Four Square Photographs
A legend tells how each millennium God sends an angel to earth to deliver a message to his people. Preparation for this mission takes countless years. The journey itself is so long and complicated that most of the messengers get lost on the way to earth, while those who finally reach their destination have forgotten what it is they were supposed to say.
c-type photographic prints, each 80 x 80 cm
Aberration of Light
‘…all art is like death, an inertia of the instant, and thus a speed change in the order of time as it is lived.’
(Virilio 1989: 45)
‘If you consider that observation takes place by means of light, which is propagated at a finite speed, things are observed in a past as far back as they are spatially distant.’
(Evry Schatzmann in Virilio 1989: 41)
Put a coin in a glass of water and it disappears. The water bends light and dislocates the coin from its image: the coin disappears and what you see instead, in the place where the coin is not, is a sort of decoy; and this is similar to both photography and the world.
There is a small, dark enclosure at the heart of photography. A darkened room. Light enters this enclosure and performs
Light in itself has no appearance, but then neither does anything else. We make the world we see as a thermal imaging camera conjures colour maps to represent heat. Light crosses through space, carrying its imprint to our retinae like a sort of cast. We trust this correlation even as we trust the image we construct from it. We are in a hall of mirrors long before we pick up a camera.
‘A miniature painting is only the work of an artist; a photographic plate is the work of God.’ (Anon, French, 1842)
‘At the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not founded.’
(Wittgenstein 1975: 33)
All buildings are camera
Yet it feels terribly gauche to equate light with truth these days. Photography is a thicket of deception, and picking through it in search of truth seems like a fool’s errand. But possibly the truth/deception model is itself misleading, assuming as it does that what is presented are specific quanta of true or false meaning, which we then read like traffic signs. An old Jewish story tells how God dispatches a number of angels to Earth with desperately important messages for us. The journey from Heaven to Earth, however, is so impossibly long and arduous that most of the angels never manage to complete it; and those few that do have long forgotten the message entrusted to them by the time they arrive. Emptied of meaning via their delay, these angels arrive like cryptograms, like the light from a dead star, and, obviously, like photographs.
In the light of the photograph’s questionable authority, we have had to rethink it as a sort of undermined document. Photographs present possibilities rather than facts. There is always now this implicit question posed by the photograph: “Do you trust me?” It’s a question that marks a point of commitment. At a key moment, one character in the film turns to another and asks: “Do you trust me?” – and there may be no reason in the world for them to do so, yet the decision needs to be made.
Photography is a cut. In it,
Anon (1842) newspaper advert in
Virilio, P., (1989) War and Cinema, Trans. Patrick Camiller, London: Verso.
Wittgenstein, L., (1975), On Certainty, Trans. Denis Paul & G. E. M. Anscombe, Oxford: Blackwell.
Dr Lee Triming is an artist whose work incorporates drawing, writing, performance, sculpture and video. He teaches at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London, and the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford, having undertaken doctoral research in the painting department of the RCA.
This essay is included in the book WE published by Kerber Verlag in 2019 to accompany John Peter Askew’s exhibition at the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art, Sunderland, UK.