Transcript of an interview of Chris Meigh-Andrews by Martin Barnes, Curator of Photography at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London in relation to the video projection installation A Photographic Truth, 2001. Recorded at the V & A, London, May 2001.
C.M-A: Initially a number of things came together in fluid kind of way. I’d had an idea for a Fox Talbot installation piece and I had been in discussion with the contemporary team at the V&A, and someone (I can’t remember who) said “Oh, you should speak to Martin Barnes because he is putting on this exhibition by photographer who used Fox Talbot’s calotype process, why don’t you go and talk to him and have a look at what he’s doing. “ So it grew out of looking at the photographs that you had selected and we began a discussion about how I might do something that related to that. It was seeing that image of Hawshurst Church with all of that symmetry- both intellectual and visual symmetry, and then discovering its title- “A Photographic Truth”. It also seemed to grow out of discussions about what could be done with a moving image within the context of an exhibition of still photographs with an historical focus. An exhibition which was about photography and about the business of using time, of looking back and about the use of what would have been then (1852) the use of a very new technology. A technology that is now very commonplace, but then would have been extremely remarkable- perhaps for many who saw those photographs would have been the first they had ever seen! Then there is the issue of what it would have meant back then to be able freeze a moment in time- something only possible with photography, and it must have been very fresh and a very new experience. Taking a photograph of something which is moving like that pond in the foreground of “A Photographic Truth”, which in reality is never still- only a still photograph of it produces that experience. It was things like that, which became the focus of the installation.
MB: Yes, I like that idea that the technology is distilled down in a way; the fact that contemporary technology is brought back to that location and to that period in time and broken down into its most essential elements. The video is behaving like a photographic camera on a tripod. It’s the base level of what that technology can do to begin with.
C.M-A: It takes it back to the activity of “taking” a photograph. You then begin to think about the photographer, with all of that equipment going out to the location. It occurred to me that Turner must have gone there a number of times and come away without having taken a picture.
MB: Why do you say that?
C.M-A: Well, because I suspect he must have scouted the location first. I doubt that he wandered around with all his bulky photographic paraphernalia looking for potential images. He would have scouted locations with his “photographers eye’ (which he would have been developing in a sense, for what other photographs would he have seen?) He must have decided that the reflection of the church in the pond would be an interesting subject for a photograph. His exposure times were up to a half an hour, and yet he wanted a static, calm reflection- without the reflection that photograph just wouldn’t work! So Turner must have gone there, set the whole thing up and then the wind started to blow. There must have been many ruined exposures. I stood there for a whole weekend from dawn till dusk, and the pond was never static for more than a moment. Even if he picked his day very carefully I suspect that things would have come along to mess things up. For example, a duck could land on the pond, or a gust of wind causing ripples, etc.
When we look at Tuner’s photograph it appears to be an instantaneous exposure, but we know it couldn’t have been because there was no such thing at that time. The act of making a video recording at the location made me think about Turner’s original activity and the amount of effort that would have been required. It’s so different from the way we take photographs now- which is so much more casual.
M.B: What I like about what you’ve done is that there is so much timing evident in both Turner’s photograph and in your projection. The way you’ve compressed the time into the one frame has great resonance to Turner’s image but done in a different way.
C.M-A: I have become very interested in doing something within the image frame that you can only do with digital technology. My working title for the video projection piece that became A Photographic Truth (2001) was “Time Frames” because I knew that I wanted the camera to be static. I wanted reference photography and that particular photograph- that frame. I wanted to match Turner’s original framing as closely as possible. The issue for me, was since I was using a moving image, was to question how it could be manipulated. This is where the symmetry comes in. My idea was to break the image, to explore and reference the symmetrical composition, and to use the horizon line within the image to create a temporal break- to literally mix different times together within a single frame. This is something you can only do with precise control using digital technology. It is possible with film, either by masking off a portion of the frame and making multiple exposures or in post-production using an optical printer, but it would require precise pre-planning and considerable expense. Using a computer and digital imaging techniques, the whole process is fluid and intuitive. You can try things out, change your mind- which I did many times! For example I would try something in the bottom bit of the frame and then say no, I want a different thing in that reflection, or I want a different time period, a different quality of light, or say I want the time to be stretched in this half of the frame, but not in this half, or perhaps I wanted a static moment rather than a fluid one. All of these different states of movement or time can be held together in the one image frame.. This is what the American writer and critic Gene Youngblood calls the “temporal perspective”- the possibility of containing more than one time frame within the picture frame. This may be one of the fundamental ways in which the digital image is potentially different from other image technologies.
