I read ‘Safety in Numbness’ – (Campany, 2003) and found it raised some interesting questions surrounding the idea of ‘late photography’, which I then attempted to answer:
Why is/was a photograph often seen as more ‘memorable than those that move [videography]’ – (Campany – 2003), in the eyes of ‘the popular consciousness’ – (Campany – 2003)?
Maybe because a photograph is like a ‘slice’ of reality.
Why this is seen as more sacred than a much bigger ‘chunk’ of semi-reality may be for the reason that video is often regarded as only a semi-reality, not a reality that the photograph has come to possess an aura of. Where I believe this ‘aura’ comes from, would be the photographs’ place in history and how we have come to recognise the photograph as a symbol of something official in the world, while future generations might perceive other media like video as ‘official’.
However, there remains something else to consider; in that taking a chunk of reality (video) for future generations may not be as special as the slice of reality (photographs) is now for current and prior generations. This would be because although the notion of what is ‘official’ may have changed for future generations, the photograph is still more ‘digestible’ than the larger piece of video footage.
This is interesting because, while TV footage is still many moments in time pieced together, the photographs, by taking a single slice of time, makes that moment special and in doing so creates a ‘fleeting’ reality.
Is recording (a photograph) different from documenting (footage)?
It gets more complicated when a single frame is taken from a piece of video footage, as the observer, at least from my experience, would want to verify whether the single slice was taken from video footage or whether it was indeed a ‘genuine’ photograph.
However, that was true and clear when photographs were obviously distinguishable from video footage ‘frame grabs’, in the past, where the frame grabs would typically have been of a much lower quality in terms of sharpness, because video technology was not as advanced as it is nowadays.
Nowadays, it can be much harder to distinguish the frame grab from a ‘genuine’ photograph as video technology has improved and so it raises questions over the value of photographs as a single frame can be chosen from many hundreds of split images from a few seconds of video footage.
Countering this argument, I would naturally think of the famous ‘decisive moment’ terminology in photography, where the photographer uses their skill in creating a timeless, decisive moment, as most famously illustrated by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s street photography.
However, selecting a single moment from many moments in a piece of video footage could arguably mean the decisive moment is captured anyway, as well the surrounding footage being captured more ‘effectively’.
I suppose this would be similar to the work of some appropriation artists with Goole Street View like Mishka Henner’s No Man’s Land (Henner, 2011), although the timing and composition of each potential frame would be much more flexible, with the video footage.
There would be little skill, in my opinion, in creating the eventual image from the video footage but if the result remained ‘decisive’, then it could still be considered a piece of Art or at least a valid photograph.
What is done with this ‘slice’ of reality after it has been recorded?
It can be used (via memory – a common association of photography) to change the perception of our world of the past (late photography), the present or for the future, ironically. Changing the perception of our world in the present or future would differ from late photography, by addressing issues through ideas in suggestive manners as or before they happen. This is because the photograph is also commonly associated with permanence – a non-deteriorating segment of time (very arguable) but an association of memory – by looking at the past.
However, this reality can change based upon the state of the world as it stands and it could be possible perhaps, that other cultures/times perceive photography/video and/or the things they represent differently.
Is all photography ‘late’ photography?
A photograph can be seen to be simplistic in the way it is commonly observed: as a 2-dimensional object but I wouldn’t call it primitive as what is represented on the flat surface can be complex and even challenge the flat surface. I agree there is a certain ‘allure’ to its apparent simplicity, cutting through the complexities of moving media or diversity of technologies, in an incisive and potentially telling manner.
This is countered by David Campany: ‘it [the photograph] says very little itself, while allowing all that audio-visual information to support it from the wings’ – (Campany, 2003).
However, I believe he misses the semi-reality attribute a moving image possesses, compared to the seeming reality of a single photograph.
Having said this, if an important event was happening, unplanned before me, I would reach for video footage over photography to document it most effectively.
This would be for a present tense situation, where the documenting was most crucial, rather than something where a lasting impact had been made or had to be made.
Therefore, perhaps photography belongs for past and future issues, rather than the present.
It could be argued that while photography could be a viable option for recording future tense issues, so could video footage. However, I would say, in my opinion, a photograph might be more telling in terms of the way these issues were told creatively, at least for the moment. This admittedly, is from the perspective of someone who knows little concerning videography.
For photography not to turn up ‘late’ to a scene and simply record the ‘aftermath’, it should intervene at some point, with the landscape as it is being created. This would be different from photographing ‘action’ on the battlefield, as it happens, by photojournalists for example. The photojournalists would probably not be intervening beforehand or recording afterwards but rather documenting in the present, where their efforts might hopefully make a difference soon afterwards.
My initial responses (or at least my memories of my responses) at the time when I heard and saw via television media, moving images concerning 9/11, were very mixed and included responses of uncertainty, unreality and the unimaginable. Yet all these responses were apparently evident through television media. This, ironically was the same media that made my responses uncertain anyway.
My prevailing memory was that of uncertain shock at what had happened and this was made no more tangible by the fact that I saw it almost wholly through television. My feelings were nevertheless powerful ones but I question whether they would have been more powerful, had they been based upon photographs predominantly? My guess would be probably not; however, I deemed this assertion was because the related photographs that were taken at the time, were unprepared (because of the nature of the event) and so would not have been as incisive as a prepared for shot of say a war scene.
Meanwhile, Meyerowitz’s (2006) Aftermath series, I discovered were a detached and retrospective look at the location where the World Trade Centres had once stood. I found this to be in stark contrast with my initial memories. Although his photographs showed the relative disarray and chaos at the site, it was clearly ‘late’ photography and so reflected many people’s or onlooker’s secondary reactions to what had happened.
There was a subordinate theme going on for me with Meyerowitz’s photographs too. While they were unbelievable in the scale and disorder of the upheaval before there viewer’s eyes, they also remained impassive and still; a quality I would attribute to most ‘late’ photography and one that lent itself towards harsh reality that only a photograph (perhaps only in the aftermath) or someone’s with their own eyes (in the present or from memory) could believe.
Campany, D. (2003). Safety in Numbness. In. Green, D. (ed.) Where is the Photograph? Photoworks/Photoforum.
Henner, M. (2011). No Man’s Land. [Photograph] Available at: http://cargocollective.com/mishkahenner/filter/works/2011-4 [Accessed 18th Sept. 2015].
Meyerowitz, J. (2006). Aftermath. 1st ed. New York: Phaidon Press.