Bond Street & 64th Street, Southwest Corner

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Project journal entry for April 16, 2006

The problematics of including people in the photographs of New York in Plain Sight — ethical, practical, even aesthetical — arose very early on in the project and remains very much a lively issue for me. Here's what I was saying to myself about one aspect of this scarcely a month after the shooting began.

The photographers featured in the New York Times today are quoted as saying that by keeping people out of, or limiting their presence in, their photographs, they invite the viewer into them "as if he/she were there"(not an exact quote).

They also say that the real presence of people in a photograph makes the picture about those particular people. I think I agree with this, when we're talking about viewing a single image in isolation — real or conceptual/virtual — from any others.

But in street corners, the sheer number of people in the hundreds and thousands of pictures generalizes the subject in a different sort of way, while at the same time maintaining the specificity, the particularity and uniqueness of the individuals who appear in them.

I want to make an analogy between [the following I then crossed out as "too grand": very large scale but uniform photography projects …] my street corners project and Morton Feldman's large scale — "long" — pieces. How the sheer scale of a piece like the 2nd String Quartet changes the perception of event densities.

Similarly, I think, with the thousands of street corners — the issues of what makes a single photograph a good one are radically altered in the context of 10,000 similar photographs.

And so again, also, the question of scale and its implications, its consequences.

Washington Street & Gansevoort Street, Northwest Corner

I haven't counted — and I probably won't, either! — how many people there are altogether in the photographs of New York in Plain Sight — but if I were guessing, I'd hazard something on the order of 50,000, if not even more than that.

It's possible that the more difficult question, given that just about everything in our culture is aimed at the individual, the singular, whether as the achievement (or failure) of a person or of an object like a photograph, is how to see an ensemble of hundreds or thousands of photographs as just that: an ensemble and therefore to judge how they do — or even don't — work together, instead of only seeing them as just a heap of so-and-so many individual pictues.

An analogy perhaps to learning to hear music as an ensemble of sounds instead of a sequence individual tones?

In which case the analogy with Feldman may be in reverse: I gather from his writings and lectures that one of his ideas in working on such a large temporal scale was to free the individual sound from the received web of compositional relationships in which we "naturally" hear it embedded.

Whereas in New York in Plain Sight it's just the opposite: the scope of the project deliberately undermines the individuality of the separate photographs — or tries to, anyway.

Successfully? — I don't know yet; it remains to be seen.

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