Poetry and withal photography appear to be incompatible aesthetic media. Both look the viewer / reader to enact them by participation, only in unlike means. Poetry is temporal, with a conspicuously defined beginning and ending, requiring sequential reading, while a photograph offers a single image that does non oblige the viewer to enact a detail sequence of experiential positions. Notwithstanding, these media, under comparable aesthetic, cultural and social pressures, may share tactics that although expressed in different materials convey comparable sensuous, emotional, and imaginative experiences. The aleatory effect has become one of the characteristics of modern and postmodern art and literature. Introduced into photography past
photography (beginning with an 1838 Daguerreotype of a Parisian street scene), codification through the Romantic formulation of the imagination, the part of chance in fine art has gradually become more central than peripheral. Two examples of the motion of contingency from secondary aleatory effect to structural principle are the recent works of John Ashbery and Robert Frank.
For the purposes of this essay, “contingency” is the element of run a risk, while “aleatory” refers to the manner the artist or writer uses chance elements within a given work. Although this essay argues that the use of aleatory effects to structure or largely compose a poem or photograph is relatively new, chance has a long history in fine art and literature. Contingent elements appeared in photographs from the invention of the medium, and their presence sparked disquisitional discussion almost immediately. Aleatory effects entered poetry in new ways through Dada, surrealism, and other modernist movements. Some writers and photographers have characterized this every bit a revolt against static perfection and an encompass of an aesthetic of procedure and movement. But others have resisted or attempted to eliminate chance from their piece of work, and the viewing or reading public globe has not always institute contingency piece of cake to assimilate.
Francis Frith, William Henry Jackson, and Edward Weston braced their large-format view cameras on sturdy tripods, and composed pictures almost the style a painter does with a canvas on an easel. Framing the subject with concentrated deliberation, these photographers had little use for contingent pictorial elements or deliberate aleatory furnishings. The expense and trouble of exposing big sheet movie precluded casual adventure-taking. Just chance could non exist entirely eliminated except in the studio, and once the 35mm revolution began, aleatory effects would get more and more an of import part of photography’s aesthetic, fifty-fifty amidst photographers still using larger formats.
For poets, contingency is first and primarily a function of the imagination mentally processing the take chances elements of physical perception. Shaping those elements into aleatory effects requires some degree of linguistic cunning. Metaphor is an aleatory effect dependent on the contingent elements rattling effectually in the poet’southward imagination. Poets have nigh often tried to minimize the aleatory effect of metaphor and take preferred to make the metaphor seem organic, natural, or otherwise inevitable. In the twentieth century, the Dadaists and others bankrupt away from this endeavour to go on their tropes nether control, and instead embraced a more reckless rhetorical assortment. More recent poetry has wielded aleatory effects without whatever attempt to shape them into orderly metaphors, and Ashbery, in detail, has excelled at writing poems in which contingency seems to have run productively amok.
Photography, unlike verse, is not entirely an imaginative venture. It is machine art guided more or less past human vision. The photographic camera is a complex machine, even more than complex in the digital age. As Lincoln Kirstein puts it, “Brush, paint, and palette tin scarcely be considered a automobile—the camera can never have been thought of as anything else” (191). The camera subjugates (merely also complements) homo vision with a seeing that is starkly material, with no intervening (that is, inside the camera) intelligence. It fixes in a moment what in our eyesight is constantly shifting, flickering, changing. Its reproductive powers seem miraculous. As Walter Benjamin puts it, “For the beginning fourth dimension, photography freed the hand from the most important creative tasks in the process of pictorial reproduction—tasks that at present devolved upon the eye alone” (twenty). Of class the eye can exert great aesthetic discretion. The photographer is free to choose, frame, and ultimately to push the button that affixes the camera’south (and the center’s) vision. The combined human activity of perception and choice is frequently chosen “photographic seeing” (Sontag
136). The photographer is then complimentary to manipulate the image in darkroom or computer, complimentary to display or withhold the resultant image. The synergy between artist and her / his tools is circuitous but easily discernable. Here R.Yard. Collingwood’s distinction between art and craft becomes essential. Anyone can push a shutter button and compel the photographic camera to produce a competent, properly focused photograph, either on movie or digitally.
The essential element of art, however, is elusive, and cannot ascend solely from a arts and crafts that is largely mechanical. Some of the nigh compelling photographs display relatively depression levels of craft. They may be compelling for this very lack of smoothen. Nearly of Robert Frank’s photographs display an apparent indifference to craft, even to conscientious composition. However, as Collingwood demonstrates, craft is emphatically not art, and confusing the two is odious. He defines “The artful experience, or creative activity” equally “the feel of expressing one’s emotion; and that which expresses them is the full imaginative activity called indifferently linguistic communication or art. This is fine art proper” (275). Most of the technical action involved in photography is done by the camera, or by the darkroom procedure. How does “imaginative action” come up into it? Through the vision of the photographer, of grade, which selects, frames, and mentally processes that vision until it yields a photo. Except for its misleadingly mechanical aspect, photography is non too dissimilar, in its imaginative procedure, from the other arts. That many photographers expend more than effort on technological perfection than on imaginative engagement suggests that photography is more often proficient as craft than as art. But so so is writing.