MB: What’s so neat about “A Photographic Truth 2001” is that you have many different connections between the intellectual and the philosophical content with the formal values of the picture. You have this division between the symmetry- the split in the image allows you to make the temporal changes top and bottom, and there are many things like that you play on. For example in terms of reflection, the idea of photography as a magic mirror- and magical things happen within the image.
C.M-A: When you told me that the title of Turner’s original 1852 photograph was “A Photographic Truth” and you speculated that it was a reference to something metaphysical, I was really intrigued, because I thought that there was another idea there, beyond the religious one, which is the idea of the image only being photographic “truth”, and not a reality, and I wondered if BB Turner was thinking of that too. It must have occurred to Turner that looking at a photograph of the thing was simultaneously like and not like looking at it. It is a totally artificial construction and therefore only a photographic truth. So asked myself it I could make a kind of digital moving image truth- one that can only exist via the digital and electronic manipulations. Therefore is “truth” only tied into the visual? What I became interested in was the point of departure of the visual into the conceptual. So the frame in my video piece holds something together which is not a visual truth, but a construction.
MB: I like the idea of you thinking about Turner standing there and thinking about the fact that a photograph shows me a vision of the world which is unrivaled in its veracity when compared to any other medium that proceed it. The photograph is capable of recording the actual reflections of sunlight on the real environment and that can only be truthful- it doesn’t in anyway contain the hand of the artist. To me this is the first response to the title. And then the second response, is that no, its not the truth as perceived by the eye, but a truth from the natural world that the camera picks up on. The photograph presents those truths and allows you to see them.
Did you feel that you were revealing something new about that location and about the medium in the same way that Turner was doing with photography?
C.M-A: I like to think that it might be possible to do that. But I think it takes time to move in that direction. One of the things I was thinking about was the stare of the camera. We don’t stare at something usually. Our knowledge of visual things is built of discreet moments- we move around ..looking is not static, but active. The camera, however is rooted, bolted down in the case of turner’s camera, and in the case of my camera, fixed to a particular spot. Forced to stare at a single set of elements. So any kind of active relationship to the location is going to have to be made in some other way. First of all there are things happening- the wind blowing, birds flying past, or whatever. So my technique if mixing and recombining elements into the frame begins to reference memory. It references the way that the human mind recalls things. The mind doesn’t remember things as a fixed staring moment, but rather as a composite. So what I’m interested in doing with a composite image-sequence is in some way to make a reference to how memory works in relation to the visual world.
M.B: I’m interested in what you’re saying about composing a mental picture – a visual truth about something you know in a kind of cubist sense….
C.M-A: Yes, such as something that you pass every day…Think of someone who would have passed that scene that Turner photographed …Their image of the church would have been built up from many, many passings, in many different conditions which is what I wanted to try to do. I was only there for a short time…There are lost of people who make time-lapse images/sequences of places, or even composite images where they take a place of a thing every so often and then they are shown as a sequence. But they are never (or hardly ever) condensed within a frame.. Its most often a set of a place or a building in different seasons, or a time lapse of a single sitter- someone sitting in front of a camera, and gradually their hairdo changes, the style of their glasses, whether they are shaven or unshaven- the telescoping of time into a short movie. But I thought that it would be interesting to put that into a single “frame’, then its starting to do something more interesting, and much more akin to what the mind does with a visual memory of a place, in some sense. So that’s where I’m headed. It seems to me that this work is quite important for me because its made me focus (there’s a boring pun there..) on the fact that I want to work within the frame again, having been engaged for some time with objects in relation to the frame for over a decade. Building objects that refer or make reference to , or are juxtaposed against the images that I’m presenting on screens. But I feel that I want to work “within the frame’ much more emphatically, and play within the illusory space, but to do something with it that’s got much more to do specifically to do with the digital, if I can.
