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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Photography Always Shows What We Already Think We Know

‘photography always shows what we already think we know.’

That’s from Kodachrome, an essay from Luigi Ghirri’s new book of essays. Published by Mack, this is a book where Ghirri examines how we make see and experience photographs. And how these images form a larger whole which feeds back onto that making, seeing and feeling.

In f/11, 1/125, natural light, Ghirri writes about the photographer being part of the flow of things, rejecting the idea of the photographer as outsider. Within that flow there are infinite decisive moments; the realisation of that infinity of decisive moments really defeats the decisive moment and is, for Ghirri, liberating.

So it’s a liberating book. It’s one where the possibilities of photography are endless, except that they are not. For Ghirri there is a kind of world of photographic possibilities and it is these that limit us as they create a visual map we are constrained by.

To open the doors of perception we need to go beyond this world. Which is not easy because it is familiar to us and provides a foundation for us. But if you really want to step beyond this world, all you have to do is step – and you are out.

The book, which is called The Complete Essays 1973-1991, is a journey through photography then, one where writing, photography, art and architecture all overlap. It's a journey in itself where photography and ideas are linked in a world that floats mist-like all around us, a mist which settles at key points where the ideas, Ghirri's photography and the world around us all come together..

Mack also published the excellent Pandora’s Camera by Joan Fontcuberta. This is a book where the meaning of  photography is found in wider personal, social and institutional structures. It works in a informational power-based space.

Luigi Ghirri’s book in contrast places photography in a psychological visual space, a noumenal world of the photographic which comes complete with ideas of sense and reference, truth and reality, sign and signifier – but which we (as Ghirri points out) somehow see as fixed. But this world has boundaries that are made by the limitations of our own imaginations. If we want to make something new, we open our imaginations and we can make new worlds. That is the point of the book, I feel, to open us up to more rigourous ways of being, which will lead us to new ways of seeing

This is what Ghirri says in his final essay, A Light on the Wall:

‘…in the face of the exploding, boundless world, we need to find a new common language, and to be aware that every word, sound, figure, frame, image, photograph and painting are becoming entire constellations of meaning and reference, as the echoes and assemblages of different forms and ethnicities. 

I believe, in this manner, a sort of Esperanto has been created, a language not made up of individual words, but of small constellations, which include sounds, images, words, perceptions. A language which may only be sensed, never spoken or explained – a new, mysterious silence which binds us together, and which we share.’

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