The earthquake was like cutting me up into little pieces, throwing them in a jar, and giving it all a good shake with a little marinade. Dumped out on a plate and all jumbled up, I did not feel like myself for days or even weeks. I knew all kinds of things about myself, but I couldn’t bring myself to be that person. The most obvious example of this is my relationship with art. Before the quake I was one hundred percent gung-ho about drawing and painting Space Madness. I still don’t feel comfortable working on that series. I think it will come back, but at the moment I have new projects.
In general, drawing and painting isn’t how I want to deal with the quake right now so I’m turning to photography. I don’t consider myself a photographer because I don’t know much about the art and I have no real idea what I’m doing. I’m a person who takes pictures and I use my artistic sensibilities from drawing to inform my photos. Photography has the advantage of accurately reproducing how subjects look, but it also has the disadvantage of being, at least in my hands, horribly static. How do you show the movement of an earthquake with a static art form?This is where I can learn from the past, specifically from Cubism and Futurism. The French artist Marcel Duchamp, born in 1887, was an outsider for pretty much all of his painting career but his Sad Young Man in a Train is a beautiful example of both Cubism and Futurism put to good use. Cubists were dissatisfied with traditional views of objects from one angle, so they would overlap and intersect different views of a subject to create one abstract representation. Pioneers in Cubist painting, such as Picasso, focused on still lifes, portraits, and landscapes, which in general aren’t the most dynamic subjects. In contrast, Futurists were obsessed with machines, modernity, power, and speed (all of which you could say make up an automobile) but being centered in Italy and separated from most avant-garde groups, the Futurists didn’t have a good style to express their obsessions, until they adopted Cubism. Futurist painters would show several simultaneous views of an object, but also included rhythmic spacial repetitions of the object to show movement. Duchamp was not a Futurist for a number of reason, but Sad Young Man clearly shows these two aspects of the Futurist style.
I’m going to quote the Guggenheim on this one as they say it much better then I ever could:
Duchamp’s primary concern in this painting is the depiction of two movements, that of the train in which we observe the young man smoking and that of the lurching figure itself. The forward motion of the train is suggested by the multiplication of the lines and volumes of the figure, a semitransparent form through which we can see windows, themselves transparent and presumably presenting a blurred, “moving” landscape. The independent sideways motion of the figure is represented by a directionally contrary series of repetitions. These two series of replications suggest the multiple images of chronophotography, which Duchamp acknowledged as an influence, and the related ideas of the Italian Futurists, of which he was at least aware by this time. Here he uses the device not only to illustrate movement, but also to integrate the young man with his murky surroundings, which with his swaying, drooping pose contribute to the air of melancholy.
The realization that this is what I wanted to imitate hit me a few days ago, and what better way to show the shaking of an earthquake then to use an “ism” practically invented to show movement. The plan for the photos is pretty simple: take a series of ten to twenty exposures and use Photoshop to overlap them at different opacities. To keep things from being a total blur of nothing, I would focus on keeping one aspect of the photos consistent. I’m still playing with this technique, but so far the results are promising. Conceptually, I think I can go a little deeper by adjusting the content of each photo.
I know that I’m probably not original in this idea but I’m also having a hard time finding a photographer who has done something similar. If you know of someone please leave a comment with their name.
What do you think? Do these pictures convey shaking and instability?