exercise 5.2 – exhausting a place

I thought the premise of this exercise was so interesting – ‘Choose a viewpoint, perhaps looking out of your window or from a café in the central square, and write down everything you can see. No matter how boring it seems or how detailed, just write it down. Spend at least an hour on this exercise’ – that I never quite got round to doing it, as I was so interested in working out where  – the threatened open space beside Walthamstow Central? staring out of the window of The Chequers as the market packs up for the evening? somewhere in Orkney? somewhere in Glasgow? somewhere in Salford? – however, I did manage to publish my jotted notes from a train journey.

This does not mean it won’t be something I try to do in the future and I may even try and insert it into a suitable place in a later course. The subtitle of Christian Licoppe’s 2015 paper on exhausting an augmented place – Georges Perec, observer-writer of urban life, as a mobile locative media user – could fit with Digital Image and Culture; using the exercise as a starting point for an examination of space could be applied to any number of landscape, documentary or ‘self and other’ situations. Indeed a quote jumped out at me this morning from an article found by fellow student Nuala Mahon and linked on the OCA Photography facebook group page:

“Whenever Frank went into a new town,” Greenough said, “he tried to find one or two objects or scenes that for him symbolized that place.” That doesn’t mean he was cozying up to the diner counter and getting to know the locals. “You don’t get the sense that he’s really talking with people,” Greenough added—but rather drifting in the background, shooting in hotel lobbies and bars, at funerals and political rallies and outside auto factories”

– Scott Indrisek: Why Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ Matters Today


As for photographic treatments of places that might complement Perec’s short book, I found myself pondering three different approaches:

1 – Stephen Shore: In Uncommon Places (known to me from the expanded version published by Thames and Hudson in 2014) Stephen Shore collects pictures taken with a large format camera on a series of road trips he made across America in the 1970s. They are very different to the photographs he took on an earlier series of trips out of New York that are collected as American Surfaces. These pictures are much more carefully composed and framed; obviously they took much more time to envisage and set up. The idea of taking a ‘screenshot’ of what was in front of him (as Shore describes himself doing in the introduction to American Surfaces) is gone; these pictures are not spontaneous snapshots; something vernacular has been superseded by something more coolly calculated.

While you certainly feel as if you are able to get to know his viewpoint and subject, there is little sense of Shore’s exhausting a location in  Perec’s sense. They are static scenes, isolated in time. This doesn’t mean that I dislike them (or that I will not try to emulate them) but that they do not really fit the brief here.

2 – Chris Dorley-Brown: I used to live about ten minutes up the Dalston High Street from the Rio Cinema, so when I saw its unmistakable facade taking up most of a double spread in the Observer, I was naturally going to read the whole article and then to buy the book it came from. Unlike Shore’s single, large format pictures, Dorley-Brown’s are composites, designed to resemble LF photography, but made up from many individual photographs: ‘a simultaneous snapshot of events that happened over an hour’ (Bromwich).  The pictures are assembled seamlessly, in the manner of Andreas Gursky’s massive panoramas. The effect is strange – a number of people cross the farm in each picture, but none of them seems to be aware of the others (obviously – they were not occupying the same point in the space-time continuum when they were photographed) while the perspective has the same strangely precise linearity that estate agents’ perspective corrected cramped interiors have. There is something up with them, but – without having the trick explained to you, you might not quite be able to put your finger on it, 

3 – David Hockney: At the huge retrospective of Hockney’s work at Tate Britain last year, one of his photographic collages  – Pearblossom Hwy. 11–18th April 1986, #1 (1986) offered a model for a picture which would not try to ape a single photograph. Where Dorley-Brown’s pictures are taken from a single point of view, Hockney moved in and out of the scene before him. He describes the process of making the 850 exposures thus:  ‘[each] was taken close to the surface of every element. I was up a ladder photographing the road sign or the cactus. We always took a big ladder, because I knew I needed the ladder – otherwise you have a standard, lens perspective of the object. The markings on the road were done from a ladder, you had to be up above them looking straight down. How do you look at it otherwise?’ (Tate) The effect is an obviously authored view of a space and would be a tremendously complicated (and expensive – 850 prints, even if struck from files made with a digital camera, would cost in the region of 250 pounds) thing to do; you could try it in photoshop for much less money, but I suspect it would drive you mad! A nice thing to try though, if possibly on a smaller scale and budget.

 


Reference:

  • Perec, G (1975) An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris
  • Indrisek, S (Sept 2018)  Why Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ Matters Today Published Online by Artsy.Net (accessed 16/9/18)
  • Licoppe, C (2015) An Attempt at Exhausting an Augmented Place in Paris; Department of Social Science, Telecom Paristech, Paris. (accessed online – 15/9/18)
  • Shore, S (2014) Uncommon Places; Thames and Hudson, London
  • Dorley-Brown, C (2018) The Corners; Hoxton Mini Press, London
  • Bromwich, K (20/05/18)  The Big Picture – Chris Dorley-Brown’s surreal street corner photography (The Observer, accessed online, https://bit.ly/2wYEDJ5 – 30/09/18)
  • Gayford, M. (2017) Hockney’s World of Pictures in Tate Etc. issue 39: Spring 2017 – accessed 30/9/18)

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