EXPRESSION: The Roles of Artist and Viewer in Painting and Documentary Photography

If a tree falls in the woods and…

We hear the phrase, “Art for art’s sake,” but we don’t hear, “Photography for photography’s sake.” This highlights an important difference and motive in an artist’s choice of one medium over the other. Painting can be used strictly to satisfy a need for expression, whereas documentary photography generally cannot. Of course there arguably are exceptions, such as Vivian Maier whose need to snap the photo outpaced her ability to process the film. That example begs another discussion of whether photographic expression is in the snapping or the processing, whether the mere idea of making a picture is as much a manifestation of expression as actually making the picture. The premise assumed here is that expression requires a greater degree of actualization than snapping the camera, and once the film is processed there is an assumption that the photo is looked at and kept to be looked at again; otherwise, there would be no need to develop the film, and then there would be no need to keep it. In painting however, it is accepted that from the artist’s perspective the mere act of painting completes the expression; there is no need for the artist to look at it, keep it etc.

Accordingly, the choice of medium reveals the artist’s motivation, whether the need to express and reiterate an observation, idea or experience requires making or having something through which to understand or relive it; in other words, whether the artist wants to release or capture a temporal observation, idea or experience. Painting releases, photography captures.

If the viewer’s perspective is taken into account, the choice may be dependent upon whether the inspiration’s connection to time is general or specific. To illustrate the point, consider whether a new parent would prefer a painted portrait or a photograph of their baby. Now consider whether you would prefer a painting or a photograph of a babe in arms or nursing, or of a toddler exploring the garden or playing with a puppy. Probably, the new parent would opt for a photograph of their baby to best capture that particular moment in the time of their child’s life, whereas you might opt for a painting of more timeless and universal relationships that define general times of life. Perhaps the more general or abstract the inspiration is, the more it calls for painting, and the more specific or particular, the more it calls for photography.

Is this because we trust photography to faithfully document the inspiration more than we do painting? Or, is it because we consider a photograph a better artifact of time to refer back to in the future than we do a painting? Photography seems to be the choice for capturing concrete circumstance, whereas painting seems to be the choice for reiterating feelings. Circumstances actually occur at points in time, whereas feelings may derive from particular circumstances but prevail or at least continue beyond the circumstance. Photography attempts to capture a particular point in time or circumstance. Painting is a process that comes after the circumstance, thus is unavoidably a synthesis of time.

If expression is the synthesis of time or the “release” of a particular point in time into the stream of time, then photography shifts that creative process to the viewer more than painting does. Photography captures a circumstance for the viewer to deal with. A painting presents a version of how a circumstance already has been dealt with – the painter has done his or her expression for the viewer to expound upon, accept or reject. A photograph presents a moment in time – the “thing,” a painting presents a concluded processing of a moment – the “thought” about the thing.

All art is an acknowledged observation of time. Painting is an effort to review, understand and release the time observed. Documentary photography is an effort to capture, understand and review. The viewer of a painting decides whether they sympathize with the painter’s conclusion. The viewer of a photograph has to draw their own conclusions.

EXPRESSION: The Roles of Artist and Viewer in Painting and Documentary Photography

STRANIERO: Maurice Mattei’s Pictures of Italy – A Consideration of the FotoFocus2016 Theme, “Photography: The Undocument,” and Time and Being

Straniero” is Italian for “foreigner” or “stranger.” In addition to classifying someone who’s different and not a part of the immediate scene, the word connotes motion, passing through, someone who’s there then gone or wasn’t there then is. And that, metaphorically, describes photography; the process of capturing a noteworthy moment before it passes in order to have it in the future. The FotoFocus2016 Biennial theme, “The Undocument,” underscores not the documentary authority of photographs, but the fluidity in the viewer’s interpretation. The photograph is a static objective image, yet each viewer sees something unique in it.

Maurice shot the exhibited series between 1977 and 2007. More recently, even up until the exhibit opened on September 30th, he curated the black and white film frames into a series of 83 gelatin silver prints. During an interview, Maurice said, “An important thing a photographer should do is wait to edit…You need time to assess what you’ve taken.” What he would’ve included at the time he took the pictures, what he did include when the series was first curated 6 years ago (for Wm. Messer and Iris Book Café,) and what he included in the current exhibit are different iterations of the effect and importance of time and being. How the images relate to Maurice (his history in the place, his life experience, his plans) varies at different points in time. Also, the artistic evaluation of technique and product varies at different points in time, as the photographer develops his practice and understanding of the medium.

