I would like to draw attention to the photographic essay, a topic that I plan to make mention of again in a later subsequent post. The photographic essay, as Blake Stimson writes in his article “The Pivot of the World: Photography and Its Nation”, “is a form that holds onto the opening of time, the specialized duration given. It draws its meaning from the back-forth interrelation of discrete images that is eliminated when those images are sutured together into film. The photographic essay form also relies on—and draws its meaning and purpose from—a similar opening up of space into discrete and differentiated units”—98. Based upon this description, the photographic essay seems to be synonymous to montage, but before I get into the relationship of montage to the photographic essay, I think it would be beneficial to discuss the relationship of the photographic essay to that of film, which should shed light on the montage form.
The photographic essay imagines narrative possibilities whereas the film tells them. Photos collected in essay form ‘were assumed to be able to develop together a series of interrelated propositions or gestures in the manner that an argument persona realizes itself in the world, in interactive performance and thereby ‘crystalize as a configuration through motion’. While, film may not ‘crystalize as a configuration of movement, film like the photographic essay shares in the sensation of movement, that is, the movement that both media forms incorporate in their various narratives evokes a mood in its audience and viewer. Although both rely on movement for congruency, their utility of movement is vary different. Film places each subsequent image on top of that which comes before it, that each image in the series, each instant in the representation, is preserved rather than being displaced by its follower—94. With the photographic essay, another image literally displaces the one before it because with a photograph the viewer can only perceive one frame at a time. In order for the viewer to see what follows the photo in view, another must come into frame. While, film may be better at arranging narrative sequence, serial photos hold a multi sided conversation.
Stimson states that the key difference between serial photography and film is what motivates the seriality in each. Serial photography “attempts to use serial photography to capture motion and narrative sequence, not produce it. The aim was not to reproduce life, [or fantasize about life as film does], but to reproduce life as experienced in time but instead to see what cannot be seen by the naked eye. The camera was brought to give visual testimony to what the eye on its own could not see by disarticulating the sequence of events, by breaking the narrative apart into discrete moments, into discrete photographs. This “freezing of movement” and breaking down of narrative is what links the photographic essay so well with montage.
As stated in a previous post in my Lacan section of the blog, the montage relies on framed images to compose complete narrative. In a way, it functions like serial photography to fill in the gaps—to catch what the eye could not. With this ability and as montage demonstrates, the photographic essay is not limited to one specific narrative or narrative types. In other words, frames can be reorganized to “re-narrate or re-choreograph” time and space—95. This in its very nature opens narrative possibilities, and ancient Chinese metaphysics would agree with me when I say there is a certain shi-about serial photography. Shi is envisioned through the snap shot, which like calligraphy relies on a gesture, a sudden movement to capture its image. Montage, libido, the unconscious, and serial photography all produce what the eye or conscious can’t perceive. Film, to the contrary, “produces only what the eye can see”—pg.98. Thus the serial photos have a greater chance at helping us realize the things that escape of line of vision, namely ourselves.
Instruction 2: Allow your camera to take a series of photos—serial photography. Set it up and leave the shutter on to produce a photographic essay. After you have taken and uploaded your photos or printed them, see how many narratives you can arrange out of the images.