But the metaphor as well as the actuality of the machine long ago invaded artful idea. In Benjamin’due south era of mechanical reproduction are poems machines made of words, as William Carlos Williams says? Such a machine would be a arrangement, not a unmarried object just a multitude in which every element functions. A continuous product line, as deconstruction reminds us. Non just the verse form but language itself is a machine fabricated of words, or rather a serial of self- defining, contingent machines. A product line. Linguistic communication is non merely a vocabulary plus a prepare of rules, or grammar. It is an act of using words in which, ideally, every give-and-take functions in a way that furthers the overall purpose of the language-machine. Discourse—linguistic communication in activity—rarely functions at the ideal level. The machine coughs upwards actress, unnecessary parts, or staggers along without necessary ones. Poetry often forces discourse to do without elements that in other usages would be essential. Less unremarkably, information technology adds extra parts and forces them to work in foreign and perhaps unsystematic ways. More than recently, more emphatically, it is concerned with “bringing things together elliptically, according to the imperious but frequently arbitrary demands of subjectivity” (Sontag
In the Romantic-Modernist-Postmodernist formulation one important purpose of art is to tease the imagination to life and then to brainwash information technology. This may be why art can seem simultaneously social and hating. It unites viewers, readers, or auditors in an act of perception, then dissociates each of them into the lone realms of the individual imagination (Frederick Schiller in
On the Aesthetic Education of Man
codifies this statement). The ways of art are pictorial, dramatic, sonic, tactile, and even olfactory. Most forms of art entreatment to more than than one kind of sense-perception. Poetry is pictorial, dramatic, and sonic. Photography is pictorial, dramatic, and tactile. Of course the physical medium matters, only even more important is the ways by which the sense-perception is engaged. Photography is pictorial because it is a pic. Poetry, although perhaps a stride removed from directly representation, is not only aural only pictorial because information technology generates images, which the reader composes internally, imaginatively, rather than through receiving visual stimuli. Maybe poesy has the advantage over photography in that its images are unmediated by the optic nerves and occur immediately in the imagination. Or perchance photography has the advantage in relying on stable visual constructions that although always subject to individual processing provide an external ballast for the imagination (run into Thompson 19). But certainly at that place is a parallel in the aesthetic of the still photograph and the lyric, image-structured poem. Although a verse form may (and probably must) enclose or at least imply a narrative, the presence of the image, as the defining gesture, pushes the poem toward a photographic fixity. As Robert Rowland Smith observes, “because it tin can without jeopardy reject narrative fourth dimension, the poem harps toward fixity, and most typically towards the fixity of the prototype—as if the poem were more photograph than movie” (vi). The psychology of the imagination has not been properly studied, only clearly it is not a predetermined, immutable process but rather one open to instruction through stimuli of many kinds. The ongoing instruction of the imagination is the existent purpose of civilization, and poetry is the most important element in this education, although it would hard to prove that past examining contemporary American or European culture.
Then at that place’south the trouble of realism, which photography cannot escape without intense manipulation, and to which poetry owes no particular allegiance other than the necessity of using referential signs (words). Yet neither photography nor poetry enacts reality: both deal in images of reality rather than reality itself—i a verbal epitome, the other a visual epitome, each removed i step from reality. The relationship between image and reality is complex and changing. Its social and psychological dimensions shift, and the photograph occupies a circuitous role in modern lodge. But we mustn’t confuse the sign with that which it represents, even when the sign itself has considerable material reality. Narrative also may alter that paradigm / reality relationship simply doesn’t change it in whatever bones way. Susan Stewart argues that the realistic novel gives the reader the status of a character, “a figure who looks for signs or clues…. a reader of signs for their own sake, a reader of correspondences between the signs of the world, the immediate surround of everyday life, and the signs of the novel” (Stewart,
On Longing, 4). Similarly, photography, the characteristic art of the nineteenth-century turn to realism, renders the viewer an inhabitant of the pictured world looking for signs. Jerry Thompson describes “The dialectic-like human relationship betwixt photographer and discipline world” (24). The illustration between that characterization and the dialectics that empower verse—that betwixt the imagination and authenticity, or between the poet-speaker and his or her antithetical cocky (as described, for instance, in Harold Flower’south
Yeats), is irresistible.
