Assignment 4: Research Options & Notes

The following six topics are suggestions for the assignment 4 essay:

  1. Photography combined with text to produce combined narratives, such as those by Duane Michals.
  2. Accumulating photographs together as a way of producing a hybrid between film and stills. See La Jetée.
  3. Andy Warhol’s screen prints generated from photographs.
  4. David Hockney’s Polaroid photograph ‘joiners’ such as Pearl Blossom Highway 2 (1986) My Mother, Bolton Abbey (1982)
  5. Andy Goldsworthy‘s (ephemeral) sculptures
  6. The political collages of Peter Kennard, for example Santa’s Ghetto (2006), Union Mask (1981), Haywain with Cruise Missiles (1980)

Of all these options the one that intrigued me the most was La Jetée and so I have decided to research this. The key points that I will need to cover in this essay are:

  • my opinion of the relationship between the creative aspects of the artwork
  • the message that the artist is trying to convey
  • to what extent does the photography is a necessary part of the process.
  • how does the artwork relate to the themes of time and place

Remembering to:

  • demonstrate awareness of broad range of contemporary practice in the creative arts
  • demonstrate an understanding of the scope and interrelationship of a range of creative disciplines
  • demonstrate a knowledge of basic research tools and research skills and an awareness of the theoretical background to the creative arts
  • demonstrate an ability to think critically and to reflect upon your own learning experience. – reflective commentary.

Assessment criteria points:

  • Subject knowledge and understanding
    • comparative understanding of subject content
    • knowledge of appropriate historical, intellectual or institutional contexts
  • Research skills
    • information retrieval and organisation
    • primary and secondary sources
  • critical and evaluation skills
    • Engagement with concepts, values and debates
    • evidence of analysis, reflection, critical thinking, synthesis
    • interpretation in relation to relevant issues and enquiries
  • communication skills

La Jetée is a 1962 French science fiction short film by Chris Marker. It is constructed almost entirely from still photos, it tells the story of a post-nuclear war and experiment in time travel.

What was happening in France & the world in 1961-62?

  • Cuban missile crisis/cold war
  • space race Yuri Gagarin first man in space
  • trial of Adolf Eichmann – one of the major organisers of the Holocaust
  • birth of modern genetics with discovery of genetic code ( J. Heinrich Matthaei alone performs the Poly-U-Experiment)
  • building of Berlin wall
  • Algerian war of independence
  • Paris Massacre of 1961 (Police attack 30,000 protesters against a curfew applied solely to Algerians)
  • Soviet Union tests latest ever hydrogen bomb

Watching this film, it became obvious that this must have been the inspiration for the science fiction film 12 Monkeys (1995)

On La Jetée by Jean-Louis Schefer Passages de l’image. Exhibition catalogue, Centres Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1990.

Drake, C. La Jetée (2016) Series:BFI Film Classics, British Film Institute.

‘Thrilling and prophetic’: why film-maker Chris Marker’s radical images influenced so many artists by Joanna Hogg

La Jetée: Academy One by J.G. Ballard

What ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Terminator’ Owe to ‘La Jetée’ by

The main themes that have come to mind after watching La Jetée are:

  • time – obviously the shift between past, present and (briefly) future.
  • nostalgia – the lure of the past
  • reality – how do we know what is real? What do we want to be reality?
  • tourism – the protagonist is a “tourist” of the past, the use of photographs echoes the idea of tourism. “Time traveller”
  • style/composition – the decision to use photographs instead of film footage. The composition of the images used. The choice of image subject.

Quotes from Sontag’s On Photography that seem relevant and may be useful to work into the essay:

Photography as nostalgia

“Crushed hopes, youth antics, colonial wars and winter sports alike – are equalized by the camera.” (p11)

“when we are nostalgic, we take pictures… photographs actively promote nostalgia.” p15

“The moody, intricately textured Paris of Atget and Brassaï is mostly gone.” p16

“All talismanic uses of photographs express a feeling both sentimental and implicitly magical: they are attempts to contact or lay claim to another reality.” p16

“The images that mobilise conscience are always linked to a given historical situation. The more general they are, the less likely they are to be effective.” p17

“The knowledge gained through still photographs will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whether cynical or humanist.” p24

“Photographs are, of course, artifacts. But their appeal is that they seem, in a world littered with photographic relics, to have the status of found objects – unpremeditated slices of the world.” p69

