Thursday, August 6, 2009

An exchange with Murat Nemet-Nejat

Dear Linh,

I looked over the photographs you posted today. I will look at all the others later today or tomorrow. They all have the qualities of your poetry, a sharp clear eye focused on the conditions, sadness, savagery, exploitations of our times, in the United States. I very much am looking forward to seeing what you see and record, your visual commentaries, during your trip: two homeless are lying on the sidewalk against an empty space advertised for rent.

As to my photography essay: if you remember, there I say that one thing distinguishing photography as a medium is the inherent independence of the photographic subject (that is, whatever is before the lens), of photographic space. The photographer can never quite control it; what the lens can see is inherently more than what the photographer can. In your photographs, I have a predilection for those where the photograph contains more than its focal point. That does not mean that what is focused on is not important, only that it is enriched by what lies in the peripheries.

For instance,in the 8:26 P.M. photo, I love the way that, not only the posters (of hope, love and unity) stand against asphalt and a a few weed like "leaves of) grass growing, but also that the poster saying "remember forgive" has a cactus with a single flower on it. That gesture of the anonymous poster maker adds something exquisite to the photograph. His/her gesture is heard in the peripheries.

I love the interchange between the Rabelaisian/grotesque body of the pusher of the shopping cart and the antics of the multiple shadows on the shutter and on the asphalt...


Hi Murat,

Thanks for giving these a close look. I agree with you completely that the secondary details are often what make a photo special. It's interesting that Drew Gardner was drawn to your essay, since he considered the Flarf project as also a collaboration between "author" and "subjects."

Even Jeff Wall admits to being surprised by the slight improvisations, or creativity, if you will, of the models in his staged images. In spite of the independence of subjects and lens, however, the photographer is still responsible for framing a very specific scenario in, literally, a tiny fraction of a second. When you factor in the (often elaborate) editing process, where colors could be tinkered with, details cropped and entire composition tilted, the authorship of the chimping chump becomes even more unimpeachable.

Photo as found art, something pointed to, a la DuChamp. I think also of Cassavetes' drawn out scenes, where rambling actors are allowed to improvise, approximating "real" conversations in tedious life.



I had read Drew's comments when he wrote them. His essay, along with one of David Chirot's post a while ago, are the two most intelligent writings about my essay.

The kind of editing you are describing, tweaking colors, etc., is relatively more relevant after the advent of digital photography. In my essay, I repeatedly make the point that the photographic image is inherently unstable, the photographer is working at the edge of technique because of the "perilous journey" the reflected light takes from the subject to the print. This is particularly true in the 19th century photographs. For instance, the 19th century light always seems on the verge of being over-exposed, giving it a peculiar glow. Then there are "mistakes," "blurs"; a subject may have moved, etc. Also, camera obscura photographs embody the passage of time; what was before the camera keeps moving from us, etc.

Though the photographer as the "framer" is important, I think, much less so, less centrally than people realize. For me, the photographer provides the lens, the foil against which the subject asserts its independence. I am aware this idea is quite radical and goes very much against the grain of modernity. This does not make the photograph a found art because an object (a subject) in itself can not be independent. It needs the foil of an observer who, potentially, is trying to control it.



Hi Murat,

A tangent to this discussion is our shared interest in street life, how the body needs to regularly swim through a common space while being exposed to a multitude of mostly unknown others. This intercourse, both comforting and menacing, is denied to those who only drive and surf.






Angela Genusa said...

A wonderful exchange, Linh. Nemet-Nejat pegs your work right on when he says, "... a sharp clear eye focused on the conditions, sadness, savagery, exploitations of our times, in the United States."

I'm ready to buy the book!

Meg said...

Not bad but definitely amateurish.

You need to get INTO your subjects rather than looking AT them.

These photos are really about looking AT things/people/situations rather than BEING there and understanding them by showing the viewer a more intimate version of their subjects and perhaps even, themselves (viewers/consumers of your photos).

It is a nice start. I assume it is digital and that is part of the problem...if you rely on a machine to make choices for you in terms of aperture, focus, etc., you end up with the "mass produced" feel that is becoming horribly common to photographers whose only experience has been with digital and most likely auto-focus cameras.


Angela Genusa said...

Meg, I have to disagree with you. Linh is following in a tradition of street photographers that began back with Wee Gee, where the photographer was looking AT his/her subjects rather than "being there" and understanding them, etc. Linh does give an intimate look at people, situations, and conditions in the United States right now.

Perhaps he could take some advice about using a digital camera, but there's no need to talk condescendingly to an artist and poet of Linh's ability.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Angela,

To you or anyone interested in the technical details: Like many other people, I do shoot with a digital camera. Generally speaking, I set the ISO, aperture and shutter speed manually, as should be fairly obvious if you examine the differences between my photos, but enough of the tech talk... Whenever you express yourself, whether through a photo or a blog comment, you give people at least a glimpse of your personality. If you are good natured and have a sense of humor, that comes through. If you're an asshole, that also comes through. Like they say, everyone has one.

Angela Genusa said...

Hi Linh, I didn't mean that you necessarily need any advice on how to use your camera, but only that it need not be delivered in a condescending, assholish way.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Angela,

I only threw in the tech talk because of the implication that I was using a point and shoot, but even those can produce interesting photos.

Hey, I can't wait to get on the road in October! I'll see you in Austin!

Angela Genusa said...

Yes, I can't wait, either!!!


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