M.B: It seems to me that this work depends a lot on it’s simplicity- with the way its been put together. I know that much of your other work is based around the installation aspect of what you do and how you put the images together with monitors and screens. Can you tell me a bit about the simplicity of this piece and how it meshes, or how exciting (or not!) it is in relation to the other things you’ve done?
C.M-A: Well I think that in other work where there are objects and constructions, the images were often very simple and minimal- a simple repeating cycle, so that where one came in or went out of the gallery was irrelevant. I’ve retained that to some extent. There’s something sculptural that I like about that. There is a “figure”, and you can move round it. And not matter how many times you walk around it, or how you look at the details as you move ‘round it is up to the viewer. I like the idea that there is a “three dimensional’ thing with a sculptural dimension in terms of how one looks at it, and in terms of how it repeats. Because A Photographic Truth is referencing photography, and the static moment, I have been able to play with the static versus the moving in a particular way. Its simple, but in its simplicity, I like to think its poetic…It as if one had written something which then one tried to distill to its most…..pure(?) I tried to refine it as much as I could so that I ended up with something which was easily understood, there isn’t any kind of narrative, but it would still be something that you would watch with as much attention as you might give to a narrative. This is something that I’m still working on, because I’m not interested in telling stories, but I’m interested in presenting something on a screen that is non-narrative, or with the most slender narrative dimension. There still has to be something to “hold’ the viewer’s attention, and I think the only way to do that is to distil something down to the point where it is as strong as you are capable of making it. It should have resonance’s….Its amazing how long people will look at a photograph when there’s not much at one level, to hold them. Nothing will change, nothings going to happen….no one is going to shot, or fall in love, or any of those things and yet people will live with an image, or come back to an image..I wanted to make something that was like that….some thing that one might watch all the way through, but still come back and watch it again and see it slightly differently. It has no beginning and no end, and yet, obviously it does because to make it you have to begin somewhere, and finish somewhere…there is a cycle, but it doesn’t matter in which order you see the cycle…you can pick it up at any point ..I wanted something that was a bit like a mobius strip- you would follow it an find that you’d come back to the same point and you were then aware of the whole shape, and that that was important.
M.B: In some ways it replicates that feeling of satisfaction one experiences on becoming engaged with a still photograph. There is the still point in the image and whatever goes either side is partly involving your imagination. What you seem to have done is to animate a little bit of the frisson, that little bit of imagination at either side of that still point.
C.M-A: I like your idea about imagination because I think that is what one, as an artist, hopes to do. To provide an experience that others can bring something to. I think that’s why I’m less interested in narratives. I feel that narrative is mostly about a passive viewing of something. You sit there and allow the story to wash over you, and you enjoy that aspect of it. But I’m interested in making moving images that do something else. The act of watching requires that you bring something to it to enable it to “work’. For me, that’s what a work of art should be. If a work is too closed, if its too much about providing information to the viewer then the piece is not a work of art, but something else. A work of art doesn’t have one meaning…”This is about that..”. There are always things that start a work off….For example in APT 2001, there are references to photography- and to the moving image and so on, but then there is hopefully something about the experience of memory- about the process of memory, which is what I’m interested in..
M.B: Can we talk about the sequence itself. A breakdown of what’s in it?
C.M-A: Well, as I have said previously, it only has a beginning and an end insofar as I needed to begin somewhere when I was making it and end somewhere when I was finishing it. So it does “begin” with Turner’s image, because I felt it was important to make a reference to his photograph and I also wanted to play around with going between it (the original image) and the location as it exists in the ‘here & now’. So firstly, there is the historical photograph- and it was very important that it was “the photograph”, so we went to the trouble of recording the physical photograph- not a reproduction. So at one level we are looking at the photograph as an object- as a “thing”. The video piece begins then as a celebration of the static image, and then there is a transition between the historical photograph and the place. I can’t now remember the exact order of the sequences, and I would like to think that this order doesn’t matter, but simply that there are important elements. For example, the mixing of different time frames, using the device of the reflection. So for example, there is a night-day split, when the reflection in the pond is of the church flood lit at night whilst simultaneously presented in the daylight.
