Project 2: Through a Digital Lens

Jeff Wall

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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 Think of where it might lead as you venture around its paths.

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Labyrinths fascinate me, founded as they are in myth and tales of heroes and heroines. I could build a story around this.

 

 

References

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai): from After to Before the Photograph Oxford Art J (2007) 30 (1): 27-37
http://oaj.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/1/27.extract
http://www.hokusaionline.co.uk/code/36_views_mount_fuji.html
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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 comments

  1. I’m intrigued by this chair business. When I staged Elegy I was very concerned about the position of the chairs, how they represented a facet of the character that was about to situate themselves on them. They seemed to quietly hold the stage in readiness for the players.
    I also like the idea of ‘capturing’ Jeff – did you have to ‘cage’ him in? The presence of the wall helps a lot I think.

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    1. In the chair exercise the physical movement does enable a transition from one state of mind to another – acting out differing versions of self.

      I didn’t so much ‘cage’ Jeff as caught him at the right moment – situation in garden, time of day, the sun casting the light I needed, busy at a task yet relaxed. There was, of course, careful preparation over several days moving from “one of these days I would like to …”; through “if only the sun wasn’t so bright I could …”; to “the light is so good now, could you just ….”. It was a good plan.

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      1. Without realising I think that is what guided me with the chairs, I moved them to indicate levels of distance.
        Strategies and tactics eh? Jeff seems to have a very cooperative subject…

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  2. Very interesting post – I have done the chair exercise at work for a sort of role reversal exercise and I found it remarkably effective in putting myself in someone else’s shoes so to speak as well as throwing a light on my own attitudes and thoughts. I also like Japanese woodblock prints too and what appeals to me is there ‘layeredness’, (if there’s such a word), and the depth of field they achieve even though this can be exaggerated it seems to feel real and draws you into the image. I didn’t know Wall’s image was created from many images and had not considered whether the figure was the same or a different person and the rest of your blog has given me food for thought so many thanks !

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  3. I like the idea of photomontage Catherine and you seem to have made progress. I also like the way you keep returning to the woods. I was expecting to see a Richard Long type installation amongst the trees but the labyrinth looks good there. Labyrinth, maze is there a difference? I’ll have to look it up….

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    1. Well – a constructed installation still lies at the back of my mind. I have looked up the difference and, apparently a maze is a complex, branching puzzle including choice of path and direction whilst a labyrinth has only a single non-branching path.

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