Stewart goes on to draw, “The movement from realism to modernism and postmodernism” as “a movement from the sign as fabric to the signifying process itself” (five). The issue of this reflexivity in language is to call attention to “the globe-making capacity of language, a capacity which points to the arbitrariness of the sign at the aforementioned time that information technology points to the earth every bit a transient creation of language.” This is not almost calculation new knowledge to the earth but of alerting the consciousness to a characteristic that has always been at the centre of literature and the visual arts: the separateness of the globe that art creates, the arbitrary nature of the sign—whether visual, sonic, or phonetic–, and the cultural fact that we live in worlds we conceive rather than simply discover.
The Waste Land
as well as the work of Joyce, Stein, Williams, and others, made available to the English language a more than freely associative and aleatory poetics. Since then the sequence, with its stiff sense of the arbitrary, has replaced the narrative poem as a characteristic grade, and the juxtaposition of images otherwise unassociated has go a compelling motif. But even in the private lyric or meditative verse form this liberated poetics has fabricated possible a more in poem, one that tin can more freely claim the imagination as a viable infinite in which to process the knowable world. At least since Henry James and possibly Milton one job of literature has been to capture the movement of thought (unspoken idea) and meld it with a satisfactory artful (audio pattern, rhythm, visual imagery). Ashbery’s aleatory juxtapositions attempt to accomplish this without compromising unnecessarily with ordinary rhetorical expectations. All the same, they exercise much more than that: they generate feelings or even emotions that do not exist outside of his poems except in the experience of his readers.
Some Trees, Ashbery’due south 1956 collection, the poems retain familiar structural characteristics. Some organize themselves forth the lines of association, so that fifty-fifty some startling juxtapositions of images seem justified when analyzed by the usual critical means. Others are organized by repetitions of sounds or complete words, as in “Canzone”:
Until the first arctic
No child sat on the clay.
When Baton brought on the arctic
He began to chill.
No hand tin indicate to the chill. (44)
Some, however, comprehend a more surreal mode, which opens into more than arbitrary effects. “Grand Abacus” posits every bit its discipline “the head of long–ago” (32). This applesauce invites more aleatory responses, and the poem provides some. Sentience enters a stick, which tries to hide. The head stops pretending to be a town, although we hadn’t known that information technology ever had. Ashbery is moving toward contingency as a narrative principle, but this poem still retains some recognizable dramatic elements to hold information technology together. Improbable elements, certainly: “It is all-time to travel like a comet, though one does non see them.” The “caput of long-ago” is not a conventional subject but information technology functions equally 1. Information technology centers the verse form, serving as the central structural chemical element. While some of the effects in the verse form may seem capricious, the overall movement of the verse form is narrative and controlled by the presence of the cardinal prototype. Ashbery’south early piece of work illustrates Dahlberg and Olson’due south description of the associative procedure in verse: “1 perception must immediately and directly pb to a further perception” (149). This procedure, which describes Wallace Stevens’ poetics as well as Ashbery’s early work, postulates perception every bit an aesthetic center, and and so excludes chance as an organizing or structural principle. Simply to achieve his fullest aesthetic vision Ashbery would take to transcend perception and avert replacing it with still another self-confining principle. This is possibly analogous to the problem abstract expressionists faced in removing all traces of representation from their piece of work. Seemingly chance elements occur in Ashbery’southward primeval poems, but but when those elements supervene upon conventional organizing devices, including dominant images, complexes of related images, unifying sound effects, or narrative or dramatic motifs, does Ashbery mature into the poet of
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
(1975). Helen Vendler describes the poetics of that primal collection: “In Ashbery’s lines, words are frequently sprung free of their usual contexts: words that began in vertical relation to each other (as primitive words “stand up above” contemporary ones, or formal words “to a higher place” slang), or in no relation at all to each other (such equally the words “tacked-upwardly” and “malaise” are brought into horizontal (metonymical) intimacy with each other, in a slightly surreal, but comprehensible, narration” (58). Yet Ashbery would farther fragment narration, eventually rendering its elements so aleatory equally to do abroad with any pretense of conventional structure. He would call this “the polyphonic style,” and in a 1968 review attribute it to Ted Berrigan: “The polyphonic style…results from breaking up the traditional structure of poems. We are no longer listening to the poet’due south voice, but to many voices, in harmony or totally out of impact with one some other, relying garbled or clear or alien messages” (Review 117).
(2012), is a good instance of Ashbery’south fully evolved working poetics. The title is a literary term, and refers to writing that is precious or affected. The French dramatist Pierre Marivaux wrote comedies with romantic settings, frail nuances, carefully delineated emotions, and lively wordplay.
could exist praise or censure. It’s hard to know how Ashbery intends it, but in his poem wit and wordplay rather than the depiction of emotion command the tone. Yet as so oft in Ashbery, feeling creeps through the poem in some curious way. It begins with a humorous surreal image and continues through a series of aleatory effects that builds up, as the poem itself concludes, to a “calm, inconceivable commentary.”