“To renew the old world,” [Walter] Benjamin wrote, “that is the collector’s deepest desire when he is driven to acquire new things.” But the old world cannot be renewed – certainly not by quotations; and this is the rueful, quixotic aspect of photographic enterprise” p76

Photographs and time

“photography came along to memorialise” (p9)

“photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal” (p11)

“time consists of interesting events, events worth photographing” p14

“Photographs may be more memorable than moving images, because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow.” p17

“What is surreal is the distance imposed, and bridged, by the photograph: the social distance and the distance in time.” p58

“Photographs state the innocence, the vulnerability of lives heading toward their own destruction, and this link between photography and death haunts all photographs of people.”p70

“As the fascination that photographs exercise is a reminder of death, it is also an invitation to sentimentality.” p71

“A photograph is only a fragment, and with the passage of time its moorings come unstuck.” p71

“The proper moment is when one can see things (especially what everyone has already seen) in a fresh way.” p90

“The force of a photograph is that it keeps open to scrutiny instants which the normal flow of time immediately replaces.” p111

“In Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading (1938), the prisoner Cincinnatus is shown the “photohoroscope” of a child cast by the sinister M’sieur Pierre” an album of photos from infant to deathbed. p167

Photographs and reality

Sontag talks of photography’s “aggression” and “veracity” or “truth” (p6)

“to photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed” (p14)

“Images transfix. Images anaesthetise. An event known through photographs certainly becomes more real than it would have been if one had never seen the photographs.” p20

“The camera makes reality atomic, manageable, an opaque. It is a view of the world which denies interconnectedness, continuity, but which confers on each moment the character of a mystery. Any photograph has multiple meanings; indeed to see something in the form of a photograph is to encounter a potential object of fascination.” p23

“Buñuel, when asked once why he made movies, said that it was “to show that this is not the best of all possible worlds.”” p34

“in photography – the cumulative de-creation of the past (the very act of preserving it), the fabrication of a new, parallel reality that makes the past immediate while underscoring its comic or tragic ineffectuality, that invests the specificity of the past with an unlimited irony, that transforms the present into the past and the past into pastness” p77

“In the preface to the second edition (1843) of The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach observes that “our era” that it “prefers the image to the thing, the copy to the original, the representation to the reality, appearance to being” p153

Photography and “tourism”

“limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.” (p11)

 

“The photographer is super tourist, an extension of the anthropologist, visiting natives and bringing back news of their exotic doings and strange gear.” p42

“essentially the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.” p57

Photography and style/composition

“In the normal rhetoric of the photographic portrait, facing the camera signifies solemnity, frankness, the disclosure of the subject’s essence…For politicians the three-quarter gaze is more common: a gaze that soars rather than confronts, suggesting instead of the relation to the viewer, to the present, the more ennobling abstract relation to the future. ” p37-38

“Like a pair of binoculars with no right or wrong end, the camera makes exotic things near, intimate; and familiar things small, abstract, strange, much further away.” p167

“Whereas the reading time of a book is up to the reader, the viewing time of a film is set by the filmmaker and the images are perceived only as fast or as slowly as the editing permits. Thus, a still, which allows one to linger over a single moment as long as one likes, contradicts the very form of film, as a set of photographs that freezes moments in a life or a society contradicts their form, which is a process, a flow in time.” p81

“words do speak louder than pictures. Captions do tend to override the evidence of our eyes; but no caption can permanently restrict or secure a picture’s meaning.” p108

Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip (1973) “The quotations have nothing to do with the photographs but are correlated with them in an aleatoric, intuitive way, as words and sounds by John Cage are matched at the time of performance with the dance movements already choreographed by Mercy Cunningham.” p73

“For [Dorothea] Lange every portrait of another person is a “self-portrait” of the photographer, as for Minor White – promoting “self-discovery through a camera” – landscape photographs are really “inner landscapes”.”p122

As an aside I just liked the quote below:

August Sander’s photographer “Labourers and derelicts are usually photographed in a setting (often outdoors) which locates them, which speaks for them – as if they could not be assumed to have the kinds of separate identities normally achieved in the middle and upper classes.” p61

Other related artists:

In Place examples of Swiss artists Peter Fiscali and David Weiss’ series of airport photographs are shown commenting that “they often possess a significant formal beauty and an almost classical (perhaps baroque could be more appropriate) sense of compositional balance”.

