Sometimes I notice that I take photographs in a certain way. Straight lines, centered, the view or the object point blankly in front of the lens. They are like street surveyor’s photographs or reportage. Objective, although nothing ever really is. ‘Objective’ is just another word for blank or mute. For a space for someone else to define the outlines and the details. I am not so taken by this school of photography although I understand its merit. It is non-emotional in its language.
I have been troubled by my tendency to photograph in this way that I don’t consider mine. It is then when I look through the viewfinder again and think if I should press the shutter or not. I don’t photograph to document or to tell stories. It cuts deeper than that. There is however no space for that kind of motivation or a drive in the Art World unless I would allow it to be conceptualized. Long sentences with words that are difficult to pronounce. Lofty, abstract language that doesn’t weigh much.
Not that I would think that I should even try to be unique. Art School made sure that we understood that this we were not. However it also pressed us to break away from the old forms. And this they did without teaching us what those old forms were. Or perhaps I was the only one who wasn’t educated in these matters but I doubt it. My British peers didn’t seem any more enlightened than I was.
So I am in an odd limbo with my photography. (I almost wrote ‘my style’ but corrected it. ‘Style’ implies to an aesthetic without substance and as the fine art photographer I take great pains to pose as I can’t talk of having one.) I feel the pressure to be different, to do my own thing whilst knowing very well that it is impossible. And I do my own thing, so to speak, without trying to establish myself in the Art World and therefore, on my own terms. I hear criticism from years ago in my head and I wonder how much it effects my decision to take the photograph and how much of the sum of what makes my photograph what it is, is that I subconsciously try to evade from possibility of being mocked.
I don’t believe photographs as evidence, as tellers of truth although within ‘my practice, as they say, I preserve these values in the way I work. I photograph on film and edit my photographs, to correct colour overcasts and other minor defects, only if I have to. (And I often do simply because my scanner has some presets that are challenging to work with.) In other words I don’t tamper with the information value of my photographs. However this is for other reasons than for their genuineness. I simply and uncritically love analogue photography. I like to forget what I have photographed, even momentarily. I like negatives and the grain the images are composed of. I like working with something tangible and finite.
There are some rules of composition which ensure that the image is pleasing to the eye. Why they are pleasing to eye I don’t know but I follow those rules without thinking. That doesn’t trouble me. What troubles me is that something might get in the way of discovery. That when I look through the viewfinder and ask myself (if I have to for sometimes there is no question of it) whether I should take the photograph or not, my vision is disrupted by fear, ambition or a peculiar kind of vanity which would guide me more than the secret quest that led me to photography in the first place.
My friend and I went around some Brutalist architectural gems in London in the beginning of the week. It is only just that some of them would be included in the London Archive.
© Carita Silander
I found a photograph by a pond, mesmerizing and full of vivid colour. It had no way in or out. That is what the point in the horizon is sometimes called in Finnish, pakopiste, the point of escape for the eye. A vanishing point. Something to locate oneself with, one’s place in relation to the view. Within it or outside it. But when it is concealed? What happens then when there is no point for the eye? I have rewritten these questions several times in search of the right verb that would describe the truth. The truth about myself as a viewer, as the photographer, as a Western white female, as a human being in the cosmos. The eye wanders, my eye wanders. I get lost, immersed or at least I wish that I was. Photography is at times nothing else but a wish, that knee-jerking note in a song.
I know where these considerations will lead me. The story of Western pictorial tradition, its inherent religiousness, from which followed not only rules of composition but entire way of seeing and organizing the world. A man’s place in it, as a human being, subordinate to God. Their desire to present God’s point of view in works of art. As if they could. As if they could. It seems so silly for us now, so unfair. Then the discovery of optics and the invention of the drawing devices. The invention -or was it a discovery- of perspective in pictorial terms, where the view is organised according to the optics of the human eye, standing in the centre but outside the scene. Much like God was thought to be in relation to the universe. Then the storm of Enlightenment and the discoveries of Charles Darwin. God is no longer at the centre of the universe. The man is there now- the man but not the woman. The invention of photography and the subsequent death of painting. Soon followed the death of many things. I can’t remember the exact order of things now and I have for certain missed some events. When did Nietzsche write that ‘God is dead’? How soon after did the French philosophers conclude that the author is dead, as is the man? Before or after the World Wars that butchered thousands and thousands of men –and women- and changed everything.
I haven’t even touched on the problems of photography. The problem of perspective, of representation, of what constitutes the real. I jotting these concepts down like bombs because I am vexed and bewildered. Where does this all leave me, having taken this image of a pond in London? Do I have a responsibility as an artist if I may call myself one? If I do, what is the nature of it? A question which would bring me to another question: what is art? There I can finally, finally throw my hands in the air and say that art is made by artists and Art is made by the Art Institutions. Their bluff has been called and therefore it is clear that art- as well as Art- is subjective. I can point out to the Romantics who sought truth and beauty in nature and seek refuge in their legacy.
That was the last frame of the film and I sat on a bench to change the roll. I noticed the dull light that depresses me so on the top of the trees right in front of me. I have read somewhere that it is the mythical justification of the deadpan aesthetic, this blank daylight which in Greek mythology reveals everything as it is. Joseph Conrad writes in The Secret Agent of the golden dust, haze that is specific to London. Is this the same light, diffused as if through golden dust if only I would be able to see it so? Some other people have mentioned, rather admiringly, the light that is specific to London. I have been here for fifteen years and I haven’t fallen in love with the light in London. I have begun to wonder if I have ever seen it.
I envy the Romantics and Pre-Modernists because they believed in something and their art reflects it. They were free to explore the themes that inspired them. I am not devoid of strong convictions but I was injected with cynicism and fear in Art School. I envy these artists because I myself feel trapped. Straight-jacketed. I am inspired – or am I led? - by values that I feel that I cannot admit that I have and therefore they remain unexamined even by me.
© Carita Silander
Preamble to the London Archive Essays
I asked a few friends and members of family to choose a photograph from the London Archive they would like to know more about. As this premise is my own devising, I have taken the artistic liberties necessary in answering this question. Bar a few exceptions, the result is a series of short essays combining a brief outline of historical information, consideration of photography as a medium as well as an account on how I ended up taking each particular photograph.