There are a number of things done with movement- particularly with the rippling pond, but there is also a pun on “freezing” at one point. I was fortunate enough to be there when the pond froze on the second day, and I realised that it made a very neat reference to photography- the idea of “freezing” a moment. So here was matter frozen rather than time! I was able to make a transition from the frozen water to the fluid water digitally rather than waiting for it to melt.
M.B: You also did it physically by throwing in the stone.
C.M-A: Yes, that’s right, I thought it would be fun to break the ice. I wanted to make a reference to the fact that we were looking at matter. Although the work is an image and no longer physical, but a representation of matter. So the “photographer” throws a stone into the pond, and the ripples move outwards. But I reversed that, so that we have the pond “throwing” the stone back out.
M.B: I think it’s the only moment when there’s an intervention between the image and the person making it.
C.M-A: There are interventions all the time of course. Every single action- setting the cameras up in that particular spot, recording at particular times, these are interventions into the continuity of reality. And then there are all the digital interventions in the editing stage.
M.B: This is a moment in the physical image where you literally smash the illusion. Did you know of that quote of Roger Fenton’s?
C.M-A: No, you mentioned it to me after I’d made the piece. Can you remind me what he said?
M.B: When the picture was first exhibited in 1852 at the Royal Society of Arts, Fenton wrote a catalogue entry for the exhibition. He praised the examples of British photography in the show as being some of the best using certain subject motifs. He mentions that some of them are “twisted oak trees, ancient churches and village ponds in which villages are reflected in their margin and you can’t tell which is the real village, and which is the pond, and that one must throw a stone in it in order to decide.”
C.M-A: Fantastic! That’s why I inverted the image at one point. I decided that one of the things I had to do- because of the symmetry of the photograph and because of the issues around “reality’ and “reflection”- the entire video is in some sense a reflection of reality, and so I inverted the image rather unexpectedly, I hoped, suddenly there would be a realisation that the reflection was at the top. Then the stone goes in so we get the image the “wrong’ way up- therefore revealing itself to be the reflection. There is of course another reference there, to the fact that the photographer would have seen the image upside down in the viewing glass of his camera, so he would have been composing it upside down, and seeing the reflection as the top of his image. Which is another reason why, perhaps, he came up with the title (“A Photographic Truth”.) because he would have between thinking about that.
M.B: I like the idea that when the stone goes into the reflection, which is at one point at the top of the frame, it appears to come out of the sky. So this sense of gravity (which you then reverse, so that the stone pops out of the water.) is inverted as well.
Looking at the original negative of Turner’s photograph, it’s actually more symmetrical than the print, and it seems to float, in a way.
C.M-A: Because he has framed the print differently…You thought that it might be because-
M.B: I have a feeling that cropping the image a little bit at the bottom reflection, and chopping off the top of the church tower means that one knows which is the reflection, and which is the “real” world. So by flipping it around, you don’t get to view them the same way. It is a “weightless” negative, in the way that the print isn’t, in a way, and I don’t know whether that’s a conscious way of saying that for a 19th century audience that it was almost too strong- it was almost too much of an abstract photograph.
C.M-A: Right. Because the photograph is bordering on abstraction, and when you stare at it long enough you do begin to read it that way. I agree with you.
M.B: It’s as if the pictorial conventions of that time wouldn’t accept that- it was an unacceptable thing to do.
C.M-A: To some extent, that’s what prompted me to begin thinking about the original exposure time. You had told me that Turner’s average exposure time was about 30 mins. Standing at the site recording the pond and the reflected church I realised that there was no way it would be possible to get a perfect reflection of the church with that kind of exposure time. I began to wonder how long the exposure time had been. My first hope had been that I would be able to find out, in which case I would have made my video piece exactly the length of Turners original exposure, so that the duration of my video would have corresponded in “real time” to the amount of time that he had exposed his frame. But of course we had to speculate. I guess if I had more time, I would have done more research to find out if anyone could have given me an idea of the ASA equivalent of his paper, or his emulsion. One must assume, since the photograph was taken around the same time as his other work- and that since there is nothing unusual about the light conditions, that this image required a similar exposure time. It remains a bit of a mystery to me how Turner managed to capture such a perfect reflection of Hawkhurst Church! To have had a correspondence with the original exposure time would have a conceptual refinement that appeals to me, but nobody would have known that. It’s one of those things that a conceptual artist (which I consider myself to be) can get hung up on. All of those things have to be right but of course they don’t always matter very much to the spectator.
