Project 2: Exercise 2~ Is photography uniquely suited to portraying time?

Does the ‘mechanical’ nature of photography make it a medium uniquely suited to portraying time and the passage of time?

We’ve been asked to consider the portrayal of time across several different mediums of the course of the module. Throughout the course workbook examples crop up time and time again of Artists using Photography to capture or convey time, either a particular moment of their artwork or to document it. It seems to me that even when the artwork itself wasn’t originally a photograph at some point photography is incorporated or used to help aid our perception or ability to interact with that artwork. This seems to be particularly the case with land art, sculptural works which are located in obscure or hard to reach destination. As I write this I can call to mind several examples of this, think of Katie Paterson’s, Vatnajokull (sound installation)¬†,¬†a sound installation based in an lagoon filled with icebergs. Photographs are used here, it seems to help us visualize the location of the installation and to capture moments in time.

Can other creative art forms deal with the concept of time to the same extent?

I think where photography struggles is in capturing ongoing time (if you discount film or cinematography here), in the Katie Paterson example mentioned above, sound allows us to get a sense of what is happening real time, and in ongoing moments. The Photograph can only capture isolated moments, fractions or pieces of time. Sontag mentions this in her book, On Photography, and states this is what makes photography so linked with nostalgia, it is a capturing of the past, it cannot continually show us the present.

This is where creative art forms involving new media perhaps offer an new window into portraying the passage of time – a live web feed (using a camera here), or an algorithm that responds and alters game-play as it unfolds – these are ¬†technologies perhaps birthed from Photography, which have evolved beyond it’s more static nature.

I think we think of Photography as being the best art form for capturing time because it seems so authentic to us, we use photographs to document our news stories, capture world events, tragedies etc, it’s become a form of evidence of time based occurrences. But it isn’t beyond manipulation or alteration. It can only (as I’ve said), capture a moment, and it does that convincingly – not an ongoing reality.

I fear I’m beginning to repeat myself here – but my point is. Yes Photography seems to excel in portraying moments in time, but I think it works well in conjunction with other art forms. I don’t think it should be held as more effective or the best option for capturing time. Time is such a complex and broad subject that I’m beginning to see why and how we’ve been able to explore it through such a variety of art forms/mediums.

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