Process and meaning

I just read a post at Conscientious Photography Magazine which I think is very interesting, and I thought I would add some comments on this subject.

I’m interested in how process effects image meaning. It came up for me recently when I started photographing along the Hoosic River using old Polaroid film stock. It’s interesting for me to see how the soft, messy, out of focus prints coming out of a Polaroid camera, and the negatives they produce, can convey such a different sensibility about the subject than a straight photograph made with a digital camera. In this case, the process becomes intrinsic to the meaning of the photograph when the process is visible. This seems pretty straight forward. I posted some weeks ago here and here showing the same subject but photographed with different processes. The chemical process of instant film has a different language, and presents different information, than a digital image does. Accidents and unexpected results play a large role when using instant films.

The Conscientious article mentions Daisuke Yokota‘s work. His process is to rephotograph, reprocess and manipulate his original photograph, sometimes to the point where the original is difficult or impossible to recognize. His process seems to become extra photographic, even though he is using photographic processes (mostly). It becomes something added to the original photograph to degenerate the image. It’s brings something else to the image, hammering in new meaning through manipulation, something akin to a special effect or software post processing. It becomes less about the image and more about the process, or about the process of reprocessing and what that might mean, a statement which is non-photographic and about something else.

I like Yokota’s work, and find the images compelling. I think he is attempting to do what many photographers are trying to do – extend and stretch the language of photography. Reprocessing images to change them is not a new idea. Back in the 1990’s I made a series where I took a photograph and photocopied it, then photocopied that image, and continued that process through a number of generations until the image was reduced to amorphous shapes and forms. I then presented this image with the original image. It’s an idea that has similarities to Yokota’s work, except using a machine to degenerate the image, not a photographic process.

Part of the question related to process is, what is important – the original subject, or the final print object? If it is the final print object, then process is integral to its making, whatever that process might be. I’m thinking of the treatment Anslem Kiefer uses on some of his paintings, leaving them out in the rain and sun for months at a time.
Whether that is appropriate for the subject is another matter.