M.B: But it is neat.
C.M-A: I had no other way to decide on the length, so I determined the length by simply using all of the material I had shot that seemed appropriate- that I liked. There are always questions when one makes something like this about duration and pacing. How long should something remain on the screen? How long should it take to happen? Working digitally, one has complete control over these things. If I have recorded something which takes 10 seconds to happen, I don’t have to stick to that duration, I can make it 12.3 seconds long if I want to, or I can compress it into half that length. These choices obviously affect the feel of the thing. So at the end of the day, my choices have to be based on something that is much more akin to a musical decision- if you are playing a note, how long do you hold it for? What kind of sound do I put up against the previous sound? When you’re making things that have a temporal dimension, one ends up thinking about music quite a lot. Even if only emotionally.
M.B: That’s interesting. In a way you are engaging an audience in the same way. You’re expecting an audience to give you attention-
C.M-A: It’s almost a demand. When Turner puts a print on a wall he didn’t dictate how long someone should stand and look at it. But if you’re a film or video maker- especially if you are showing work in a gallery and directly competing or having your work compared to static work. People come into the gallery and stand there. There’s an arrogance on the part of the maker sometimes: “I’m going to make the audience stand there for half an hour watching this thing slowly unfold”. But the piece has to sustain the audience’s attention.
M.B: But in some ways the correspondence between the original exposure time and the duration of the video is not important to the audience.
C.M-A: I think in this piece this aspect has an extra significance because it would have a kind of correspondence to the photographer standing there during the exposure. And in relation to that, there is the issue of the events that potentially could have taken place whilst he was making the original exposure.
M.B: But if that conceptual point doesn’t tie in with what is presented within the image, then the piece wouldn’t work. I think in this case, it works extremely well. You’ve used each slice of time like a musical note. Its put together in a form of harmony that is highly satisfying.
C.M-A: I worked for a time as a film animator- or at least it is something that I did quite a lot of at a certain point. As you know, that activity involves shooting a frame at a time. Working on a computer editing video feels a lot to me like animation because you literally get into the sequence and make decisions on a frame by frame basis. But it’s like animation in reverse. Because you grab a bit of “the real world” and then you manipulate it into something else.
The other thing we haven’t talked about is the idea of projecting onto paper. As you know, the Talbotype process uses paper coated with a light sensitive emulsion. The paper is exposed to light. The image is literally created by focusing light onto a paper surface. So it seemed appropriate to throw some light onto paper again, in a reverse of the process. Perhaps in some kind of a parallel. The piece involves throwing electronic light onto paper that acts as a kind of ground glass, recreating some moments of the original place. I like that conceptual symmetry.
So here is another symmetry. Go back to 1852, the light from the scene is falling onto a piece of specially prepared paper and being captured “forever”. My piece is doing something very different, almost opposite. There is no “forever” on my piece of paper- there’s a moment, an instant, which is then gone. The whole piece is temporary. One very important reason for making installations and for working with video is because of my interest in the ephemeral. My interest lies in making something that is not permanent, that leaves no trace. It’s an experience, and it’s made with that intention. A bit like falling in love, or eating a lovely meal.
M.B: To come back to the paper. There are some moments where the image becomes negative, which for me makes a nice reference to the paper negative. The idea that calotype images are a marriage of two parts. There’s a paper negative that is a beautiful object in its own right, and is the same size as the final print. That also has a wonderful symmetry about it. It’s like squashing paint between two pages, and unfolding it to find the shape of a butterfly.
C.M-A: It also has a symmetry in the mind, which is a parallel to the visual symmetry of the photograph. We are aware of the reality and it’s reflection, and then when we think of the negative (or see it) we become aware of the positive that is its reflection. The reflection of the negative is in the head. In my work I’ attempt to do things like that. I want the person looking at it to reflect on the process that is taking place – I don’t mean the technical process, but the process of perception. If we go back to ideas about the theory of montage- back to Eisenstein or Kuleshov, and think about all the different types of montage that they identified- all these experiences that can be evoked as a result of the juxtaposition of elements. I’m interested in something that might be called “conceptual montage”, wherein something on the screen is montaged with its opposite, or by it’s counterpart in the mind. One then becomes aware of the two simultaneously.
