My good friend commented recently: when had I become so enigmatic?
Maybe I have, maybe it is a pose, but his question sent me thinking about what was for me something that felt natural, though I had not fully preconceived of the actions. My friend’s question was attached to an image I had posted, not a finished art work. This is the specific image, an image taken off a movie freeze frame 1.
The image of the woman photographing a painting was first of interest to me personally. What I also thought was interesting was an art process content, echos of a Struth museum image entwined with the time dynamics of photography to paintings. A bit of a metaphorical pile up with me photographing a movie of a woman photographing a painting with my phone and displayed in the frame of a 4x5 polaroid print. I liked that while photography has the ghost of “an instant of time” (which has recently become important in my work) it takes time (in this portrayal) to photograph a painting, partly a tribute to the attention to detail on the part of the film makers 2 but also just a nice juxtaposition between the processes (need) of time in making a photograph and the time of making a painting, not a quantitative comparison, just an acknowledgement of this on my part. Both in the end exist as static instances.
I spend my time looking, at things, looking around. I’m not much interested in attributing this to style, taste, or some kind of ability to select what others should think is important. I also do this “looking” alone. Alone not because I am a leading alpha male, if anything I exist in a shadow capacity. The enigmatic expressions that my friend was referring to were visual citations to this looking. The current avenues of digital image sharing make this particularly easy to capture and encapsulate. The offhandedness of these briefly lived images is easily dismissed as a frivolity, time not spent on making something of significance. I think I have always been doing this anyway in my head, and every new experience is mixed with the resurfacing of these mental stills, in and during living life. The technology has only made it easier to externalize this process 3.
The source of the these images is diverse as I am always looking, everything is “in the world” whether it is seen out walking or on another screen. While I make a claim to diversity of looking I don’t mean this in the boasting of ability or far flung nature of observations. Looking is universally agnostic to the supposed social sophistication of mobility, any time or place are good fodder. Two things are at work creating this sense of the enigmatic that my friend observed, one is my lonely activity (the shadow existence) and the second is sharing images made from looking.
I have always felt alone, very alone. This is not a commentary on an alienation or the lack of social warmth of others. I can not tell you exactly why there is this sense of aloneness. It is both isolating and invigorating. While it partly stems from social acuity (lack there of), it more strongly stems from interest and comfort in observing - interested observation in an unbiased (relatively) capacity 4, and comfort because there is room and time to breathe, mentally stitching and associating a richer fabric of observation. To have and experience this I have always needed the mental space that aloneness provides 5.
In a life of observation certain sights and situations come forward as standouts, signals that connect to other moments. The breadth of time and the ability to focus and defocus while looking is significant for this process of connecting and associating images from other contexts. I have always felt trapped watching linear motion pictures. Not to dump on movies, as the above images are from movies. I more often watch movies I have already seen so I am less attached to the linear story and can mentally float in and out of the scene, noticing things in and out of the movie in my own time. The locked-in experience of unwatched movies with fast passed narratives and flash effects has no room for living in and out of the single moment of movie frames. There is a tyranny with this experience that feels like I’ve willfully subjected myself to a passivity of experience. There is no time in this experience to think or reflect.
The enigmatic, or making of small enigmatic things (images) is a process of creating signals. The images are like the expression of a personal note in a bottle, not a wide broadcast of a known message on any channel. Unlike directly equated messages in text the image as a note is alone and the enigmatic reference is a sign/signal to a very small group that would feel an associated companionship. The “message” of the image is not directly translatable, and possibly meaningless to many. What this alone image does have is the possibility of connection, however small it is open-ended. Connections either with what seems like the sentiment of things (art, movies, books) or a certain person, are the quiet thrills of a small fading of the alone feeling, like a quick glimpse of sun through an endless cloud cover.
I enjoy the implied collision of an alone image momentarily dispelling a feeling of aloneness. These brief connections perhaps create a feeling akin to nostalgia, though possibly never seen before there is something associated, familiar, and remembered. Nostalgia is not the right description, more a feeling of recognition from a connection made through associations. In making these connections borne of seemingly alone useless images, one thinks of a brief feeling of warmth. These individual and less obviously connected signals in aggregate, across a time, create a larger more meaningful fabric.
Chris Gardner, 2012
Picture of a woman counting a 10 second exposure of a painting. ↩
Through three camera angles the woman begins an exposure, counting close to continuously 10 seconds. This detail of continuing to count (move her jaw) during the movie angle from behind is of what I made an image. ↩
Process of externalizing small personal observations, like vomiting your every brief thought out to the world (who cares what you had for breakfast in polaroid, 35mm, or 8x10). Okay yes, it is possibly questionable why anyone should care about every little thought your brain has, and our sophistication as thinking beings is in our ability to filter and form important thoughts/expressions, no? This unfortunately can be easily reduced to a noise v. signal argument. I am not interested in arguing about data, big, small or curated. ↩
Claiming a relatively unbiased interest in observation of the world is probably better termed as an omnivorous interest in looking. What comes out the other side as something made is entirely different and should not be conflated with basic looking. An even more concise, though burdened way to say this is to be democratic in looking but selective in image making. ↩
Ancillary to this I think it worth noting that finding this state of mind is not about distance that is often associated with observation. Aloneness and looking for me have always been detached from distance, the proverbial alone in a crowded room is apropos. ↩