Imaging Time: Understanding Photography as Time-based Media

The Photographers Gallery, London, 23rd February 2019

‘Traditional notions of photography as frozen or captured moments have long since developed into narratives where the photograph acts as ‘a space of becoming’, in which meaning can be made and explored. Photography’s relationship with time has changed in the digital age, where images are increasingly vulnerable to temporal ambiguity through manipulation and retouching, whilst instantaneous production and distribution has also encouraged a resurgence and return to the use of analogue processes’.

A lot of ground covered in this session. I will just draw out points raised by the presenters that are relevant to the development of my own work, which is clearly grappling with how to address the complex interaction of different points in time.

Catherine Yass. Previous work has taken a positive and negative image of the same scene and overlaid these on a light box. Small differences in time (between exposures) are made visible in this process. She sees the process of overlaying as disrupting sense of space and position. More recent work has involved video from a drone moving around an object, and the slowing of the video to one eighth speed to force interpolation – producing images that have not existed (like the channel mixing composites, where interaction between layers producing images as fictions). She has also looped and manipulated the Harold Lloyd clock scene to play with notion of time and direction. Likewise, leaving 4×5 sheet film in the street to decay and displaying on a lightbox attempts to explore time and decay. Reference also made to Catherine’s work featured in the Wellcome exhibition Living with Buildings: Health and Architecture, which I need to revisit (see earlier post on this here).

Phoebe Boswell. Combines drawing with photography, dealing with questions of archive, memory and time. Layering of stories from different perspectives in the family. Interesting dual channel looped video of herself and her sister sorting through the same photographs. The work begins to create new histories through the layering of accounts. Interesting question about what effect drawing from pictures has on our sense of time and image.

Erica Scourti. Explored the development of her work and the role of photography as intermediary in development and projection of a sense of self, eg So Like You (2014). Proliferation of images undermines sense of uniqueness of experience (by constantly indexing experience with the experience of others). In Bodyscan (2014) used visual recognition algorithms in apps to explore body image. Raised the question of unseen images, and the effects of auto-tagging and categorisation in relation to digital maintenance and female labour. Also refer to more recent work (giving over online and off-line digital data on self to an author to develop a persona) described in ‘Fiction as Method’.

Discussion. Chaired by Lucy Reynolds. Importance of touch and the haptic in conveying a sense of time. Reference made to Eco’s notion of an open work, which allows the reader space to interpret (as opposed to a closed work) – this is important to the complex layered images I am producing at the moment. Question of displacement, as being out of place and out of time, discussed (and displacement is a key issue in urban regeneration, of course). This was related to ‘knowing your place’ in meritocratic and eugenic discourse (exemplified in an extreme and explicit form in Singapore, of course), which denies space to dream and imagine. Discussion also of the strategy (or tactic?) of breaking down images and (re)constructing and (re)membering. Reference made to Grace Weir’s (2019) two screen installation at the Institute of Physics, Time Tries All Things (a meditation on different conceptions of time). Also, briefly, to the physicality of the mobile phone, and how people hold and touch them (undermining the supposed virtuality of images), which resonates with recent work with young adults in Hull. Closing cautionary (and important for my work, which has to keep open multiple accounts and perspective) quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: ‘beware of the single story’ (which also resonates with the unreliable narrator of Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day).