocentrism and folly without simply offering false comfort by looking away from our reckless actions? Is it possible to engage the landscape in a meaningful way without resorting to formal trivialities, moralizing or personal narrative?’"
'What we can’t perceive is vast, and that geological, cosmological story, while not ours exactly, has become our responsibility since our presence began to alter it. Acts of homage and acts of witness, these photographs induce the requisite wonder and gratitude to spur a much-needed sense of accountability' (Ollman, 2018). We can take wisdom from nature by staying in the 'present'. We can also reflect on the reciprocity of our relationship with nature during precarious times.
Ollman, Leah. 2018. Review: Ron Jude’s jaw-dropping photographs at Gallery Luisotti put the awe back in awesome. Los Angeles Time [online] Available at: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/museums/la-et-cm-ron-jude-20180924-story.html [Accessed: 16.08.21]
Van Alphen, Ernst. 2014. Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen. Published in ‘De Witte Raaf’, Belgium. March 2014. Awoiska Van Der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_alphen_nu.pdf [Accessed on: 26.08.21]