M.B: In a way that is almost a pure definition of the Romantic concept that Wordsworth has- an epiphany in “Tintern Abbey”, where he suddenly realises that the world constructed in his mind is half perceived and half generated, and its that that makes him alive.
C.M-A: Absolutely. I think that art should do that. Not all art, and not all the time- but there should be moments where that can happen. Being aware of ones “aliveness” at the point of active engagement. Becoming aware of the “real’ and the interior- the exterior and the interior- and that’s the symmetry we have been talking about. A kind of symmetry of perception.
M.B: I think that’s what is so neat about this piece in a way. Turner’s photographs come out of a Romantic tradition. He was making photographs in the 1850s in a time when the Romantic poetry of the 1780’s had permeated national consciousness. All the image making before that- the watercolours and oil paintings which deal with a Romantic sublime have fed into photography and so they carried with them some of these Romantic notions about perception, and they spill over into this work. Its exciting to me that this has come through in what you have done.
C.M-A: Its also interesting to think that my work has come out of a materialist practice. I came out of film school at the end of the 1970’s. The work that had the most profound influence on me was the experimental work of the period- “film as film”. Work which forgrounded the material nature of the medium and how these qualities should be reflected in the experience of film in some way. There was a conceptual rigour. These film artists were interested in producing a cinema that was counter to the predominant narrative content. This was the kind of film & video making that I became interested in and which influenced me the most strongly. But somewhat later I began to want to reinvest something else into the materialist practice. So I think there is a Romantic notion in there, and I don’t mind admitting that.
M.B: But it’s Romantic in the true sense of the word, rather than in the way it has become to mean- some kind of slushy sentimentality.
C.M-A: Well I think there’s a kind of beauty in the “look” of the image. It doesn’t try to look like a photograph or mimic the aesthetic of a painting. It’s video and in some points we can see that very clearly. In fact its digital video, and this is very apparent, for example when you get those “steppy” fades where its apparent that the digital process is involved, or in the grainy quality in the underexposed sections when darkness falls. This speaks very much about the technology that has been used to make it.
M.B: Again, I can help but to draw comparisons. Turner’s pictures do the same thing – with a beauty that is appropriate to the medium. His paper negatives have the texture of the paper in them. It’s not a conceit- its part of the process. In a way you’ve embraced that in the way in which you’ve used digital technology.
C.M-A: There is digital technology that can be employed to mimic that look. You can use so called “filters” on the video sequences to imitate scratched movie film. I’m not interested in using the digital to mimic other things. It was crucial for me to make sure that the entire process was digital from start to finish. This is perhaps another conceptual purity, rather than something a viewer might immediately appreciate or care about. I wanted to be consistent in my use of this technology, and to make a parallel with Turner’s situation.
There’s a collaborative element to this project that I haven’t experienced before. When we first began talking about this project, it came out of something that you were doing. You had the knowledge about Turner- I had never heard of him. You selected the exhibition, and the new piece grew out of this dialogue. One of the key reasons for choosing to work with “A Photographic Truth” was the fact that the location was still available. There’s been a dialogue at every stage in the making of this work – even in such issues about how it should be exhibited and shown in the gallery in relation to the photographs, its location, its size There has been a valuable and productive exchange at every stage. It’s an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.
M.B: Me too. That has been very exciting and has brought the pictures alive in a very different way. The thing that I felt was lacking in the exhibition before you became involved was some way of re-creating the thrill of standing in one of those locations. Which is what I did all the previous year. I didn’t feel it was enough to say either in the book or the exhibition “this is what this place looks like now” How can you translate the thrill of standing at that location and have the hair stand up on the back of the neck, and think “this is the spot”, and “he must have walked from here to here”, to unpick that feeling of being in the exact place. Asking a question such as how you explain what must have been a creative thrill or jolt of electrical energy. To stand in a place which somehow has a pictorial or aesthetic meaning. When you revisit those places, it’s like divining in a way. You feel somehow that there’s something about this spot which is just right to make an image. It would have not been enough for me to put a photograph of that location as it exists now next to the piece. It would be facile. It would be like a one liner…
C.M-A: Right. This is this business again of the time, isn’t it? The notion of standing on the same spot and looking at something in order to condense it into a frame, which is what a photographer has to do, in a sense. Taking people back to the point where they wouldn’t simply take a snapshot and move on. They not be looking at the world in that way, but seeing the world in way that was much more about taking a period of time and condensing it, which is much more like what these photographs must be doing in some sense.
