A chance comment by a fellow photographer led me to think more deeply about the ontology of photographic outputs. She asked why I generally thought about the presentation of my images in a panel format, or as collections. She suggested that continuity and similarity is not the only way to present images, that the juxtaposition of different images can be effective and that images do not have to be similar in order to hang together. She advised that I kick back from continuity.
I did some research on the book maker and publisher Michael Mack (2017) who argues that the best photographers do not see a book as a catalogue nor a wall as a white frame. He suggests that a book, rather than starting at the beginning and finishing at the end is more of a collage of images and ideas. The book form should be seen as a means to explore images from different perspectives. Mack also suggests that artists experiment with different layouts and ideas, as he sees the book making process as a collaboration where contributions of writing are also welcome from the photographer. And finally, that there are many choices involved in making a book, the cover surface and texture, the paper, how the images are sequenced and how words are incorporated. These concepts and ideas led me to think about how the ontological basis of my photography might affect how I choose to present my work.
Ryan (2019) concluded that the style or voice of a photographer is an emergent property and something that conjugates non-conscious expertise at the moment of capture. As an emergent property, style is therefore not something that can be discerned in the individual image but one that materialises when a sequence of images is viewed. In addition, the photographer, may in the process of selection and post-processing, impose an over-arching aesthetic to the images that can either support or rectify perceived failings in their non-conscious style of voice.
To develop this idea, in the context of a panel of images, or an exhibition, the viewer confronts both the photographer’s conscious and non-conscious aesthetic and style. When focusing on a single image within a panel, elements of the conscious aesthetic may dominate, and the non-conscious emergent style inevitably withdraws in a Heiddegerian sense. However, as one steps back from the single images and views the panel or collection as a whole then what emerges and reveals itself to the viewer is both the imposed aesthetic of conscious intent and the non-conscious style or voice. One might argue that when the conscious intent dominates in a collection of images the result will be an inauthentic and contrived experience. I would argue that in a regime of minimum conscious modification of an image both the essence of the photographer and the subject will emerge.
So, returning to the book format, by its nature, emergent properties within an image will withdraw as we turn the page and all that remains is a trace. The aesthetic in the viewer’s mind may be recalled but the voice and style can become lost or less apparent, thus losing the essence along with it. I would argue that a book can dislocate the viewer from the voice and style of the photographer. The book, like it or not, becomes about single images and necessarily what is not present on the page in view is withdrawn and relies on what the viewer might remember.
Furthermore, the nuances of style, which mark the essence of the photograph and the subject being captured can easily be overwhelmed, and it is the inauthentic that captures attention. This might be done by the photographer in post-processing, or the book designer or the printer in the production process.
What does this mean for me in considering the book as a potential output format:
- Think carefully before processing images to gain a common aesthetic style
- Offer the viewer traces to tell the story or reveal the essence
- Think clearly about each double page spread as a new opportunity, not necessarily about continuity
- Understand that the production of a book is much more than choosing images, the order and the cover
- Experiment with different ideas as the collection of images emerges.
Thinking about presentation options has allowed me to reflect and think more widely about the implications of choosing what might best serve my photographic work and the choices open to me in the production of a book or the installation of an exhibition. I have much more to learn in this regard, but now feel able to experiment and research ideas and options chosen by other contemporary artists and photographers.
Lynch, J. (2015-2018). Another Way of Looking at Love. Santa Fe, Radius Books.
Mack, M. (2017). Making a Great Photo Book with Michael Mack, Lens Culture.
Ryan, R. J. (2019). Intuition, Expertise and Judgement in the Assessment and Capture of Photographic Images. School of Business and the School of Art. Cheltenham, University of Gloucestershire. PhD.