INNOCENT LANDSCAPES REVISITED: 13 / FEB / 2010
SMALL ACTS OF MEMORY AND LARGE OMISSIONS OF TIME
Posted by David Farrell
"Estragon: I'm like that. Either I forget right away or I never forget." (Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts). One thing I have to admit I do miss in my recent dabbling with the devil is that old inner glow I felt, in the good old days, when I opened the fridge and saw my exposed but unprocessed beauties lying inert like a cryogenic experiment awaiting a better time (usually financial). Recently, I had a conversation with a teaching colleague who spoke about liking film because even by looking at recently processed negatives, irrespective of the date of their exposure, he could begin to remember being here or there, or having seen this or that and somehow that re-remembering was missing when one worked with the ‘darkside’ (digital photography). Perhaps it’s simply a different process of both laying down memory and engaging with memory within the process of digital photography rather than the specifics of film itself. Its possible that the relatively proximate viewing of the ‘positive’ image in relation to it’s capture, combined with the interruption of memory through the process of deletion that can occur with darkside photography (which usually doesn't happen with the film strip ) radically alters this re-remembering and so connections are lost and the memory is not so labile or latent. There is perhaps an interruption in the flow of memory as those failures which one either forgets (or tries to forget) are not still present and so there is a fracture in our retrieval system. Perhaps this might explain why at times I find it quite painful to look back on contact sheets and it is somehow easier for me emotionally to retrieve images from a hard-disk rather than a hard-box. Being a little older than my colleague perhaps I have more doors to rooms full of film-strips that I prefer not to re-project on the inside of my head.
I have been churning this discussion backwards and forwards since that short divertisement from the mundane realities of grades, schedules and errant students. Photography and photographs are both umbilical chords to the past and arrows into the future. So on one level they are apparently fixed in time but in reality are always in flux. The latent image, that keeper of secrets for a future telling, is usually associated with film and the magic of analogue photography, but it could also possibly be argued that digital images are the ultimate in latent images in that they only really exist when printed, for if the software disappeared tomorrow they would no longer be visible and would remain unseen, pregnant with a phantom possibility. So were his concerns a romantic notion? A conceptual conceit? An appropriate philosophical stance in relation to filmstrip memory and the analogue latent image? Or simply a stubborn resistance to the winds of change?
In a brave attempt to, at least for now, hold Analogue Days 2004-2009 to that timeline I recently set out to drop into the lab two rolls of film exposed in the last days of December 09. It struck me that I could also test my colleagues musings so I also dipped into my remaining small archive of unprocessed and hibernating 35mm film from this work and selected an additional five rolls. It was a real, almost joyous, surprise to find that the archive had yielded wandering photographs from Tokyo that I had made while participating in the European Eyes on Japan Project back in 2004/5. Except for two specific ‘events’ recorded from the daily ebb and flow of the Tokyo streets I did not remember explicitly making any of the images from the five processed rolls. Of the two events - one had, over the years, recurred in the odd dream and daytime reverie in terms of: "I wonder what happened to that roll of film?" The other event, in spite of its ideal subject matter for either day or night time reveries, had been completely forgotten.
It is New Years Eve in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, it is close to midnight and I am wandering aimlessly but notionally heading towards a bookshop when suddenly in a flurry of colour, tradition and technology, a swarm of young Japenese women dressd in classical Kimonos sudenly emerge from the TV Asahi building, presumably having participated in some annual television ritual concerning the departing year. And it’s a flurry of cameras and mobile phones as they photograph each other against the backdrop of this particularly upmarket commercial zone before disappearing into taxis and the forthcoming year. Its one of those Tokyo moments of tradition crashing up against today.
I do remember cursing the film speed as they emerged from the TV station and attempting to fix something from the low-light chaos, and I do remember seeing a small group move over to the large glass panels that reflected some of the cityscape that surrounded us, and hosted (if I remember correctly) the randomly generated digital numbers, and I do remember at last something coming together, and click, and click, and click - but I dont actually remember making this photograph or at least I don’t think I remember - it’s strange - I can remember making certain photographs from my early attempts at the medium but I don’t remember making this photograph which is a wee cracker - maybe sensory overload in another country, maybe already back then my memory box for making photographs was full and so only the fixed image can be for me a certain certainty and yet now, when I look at this photograph, it’s like I have never forgotten it.
The other event, on another roll, well how could I forget this, and yet I had. In a place of perceived uniformity there is heightened uniformity of anonymous beauty - the sequence is below with some selected images extracted.
The above image was one of the early photographs in yet another series that I likewise began on that trip to Japan and which I recently titled Women with Blue Eyes, (2004-2009) through a meandering dialogue with the photographer, Luca Nostri on one of our brief road trips. And yet, I don't remember making this photograph nor is it certain in spite of its recovery from limbo whether it may make it into the final selection so it it might be forgotten yet again.
And so I return to my colleagues musings and the photograph that the young woman made of her friend as one year closed and the possibilities of another approached. Where is that photograph now? It was a digital capture which could possibly have been sent and seen by thousands of people. Does it still exist? Did it it ever exist as something other than zeros and ones? My photograph, on the other hand, has emerged nearly five years later from hibernation in deep time, I can see the images before and after, via contact sheet and filmstrip, I have made a print of it - so it exists - two plus five equals seven... it must mean something... and yet perhaps all it signifies is that so much is chance and spin of the universe and that the wonderful landscape of memory with its rivers of neurones, synaptic borders, amygdala forests and hippocampal mountains is a landscape beyond our musings and understandings and that photography, that mirror with a memory or perhaps more recently that wafer of recollection, needs memory and memory needs photography to complete each other in an almost perfect symbiotic relationship of parasite and host - though which is which? Aye, now there’s a question.