Uncertain States / 21

uncertain-states-newspaper-21Angelo Picozzi www.angelopicozzi.com
Blurs the boundaries between still and moving imagery
Elena Yangelenayang.photofolio.org
Intimate and yet distant collaboration
Felix Daveywww.felixdavey.com
Searching for scenes of solitude and isolation
Jiehao Suwww.jiehaosu.com
Trying to represent a version of homeland
Larry Gormanwww.larrygorman.tumblr.com
The shared act of observation creates a space to for us to connect.
Faye Hellerwww.fayeheller.com
Disrupts the order of perceived realities
Lee Annwww.lee-art.co.uk
Charting the unique narrative of each subject’s personal journey
Lucy Levenewww.lucylevene.co.uk
Questions the narrative we construct daily
Naomi Whitewww.naomiwhite.com/gallery
Investigates the emotional terrain of an identity in flux

Image as Adverb 
Marcus B. Wood

Instinctive visual communication is a response loop operating at a level of symbolic logic. The interplay of conscious and subconscious processes, that is both the foundation of identity and social cohesion, plays an elemental role in how we internally construct exchange and assimilate our perceptions and sensations. How we see is who we are and how we learn. In turn we seek to intervene in the trajectory of our environment. To express, consolidate, and secure an external world coaxial with our internalized preconceptions or assimilate to a newly learned reality. We communicate to cohabitate. Those visions we imagine we seek to confirm in the physical world. And by giving visions form in the images we create those images become like adverbs – describing our understanding of and aspirations for the world. If each of us is a discreet identity, endowed with individual dynamics, what we communicate further describes who we are jointly and individually. How we understand ourselves and our place in the world.

In a world becoming powered by ever more nuanced imaging technologies of production, and communication, technologies that are driving toward a usurpation of the role of imagination in the management of knowledge. A world where “computer representation of knowledge”, “Artificial Intelligence”, the fluidity of the constructed image is considered analogous to thought, and running at a velocity beyond that of biological systems, are accepted as intelligence. It becomes ever more crucial that each individual is aware of their potential to weigh in the balance of the human dialogue. To value that which is humane rather than drift into creative subjugation at the hands of mechanized media, and so anchor the future of human relationship on the shores of human expression and communication.

The visual imagination is one of human thoughts most powerful tools whether in the mind’s eye or brought into a communicable form, a photograph or other construct. The path from conception to creation, from the distillation of information to the articulation of an idea, is an inalienably human journey. The very process of reason and the codification of knowledge would not and cannot exist without such imagination. Nor would any of the cultural constructs on which social life is ordered anywhere at any time exist. For time itself is such a construct. It is the sanctity of human thought, as well as life that should inform the ethics of the information age.

At its most instinctive, intuitive core, imagination supersedes reason – and lives at the heart of the creative impulse. It is part of our primal decision to “fight or flee”. Not only the way in which we identify threat but also in the how we engage with friend. It is an essential aspect of evolution and thus of learning. It is the well from which wisdom is drawn. At its most pure it is a sacred “cri de couer”.

This perspective on visual imagination is part of what the, less emotive, school of “cognitive bias” and the field of behavioral economics seeks to elucidate. It is a school of thought that maintains the subconscious information processing of homosapiens seeks to confirm our existing understanding of the world. This “confirmation bias” means we will more often act against reason (even in life or death situations) essentially because there is one best way to do something and many ways to get things wrong. We will more often get it wrong because our internalized bias instigates a reaction consistent with that bias prior to our conscious reasoned response being formed. A reaction that is by definition irrational. Therefore “reason” is made unreasonable by coming after the fact of action. Such a construct of right and wrong is itself too blunt a tool when the data set describing any situation is more complex, even at an assumed single point of decision, within the flow of life. But it does speak for the importance of “presence of mind”. And it is one pointer toward my field of work I call “Enhanced Intuition.” An understanding of the processes of the mind that exists as a structure beneath “intelligence” and informs thought in a way computation based analogies of “artificial intelligence” cannot accommodate. A way that acknowledges the cooperative social and common consciousness we share.

