Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Instruction 4: Fire and Ice—The Photo Narrative

In his article entitled “Fire and Ice”, Peter Wollen establishes a binary correlation and disparity between film (fire) and photography (Ice). He uses the opposing metaphor to show the dynamic complexities of both visual media forms by stressing their function and audience response. He begins his discussion by drawing attention to two types of individuals: lovers of photography and lovers of film. He states that the lover of photography “is fascinated by both the instant and the past. The moment captured by the image is of near zero duration and located in an ever-receding then”. Conversely, he says that with film “the spectator is aware of a predetermined duration and his/her opportunity to view the film is only available at a fixed programme time” –108. The spectator of both forms of media experiences them differently because of their time base. The ability for photography, to borrow Wollen’s words, to freeze time suggests that photography has the uncanny ability to capture, trap and localize time—to literally freeze a moment. While, its counterpart, due to its obsession with narrative congruency, must elongate time in a way to make sense of the moments and sequences of events it places on the screen. If we were to take this analogy further and compare it to narrative forms and structure, we could say that photography allows the viewer to imagine various narrative possibilities, events and contexts while film seeks to give the viewer a concrete chronology of events—an actual narrative. 

This little aside brings me to Jullien’s comparison of Eastern and Western metaphysics. As mentioned in previous post, Jullien establishes a binary between Chinese notions of drive and tendency to that of the Western notion of cause and effect and chronology. With Jullien’s binary construction in mind, film and photography have the same disparity. While photography may be interested in causal relationships it does not seek or strive to present them to its viewers.  “Still photos, then, cannot be seen as narratives in themselves, but as elements of narratives. Different types of still photograph correspond to different elements of narrative.  Thus, different types of genres of photography imply different perspectives within durative situations and sequences of situations”—Pg 110. In other words, images from a still photo can be placed in the context of multiple narrative forms: documentaries, newspaper, even film. It is not the image that changes as it is placed in the context of one of the these media forms but the medium of media itself, that is, the image, as it is placed within a narrative context, is used to manipulate the larger narrative as a whole.

Before I get into the instruction that I see permeating through this section of the text, I would like to talk about the use of photography to function as narrative. Wollen states that a photo, to achieve narration in the context of minimal narrative, three photos, not one singular one, must carry the stages of process, event , and stage. Wollen offers this example:

                Image 1: A man watering a the garden (process)


                Image 2: A child steps on the hose (event)

                Image 3: The man is soaked and the garden is empty (State)

By arranging images in such a way, a narrative can be told even though the narrative fails to offer the complex back story and history that a film desperately needs to make apparent with viewers. With this difference, the images allow for the viewer to build and write and imagine their own context of events. For example, the viewer is left to imagine why the kid stepped on the water hose.  This sort of narration of images makes Lacan’s notion of drive (libido) and Jullien’s notion of  shi more understood, as all three: Shi, libido, and the still photo, suggests this unexplained tendency or interest in something without explanation.  With Wollen’s sequence of photos we are perhaps left asking, why these images and not others. Why this moment and not the one before the child stepped on the water hose?


Instruction 4: Take three photos and create a minimal narrative of them. Label each photo with its corresponding part: process, event, and state. Conclude with a brief explanation of what is occurring in each photo, but say no more than ten words.

No comments:

Post a Comment