This effect of time is at the crux of what is both personal and universal in the exhibit. Maurice describes the exhibit as documenting the vanishing Italian village life he knew as a child before his family immigrated to the US and again as an adult during his 30-year period of picture taking. The past has become strange and foreign, yet was there in fact, and is here in the photographs, and will be gone again. Just as Maurice’s curation changes with time, so does the viewer’s perspective. We weren’t there when the picture was taken, thus we interpret the documented scene from where we are now; and even if we were there or experienced something similar in time and place, our reminiscence is seen through the lens of our current wisdom. In this way, photographs are both a document of one moment and a culmination of many.

The idiom, “take a photo,” is appropo to the consideration of time. The photographer takes a fragment of time and preserves it, yet it cannot exist without the unknown moments that came before and after. Although the immediate intention of a photographer is to keep that moment, the curator and viewer are perhaps more concerned with the surrounding time; how did the scene come about, how did it resolve? The viewer’s filling-in of these blanks with their “being” determines the authenticity or value of the actual image. Images that provoke a recognition of or relationship to a particular experience of time have a universal appeal that transcends the actual moment taken and its original significance to the photographer.

The nexus between familiar/foreign, document/undocument is directly proportional and symbiotic: the more you understand what is foreign, the more familiar it becomes; the more you document, the more context goes undocumented; and, you can’t have one without the other. The common element and determinant of these relationships is time. Because we each experience time differently (we do different things and different things happen to us,) we are never the same person twice and we are never alike another. We are undocumentable time-travellers. We are Stranieri.

STRANIERO is on exhibit until November 13th. Gallery hours: Thu 11-3/5-8; Fri 5-8; Sat 2-5; Sun 2-4.

(Update 10/29: STRANIERO is held over until November 27th)

STRANIERO: Maurice Mattei’s Pictures of Italy – A Consideration of the FotoFocus2016 Theme, “Photography: The Undocument,” and Time and Being

EVAN HILDEBRANDT [Untitled] / July 8-August 14

Hildebrandt show icon

What is it? You tell me.

What is in a title—preconceived notions, persuasion, sentiment, influence, judgment, beliefs? Evan Hildebrandt has created new untitled works for you to see without the bias of introduction. Meet them and name them for yourself.

In his newest series of work, [Untitled], Evan Hildebrandt asks the viewer to experience his art without revealing his artistic intention in a title or an artist’s statement. Hildebrandt wants his audience to have an intuitive response to his work, free from any prescriptive directions about how to understand it. His hope is that viewers will form their own opinions and create dialog around their own reactions, “I believe the work will speak for itself and am excited to see what it will reveal to the viewer.”

Exhibit Hours 7/8-8/14: Thur, Fri 5-8p; Sat 2-5p

Special Events: Opening pARTy 7/8 (Fri), 5-8p; Fin-Fri-OTR 7/29 (Fri), 5-10p; Closing Café 8/14 (Sun), 2-5p

EVAN HILDEBRANDT [Untitled] / July 8-August 14

UNCOVERING: Our Beauty, Strength & Fragility

1 Marlene Steele-Freight Elevator

Marlene Steele, Freight Elevator 

The nude figure has always been a prominent feature of art practice and purpose. Beginning with prehistoric exaggeration of the voluptuous female form (thought to be a veneration of fertility,) the rendering of nudes and their symbolic purpose have evolved throughout art history; the Greco-Roman tradition focused on athletic strength and idealization of form, the Renaissance focused on beauty, and today’s nudes incorporate our various psychological responses to nudity.

At the gallery May 20 – June 12, Cincinnati artists uncover the forever fascinating human body in oil, pastel, watercolor, charcoal, graphite, photography and clay.

Nude figurative work from Tina Gutierrez, Ray Hassard, Carin Hebenstreit, Marlena Hebenstreit, Robert Hebenstreit, Marsha Karagheusian, Setsuko LeCroix, Tom Post and Marlene Steele.

 

AEQAI Review by Laura Sams

UNCOVERING: Our Beauty, Strength & Fragility