A gift from a fellow traveller

I was thrilled to receive an email from a fellow student Stephanie D’Hubert recommending an essay that might have some relevance to the work that I am trying to make. The essay : “Photographically unconcealing the crimes: Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood and Heidegger’s aletheia” by Emma Bennett of the University of Essex.


I have written about Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood here though not in any great detail, and another recent, more considered review here by Stephanie D’Hubert. It is a book that I still rate very highly and Bennett’s considerations regarding the idea of the exposition of truth are in accord with my own views regarding Patterson’s narrative flow – Bennett’s essay goes beyond an examination of Patterson’s narrative structure – something which I may come back to later. However reading the suggested essay (I have now purchased a copy) a thought struck me about how I can broaden the scope of the work that I am doing, whilst still remaining close to the essence of what the project is about. All along I have wanted to broaden the scope of the work, to introduce ways by which I could develop the discourse and whilst previous attempts haven’t worked as I would wish, by investigating them, it has continued to develop my thought processes.

Redheaded Peckerwood is a story, based on a true story, but nevertheless a fiction. Bennett poses the following question very early in her essay: “The question of photography’s truth is usually posed along the following lines: does the photo-graph offer an accurate image of what the world actually looked like at a specific moment?” The work on Purgatory isn’t about a specific moment and though a temporal component is going to be vital to the work, it is about how a relationship has/can shape a life. I have enquired about how I could introduce either a voice – my own (other than by visual imagery) or my father’s – into the work and I have failed to find a way that would allow that entrance which seams ‘real’. However this essay has made me think of another way, partly by its specific reference to Patterson’s work and by it’s academic discourse partly founded on the work of Martin Heidegger around the subject of ‘aletheia’, which isn’t, according to Bennett a direct translation of truth but of ‘unconcealing’. I need to research this a bit more, but it appears that Heidegger’s contention is that ‘unconcealing’ is about partial revelation, and in doing so allowing what is or has been concealed to be brought into view. ‘Unconcealing’ allows the notion of partial truth/s and promotes the inevitability that the didactic assertion of right and wrong to be distanced.

I see no elemental truth in my work, whatever sense there was of it has been mediated through the fallibility of my memory (and in this case members of my family), and the absence of a voice that might offer an alternate view – his. Therefore my assertion is; that narrative founded in what Bennett describes as Heidegger’s alitheia (concealment and, by consequence, unconcealment) is of a past that can never be tested. Bennett talks about Kendall L Watson’s much-discussed ‘Transparent pictures: On the nature of photographic realism’. Where Walton claims: ‘Photographs are transparent. We see the world through them.” – another reference to consider, but I like the notion that the opaqueness of a photograph has revelatory consequences and brings in-sight into the perspective of the image.

Bennett continues to discuss the ideas around truth in photographs and says this: “Redheaded Peckerwood (2011) thus situates at least some of its claims to truth beyond the transparency of the photograph….. More than this, the work as a whole is understood to say something truthful. The relation of one image to another must be considered as much as the individual transparency of each photograph.” And then this: “A single image can be read as making a statement about the world; of course, it may be more complex than my oversimplified example. But if a statement is brought, in a series, into contrast with another statement, then the truth(s) of photograph(s) are no longer exclusively within the image. They are also between the images”. I am painfully aware that I have an ambition to render a truth. In photographic aesthetics, I recognise that I want to create imagery in the in-between zones of 1 to 9 inclusively. The twin tones of 0 and 10 have no use for me as I feel no-one should lay claim to those twin territories and I would be extremely cautious of anyone laying claim to them as platforms of discourse. This realisation is a recognition I have that no absolutes to cloud my narratives. This fictional soup will never clear.

My thoughts are now to introduce/invite another voice, that of him, to a conversation that I couldn’t previously achieve, and to allow that discourse to happen in-between the images as much as in the individual images. The imagery that I hope to author may well fit Heidegger’s “unconcealment” but also in Bennett’s words: “We obtain truth not just from individual photographs, or just from our understanding of what they portray, but also from their context, their presentation and, importantly, their relation to each other.” Something I have heard a lot about recently. And again this in respect of context and narrative and the single image ; “A single image is at most a partial truth that points towards ‘the whole truth’ (if such wholeness exists).”

I fully understand that the underlying narrative in this BoW has been difficult to comprehend, as much for me as for any viewer to it, but I am becoming to get a real sense of what it is about and this essay has helped me clear my head about it. Thanks Stephanie.



7 thoughts on “A gift from a fellow traveller

  1. I am glad if it helps! I found this essay so interesting and I immediately thought about your research for the Purgatory. I still have to write about it, but I think that this concept of aletheia might be pivotal in my critical review about Todd Hido.

  2. Interesting post, John, and I continue to look forward to seeing how it develops. I have a thought/question for you, though; and though it might appear trivial/mathematical (!), I think it’s worth considering. If you accept or seek to work with a 0-10 scale, what is a 9 (or an 8, 7, 6 etc)? Aren’t they all just the same as 0? That’s if you accept or seek to work with a scale, of course!!

    • As I am sure you know, the scale that I was referring to is the ‘Zone System’ developed by Ansel Adams where Zone 0 refers to black – the absence of light and Zone 10 is white – total light – end points in a spectrum. I used the photographic analogy as a metaphor for absolute truth and its converse; states I have trouble in recognising as ‘real’. States 1 – 9 (or perhaps a number that approaches 0 or 10) therefor contain all the variables, an infinite variety of conditions from the barest glimpse of light to the nearest hint of shadow detail. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong, and so I regard these twin end states as fascist renderings in a didactic rhetoric. ‘Back in the day’ there were films “orthographic” which were developed for the printing market whose tonal range was extremely limited, giving a very contrasty image i.e. easy to achieve solid blacks and whites, I played around with a few rolls and still have the negatives and thinking back to those prints I can’t help feeling that if I am to narrate a story, be it personal or otherwise, I would want to have freedom to explore the margins – up to and including 0.1 and 9.9; but not to stray into territory that states stories as facts. I would need a film that allows exploration of the gradations of tone. Adams’ system though is one that I continually refer to; it hangs there behind me when I make imagery, but also when I write, when I critique, and it is because I know that I have no answers only opinion. And knowing that my opinion is always influenced by perception where knowledge is a variable never an absolute.
      Not sure if that helps at all, but I’m glad I have thought about it 🙂

      • Thanks, John; I’m certainly nowhere near as familiar with the Adams zonal system as you, so wouldn’t presume to comment on that. With the regard to your metaphorical connection, however, that is something with which I hope I’ve engaged from time to time! 🙂 My own conclusion (for what its worth, because it can only be mine, just as yours is yours) is that if ‘truth’ is ‘truth’ then it can only (to borrow your analogy) be a 10; everything else is fiction. And I might argue that, whilst you can have degrees of light and shade in the aesthetics of the fiction, it is still fiction – probably all hovering around the 5 mark (if we continue with the analogy)! I think I’m just suggesting that it might be the light and shade of the fiction that will create a perception of meaning, not its relationship to ‘truth’.
        (I was tempted to say – it may have all the right notes but unless they’re in the right order it won’t be Grieg – but realised it didn’t make much sense here. But I’ve said it anyway 🙂 )

      • I’ll go with truth being a 10, but equally it’s polar opposite would be a ‘0’. And yes Adam’s pegs his tonal range balanced at zone 5! 😉

  3. I think you have slowly been effecting some ‘unconcealing’ at what seems the right pace for you. Maybe you have to explore both the darkness and the light to find the tone that fits where you are now.

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