Saturday, 20 June 2009

Contemporary Portraiture and the Divine Being

For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings. An amended version of this is published in the Journal of Media Practice, June 2009.

I sometimes have to stop and ask what is it that I am doing whilst being engaged in making images. last night someone asked me why I do it and I referred to the phrase ‘the creative urge’ which I coined for myself whilst a teenager (and later found was current in most artists vocabulary). I went on to say, it is like breathing, I have to do it. Not as an urge actually, but as a demand of my existence, like breathing, something that is necessary. My commitment is to the gaze that we all have and the only thing that is actually yours in life - and here I am avoiding saying ‘the only thing one can own in life’ - you can’t own something that is inherent within you - like eyes, or hands (if you have them). Making images is what I choose to do, to be.

I have become interested in portraiture yet I realise that most of what a photographer can do has been done, and any iteration of the act of segregating one person in a frame to say: ‘here this person is’, has either been done or is reminiscent of having been done. Not that doing something new is the be all and end all of art - more that one should be cogniscant of what it is that one is doing and that replicating things means replicating their cultural content as well, either as direct quote or via some function - like using irony for instance.

If you stand someone in front of the camera, in isolating them from the mass of humanity you are saying: ‘look at this detail of our existence, this representative of ‘us’’. The detail itself to function well, has to be so microcosmic in order that it evokes the greater macrocosm of the human condition. At least, that has been the strategy of many a photographer.

I don’t take photographs though - I take ‘cinematographs’. High resolution still yet moving images where I ask the subject to pose as a reference to the early days of photography, where it took some time to actually create a latent image for later development. I like the idea of it taking time as the contemporary gaze is more and more momentary in its relation to contemporary media, and what one learns from maturing is that anything worth having takes time to obtain. So my strategy is to ask the subject to wait and stand and gaze and exchange energy with an audience that I’m also asked to wait and stand and gaze and exchange energy with the original subject - the two displaced only by time in their energy and gaze.

So - given the above and the developing form through my portraits series (Portraits of Glastonbury Tor, Cannaregio, the Somerset Carnivals and Bristol University’s Centenary) and given further enquiries into the area (A Moving Portrait of the Poet Elisabeth Beech, the Window-cleaner Alfred Glasspole and the Artist Charlotte Humpston), I’ve come to the conclusion about what I have to do. Or at east I’ve found the impetus for the next strand of research, that it is changing the form a little, especially in its display, that will render some extra insights into the act of portraiture - because, ‘the subject is the subject is the subject’ and ‘the strategy is the strategy is the strategy’ - so to speak.

In the portraits of series I projected life-sized high resolution images for the audience to scrutinise and then be surprised that this wasn’t a photograph but a moving image.

In the Moving portrait series (playing on notions of poignancy about the human condition in the title) and also the isolation of the head where the windows of the soul are contained together with the complex musculature of the mouth where the knowing/anxious/happy/worried/reflective expression might play. Display is on a 42 inch plasma screen plus a still photograph of the same size next to the plasma screen, extracted from the flow of frames that creates the moving image, plus a 20 foot by 10 foot image suspended above the audiences head, plus a 8 inch video enabled photo-frame on a plinth (a gesture of isolation) - all of this contributing to what I hope would prompt the casual viewer to examine their own notions of what a portrait is....

Equally and at a tangent I am working on other pieces that isolate and create pause by that isolation. ‘The Divine Being’ is a moving image of a rose - but framed as a photograph - that is its one shot isolation is the photographic element and the fact that it is a number of frames per second which simulates movement by persistence of vision is the cinematographic. The title is both ironic and yet true. This small focus on one thing that is culturally accepted as exquisite by poets and painters alike, is clearly ‘divine’ - that is given its two possible definitions:

Of, relating to, emanating from, or being the expression of a deity


To conjecture or guess; i.e. to divine rightly

Equally though, I note that divine and define are only one letter apart, so defining, divining and to confront that which might be divine are all similar activities, in that an isolation of form or presence is necessary.

So the use of the word ‘being’ in the phrase ‘The Divine Being’ is both a a noun and a verb. It is a thing (a godhead) and a state of being the divine in manifestation before your very eyes and to me this is the principal currency of the portrait - the divine being, sentient consciousness before ‘your very eyes’, coming to you as energy through and the gaze of another as you yourself, being that other to them (albeit displaced by time), return that very gaze.