Fiona Harvey is showing her current work, Moving through Space at the AM Gallery in Brighton until June 1st. In this project she draws attention to the way in which our visual cortex, as we move through the world, seamlessly stitches together a perception of the physical world. We are only rarely surprised to find that our visual map of an object changes as we walk around it; our focus shifts and we construct a uniform visual field which depicts the world as we [believe that we] see it.
Harvey has made these images in a dance studio, furnished with mirrored walls and practice barres. Judging exposure for a timed exercise, she has left the shutter open while executing a simple ballet step, a turn perhaps or a plié and has closed the shutter at the completion of the action. The camera thus records the accumulation of scene as the photographer moves and by blurring the fixed world draws attention to the dynamic. Consider that the elements of the scene are not changing of themselves and thus the image itself may be deciphered from the moments of stasis captured on film. At times, the camera has dwelt longer on a single sight-line, for example at the base of a plié.Where the principal action has been to turn a vertical axis, the strong horizontal lines of the beech wood practice barres have predominated. When the ballet step has caused the camera to come between Harvey and a mirror some shadowy outline of herself has been captured, again with stronger recording showing the extent of the action. Here the strip lights have illuminated the scene 100 times in each second as the camera has moved past, throwing a textured trace onto the emulsion, the twists and turns of this recording the movement of the camera like to the wake of a boat, a neck scarf or a calligraphic scroll.
The dynamic reading of these images though ultimately misses the point in the same way that we should not look at a Cubist image to learn about the object. I term this dynamic as we interpret the image using both a sequence of thought processes and an inference of successive image points. A static reading of these images, no movement of thought, stands between figurative and Abstract Expressionist forms. These are barely photographs and abandon frame, viewpoint and focus to adopt, instead, elements of performance. Though each movement element is purposeful, the hand-held camera and its orientation to the world are subject to more or less control by the photographer. In this sense they realise painterly interventions in the visual world reflected in a silver gelatine medium. Harvey's emulsion becomes a projection of Pollock's canvas, an arena in which to act, a space for creativity. The performance of the dance step is recorded in the camera by a reflection of the studio space through the open lens.
In the context that these images are produced in a photographic fashion we should examine the photographic heritage in which we can situate this work. Where the figurative emerges more clearly we can look to Tomas Ruff's Anderes Portrat 122/113, (1994/1995). Here we see a replacement of focus with consistency/shared content of the multiple overlaid images. Similarly, Idris Khan's Every... (2004) refactors static landscape images by Bernd and Hiller Becher to consider their essential content in the spatial domain. We must rely on a repetition of what was to build a new visual map to support our reading of what is. Our thought processes take us through such a dynamic reading to create a new point of focus.
Hiroshi Sugimoto's unfocused architectural work e.g. Eiffel Tower (2001) demonstrates the recognisability of iconic structures though recognition appeals to the viewer's [clear] visual memory of the original scene. Sugimoto's very long, but static shots continue to explore the nature of exposure time in photographs but whereas Sugimoto's Theatre (1978-) shots note the incidental change in the environment, here Harvey links the exposure time to the performance of the step and the image relates to the space through which the step passed. From a photographic point of view, in the sense that Harvey's work is responsive and performance-generated her images appear to offer something original.
The dynamic reading of Harvey's work is to note how the integration of lighting and colour values over the duration of the shot induce attractive qualities of colour. The soft grades and comfortable tonal values recall the colours sensed when one's eyes are briefly closed. To make a static reading of this work requires the suspension of the analytic process, indeed to close the eyes and cease from reliance on the efforts of the visual cortex. To continue with the sense of affinity with Abstract Expressionism we find sympathy with Josef Albers ("I prefer to see with closed eyes")
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