"The decisive moment." Perhaps this is most resonant and compelling phrase in all
photography. Back in the 1950s, in the golden age of photojournalism, Henri Cartier-Bresson used it to define his approach to
picture-making. Being French, he was keen to establish his intellectual credentials, so he borrowed the idea from a philosopher priest of the seventeenth century. Cardinal de Retz had originally said: "There is nothing in the world that does not
have a decisive moment."
At the time of the cardinal's original statement the camera (obscura) was a visual aid for
contemplative painters, such as Vermeer. In the precise description of the world before them they created a mood of perpetual stillness. Eternal time. Cartier-Bresson used his camera to the very opposite effect: "To me,
photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression."
Revealingly, the French title of the memoir that he called in English "The Decisive Moment" was "Images la Sauvette", which has quite a different resonance, and none of the cardinal's grandeur. Some people translate the phrase as "Images on the Run", others more sardonically as "Images on the Sly". Stolen time. We know that, from its very beginnings as a recording device, pictures made with the camera had a much more complex relationship to time than simply that of the journalist on assignment. After all, there was nothing decisive about the first captured images. In these, time coagulated, often generating languorous, sumptuous images. And the traditions of painting were hard to shake off. Many nineteenth-century photographers played with historical time, imagined time, invented time.
Writing as an artist whose main tool is the digital camera, I notice just how much camerawork today slips and slides through time - how it reflects the complex and paradoxical -and even troubled- relationship we have developed with the fourth dimension. For many of us now, marching decisively and progressively into what we are told is a new, improved future seems an altogether more uncertain business than it might have appeared to be half-a-century ago, when Cartier-
Bresson was in his prime. Of course, some our wisest forebears have long questioned just how straight and true is the aim of the arrow of time. One of the founding fathers of modernity itself, Albert Einstein, declared: "The separation between past, present and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one." And that most mischievous of modernists, Vladimir Nabokov, went even further: “I confess, I do not believe in time.”
My intention in TIMESLIP is to show as many different approaches to the theme of time as is practical in the festival setting of a varied mixed show. I hope that the work stimulates thoughts about the elusive subject itself as well as offering up a rich variety of images and ideas. I have drawn artists together through a combination of open submission and direct approach. I have loosely organised the work around themes of my own choosing, but I am confident that the all the work in this exhibition is rich enough to burst out of any straightjacket of mine.
Dominic Pote moves his camera through space as he creates an image. He abandons the shutter
that cuts out the shards of time offeted up by most photography. He explains: "Time does not stop in our experienced reality and we are not able to stop a fraction of a second in our minds, as the camera does. Time by its very nature is continuous."
Alexander Hamilton abandons the camera altogether, and adopts a technology introduced in the 1850s - the cyanotype, the original blueprint. The object (in Alexander;'s case, it is usually a plant) is placed directly onto the print paper, which is exposed to sunlight and then washed with water: Alexander explains: "The flower petals leave a trace, a unique deposit, on the paper. The
final result contains the physical essence of each plant, displayed in rich tones
of blue of a meditative work of art.
In TELLING TIME five artists observe the process of time unfolding. Annabel Crocker-Mellor also
focuses on plants, subtly-coloured flowers, caught at the point where the bud will soon open or when the petals have begun to lose their vitality. These emotionally-charged images remind us of the vanitas paintings of the seventeenth century. Annabel tells us: "The colours and forms express feelings of fragility, life, loss, beauty, decay - I
see something of the portrait in them, a sense of movement and conversation."
Benjamin Else meditates on the passing of time in his multiple image of a family clock that becomes a mute memorial for a deceased relative.
Julie Cassels is "fascinated by the relationship between the still image, the photographic sequence and the moving picture. The Full Circle series breaks time down into captured moments and then puts them together again.
Timothy Shepard also revisits Edward Muybridge's dissection of movement in what he calls an "autopoetic composition" - one that is based on close observation of natural elements, such as water and clouds, and even a ball game.
In my own work for TIMESLIP I express my fascination with the idea that so much of what we see around us reveals layers of time, like the strata in rock. Here I track processes that started billions of years ago and which we can observe today in
a continuity of action - on a Somerset coastline that crumbles before forces mightier than any rock - on an ancient
column and a dust-layered doorway in the city of Palermo - in the remnants of an industrial landscape that romantically rots in a world that has no further use for it.
DREAMTIME is the time zone of the imagination, the unconscious, time out of time. Emili Bermudez creates a world we can recognise within ourselves, a place where memory meets emotion. Alexandre Woelffel creates a more disturbing territory, where anxiety and tension fill the air. He writes: "I think of my work not as a product but as a birth."
TEMPS PERDU is the lost time of the novelist Marcel Proust. Fragments of the familiar, even the trivial, are woven into a narrative of meaning and feeling. Nancy Mitchell works on the intimate scale of the letter. Her modest sheets of A4 are handmade paper that she has crafted herself, deepening the sense of intimacy still further: "Neither letter, message, nor picture, my work aims to occupy these liminal spaces; ambiguous and layered in meaning."
Susan Boyle scatters her smallscale images across the gallery space, as if defying the potential for the
narrative to cohere. She is exploring chance and change: "The images in my photographic work often signify occurrences or incidents we may encounter that can often imperceptibly affect us but could also be significant elements of change in our own lives and those around us."
Laura Frances Doggett offers the quietist, most directly personal image, in an exhibition that displays with scale and colour and bold effect. But its very modesty has an impact no less significant than the most decisive of statements in the show:"We sat together after the funeral, and ... in that moment she was still here and he was young and he was old, and I was with them."
Chris Robinson's mirrored installation is inspired by the transgressive writer William Burroughs, whose centenary falls this year. Burroughs believed that, by taking photographs, you could travel through time. Chris borrows some of Burrough's techniques as a tribute to a fellow time traveller.
MOVING THROUGH TIME is a set of video projections on a continuous loop, and one performance piece. Joseph Ismail's clock in a soap dish presents a wry commentary on the way time can seem to dissolves in our hands...
Andrew Payne observes the unremarkable passing through time, with a concentration that reignites the strangeness of the familiar.
Claire Manning is fascinated by " the shifting nature of the gaze; in the difference between what’s looked at and what’s actually seen that calls into question the very self-understanding of the one who observes."
Caroline Wilkins collaborates with two other artists, Rees Archibald and Oded Ben-Tal, to make a piece in which "traces become evidence of a passing sketch, aesthetic remnants, chance events that are transitory, irregular."
My ambient video, Windscapes 2014, is intended to be glimpsed or occasionally
gazed at, in the same way that we most usually observe the world around us ... presenting
the ceaseless choreography that is created by the Wind.
In Susan Brinkhurst's performance piece, Domestic Bliss, she presents the mundane, the familiar in a way that invites us to think anew about the chores that fill our daily lives - most especially the daily lives of women.
exhibition at FaB14
Timeslip was one of more than 30 exhibitions in an outstanding year for the contemporary art festival in the city of Bath. FaB14 organised shows in venues across the centre of the city, and I was one of the dozen guest curators. I proposed the theme of timeslip, which explored our complex relationship with the puzzling subject of time. I also included some of my own work exploring the theme..
I invited submissions from camera artists (and one performance artist) in several European countries, and balanced these with a number of open submissions. The result was an exhibition that provoked a host of positive comments and close to 10,000 visitors over two-and-a-half weeks. Because the venues were right in the heart of one of Britain's most popular centres of cultural tourism, the visitors to the show ranged across a wide range of tastes and expectations.