We are all patting sleeping shoes
on a string. The board of selection
takes precedence at such times every bit arise
in the heaven broken conduits and stresses
and as such may be over, this fourth dimension.
Pass the Durkee’s. And repent.
Yes sir it shall be done unto you lot
as the maze requests, fiber inspected
and the president is 8 months old.
To come in with a lid to the physical area
though bordered by tracts, is as a corking
expression unto these untimely limbs.
This is what he wanted. Maybe information technology is a good thing
for some people, not those present, and turned
around and said, what is it to your gaming
and japes, the bald-colored
cobweb of daily life in the offing, to which
he replied but that the seam shapes itself
in building up to some calm, inconceivable commentary.
Although relatively brief, this poem includes examples of most of Ashbery’south aleatory effects, many of them in combination:
- Surreal phrases: “patting sleeping shoes”; “untimely limbs.”
- Odd or unexpected verbs or exact phrasings: “fiber inspected”; “the seam shaped itself.”
- Juxtaposition of unrelated items: “fiber inspected / and the president is eight months old.”
- Odd rhetorical interjections: “pass the Durkee’s. And repent”; “This is what he wanted.”
- Peculiar modifiers: “the baldheaded-colored cobweb.”
- Misplaced items: “in the sky broken conduits and stresses.”
- Direct statements that seem unwarranted or but nonsensical: “Peradventure information technology is a good thing for some people, not those present….”
The function of these diverse forms of contingency and juxtaposition is to broaden and deepen the verse form’south range of association and reference. Simply Ashbery as well keeps the reader centered on the emotional thrust of the poem, which generates a feeling that probably doesn’t be outside of this linguistic construction. How is that possible? How does one draw the feeling generated past a phrase like “it shall be done unto you /every bit the maze requests.”? A political shudder? An atavistic fright of complexities? A slight notation of reassurance? Like a fine wine this verse form contains a complexity of furnishings that cannot be readily delineated but which add upwards to a definite feel that could non be attained through other ways. Structurally it refuses narrative. Robert Rowland Smith argues that the refusal or of or resistance to narrative links poetry with photography: “Considering it can without jeopardy decline narrative time, the poem harps toward fixity, and well-nigh typically toward the fixity of the image—as if the poem where more than photo than movie” (6). In this instance, not i photograph by a series of them, a scattering of miscellaneous snapshots.
Among other things, poetry is a negotiation between public and private uses of languages. Past this I mean the personal recasting of common vocabulary into associations that are highly private and not necessarily intelligible to others. It may involve dislocated or garbled syntax, odd grammer, and connotative warping of familiar words into unusual relationships, either forth the axis of pick or the axis of combination. A person who lacks a privately negotiated linguistic communication with which to confront our public linguistic communication is not a poet. The more powerful the private usage the richer but also the more difficult the poetry. Shakespeare is very circuitous, and much of his language is oblique and slanted abroad from his audience’s common vocabulary and syntax. Still we aren’t offended; nosotros’re used to Shakespeare, convinced of his greatness, and skim over his difficulties, unless we have a scholar’s investment in them. One mean solar day nosotros will become used to Ashbery, and our emotional range having been so broadened, we volition be able to describe more precisely the feeling engendered past an opening line similar “We are all patting sleeping shoes.” If, as Linda Hutcheon argues, postmodernism involves rethinking history as a man construct, and so for Ashbery it involves rethinking emotion every bit a human construct—which it plainly is, although it seems odd to say so (xvi).
An even more than recent verse form displays a couple of new forms of contingency: homonymic confusion and grammatical misalignment combine with almost-puns to return this paragraph of his prose poem “Be Careful What You Wish For” nearly unintelligible nonetheless still humorous and engaging:
You may want to rethink that decision. Carp
the others…. It was correct here in his military
volume. You wood have too oracle snowfall. Yous
knew that. Everybody did. My dynasty, con-
fessions of a lily from wire. That was a terrible
thing to do purely naked. Groveling condi-
tions apply. Not to get all desperation aunt on you.
Y’all’re not ready for this. No poet is, simply yous
already came. The crane doesn’t know if the
weather will return. I don’t want it. I don’t requite
a shit. Something that would have brutal…the
potato orchard with attached oriental kitchen.
Whether Ashbery can go all the same further in rendering contingency nearly the sole basis of structure (apart from sentence structure) remains to exist seen. Some contemporary poets have even abandoned the judgement, but their work offers so petty for the reader to cling to that discussing information technology is difficult. The photographic equivalent would be a sheet of printing paper with only random exposed silver grains and no discernible paradigm. The employ or validity of such work lies beyond the scope of this essay.
