vision v. experience
Over the weekend, conditions on the mountain rendered visibility so poor that I often couldn’t see past the tips of my skis. Fog like I haven’t seen since I left the northwest moved in and around, surrounding peaks, and breaking only for intermittent snow.
If you can’t see the pitch and ground below you, you rely on your grace (the strength of the muscles you don’t know you have); if your only point of reference is also attached to you, as are your skis, you have no way to tell how fast you are really moving, save for the frozen water and air flying around you. A friend pointed out that the weather made for a pretty intimate in-bounds experience, not only were fewer skiers out, but you could hardly see the ones who were, giving the impression that you were out there alone. More than once, the opening events of Jose Saramago’s Blindness surfaced: “The blind man raised his hands to his eyes and gestured, Nothing, it’s as if I were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea… I see everything white.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about how my lack of sight altered and elevated the experience so significantly, particularly because it is the sense I usually rely the most on… It highlighted one of the things that is the most frustrating for me in photography, how difficult it is to relay an entire experience, series of thoughts and emotions, within a small frame that consumes, usually, less than a second of time. How can vision (and even less so, a record of vision) equal experience when this experience was so much greater because I couldn’t see!?!
I was having trouble putting together what this all meant, and for the time I spent thinking about it, it had to mean something (aside from complete disillusionment with my chosen path in life), until the Tate‘s email bulletin brought Roni Horn to my inbox and reminded me of You are the weather. I’m not saying the answers are all clear here, they usually aren’t, but I realized this work comes close to the physical/emotional/psychological experience I was having.
You are the weather by Roni Horn
I was photographing Margrét outdoors and in water. The water and the weather became very important as the visual context. Water and weather are dominant phenomena in Iceland. So we would travel and I would photograph her in the water and in the weather. It was a very simple relationship: I didn’t tell her to do anything, she would just get into the water and I would photograph her. In the sunlight and with the clouds under the open, forceful sky — the water was all around her, on her, and in her hair, and in the air as well.
It sounds SO simple, doesn’t it? But, the portraits manage to simultaneously, and very intimately, express the girl’s relationship to her environment, to the photographer, and to herself, primarily, and secondarily, to the viewer. They envelope the less-than-a-minute timeframe in which the picture was taken and the on-going present the portraits inhabit on walls, in museums, etc, as it seems impossible not to engage with the gaze and also feel the water, the environment she was experiencing. They tell a physical, emotional, and psychological story all at once… and reaffirm that this is possible in photography: vision alone can equal experience.
Filed under: outside, photography, seeing, water | 2 Comments