18 March 2009

Tell me where is a photo bred?

Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?

Reply, reply.*

Unreal Nature, introducing a larger and thought provoking piece on the definition (or otherwise) of action, asks where in the chain of intentionality a photograph is made. I'm going to blatantly chicken out on the larger question (I couldn't possibly do more than frill around the edges of Ms Heywood's own thorough treatment) and pick, instead, on that smaller part.

My first reaction was that, for me though not for everyone, the photograph is made at the moment when I previsualise ... whether I actually release the shutter or not. But, while true, that's not the whole truth.

For a start, I vary. Sometimes I do need to see the print ... and while I don't need to see the photograph through the viewfinder, I do very much want to.

More than that, though, I only learned previsualisation through seeing prints and peering though viewfinders. The arrival of a Brownie's bright prism finders changed the way I see the world; and so did the arrival of the resulting prints. Without them, years of them, there would be no previsualised moment to now identify as the genesis of the photograph. For me, at least, Lange is right: the camera taught me to see without a camera.

By the time I was sixteen, I no longer needed the print; but I still revelled in the viewfinder ... and it was still the print which I was previsualising. And, to be honest, I do (deep down) feel my previsualisation to be provisional, fragile and fugitive until I hear the click of the shutter...

* William Shakespeare, The comical history of the merchant of Venice, Act III, Sc.2