11 February, 2020
I was struck by the quote from Susan Sontag: “Photography has the unappealing reputation of being the most realistic, therefore facile of the mimetic arts.” Firstly, I need to unpack her statement– it appears that she is saying that to photograph is to capture the world in a realistic way. Realism is easy (facile), therefore unappealing, therefore photography is unappealing? I appreciate that, while photography has been derided as inferior to painting as an art form, I believe that photography results in the capture of a unique, and therefore valuable, slice of time. Interestingly, Sontag also states that photographs “testify to time’s relentless melt”.
I am posting an image which I took last night which reflects a constructed scene. This image is styled after Peiter Claisz “Turkey Pie”, 1627. Claesz’ image features a stuffed turkey in the back-right hand corner, which could symbolize wealth or good fortune. I am working on a series which focuses on moments of life (momento vivere) aimed to celebrate the fleeting moments in life by slowing down and enjoying the present. I have chosen to work with live animals in my constructions. Sophie, in the back right, symbolizes the vivacity and agency of life, and like other animals, is a bit curious. While I can plan for the props, the background and the lighting, I can’t plan on the animal’s reactions. Perhaps, rather than using the term “constructed”, these images are active collaborative fictions among beings. When I make the image, I am paying attention to my work, and also the animal– to make sure she is ok, and doesn’t wander off. It’s interesting to work with live animals in that they do have their own interests and motivations, and sometimes challenging to “direct”. Capturing an image of the chicken interacting with a still life is a testament to “time’s relentless melt”. This makes me pay full attention to what i am doing– it’s like a form of meditation… which is the message behind the momento vivere. It’s about being here now.
Claesz, P. Turkey Pie. 1627. Oil Painting. The Rijksmuseum.
Eilertsen, A. (2020). Sophie at the banquet.
Sontag, S., 2001. On photography (Vol. 48). Macmillan.
12 February, 2020
Comments which I received:
—“Amy, that image is stunning, you’ve managed to capture the richness so well, and to have a real live chicken is a treat for the viewer. Its great to unpick the greats, thanks for sharing your take on Sontag’s annoying quote!”
AE comment to self: I, too thought that Susan Sontag’s quote was disappointing… And in retrospect I should have further investigated the context which she had written this. I was really impressed to receive the next comment from a fellow learner:
—“In fact, Sontag is writing about the relationship between photography and Surrealism. Sontag considers that when the shutter is pressed, it captures a random collection of subject material, linked purely by the fact that they happened to be present when the film or sensor was exposed. The elements of the picture, whatever they may be, are forever linked by the fact that they happened to be in the camera’s field of view when the shutter was pressed.”
AE comments: I found the original quote: “In fact is it the one art which has managed to carry out the grandiose, century-old threats of a Surrealist takeover of the modern sensibility, while most of the pedigreed candidates have dropped out of the race (Sontag, 1977). ” While the classmate’s comment had lead me to assume that Sontag believed that the automaticity of the camera was responsible for the photographic outcome, I now believe her point was that photography has brought about an artistic revolution- not one of pure Surrealism as was feared, but one of which is “ineffable in the national reality- something, possibly that has never been seen before”.