Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Before Digital/Dreams Like This

(When We Go After Anything We Get It)

There has been a bit of a storm in a teacup among the photo-blogs recently (which makes me think they are all limited to teacup size really...) in part growing out of an essay by Mike Johnson (who now apparently seems obliged to go on and on about it at length).

(Taking Our Geese to Market)

Some have come out loudly for him

Others against.

(My own limited response - because after a while it just gets terribly, terribly boring - was merely to try and remind people that photographs are essentially about appearances which may often be something rather different than reality. That the belief that "there is a measurable degree of connectedness to the original scene (aka ‘reality’) that some people find important" is a as much a social construct as is any one of the several forms of Renaissance perspective. And that essentially, such arguments as those above simply miss the point withpeople seeing it as an either/or argument with two ends to a spectrum, rather than the fact that throughout the history of photography it has always been a both/and situation:

“Cameras are just boxes for transporting appearances… What is not so simple is to grasp the nature of the appearances which the camera transports. Are they a construction, a man made cultural artifact, or are they, like a footprint in the sand, a trace ‘naturally’ left by something that has passed? The answer is, both”. John Berger

(County Fair)

Which is all a rather roundabout way of getting to a recent email I read by the inimitable Luis Gottardi about the very captivating work of William H. Martin (links to details of all the images there) which I had never before encountered:

(The Modern Farmer)

"These masterfully executed "Tall Tale" images by William H. Martin do much more than tell photographic fibs. They subverted the program of photo-as-evidence, while simultaneously mocking themselves.

The fantasies they depict are of a paradaisical land of plenty. A cornucopiary of endless Super-Sized game, crops, bounty, a place where there is enough for no one to ever go hungry or wanting, where every hunter bags his limit, and fishermen stop fishing because their arms are sore from catching Leviathans, a land brimming with flowering life, blessed by God.

Mr. Martin did tell of a dream, a universal human dream that played itself out with every major human movement in history, in this case, under the guise of the "American" variety.

The poignancy lies after the suspension bridge of disbelief's gossamer woven wish cables break, and it collapses, awakening us to the reality. In a sense, these are closely connected to, and yet the opposite of Robert Frank".---

(Duck Hunting)

"This postcard was sent to Leon Custard of Mendon, Michigan on May 8, 1909. The message on the back asks, "Did you ever have a dream like this?"

And about "When We Go After Anything We Get It":

"One of the most animated of Martin's photomontages, this rollicking rabbit rodeo is convincing because of its attention to detail. The sketched-in ruts beneath the car and the shadow under the humongous hare add an extra dimension of realism. In the sky to the left of the tree is a tiny flying object that appears to be a hat, carried off by the wind."

What is so interesting about all this is that in a way "Dad" Martin was really so much more free to do this - his own thing for his own reasons - than he would be today. There wasn't really the established framework of photographic rights and wrongs and establishment to hinder his choosing to do so.

P.S. When we took our break at the cottage, for the first time my six year old son and I read our way through Alice's Adventures in Wonderland every evening; and in that light, these pictures seem entirely normal...


Anonymous said...

Neat post, Tim - if you're at all interested, check out this gallery of Tall-Tale Postcard images from the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Anonymous said...

'Martin was really so much more free to do this - his own thing for his own reasons - than he would be today. There wasn't really the established framework of photographic rights and wrongs and establishment to hinder his choosing to do so.'

I am hearing you. Anyway these conversations are so dull when we could be out there lasooing giant rabbits.

Anonymous said...

Boring? Tim! How can you say that? Well, got to get back to my next post, an in depth discussion of Macs vs. PCs. I know you'll love it.

Anonymous said...

Reading posts elsewhere, it's amazing to see the lengths that folks will go to in defending photography as a faithful recorder of reality. Almost maniacal sometimes.

Your post reminded me of the case of the Cottingly Fairies ( which, unlike Mr. Martin's pictures, were the result of simple real world trickery. Many advocates including Arthur Conan Doyle were absolutely dogged in their willful suspension of disbelief. I think, for most people, this strong desire for their to be a 'truthful'relationship between photographs and the real world hasn't really gone away.

I'll leave you with a joke:

Q. What's red and looks like a tomato?
A. A picture of a tomato.