As with verse, a proficient photographer wields an individual vision to overlay on the common objects and scenes of the world, and the postmodern photographer uses photography to rethink modes of perception. Photography works by framing, selection, and affixing angles of vision that in the actual earth are infinitely variable. Photography can generate analogous furnishings through choices in subject matter, framing, and composition. Manipulating the photograph after initial exposure can create, heighten, and amplify these effects. At to the lowest degree for some of its practitioners, photography is the one art that allows aleatory or contingent—that is, unmediated, dependent on take a chance–elements to enter information technology. This seems to distinguish photography once and for all from painting, as well equally the other visual arts. Photographs taken opportunistically outside of the studio usually comprise aleatory elements, except in the example of extreme close-ups that exclude all simply the main field of study. A photograph taken on the street, regardless of how carefully the photographer frames or angles it, can’t and shouldn’t exclude risk or accidental imagery. Susan Sontag argues that “The contingency of photography confirms that everything is perishable; the arbitrariness of photographic evidence indicates that reality is fundamentally unclassifiable” (On Photography
lxxx). Only when Sontag wrote this in the mid-1970s she hadn’t seen much of the work that would extend contingency into a bones structural principle. Since Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand burst onto the scene in the 1970s, many photographers accept made contingency a central aesthetic gesture. Friedlander, Winogrand, and William Eggleston working in color, in the 1960s and 1970s pioneered modes of ataxia and contingency as subjects; merely earlier, Frank, in
The Americans, illustrated how potent certain aleatory effects could exist. Like Ashbery, Frank fifty-fifty in this relatively early work juxtaposes and / or melds objects to mistiness the lines between them, and between them and usa.
Frank has been criticized for neglecting the technical aspects of photography, but every bit Collingwood argues, craft and art and different things. In the growth of 35 mm photography in the 1940s the work and teaching of Sid Grossman and Alexey Brodovitch challenge the impeccable craftsmanship Frank and other magazine photographers had already mastered, and sparked the ascension of what Peter Galassi refers to as the “quality-exist-damned” schoolhouse (xv). Brodovitch was Frank’s mentor at
Harper’s Boutique. Brodovitch’s 1945 drove of photos of the Ballets Russes suggested that apparent imperfection (by the established standards of then-current magazine photography) could more fully focus the sense of immediacy and presence that are photography’s peculiar strengths. Janet Malcolm in 1978 noted that “Robert Frank…scrupulously shed all the pictorial values of his predecessors—composition, pattern, tonal balance, print quality—and produced pictures that wait as if a kid had taken them while eating a popsicle so had had them adult and printed at the drugstore” (114). Malcolm would later on re-evaluate Frank’due south work in more approval terms, but meanwhile Frank would have gone much further in distancing himself from pictorialism and other familiar modes of nevertheless photography.
The relative ease with which anyone tin chief the technical aspects of photography falsely suggest an easily attained artistry. In this way, photography as an fine art form has e’er been bedeviled by its ain technology. Although the perfection of the mechanical reproduction of an image was, arguably, achieved immediately by the daguerreotype, and has never been superseded, many photographers of unquestionable artistic integrity have devoted too much of their time and energy chasing the perfect museum-quality print. Perfecting that technical attribute of the work has too often distracted from photography’south engagement with the imagination, the just thing that can make it art. Frank does not allow technological idealism stand in his way. If annihilation, he exploits mistiness, grain, and improper exposure to lend dramatic depth to his compositions. As Susan Sontag notes, “In contempo decades, photography has succeeded in somewhat revising, for everybody, the definition of what is beautiful and ugly—along the lines that Whitman has proposed. If (in Whitman’south words) ‘each precise object or condition or combination of things exhibits a dazzler,’ it becomes superficial to single out some things as beautiful and others as non” (On Photography
128). But dazzler is a formal consideration as well as a pick of subject, and past abandoning or ignoring the established technical conventions of photography Frank implicitly rejects the standards of photographic excellence (and beauty) projected past Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Imogene Cunningham, Alfred Stieglitz, and many other eminent predecessors.
Frank was non the outset to run across that photography would move far away from pictorialism and other fine-arts models (including the Photograph-Secessionists and the f.64 grouping) that had impeded its development into a more open up and aleatory manner of seeing. In 1931 Walker Evans wrote presciently, “Suddenly there is a difference betwixt a quaint evocation of the past and an open window looking straight downwards a stack of decades. The element of fourth dimension entering into photography provides a departure for as much speculation as an observer cares to make. Actual experiments in time, actual experiments in infinite exactly suit a postal service state of war state of mind. The camera doing both, as well every bit reflecting swift hazard, disarray, wonder, and experiment, it is not surprising that photography has come up to a valid flowering the third period of its history” (126). The small photographic camera era, begun even earlier the 35mm Leica appeared in 1924, changed not only the ways simply the bachelor aesthetic stances available to the photographer. Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson demonstrated across all possible statement that the smaller format offered opportunities unavailable to the clumsier larger format cameras, but also challenged the fine arts subject matter, big and perfect prints, precipitous focus, and other received aesthetic values formulated in the first hundred years of photography’south history.
