I previously wrote about Jeff Wall’s work here and have now taken a closer look at his re-staging of of Hokusai’s colour wood block print Ejiri in the Suruga province which is no 18 of his Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji . There is an excellent online site here but I enjoyed looking at Katsushika Hokusai’s work so much that I obtained a book of his views of Mount Fuji . In A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) 1993 Wall transported the scene to the landscape around Vancouver.
I don’t think Wall is appropriating the print as an object and so questioning authorship but using it as an inspiration and transferring it to another time and landscape. I actually prefer the original because it has much more sense of movement to me even though a print from wood-block. What also came out for me was that reminder of how nature can take us by surprise with similar events occurring despite distance of time and continent.
Wall’s carefully composed and intricately image was shown in a lightbox in Exhibition and Laura Mulvaney wrote an article about it in the Oxford Art Journal (Extract here ) In the original article Mulvaney writes,
I was fascinated and bewildered by the seemingly incompatible temporalities it depicted –100 separate photographs fused together into a seamless tableau. In the tradition of the ‘instant’ but, at the same time, the perfection and simultaneity of nature and gesture was more reminiscent of the carefully composed effects of a Hollywood studio. I was disorientated and unsure of what I was actually seeing. (Mulvaney, J 2007)
Mulvaney wrote further – once she had discovered how the photograph was created – that she felt that she had experienced a ‘technological uncanny’ that she thought was interesting for three reasons – the actual sensation, the evocation of C19th experiences of new and multiple forms of technological uncanny, then followed by a new interest in Wilhelm Jentsch’s 1960 essay On the Psychology of the Uncanny later dismissed by Freud in his later essay on the same topic. I wrote about the ‘uncanny’ previously here and I keep asking myself why it is that the woodblock print with its stylized figures seems more realistic to me and with more sense of life than the digital montage created by Wall that incorporates actual people.
Wendy McMurdo’s experiments began at an early stage in the introduction of digital photography. Double images of children were used to both explore issues of identity and to represent the first generation of ‘digital natives’ . In writing of the dematerialisation of photography occasioned by the transition from analogue to digital, Daniel Rubenstein (2009) refers to McMurdo’s work. In his view this work
….problematises the notion of the dematerialised digital image, suggesting that it is not defined by the absence of materiality, but on the contrary, by the presence of the observer who evaluates the differences and the similarities between the original and the digital double (2009: 6)
Going back to my responses to Jeff Wall’s work, maybe this is a part of it. Obviously I compare the photograph with the print but, I know that the figures in the print are representations of people. What I look for in the photograph is a sense of life – a living breathing person and yet I am stopped because I cannot tell if the montages are actually of the same person or different people. Wall could have used several people but, then, why fuse 100 photographs together.
I have written before about my own experiments with digital montage in relation to self-portraits and how, when presented with another version of myself, I didn’t know what kind of conversation I would be having – there was no purpose to the montage other than to see if I could create one. Seeing dual images together ‘stopped’ me. I might have found it easier to use the chair techniques in Gestalt psychotherapy – a physical movement between two chairs where I would feel myself as a real person in each chair yet with conflicting feelings/thoughts.
I have recently created a digital montage of four photographs of my husband in our garden. He rarely stands still long enough for me to take a photograph, in fact we have very few photographs of him compared with the hundreds he must have taken of me. I both enjoyed creating the montage and also the feeling of ‘capturing’ him.
I also spent some time creating a landscape digital montage. Our local Church now has a labyrinth in its grounds.
What if there was a labyrinth in the woods.
Think of where it might lead as you venture around its paths.
Labyrinths fascinate me, founded as they are in myth and tales of heroes and heroines. I could build a story around this.
A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai): from After to Before the Photograph Oxford Art J (2007) 30 (1): 27-37
Hokusai, K. (2013) Views of Mt. Fuji. United States: Dover Publication
Rubinstein, Daniel (2009) Digitally Yours; The Body in Contemporary Photography. The Issues in Contemporary Culture and Aesthetics, 2&3. pp. 181-195. ISSN 0955003725