Eugène Atget (1857-1927) “specialised in pictures of Old Paris”, his photographs of Paris are before the wide availability of automobiles “a milieu which would never recur.” milieu – a person’s social environment. “Much of his Parisian material deals with the limited future” [Jeffrey, 2008]

Brassaï (1899-1984) “specialised in night studies” and published a book Paris de Nuit (1932)

Technical terms:

In a bid to get more technical terms into my essays I have been through the Tate Guide to familiarise myself with relevant movements etc:

  • Arte Nucleare – The Movimento d’Arte Nucleare set out to to make ‘art for the nuclear age’. “Their manifestos warned of the dangers of the misapplication of nuclear technology…Several exhibitions were held but the movement petered out around 1960”.
  • bricolage – “an ability to make art out of any materials that come to hand. This approach became popular in the early twentieth century when resources were scarce”
  • documentary photography – “A style of photography that offers an insight into people, places and events, sometimes over many years.”
  • Geometry of Fear – “In the [Venice] Biennale catalogue [Herbert] Read wrote: ‘These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance; and the more innocent the artist, the more effectively he transmits the collective guilt.'”
  • momento mori – designed to remind the viewer of their mortality. Often employs symbols such as skulls, clocks, fruits etc
  • motif – recurrent fragment, theme or pattern
  • photobook – book of photographs by a photographer that has an overarching theme or follows a storyline. “photobooks have helped to establish the idea that a sequence of images represents a narrative in its own right.”
  • Postmodernism – describes changes in Western society from 1960s. “Some outstanding characteristics of Postmodernism are that it collapses the distinction between high culture and mass or popular culture…it refuses to recognise the authority of any single style or definition of what art should be.”
  • reportage photography – “Reportage photographers bear witness to the world, whether it is by documenting the exploits of day-to-day life or the front line of a war zone.
  • time-based media – refers to art that is dependent on technology and has a durational dimension.

Bibliography

Dean, T. and Millar, J. (2005) Place London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Jeffrey, I. (2008) How to Read a Photograph London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Sontag, S. (2008) On Photography Penguin Modern Classics, London: Penguin Books Ltd

Wilson, S. and Lack, J. (2008), The Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms. Tate Publishing:London

 

Appendix A – A rough transcript of La Jetée copied from here. I noticed a few minor differences with the English version on the DVD but mostly the same.

La Jetée : ciné-roman

This is the story of a man, marked by an image from his childhood. The violent scene that upset him, and whose meaning he was to grasp only years later, happened on the main jetty at Orly, the Paris airport, sometime before the outbreak of World War III.

Orly, Sunday. Parents used to take their children there to watch the departing planes.

On this particular Sunday, the child whose story we are telling was bound to remember the frozen sun, the setting at the end of the jetty, and a woman’s face.

Nothing sorts out memories from ordinary moments. Later on they do claim remembrance when they show their scars. That face he had seen was to be the only peacetime image to survive the war. Had he really seen it? Or had he invented that tender moment to prop up the madness to come?

The sudden roar, the woman’s gesture, the crumpling body, and the cries of the crowd on the jetty blurred by fear.

Later, he knew he had seen a man die.

And sometime after came the destruction of Paris.

Many died. Some believed themselves to be victors. Others were taken prisoner. The survivors settled beneath Chaillot, in an underground network of galleries.

Above ground, Paris, as most of the world, was uninhabitable, riddled with radioactivity.

The victors stood guard over an empire of rats.

The prisoners were subjected to experiments, apparently of great concern to those who conducted them.

The outcome was a disappointment for some – death for others – and for others yet, madness.

One day they came to select a new guinea pig from among the prisoners.

He was the man whose story we are telling.

He was frightened. He had heard about the Head Experimenter. He was prepared to meet Dr. Frankenstein, or the Mad Scientist. Instead, he met a reasonable man who explained calmly that the human race was doomed. Space was off-limits. The only hope for survival lay in Time. A loophole in Time, and then maybe it would be possible to reach food, medicine, sources of energy.

This was the aim of the experiments: to send emissaries into Time, to summon the Past and Future to the aid of the Present.

But the human mind balked at the idea. To wake up in another age meant to be born again as an adult. The shock would be too great.

Having only sent lifeless or insentient bodies through different zones of Time, the inventors where now concentrating on men given to very strong mental images. If they were able to conceive or dream another time, perhaps they would be able to live in it.

The camp police spied even on dreams.

This man was selected from among a thousand for his obsession with an image from the past. Nothing else, at first, put stripping out the present, and its racks.

They begin again.

