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13 pairings about Photography and Literature
1. Photography - Begining
I started with a Pentax Spotmatic SPF1 and b/w film in the mid-80s. I was initiated by an uncle photo-enthusiast. We started shooting, developing and printing together.
2. Photography - Writing
Photography, when used in parallel with text, transforms the reader into a spectator. In that sense, it provides a sense of witnessing. Of course, it is only a fictive sense of witnessing.
This relationship can change according to each individual project ad its’ nature (fiction / non-fiction / documentary… etc). I believe that photography, when used within literature, is just another narrative tool at the writer’s disposal.
As a pure art form, though, photography is -in my understanding- completely different than literature. The way I see it, the consciousness of the art photographer is almost antithetical to the one of the writer.
As a writer I defy even the slightest notion of "punctum".
As an art photographer I actively seek it.
3. Photography – Storytelling
Regarding narrative potential, I don’t see much difference between the roles of the photographer and the writer . Both photography and literature are incomprehensible outside the sphere of experience of each individual viewer / reader.
It all comes down to the ways one has learned to "read" photography and literature, one’s life experiences and acquired skills for interpreting art.
So, yes, stories can be told by both mediums. But, not every photograph tells a story, the same way that not every piece of literature tells one either. There are story-less pieces of writing the same way that there are story-less photographs.
As a final note, I would like to make a distinction between a photographic project comprised of a series of images and a single photograph as piece of art. In that sense, I would tend to draw a parallel between photography and poetry.
4. Photography - Fiction
Oh, yes, photography is fiction. But, again, fiction is a metaphor for reality. Every form of representation is both slightly the similar to- and slightly different than- reality. The distance between the two is the domain of art making.
Nevertheless, visual art can achieve levels of abstraction unattainable by language. And we should be careful not to think of photography solely as representation of the real. Photography is much more than that. In essence, it is a multifaceted way of producing imagery by using light.
5. Photography - Method
My method depends on each individual project. My street photography requires different skills than my architectural or the abstract projects. Color is different than b/w. Shooting for my writing is different than shooting for exhibition projects.
For example, in street photography I usually shoot from the hip, not framing at all. Or I might use bursts to acquire a series of images from which I will choose the right one(s). For architecture, framing is of paramount importance and the right lens is needed according to the subject (angle, distance, vantage point... etc). When color is in question, time can be an important element - I might wait to return and make the shot at a different hour. Also, sometimes multiple exposures are needed in order to produce the final image.
The decisive moment changes according to the variable in question.
6. Photography – Boundary
The aspects of reality that the photographer decides not to include in his frame are irreplaceably lost. Nothing survives beyond the light entering through the camera’s lens. Each photographs’ world is contained within the boundaries of the actual image.
7. Photography - Death
Photography has always been discussed in relation to death, memory and the traces of lost lives. This is because of the force with which photographs distort time.
Yet, we can only discuss someone else’s’ death. Never our own.
What a photograph retains is a series of questions : "Is this what (s)he really looked like ?", "Was that a truly happy moment ?", "How could I not remember this ?"... etc. It is the same way that we relate to images of ourselves : "Is this what I really looked like ?".
8. Photography - Spontaneity
I want, at specific moments, to lift the lens close to my eyes. This is an almost physical, bodily impulse.
I want to give others the opportunity to "see". To see what I saw and to see for themselves.
I photograph the same way I am writing : knowing, and recognizing, that each image (both linguistic and photographic) is only a highly subjective fragment of a fleeting reality.
9. Photography - Performativity
In my street photography, I am following a very strict method. I never stop to frame. All the shots are made "in the flow" of the walk. Like the photographs in “Une lampe entre les dents”.
I am usually shooting from the hip or chest. The photographs are not manipulated at all. This is a very performative way of working.
For me, photography is an exercise of self-exploration, self-understanding, self-challenge and self-exposure. Not only am I "present" in my photographs, but in photographing, I make references to my past work (both photographic and literary). I observe myself as if writing in the first person.
I must stress, though, that this is not the only way I am photographing (as this is not the only way I write).
But in any case, my images and my books are inseparable, they form a hybrid unit that challenges both my writing and shooting practices.
10. Photography - Cameras
The camera is very important. I use the old Pentax Spotmatic for film. Nikon DSLRs, a Lumix Mirrorless and a Canon rangefinder. I also shoot projects with old Easter European cameras (Kiev, Voskhod, Werra).
11. Photography – Typography
Color can be distracting for some works. Especially when combined with writing, photographs become a narrative element and they should "blend in" with the typography as much as possible.
In my understanding, each photograph must be instrumentally positioned in relation to the narrative. The image-text relationship can be varied : it can be illustrative or contradictive or exemplary or even completely absent.
Some photographs should purposefully dominate their textual environment. Others should be subordinate to text.
12. Photography - Power
Yes there is a hierarchy of power between the photographer and his subject. But the photographer is not all-dominant, he himself is in turn submitting to the power of the spectator. The photographer takes risks by revealing the ethics of his practice through his photographs.
In the end, the ethical dimension of photography is determined -not in the close of the shutter- but in the use of the acquired image.
I must say, that there are many photographs I did not take because of an ethical reservation. And many more that I will not ever publish, for the same reason.
13. Photography - Truth
I remember here a phrase by Kazimir Malevitch : "Art requires not truth but honesty". This thought is a guiding principle for me both in photography and writing and -lastly- in my position as a person.