Amsterdam International Electronic Journal for Cultural Narratology (AJCN)

Amsterdam International Electronic Journal for Cultural Narratology (AJCN)

Elena Grigorieva

The Pinned-up emptiness1

       Photography as a process is a very complicated activity. It is so complicated that human consciousness is hardly able to catch the stages and details within that process. The procedure appears as a spontaneous act, but post factum you can reflect on an already finished result – a photo bounded by its frame. And it is photography which gives us this unique experience of reflecting on a spontaneous and virtually random act which results in a no longer random and unspontaneous object, a visual text. In visual art the act of producing an image takes a much more detectable amount of time. In a photo this process of direct creation acquires technical procedures and details which have more to do with the camera than with the artist. Only one thing is required of the photographer – to be in such-and-such a place at such-and-such a time and activate their instrument. The charm of this attachment to the point in space and time is what defined Roland Barthes’ idea of photography and narrowed his interpretation.

        However, the meaning of photography is not restricted to this factor. Otherwise we as viewers would genuinely have no need of the photographer. We could look at photos taken by automatic cameras. Nevertheless, to get an artistic result, we need for the photographer, a person, an individual to be in the same place and at the same time. We need his eye, albeit let through the camera. It is in this aspect that the act of taking a photo finds its complexity. As it turns out, not every eye by any means, synchronised with the camera, creates an interesting artistic effect. Why, what's the matter? With the same camera in the same physical space and in the same light two different people can produce images which are aesthetically deeply at variance.

        I believe that first and foremost it’s an issue of focussing the view, i.e. choice. Of course, the result of this choice is in the exactness of the viewer's intuitive visual post-reading of these physically very small deviations in the representation, but what interests me now is the process of production of the initial shot. I think that what is put into action here is the ability of the intelligent eye to capture, or even suspect, intrigue, taking into account the fleetingness of what has happened, in the positioning of the objects in a space which is neutral for others. I would characterise this ability as being able to build up a psychology of visual objects. The ability to grasp the meaning on that first stage of the focus of the view-lens is the fascination of the viewer. It is only on this path that the photographer can expect seemingly fortuitous discoveries. A classic example here is of course Antonioni’s “Blow up”. It is a strain to catch from the very beginning a certain extraordinariness of what happened, and detect psychological strangeness in a seemingly everyday scene. This affects not just the portrayal of people but also any visual objects.

           The ability is inherent in Eugene Gorny’s photographic art to a superlative degree. His sight is intrigued by unexpected things in the space of light and shadow. A forgotten rag on a rope strikes an attitude worth Peter Brook’s stage. A power station’s cooling towers reveal their almost biological irregularity. A balloon separates from the eye that looks at it and uprushes beyond the sky’s edge. The things feign, grimace, hide, disguised as something else. Sometimes one has to conjecture what has been seen and one feels uneasy because what is obscure scares. Even an innocent drop of moisture radiates anxiety - it is not clear from where it has oozed and from what it is trickling down. The things are cut off of their roots and united in a new community forcedly held together by the frame. The empty space itself, the sight between objects may become a centre of undiverted attention - a device known to Japanese painters and to those practicing Zen. All recognisable objects crawl away to the edges, crowd on the periphery. The ways of producing the effect of estrangement are multifarious but the effect itself prevails. There are many of components in the creation of this effect. The choice of shots, their subsequent post-processing and their naming also play an important role.

       Of course, this is sad. It’s a very sad collection, and Eugene is a very sad artist. Why is that? It seems to me the answer lies in that estrangement, i.e. the process of exposing, revealing, fixating on what other people, non-artists, manage to keep in reserve unexposed, unrevealed, uncut, unfixated on. Much wisdom, much sadness. The more is cut off, the more evident that there is more. The emptiness is particularly sad, pinned by the lens to a particular place in a grid of coordinates and given with a rectangular cut of an image. It is because of this I think, incidentally, that Japanese engravings arouse more melancholy and sadness than elevated happiness. Loneliness, yes of course, but why is loneliness so sad? Or at least why is it considered a sad phenomenon in our cultural tradition? The melancholy of loneliness is the melancholy of introspection. Sadness born of consciousness. Sadness, born of purposefulness and certainty, because purposefulness is a process of vivisection, limitation, non-freedom. It is especially sad when this is a definition of the indefinable or rather the incomprehensible. This reminds us of a situation when there is no sweet inside the bright wrapper. Instead of the happy, approving, accepting, rapturous clapping of both hands, there is the clap of one hand – the discovery of the emptiness and pointlessness of any gesture in the gesture itself.

But what a wrapper! What if not this procedure of sucking out the life-giving air, exhibiting things in a vacuum, can guarantee their virtual longevity?


1 This is a version of a text from Eugene Gorny’s exhibition “The Elements of Sadness” held at the Goldsmith College, U of London, January 2005.