Exercise 3.3: ‘Late photography’
- Read David Campany’s essay ‘Safety in Numbness’ (see ‘Online learning materials and student-led research’ at the start of this course guide). Summarise the key points of the essay and note down your own observations on the points he raises.
Imagine the scene, you’ve turned up late for a house party, everyone’s gone home and those who haven’t are sprawled comatose on the couch or are drunkenly snoring in an empty bath, bottles are smashed and strewn around on the floor wrapped up with streamers, the buffet table has been scavanged, just the bare bones of food left, presents open, wrapping discarded, shredded and cast around. These images are a typical scene for Late Photography. They are what happens after the event, an event in themselves in the stories they have to tell and the emotions they reveal. Of course in the context of the article Late Photography is described in relation to journalism, and most often terrible events but also to more generic events such as a football match or a wedding. David Campany describes the photos as evoking a numb feeling akin to that of a slow motion scene in cinema and being more powerful in capturing the emotion of the event than moving footage such as news reports. When I was reading the article I could feel what he meant. What is more powerful, a building on fire or the charred skeleton of the foundations? To go even further, I feel the powerful images of Late photography are those that evoke an emotional response. Again, which is the more powerful, a burning building, or an ashen teddy, an empty house or a crumpled family photo with echoes of a lost future.
In the past words and illustrations would document such events, then photography and and finally moving footage. Yet now we found ourself in a place where the photo is more powerful than the actual footage. One captures the mirror images, the other captures the emotional and human response and that moment where everything is still. I think back to a time when I got a shocking phonecall telling me someone was ill. It turned out to be ok but at the time it was pure fear. I hadn’t answered the phone but just the expression of the person answering the phone is enough to put you on edge. I was in a crowded cafe and the noise had been deafening but the sound just blurred away as though they were suddenly so far away. I remember my eyes fixated on the other person, the world in slow motion but my mind on overdrive. Everything felt numb, I wasn’t aware of my actions and as I stood up I clumsily knocked a mug of coffee over my art work and the floor. I feel that Late Photography captures this feeling, it’s a moment where the world stands still, everything fades around you and it’s just you and the image and the emotions evoked. It’s also a form of respect, standing attention seeing these images (if it’s of a terrible event) “It’s very muteness allows it to appear somehow uncomtiminated by the noise of the televisual.”
Campany wrote of a type of Late photography where the viewer is left to piece together the story, allowing their imagination to fill in the gaps that have been left intentionally blank. In that sense the photographer is like a writer, telling the story, allowing the viewer to interpret it, turning it almost into a game to solve ‘who dunnnit it’ I think they should only be used in this way to document or to inspire change, to describe ‘sombre melancholia’ as being ‘seductive’ is very distasteful and is disrespectful for the poor souls caught up in terrible events.
An interesting comment was made in the article that I felt especially drawn to. “Stilless only became the defining characteristic of photograph with the cming of mass cinema and it’s newsreels…it was the invention of stillness as a sort of by-product.” Of course photos had always been still but it wasn’t until the influx of moving footage that the stillness of a photo was truly appreciated as suddenly photography had something to be compared too. Moving versus still and that is where it’s magic comes from.
2. For personal reasons I’m not going to complete part two of this exercise as I find such images extremely disturbing. Instead I looked at Rodger Campany’s images ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death’ and Paul Seawright ‘Hidden’ as shown in the course materials.
His image focuses on the afterath of the event. There is such a stillness and emptiness to the images, the image contradicts the mind filling in the gaps of the people fighting and dying here. Your mind sees one thing and fills in the gaps, tells itself the stories, but the eye can not physically see that, instead they focus on the utter desolation and emptiness and the two link together to generate such emotions of war, the waste of life, the injustice and the emptiness and stillness left behind.