Secrets and Lies

Daguerre was the first to face the dilemma of historical veracity versus perceptual veracity – Joan Fontcuberta 1   

I first saw these salt marshes some thirteen years ago and have visited them since before coming to them again recently. They appear not to have changed, they are either as they were or a simulacra of what they were in my memory. I remember thinking I wanted to make some images of them all that time ago but I didn’t, nor did I on subsequent visits; but this time I made sure I made time and made some film images as well as these digital ones. The film that I used, by a curious coincidence has an expiry date almost to the month – June – of when I last went to these marshes, August 2006. That visit we took along my in-laws as a holiday they would otherwise have been unable to take. This year we had extended the same invitation, but three days before we were due to depart there was a medical incident which prevented one of them travelling, so there were just the two of us. I will develop the film soon, perhaps in August, but not too quickly as I want there to be some time before the revelation.

When I look back at the digital images I have made I can feel a narrative sense of those that couldn’t come, those who couldn’t re-test their memories that had excited them at the joint prospect of return and recapture those few years ago.

These ‘scapes of the marshes and of the beach where we had walked previously contain my memories, they are created with my imagination mediating the mis-en-scene; my framing, perspective and focus. However I felt a sense of my in-laws being there by their absence, even during the making of the images. They were there with us.

As I start to think about settling into the (L3) course – only one more holiday excursion to stay the final commitment – I find the ever-increasing thought that in photographic imagery, memory is being mediated by a mechanism that confines the immediate to the past, even before the image loses it’s latency. So these fictions that we create as visual artists are about the past, developed in a tense whose narrative structure denies, to great extent, a future?

“… one of the earliest known daguerreotypes is a view of the Boulevard du Temple, dated 1838, …In fact there were two identical shots * …. taken from the same point on the same day, but at slightly different times (as the can be seen from the length and angle of the shadows). Daguerre trained his camera through one of the windows of his apartment-cum-studio adjoining his famous Diorama, as Niepce and Fox Talbot also did, prompted perhaps by a photographic intuition that equates what is seen through the viewfinder with what is seen through a window.” 2

* a third shot was thought to have perished in Munich’s Bayerisches Nationalmuseum during WWII

In one of these Daguerreotypes there was no evidence of people – in a very public and normally very busy area of Paris!? In the other an obviously staged appearance of a shoe shine worker with a customer. Seeing the first image Daguerre devised a way to introduce the ‘presence’ of people by requiring them somehow to stand still (not that successfully for the man standing) in order that they become evidenced within the frame, in the construction of the image, the fiction he presented. Both images are fictions and yet the photograph, as an end process in itself, goes on to provide society with an almost sacrosanct trophy of truth, the indexical strength of the photographic image. It was in the frame therefore it must be true. Back to the Boulevard; what of those that weren’t recorded, those crowds in the Boulevard du Temple, their absence from the frame concerned Daguerre enough to construct another image with a purposeful placement? It seems as though Daguerre had an emotional purpose to deal with the ‘falseness’ of his construction.

The construction of the image isn’t though what principally interests me at this moment – which sounds a contradictory notion – but more how the memory is reconstructed through the imagery that I felt mediated my response to the vista before me on this recent trip. When I made the images on holiday it was to a place that I was familiar with, and this was brought back to mind when I received a text written by Jesse Alexander discussing the concept of Y Filltir Sqwar  ‘Photographers and artists have always found inspiration in their immediate location. There is a concept within Welsh culture called Y Filltir Sgwar (The Square Mile), described above by Professor Mike Pearson. It is the intimate connection between people and their childhood ‘home’ surroundings….’ Even thirteen years ago I would never have been mistaken for a child, but never mind, these geographies held memories, albeit not local to me, but familiar nonetheless!

These scenes contained echoes of past visits within the viewfinder, reminiscences of past holidays and perhaps the medical incident brought that emotional response an added piquancy which I knew I found myself responding to. And to complicate things further I am also very interested in how text can radically alter how the construction is read. It seems absurd that Reuters, and other news agencies, hold very strong editing rules on visual images; if an image is altered in anyway then it is likely to be rejected out-of-hand, and yet who mediates the accompanying text?

My memories of recent holidays have contextualised the images above, but what if those words were unadulterated fiction? What if I had never been to Batz-sur-mer either in the past or just recently? What if Y Filltir Sqwar never existed? Does it matter either way? I looked at some photographs for sale at a market whilst on the holiday, I had hoped to find some ‘found photographs’. I hesitated to buy and in the end decided not to and my reasoning was that I was unsure of the appropriativeness of the action. Should I consider all imagery, including images not of my creation, fair game in the construction of narratives? I instinctively sense the answer is yes, but I still faltered, unable to decouple the emotional connotations from the images on the market traders boards. It is a failing I must overcome if I am to move on. I can’t presently be responsible for everything and like Daguerre who recognised what his text lacked and strove to right it, I must strive to assume responsibility for everything in the frame. Confusing I know. Thanks goodness I haven’t started the course just yet!

1 “Documentary Fictions” – essay from ‘Pandora’s Camera: Photogr@phy after photography’, Joan Fontcuberta, Mack, English version published July 2014

2 ibid



3 thoughts on “Secrets and Lies

  1. Interested in your choice of b+w for the salt marshes. This is due to my own memories of them over the years – the hot sun, baking heat and people in the distance raking the salt. The b+w gives the timeless feel of an activity that has been going on endlessly it seems, yet colour brings the vibrancy of the here and now heat.

    I started to have a debate with myself abut the photographs in the market. On the one hand someone didn’t want them so that gives permission to use them. On the other hand they must have been precious to someone once. Yet again, using them can give them back some importance, emphasised by how they are presented.

    • Thanks Catherine. The b/w was a conditioned response I think, in that I ‘saw’ the scene in mono and wanted to express it as such. I didn’t want to think too much about what was in the frame (I need to present some images at assignment one to start a dialogue about the direction on the BoW, but that was in my mind!!!).
      I am looking for archives and want to do something with them, though I don’t specifically know what yet, I guess that will depend on the archive.
      Printed photographs in a digital age have, I think, a special status; something to do with physicality/materiality that digital will struggle to compete with.

  2. Pingback: (faith) Stranger Than Fiction | Body of Work

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