M.B: I love the way that kind of feeling, that notion, the thrill of standing at that location, has become a new creative expression, and has become a new work of art in it’s own right. That initial impulse has taken off into something new.
C.M-A: That really pleased me as well. Even to the point where we were able to use the same title. To make it refer both to the original photograph and to something deeper, and to reflect that back on Turner’s original intention when he entitled the image that way – you get the reflection in both directions, as it were. It’s another kind of symmetry in a sense.
M.B: It’s very nice that there’s a kind of triangular project with Turner on the one hand, the exhibition, and there’s your involvement, and it seems to have worked in a very balanced kind of way.
C.M-A: Yes, and people don’t necessarily have trouble- even though they’re coming to look at photographs- because this piece exists in a way between photography and the moving image, doesn’t it? Even though it is a moving image, it refers so much to the experience of something that is in a kind of stasis.
The other analogy I would make is to the sort thing that happens in certain kinds of minimal music. When one is listening to something that is repeating, but within which there is a simultaneous of movement at the same time. So in the repetition, in the continuity and the fixedness, there is also something which is progressing and changing.
MB: It reminds me of a piece of Morton Feldman’s music, which is just a repeated scale, but subtle inflections, every time- the scale moves on…
C.M-A: Yes, I was very influenced at a certain period of my work by minimal music, and I try to use repetition in a similar way, because I feel there’s a strength to that technique if you use it right..It can be very boring as well, but I wanted something that has a power underneath.
It is important to talk about the collaborative aspect. Most often I’m working in isolation, and in this project your energy and enthusiasm for Turner’s work, your knowledge of his work, and the photographic process- the whole business of making photographs and understanding the intention behind the activity- your in-depth knowledge of all that came in to it, and fed in to my interest in photography.
M.B: How has it affected what you might do in the future? For example, you told me that you want to concentrate more on what’s going on within the frame.
C.M-A: Well, first of all, I’m very intrigued by the issue of projecting onto particular surfaces…a surface that has a relevance to the content of the work, or which is related in some way to the exhibition space. This piece has renewed and encouraged that interest. But then there is also this idea of….well, its like something I said to you about my earlier works, there was always a context thing….I was working at least partly with placing objects in a particular space, and the specific characteristics of that space were important, and the pieces were made in relation to the space. In this piece, the situation is similar, but the objects in this exhibition are two-dimensional objects, and the space is very specifically a gallery space. So it’s made me focus more on the particularities of the gallery, the viewing experience.
M.B: There’s so much that’s built up in a visit to a gallery; an almost subliminal set of connections between pictures and spaces and dimensions, that build up many different connections in the mind that one needs to be sensitive to as a curator when you’re putting pieces of work together that speak to one another in different ways across an entire wall.
C.M-A: You’re orchestrating an experience in time in just the way that I am. That’s another aspect of this collaboration. I had never worked so closely with a curator before. Usually once I’ve been asked to do something I had the feeling that the curator simply let go of the project. But I saw your active engagement with hanging the photographs, working out the sequence, getting the lighting just right. Then there’s the notion of the V&A Museum and how putting work up in that sort of context affects the work, affects the person who comes to look at the work. Then there’s the issue of the history- this exhibition is mainly a presentation of historical images, but I am presenting a work which is both new made specifically to relate to the historical images. This is a new way of working for me, and has made me reflect on the possibilities for more work of this kind.
M.B: Working with or combining new works with historical material in an installation context.
C.M-A: That’s right. Looking at the connotations of the exhibition space- the power and particularity of the space, it’s history, its reputation, the meaning that the venue imposes onto things…All of that, which is a lot…another couple of lifetimes worth of work!!