So how does this apply to photography and why does it matter? It matters because it speaks of a new understanding of the photographic process and where it sits in the cultural paradigm. It matters because the making of a photograph is the articulation of an idea, even the idea of an emotion. And as life is subject to the laws of physics, culture, how a people have come to understand and communicate ideas, through technologies, within these physical laws, is determinant of that peoples future. Identity is how a person understands their individual being within this system and a sustainable social order assumes the ability to cooperate. Despite the many flaws in the process communication is necessary to cooperation. As particle physics is to cosmology so individual identity is to culture. A mindful awareness of our individuality is only as meaningful as the action through which we communicate our individuality, values and empathy, to others. Our ability to attain a sustainable cooperative culture depends on this. Considered imaginings are needed. And photographers are people who have some conscious command over the power to meet this need.
If mathematics is taken as a very simple form of symbolic logic, and it’s use in describing physics an analogy for how a photograph communicates imagination, it is interesting to read the words of Emmy Noether. A mathematician who in 1915 established the connection between dynamic forces and the laws of symmetry, who unlocked quantum mechanics for Einstein et. al. She can speak to us about sustainability in it’s purest form: “For every continuous symmetry of the laws of physics there must exist a conservation law. For every conservation law there must exist a continuous symmetry.”

Einstein spoke of the maxim by which Noether was guided as “any relationship between numbers, functions, and operations, become transparent, generally applicable, and fully productive only after they have been isolated from their particular objects and been formulated as universally valid concepts.”

In many ways this maxim describes what a photographer attempts to achieve with ideas and emotions by modelling light. Composition is based on an aspect of symmetry. In making an image each decision point is part of a fluid progression by which we contain our experience and imagination within our perception of time. We are making, implicitly or explicitly a multiplicity of decisions through our choices of creative process and dissemination. In the pre digital age control of imagery was, arguably, more centralized. Its power to inform or corroborate understood as central to historical record, propaganda, and cultural aspiration alike. In the democratized digital information age each of these decisions carries a “marker” as a digital image is numbered, dated and gps located so the notion of context and meaning appear in this way fixed. A sort of accountability is assigned to the image maker. And yet we are only the first editors in a complex cascade of attribution as the image is subsumed into the ether and altered as it journeys. And yet, and yet, while we cannot control the ongoing use of the images we create to any greater extent than in times past, we can be considered in the images we create in the first instance. Mindful in a new way and, to that degree, empowered.

By extension the use of the photographic process becomes a useful metaphor for the actions critical to identification and understanding of the parameters for a sustainable environment. The photographic process is a simple non-binomial model of the dynamic interactions at the heart of human relationship both to one another and to the environment. When, in accordance with the laws of physics these relationships are “isolated from their objects, and formulated as universally valid concepts”, they can be rearticulated with a powerful intensity beyond their physical dimension. This is where the true power of the image as adverb lays. As the adverb describes the manner in which an action is carried out. So the image as adverb describes its creator and the culture which it expresses and explains as an idea that is part of a dynamic world.

It also follows that unless people become truly visually literate they are left adrift in the cross currents of information flow that are at once the hallmark and greatest challenge in the digital age. To the extent which people are visually literate we may be elevated to the highest hopes of human imagining or will remain, perhaps inevitably become, disempowered, disenfranchised, despairing. In a highly fluid visual age when images carry the power of infinite words, speaking as they do across cultures, speaking to the essence of our humanity. Carrying, rightly or wrongly, the force of truth as “seeing is believing”. Stimulatingly, touching, our deepest emotions and imaginations. It is a visually literate individual, conscious of their own visual imagination and how it is communicated, that retains their rights and powers.

In recent weeks we have seen images of beheadings and murderous rampage in Parisian streets. We have seen earlier, not unrelated, images that confirmed undeniably a Holocaust that had defied imagination in their absence. We learned that personal information pertaining to employees at Wikileaks was handed to authorities by Google who delayed an unknown numbers of months before notifying Wikileaks of the breach of their confidence. As Wikileaks reaps the whirlwind for making public secret information in photographic form that confirmed war crimes in another time and place. Yes, “Nous Sommes Charlie” for we are all Charlie now. We are bound together by the need to communicate articulately, accurately and with presence of mind. The images we create are speaking with ever greater power to ever more people. What we say about ourselves and our intentions toward our fellow beings may be read from more, and more alternative, points of view than in previous times. Mindful of this power we should use it with utmost respect for ourselves and for the people with whom we are communicating. A rich language confers rich rights and rewards. A rich language confers real responsibility and reciprocity.

My passion about these issues rests within a broader sense of the urgency we all share, with awareness or none, in the real need to communicate ideals of equity and empathy for our fellow creatures and the environment. The ideal of peaceful coexistence is not a naïve fantasy. It is a necessary accomplishment to which humanity must commit with calm compassion. As a small child I was admonished to speak politely to friend and foe alike, to “do unto others as I would have done unto myself”. If a photograph does “speak a thousand words” how much more important is it that we consider all that we say when we capture light and send it back into the world as a messenger of our souls.

Marcus B. Wood 
January 2015 

Image Credit: Fiona Yaron-Field