the nature of photographs – shore

after kenneth josephson

after kenneth josephson (on the ferry north from Aberdeen, july 2014)

I have read through this, thought about what it contains and read through it again several times now. I have found it very useful in bridging the gap between Freeman’s practical writing (the course book and The Photographer’s Eye)  and the much more theoretical writing in Clarke and in Wells; as such it has allowed me to think about what I am trying to achieve by way of an end result when I’m out taking photos either for the course or just for the picture-iness of it. I can remember many of the pictures in this, helped I think by how well they are reproduced here (in stark contrast to my Vintage edition of Barthes’ Camera Lucida where you can scarcely make out the surface of the pictures, let alone pick out the punctum).

The book splits into 4 sections or levels taking you from the photograph as an object through to the way the mental process of the photographer can affect the picture and guide the mental process of the viewer.

First you have the Physical attributes of pictures (when printed – I don’t think the book really has managed to take on board the experience of viewing digital/digitised pictures on a screen; and the pleasure that I managed to get from the 12 x 8 prints I had made from the files created by my D50 for assignment 2; even the simple pleasure of shuffling through a pack of 6x4s from Snappysnaps, walking to somewhere where I can sit and have a proper look at them, running the risk of being run down, crossing the road) – the 2-dimensional nature of the photograph which still – just – remains a 3-D object; the effects of black and white or colour, the quality of the paper the picture is printed on – glossy as in the Shore book, on newsprint, contrasty or an infinite number of tones; whether it’s in a book or in the paper or in a box with a pile of other family pictures…

Then comes the Depictive level (imposing order on the world in front of the lens): Flatness – such fun to play with, shifting planes to line up with one another!, love Du-dubon-dubonnet! and the Friedlander with the cloud perched on the roadsign… The Frame – what’s in, what’s out, what’s only just in if you want to, active frames, passive frames; Time – best description of the Decisive Moment I’ve read anywhere in the description of the Winogrand of the wrangler and the cow’s tongue, moments in history, length of history; Focus – creating hierarchy, sense of  depth, of the sensation of changing focus while looking at the picture. I have found myself doing this much more actively over the past couple of months. It feels like a step forward…

…and so, onto (into?) the Mental level which elaborates upon and changes our reaction to the depictive level; I can understand the way the black hole at the centre of Annan’s Glasgow Close sucks your mind forward through the narrow alley and into the void or how my eye seems to rack focus as I move my gaze over Adams’ picture of the drive-in, but find it harder to get to grips with the concept of Mental modelling – the process you can follow from the physical through depiction and into the mental space created by the picture; it seems to be what someone at the top of their game does…

So, who is interesting, who provide the key images for the book, the ones that stick in my head? There’s Shore himself, Robert Adams, Walker Evans, William Eggleston, Friedlander… I need to go back and re-re-re-read the mental stuff again, and maybe again after that – I can cope happily with the physical and the depictive, but here I begin to frown with the effort of thinking. As Shore himself says, the Depictive level is where “a snapshooters mistakes” take place: “a blur, a beheading, a jumble, an awkward moment…” I believe I have moved past this point (most of the time…) but, to get truly good, I need to engage with the mental levels more frequently, more thoroughly and with more understanding…

1 thought on “the nature of photographs – shore

  1. Pingback: Influence as Context – Evans, Frank, Shore, Ohtake, Graham and me… | Simon Chirgwin's Learning Log

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