The man doesn’t die, nor does he go mad. He suffers.

They continue.

On the tenth day, images begin to ooze, like confessions.

A peacetime morning. A peacetime bedroom, a real bedroom. Real children. Real birds. Real cats. Real graves.

On the sixteenth day he is on the jetty at Orly. Empty.

Sometimes he recaptures a day of happiness, though different.

A face of happiness, though different.

Ruins.

A girl who could be the one he seeks. He passes her on the jetty. She smiles at him from an automobile. Other images appear, merge, in that museum, which is perhaps that of his memory.

On the thirtieth day, the meeting takes place. Now he is sure he recognizes her. In fact, it is the only thing he is sure of, in the middle of this dateless world that at first stuns him with its affluence. Around him, only fabulous materials: glass, plastic, terry cloth. When he recovers from his trance, the woman has gone.

The experimenters tighten their control. They send him back out on the trail. Time rolls back again, the moment returns.

This time he is close to her, he speaks to her. She welcomes him without surprise. They are without memories, without plans. Time builds itself painlessly around them. Their only landmarks are the flavor of the moment they are living and the markings on the walls.

Later on, they are in a garden. He remembers there were gardens.

She asks him about his necklace, the combat necklace he wore at the start of the war that is yet to come. He invents an explanation.

They walk. They look at the trunk of a redwood tree covered with historical dates. She pronounces an English name he doesn’t understand. As in a dream, he shows her a point beyond the tree, hears himself say, “This is where I come from …” – and falls back, exhausted. Then another wave of Time washes over him. The result of another injection perhaps.

Now she is asleep in the sun. He knows that in this world to which he has just returned for a while, only to be sent back to her, she is dead. She wakes up. He speaks again. Of a truth too fantastic to be believed he retains the essential: an unreachable country, a long way to go. She listens. She doesn’t laugh.

Is it the same day? He doesn’t know. They shall go on like this, on countless walks in which an unspoken trust, an unadulterated trust will grow between them, without memories or plans. Up to the moment where he feels – ahead of them – a barrier.

And this was the end of the first experiment.

It was the starting point for a whole series of tests, in which he would meet her at different times. Sometimes he finds her in front of their markings. She welcomes him in a simple way. She calls him her Ghost.

One day she seems frightened. One day she leans toward him. As for him, he never knows whether he moves toward her, whether he is driven, whether he has made it up, or whether he is only dreaming.

Around the fiftieth day, they meet in a museum filled with timeless animals. Now the aim is perfectly adjusted. Thrown at the right moment, he may stay there and move without effort.

She too seems tamed. She accepts as a natural phenomenon the ways of this visitor who comes and goes, who exists, talks, laughs with her, stops talking, listens to her, then disappears.

Once back in the experiment room, he knew something was different. The camp leader was there. From the conversation around him, he gathered that after the brilliant results of the tests in the Past, they now meant to ship him into the Future. His excitement made him forget for a moment that the meeting at the museum had been the last.

The Future was better protected than the Past. After more, painful tries, he eventually caught some waves of the world to come. He went through a brand new planet, Paris rebuilt, ten thousand incomprehensible avenues. Others were waiting for him. It was a brief encounter. Obviously, they rejected these scoriae of another time.

He recited his lesson: because humanity had survived, it could not refuse to its own past the means of its survival. This sophism was taken for Fate in disguise.

They gave him a power unit strong enough to put all human industry back into motion, and again the gates of the Future were closed.

Sometime after his return, he was transferred to another part of the camp. He knew that his jailers would not spare him. He had been a tool in their hands, his childhood image had been used as bait to condition him, he had lived up to their expectations, he had played his part. Now he only waited to be liquidated with, somewhere inside him, the memory of a twice-lived fragment of time.

And deep in this limbo, he received a message from the people of the world to come. They too traveled through Time, and more easily. Now they were there, ready to accept him as one of their own. But he had a different request: rather than this pacified future, he wanted to be returned to the world of his childhood, and to this woman who was perhaps waiting for him.

Once again the main jetty at Orly, in the middle of this warm pre-war Sunday afternoon where he could not stay, he though in a confused way that the child he had been was due to be there too, watching the planes.

But first of all he looked for the woman’s face, at the end of the jetty. He ran toward her. And when he recognized the man who had trailed him since the underground camp, he understood there was no way to escape Time, and that this moment he had been granted to watch as a child, which had never ceased to obsess him, was the moment of his own death.

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