In my post relating to Ernst Van Alphen's essay Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen (2014), it became apparent that my images are related to Henri Bergson's notions of 'Duration' - time as 'experience', not as a historical or chronological concept defined by events. 'Eventless Photos' and 'Duration' dictate we are only always ever in 'present' time. Van Alphen's continues his essay by thinking about how Duration, or 'an experience of present time' or 'an experience of present nothingness' as I am thinking of it, can become tangible in certain photographic conditions.
Van Alphen asserts that because of Roland Barthes famous assertion that photography 'fixes time' (Barthes,1980), we commonly think about photographs as something from the past being viewed in the present - 'fixed' within a sequential chronology of time. This implies that time is linear and can be measured. In this temporal dimension, our sensibilities are made aware of time passing as it moves from the present into the past and then back again into the present. Barthes reflects on an old portrait of two young girls, he comments on the ‘catastrophe’ and 'defeat of time' inherent to all photographs (in Barthes world, photography predicts death), yet he paradoxically remarks on the same page 'how alive!' the two girls look in the photograph (Barthes,1984:96).
Barthes is intrigued that a photograph 'defers time', in that it shows something 'dead' and 'alive' co-existing in the present moment, but not as a sequential narrative. A different temporal dimension, or experience, is alluded to in which different temporal dimensions exist next to each other, as opposed to as a sequential narrative. Val Alphen points to Henri Bergson's concept of durée, or 'duration': 'in which different temporal dimensions exist next to each other...Duration concerns an experience of time instead of a conceptualization of time as chronology. This experience does not allow temporal distinctions or divisions; in this experience, time cannot be measured objectively.'
'Duration' is subjective because it is experience-based, it is qualitative. Experience is based on 'perception' (representation) and memory, and memory and perception are based on 'selection'. Following Bergson thought, Van Alphen asserts: 'perception is not a construction but a selection the subject makes on the basis of his/her own interests... For a long time representation was considered in terms of mimesis, understood as imitation, or in terms of its opposite: construction. But if perception, and in consequence, also representation is selection, the emphasis shifts from the object to the subject of perception' (Van Alphen, 2014).
Although perception takes place in the present, it is informed by memory, and as such, the past and the present merge and co-exist in one present subjective intuition, not as a sequential narrative: 'In concrete perception memory intervenes, and the subjectivity of sensible qualities is due precisely to the fact that our consciousness, which begins by being only memory, prolongs a plurality of moments into each other, contracting them into a single intuition'. (Bergson, 1991:60). Van Alphen reminds us that in Bergsonian thought, time is indivisible and constantly subject to change so this co-existence of past memory and present perception does not consist of specific moments - 'it concerns different temporal dimensions such as present and past, which can only be experienced at the same time, in relation to each other.' (Van Alphen, 2014).
Van Alphen argues that Awoiska Van Der Molen's photographs are the embodiment of Bergson's durée: 'The landscapes of Van der Molen are in no way to be understood as representations of time, as the exact time of their being taken seems to have been cancelled. The landscapes open themselves up for the experience of time because while looking at them there is only a present that never stops: we remain in that present.' (Van Alphen, 2014). In the present and only the present, there is nothing else. Duration is qualitative and in this way makes time tangible. 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.
Barthes, Roland. 1984. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard. London: Fontana.
Batchen, Geoffrey. 2010. “Life and Death”, in Suspending Time: Life-Photography-Death. Shizuoka: Izu Photo Museum.
Bergson, Henri. 1896. Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer. New York: Zone Books, 1991.
Mullarkey, John. 1993. Bergson and Perspectivism. The University of Warwick.
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]