The Americans, however, Frank selected photographs that even in challenging established standards still present discernible formal strategies. In
Bar, New York Metropolis
3 planes of depth register. The starting time, on the right, consists of a slightly out-of-focus arm line-fishing through the foreground. Centered in the second plane is a jukebox, also slightly out of focus. It is a mass of white light and complex detail, and in its angry illumination looks well-nigh alive with power and rage. Behind it, on the left side of the photo, a couple sits in a berth with two glasses on the tabular array. The man also looks a little aroused, equally if nigh to ascent and confront the jukebox, or the owner of the arm in the foreground. The jukebox occupies the center of the photograph and could exist construed as its subject area, but the human context framing it qualifies its modernist distinction. The couple in the groundwork, whose presence is merely contingent, bring the photo to life by posing a human being dynamic against a machine dynamic, 1 that ironically embodies a sophisticated style of civilization of culture abased into a modish merely mundane commercialism. The couple in their bland Fifties wearable expect almost timeless, but the jukebox, surely Allen Ginsberg’s “hydrogen jukebox,” sneers with a brilliance with which no mortal tin compete. The presence of the couple, considering contingent, unopposed, and possibly for many viewers merely an incidental detail, still performs a familiar pictorial function, one that hands submits to this sort of assay.
Robert Frank’s early photographs, from Britain and Wales through
The Americans, display a fascination with the other.
equally well as his earlier piece of work in London, portrays the eccentricity, conformity, and sometimes loneliness of other people in their chosen environments. Merely eventually Frank turns inward, to the self and the domestic globe, as the championship
Lines of My Paw
suggests. His formal ways change too. Past the time Frank has worked through the experiences of picture palace, especially in the making of
Pull My Daisy
(1959), his notion of the still photograph becomes radically decentered. Shooting, directing, and editing the additional on-location 16mm films Frank produced in the early on 1960s opened him to fresh possibilities both in composition and in content. Cinema devours aleatory effects at such a rate that the viewer may not focus on or even notice them. But in shooting and editing these films Frank would have been alarm to how certain angles—shooting from to a higher place groups of figures, for instance—would reorder the contingent details in the frame and either emphasize or deemphasize every bit the framing emphasized or deemphasized the ostensible center of interest. Frank had always been innovative in his framing, angles, and selective use of focus. Just in
those innovations usually serve to shift the view of the primary field of study without decentering it.
The publication of
now seems a decisive step in moving photography from a fine arts model to a literary model. The careful organization of the book reinforces the touch on of each image, and constitutes an unconventional just definite narrative. Although other photographers had published coherent collections of images, Frank’due south book about aggressively pushed the notion that rather than relying on external narrative ideas (exploration of exotic places, unfolding human dramas) the aesthetic form and content of the individual photographs could link themselves into a coherent whole. Other photographers have followed this pb: Winogrand’southward
Women are Beautiful,
The American Monument,
are well-known examples. These all, including Frank’s piece of work, derive from Evans’due south
American Photographs, only concentrate even more the specific visual motifs that knit individual images into a unmarried coherence. With the volume as the goal rather than the single print framed and hanging on a wall the aesthetic imperative has conspicuously shifted.
In the Tokyo edition of
The Lines of My
(1972) Frank moves toward photographs that have no discernible subject simply consist entirely of credible contingencies. He too abandons the interlinking iconography that makes the sequencing of
and then powerful. In
The Lines of My Mitt, besides reprinting some of the photos from
and even earlier work in London and Paris, Frank includes a diverseness of presentations, including photomontages, photo of groups of photographs pinned to walls (90), and strips of 35mm exposure either as contact sheets (foldout 84-87) or more deliberate constructions. The 3 frames presented as
United states. Mail service Office, Pigment Rock ALABAMA
construct a nearly complete survey of the post office unfolded in a cubist manner, with the cardinal frame featuring the boxes and a recruiting sign reading “BE A VOLUNTEER” (81-82). The other two frames expect deeper, though, and present the shabbiness of the interior in a way that deconstructs the more official-looking central motif. This is a stride toward eliminating the center of interest by implicitly critiquing it: the eye, with its PO boxes and recruiting posters, is a bit of a sham. The mail service function is this plus the shabby peeling walls, deplorable century plant, and blank windows opening into unknown space. Linking three 35mm frames violates the integrity, such as it is, of the central photo, and challenges the notion of the photo as a selective aesthetic act.
