|Copyright of Tim Pearse|
This photograph has just won photographer Tim Pearse the British Journal of Photography (BJP) Breakthrough award. It's a lovely image notable for two things beyond it beauty: the fact that Tim is a film photographer who chose to make a lith print and the art-speak that he appended to it.
I have absolutely no problems with the photograph. It's subtle and ethereal and a real change from the overly worked output that characterises many (but not all) digital photographs. My problem is with the art-speak.
When it comes to this sort of thing, I'm an unreconstructed neanderthal. In short, I think most of it is complete bollocks. A photographer takes a photograph and thinks, "that's a nice snap". But a nice snap won't win anything and so begins the "creative process" which is more to do with creative writing than creative photography.
But judge for yourselves. Here's Tim's explanation:
Ten out of ten if you looked at the photograph and found your thoughts coinciding with Tim's. I looked at it and thought, "that's a nice snap of a sheet".“I wanted to create a discourse on constructed memory through the perception of ambiguous form,” says Pearse.“I wanted to illicit (sic) the asking of questions of self… we can look at any object or place and it generate something intangible within ourselves.”
Call me shallow and unsophisticated (that's what artists encourage people to think of themselves if they don't "get" the message) but on the basis of this single image I cry "bollocks!".
Here's my interpretation of what Tim's written. He wanted to start a discussion about how a slightly mysterious image can cause the viewer to have a false memory. He wanted us to ponder for a moment and see if it sparked any fuzzy feelings within us.
On that basis - and I can only speak for myself - Tim's failed miserably. Maybe you're all sitting there drinking your coffee and thinking, "It's obvious, Robbins! Why don't you get it?" Of course, some clever types might try to argue that just by my writing a post about it then Tim has achieved his goal of "creating a discourse" and eliciting the "asking of questions of self".
SpermTo some extent, I suppose, the latter argument can't be denied but then I'm a blogger and have to find something to create a discourse about! Had he described his photograph as "Sheet hanging on something" then the chances are I wouldn't be writing this. But if that's the only criterion then why not take a portrait of an old man and call it "Sperm whales having sex"? Add some bollocks (great word, that) about how all men come from sperm and the whale, for all we know, may be the most intelligent creature on the planet and you can guarantee I'll cover it.
It's also true that every object we look at is bound to "generate something intangible within ourselves" unless we're looking at it with the 1000 yard stare of a Vietnam veteran. But that argument devalues art because the cup of tea sitting in front of me right now must, by definition, also provoke some sort of response when I look at it. What are you saying to me, cup of tea? Buggered if I know. Ah, that must be the "intangible" part!
I may be doing Tim, a former BA photography student at Plymouth College of Art, a slight disservice in that the image is apparently part of a longer, untitled series of lith prints but I suspect my reaction would be the same regardless of how many similar images he presented.
Hand-drawnThe BJP's online story about the award said Tim "took the image on a Mamiya RB67 camera loaded with Ilford Delta 100 film, and printed it as a lith print using lith developer, which gives the image its soft, hand-drawn quality".
Tim said, "I learnt this process while I was at university and have worked with it ever since. I like being part of every point in the making of the photograph, and being able to have complete creative input.”
Top marks then to Tim for working in the much more difficult medium of film and alternative processes and producing a cracking pic that I've no doubt was a worthy winner of the award. But the art-speak? Really?
All I can say is that with linguistic skills like that, Tim is clearly bound straight for the upper echelons of the art world.