Fictions: A Photographic Portfolio by Phil Harris
About this body of work, Harris writes:
When photography is conceived and used as a language, there are essentially two potential paths that lead to two opposite poles. Depending on your point of view, the two poles could be called art and science, poetry and journalism, subjectivity and objectivity, fabricated and found, intention and accident, illusion and reality, fact and fancy. In my opinion, photography stands, wondering, at the exact center point where the two paths veer away from each other. This work is an attempt to blend the power of photographic "reality" with the narrative art of fiction. My hope is that the objects pictured here, transformed by photography, will allow you, the viewer, to participate, to create, to hear the story.
There are no guarantees in art, but for reasons I'm not sure I can identify, I connect with Harris' story. Please don't ask me to verbalize it, because I can't. Besides, to do so is sort of like explaining the punch line of a joke. This image is something about water and bubbles, fish and ice, story and text. That latter one is introduced into the image with the lines that can be barely seen in the hole just above center. And then on the left edge of the image just below center, there is something that looks vaguely like writing on the underlying page. It's a story written in fish, I guess, but it seems silly to try to discuss it.
This entire portfolio consists of these types of small dioramas made for the purpose of photographing them. Such an approach was all the rage in the 1990s. I see less of it now. The problem with most of it was that it too easily veered into intellectual game-playing and meaningless conglomerations of stuff. It required a deft hand like Harris' to pull it off without being stuffy. Carol Golemboski did it successfully, too, in LensWork #59, along with Tatiana Palnitska in LensWork #47. It's harder than you think to take a pile of objects and turn them into an interesting and communicative still life.
I've often wondered why that is — but perhaps the reason is obvious. Photographers are primarily discoverers. We search and look, recognize and snap. Unlike painting, novel writing, or writing music, starting with a blank canvas is not our normal procedure. It can be terribly awkward for a photographer to start with the blank sheet. Try doing something in Photoshop that starts with a totally blank canvas — and no, you may not begin with a cheat by importing a photograph that fills the canvas.
You see, for photographers, the world is an image where we search for ideas. For most other arts, the idea is the start from which the artist shapes the world to create an image. This middle ground that Harris et al have chosen to explore is a particularly fascinating one for photographers because it forces us to reverse our process — an activity that always leads to artistic growth and insight into our habits and conditioned ways of seeing. Try it and you'll see what I mean.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to members of LensWork Online.
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