But Frank goes much farther. Immediately post-obit the postal service function photos, the four-page foldout of 35 mm contact sheets invokes movie theatre with its many frames; yet instead of unfolding an action or narrative information technology reveals three or 4 versions of each of many photographs from
The Americans. This presentation critiques that earlier book’s coherence, exposing the doubt and missteps in creating what in 1958 seemed a stable and highly selective aesthetic unity. Besides in 1958 Frank produced “The X Motorbus Photographs,” which he claimed “represent my last projection in photography” (Lines
100). More than about of the piece of work in
The Americans, this series of street photographs embodies elements of chance, both formally and in subject, virtually to the point of seeming random, as if no human intelligence had framed, focused or otherwise composed them. Possibly Frank idea he had gone equally far as he could in embracing aleatory imagery. Only these photos still accept centers of interest—one or more human being figures, a truck, a mitt dangling from a car window. We can withal say that these are intentional (if just barely) photographs of things nosotros can readily identify.
On pages 111-112 of
The Lines of My Paw
a large and unfortunately guttered photograph depicts a bulletin board with various photos tacked to it. All or most seem to be of the Mabou (Cape Breton) area where Frank lives function of the year. Also tacked to the lath are notes and advertisements, including one for Eugene Smith’s work. Three photos placed together depict a panorama of a bleak, treeless scene. The photos don’t quite mate; one is misaligned so the horizon is too high to meet that of the other ii. A text placed at the bottom of this photograph and overlaying it reproduces a typed letter to Kazuhiko Motomura, the publisher of this edition (he also appears in a note on page ane). Information technology refers to this photograph every bit “the final picture in the volume” (which information technology is). This self-reflexivity is a characteristic part of the postmodern project. Information technology calls our attention to the fact that the construction of a book similar this is itself largely contingent on factors other than aesthetic considerations, that a volume is actually an intervention in, critique of, or sometimes a negation of the purely artful process. In a comparable gesture, Ashbery’s aggressive wielding of aleatory figures calls attention to the capricious (and self-witting) construction of his poetry, although dissimilar the photographer the poet has absolute control over the choice and placement of elements in his work.
Frank’s afterwards work abandons all of the conventions of fine-arts photography and moves decisively toward a decentered artful of entirely contingent elements.
Mailbox + Messages, Wintertime, 1977
is a collage of x snapshot-sized photographs superimposed on viii typed business concern messages from galleries, dealers, and others (Greenough 322). The photographs seem to critique the business messages by imposing on them a arid rural scene featuring the mailbox in which these messages apparently arrived. In i photograph at the tiptop a figure approaches, kick upwards snow as he walks. In the next-to final photo at the bottom of the collage a man figure in contour, capped with a plain wool hat, looks down toward a flat seascape. The concluding photograph, i of five featuring the mailbox, shows that mailbox also gazing out to sea. The two human figures compete with the mailbox for the reader’southward attention, but no photo includes both a person and the mailbox. The upshot is to render both mailbox and human as abreast the betoken: the barren mural dominates, and even the sea lacks sufficient drama to engross the viewer. The collage teases the viewer with the proposition that imposing photos on letters means something, merely the letters are not fully readable, the photos are indeterminate, and the overall outcome is to projection an emotion that like that of an Ashbery verse form is easier to experience than to proper noun.
Most recently Frank has published a serial of small-scale books—artist’s books, nosotros might phone call them—with the German language publisher Steidl. These collections include portraits, landscapes, and difficult-to-allocate photographs, some Polaroids, others 35mm prints. In
Park / Sleep
(2013) Frank includes one of his characteristically oracular observations: “I suppose my photographs are of things I don’t want to forget / My instinct tells me that they are of import / They are quiet / They demand no attention / They are not empty.” The things he doesn’t want to forget, all the same, are non necessarily objects or people singled out for attention. They seem rather to exist arrangements, in which placement, framing, and pick lend importance to a human relationship created by the photo. In some instances it is difficult to discover whatever particular field of study. The photo immediately opposite the page with Frank’s observation is entitled “Park and Sleep” and shows a patch of grassy but unkempt basis with bushes in the background, no horizon, and two trees partly shown, one leaning out of the left side of the photo, the other thrust into the upper right corner. A house looms faintly through the bushes in the background, but it is likewise indeterminate in form or majority to occupy our attention. Past virtually standards this is a photo of cipher in particular, notwithstanding the title suggests not only a place just a human procedure—a dream landscape, possibly? But if so it is a remarkably deadening dream. The photo directly above Frank’s remarks is taken from within a car and shows the commuter’s side rearview mirror, a tangle of branches, and a dark mural with a glimpse of white sky in the upper right corner. The bit of mural—the contingent prototype– caught in the rearview mirror is brighter than the majority of landscape in the firsthand background.
Many of the photographs in this and the other Steidl books seem intended to illustrate not but the occurrence but the prevalence of aleatory details. In
(2014) appears an uncaptioned photo showing the upper half of what seems to be a framed portrait obscured by corruption of various kinds on the drinking glass or on the photograph. Largely obscuring it, however, are 2 smaller framed photographs—1 showing ii seated police force officers, the other showing a soldier in tropical compatible (shorts, short-sleeved shirt) and a man in civilian apparel, both continuing. Nosotros may conjecture some relationship among these v depicted (or very faintly depicted, in the example of the larger photograph) figures, just Frank’s camera has cut off the bottoms of the smaller framed photos and at least half of the larger ane. The heart drifts to the loop of hanger at the top of the big photograph. Frank’s composition (or lack of composition, some might say) seems to emphasize the arbitrary, contingent, or tentative relationship among framed images, a critique of photography itself. The banal incompletion of this image challenges the notion of the well-made photograph, the art photograph, and even the thought of photography as a form of retentivity, because nada could exist less memorable than these bearding and partly obscured figures in their cheap wooden frames. Without a heart of interest, without apparent formal intentions, this photograph seems shaped by goose egg more than than run a risk, equally though Frank had pointed his camera at random.
Although we may assume that Frank photographs intentionally, the refusal of the resultant epitome to yield that intention challenges the usual notions of art equally a formal construction or photography as documentary or utilitarian. Why has photography, whether as fine art or as tool, become so ubiquitous? Possibly because it is such a useful style of dealing with (selecting from, sorting, arranging, classifying, recognizing, acknowledging) a globe of things. Or daily lives are largely the story of our encounters with objects. Sontag in her journals cites Kafka: “1 photographs things in social club to become them out of one’southward mind” (377). Merely that’south simply i of many possible reasons. The opposite may likewise exist truthful. I might photograph things to proceeds some grip on them, stake a merits on their otherness. This may be the instance with Frank’south more recent photographs.
In a verse passage in
Frank suggests that a basic sense of purpose underlies his work:
state in sight
drive north find a identify near the sea
to write when information technology‘s nighttime outside
to turn on the lamp above the table
to expect at objects
to see the connection
painted sculpture indian caput statue of freedom
the sight exterior
the sight far abroad
Frank’s subject, and then, is the connection amid objects, foregrounds, and backgrounds. The immediate illustration, on the page facing this piddling verse form, is merely entitled “Mabou”. Information technology is a vertically oriented photograph showing by and large a obviously wall with an oval framed cluster of quills, and at the bottom, a table height with a mantle partly slumped on ane end and a small mat and canvass of paper. This mysterious organisation of grayness tones may seem to invite a reading (why the framed quills?), merely more cogently information technology challenges u.s. to appreciate an organization that is so minimal it seems no arrangement at all. No groundwork, nigh no foreground, the oval frame of quills likewise small in proportion to the expanse of wall. A photograph like this goes far across Friedlander’s experiments in urban clutter. Those photographs claiming us to trace the visual relationships in a scene offer many possible centers of interest, and to recognize the actuality of visual complexity as an artful experience. Frank offers minimal material and no formal considerations, so in gild to enter this image nosotros have to shed all preconceptions not only virtually photography just about art itself.
The idea of an art based on connections among things that neither accept inherent connectedness nor formal connections imposed past artful gestures on the role of the creative person is conceptually difficult to process. Perceiving the structure of such fine art requires even more than the usual participation by viewer / reader. But almost accented contingency is non a new thought; it is the result of a development that begins in the Romantic era. Baudelaire in the mid-nineteenth century pointed the mode when he noted the “transitory, the avoiding, the contingent” atmosphere of modern urban life (43-44). But in translating perceptions from life to art Ashbery and Frank become much further than Baudelaire did, or, for that matter, Eliot and Pound. Rather than shoring fragments against ruins, they embrace the fragments. No longer does the creative person require the artwork—poem or photograph—to model a unity or wholeness difficult to detect in the actual world. No more
Notes toward a Supreme Fiction. As Sontag observes, “The mod style of seeing is to see in fragments. It is felt that reality is essentially unlimited, and knowledge is open-ended. It follows that all boundaries, all unifying ideas have to be misleading, demagogic; at all-time, provisional; almost e’er, in the long run, untrue” (“Summa” 124). So Ashbery and Frank, embracing mod or postmodern poetic or photographic seeing, dispense with formalist, unifying elements, whether structural ideas or compositional elements. Yet the aesthetics Frank and Ashbery have established brim with rich complexities. The disconcerting ease of Frank’south seemingly un-composed photographs and Ashbery’due south apparently random imagery brings the willing viewer or reader into fresh relationships with the perceptible and imaginable world.
William Doreski has published several books of criticism, including
The Mod Vocalization in American Verse
Robert Lowell’southward Shifting Colors. His essays and reviews (every bit well equally poetry and fiction) have appeared in many journals. He lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and is Professor Emeritus at Keene Land College.
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