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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Between the Lines

by Geoff Dyer, The Guardian

Criticism sometimes achieves the condition of art; certain works of art are also a form of commentary or criticism. Roland Barthes's meditation on photography, Camera Lucida, is a classic example of the former. How to respond creatively to a book that has profoundly shaped the way the medium is regarded? A writer might feel compelled to follow George Steiner's grand advice and "write a book in reply." And if you're not a writer, but a photographer? If you do what Barthes is writing about?

Idris Khan's response was to photograph every page of the book and then digitally combine them in a single, composite image. The result of this homage to—and essay on—Camera Lucida (English edition) is a beautiful palimpsest: a series of blurred stripes of type in which the occasional word can be deciphered and one of the images reproduced by Barthes—a portrait of Mondrian by Kertész—glimpsed. Khan did the same thing with On Photography by Susan Sontag. The whole of the book can be seen in an instant, but the density of information is such that Sontag's elegant formulations add up to, and are reduced to, a humming, unreadable distillation. Already slight, the gap between texts and Khan's images will shrink further if the books are reissued with his "readings" of them—surrogate author photos?—on the covers....




Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

An interesting technical feat. I think it's more of a personal project of exploration than a statement.

Earlier this year the Art Institute of Chicago purchased a similar piece. (I'm really ashamed that I cannot recall the name of the artist, particularly since I attended a talk he gave.) For this work he scanned each frame of the movie "Titanic" from credits to credits, reduced them to just a few millimeters and then printed them as a single string of "dots" from left to right, top to bottom. Of course the viewer would never recognize the base subject, seeing this rather large work as merely an interesting striation of tonalities. But once the subject is revealed you begin to see the movie's flow in a very interesting way. It really pulls you in.

I'm not sure that Khan's work has the same effect, at least not on me. The statement I get from it is that art and photographic criticism becomes indiscernible gray streaks of blah-blah-blah. I guess I'm not very imaginative.

1:33 PM  
Blogger David Emerick said...

Could it have been Jim Campbell?

I like his work alot.


2:25 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

No, although Jim's work looks really interesting.

Liz Siegel, assistant curator of photography at the AIC, was kind enough to remind me of the fellow's name: Jason Salavon.

Here is the "Titanic" image. He has done several other similar works.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Ernest Theisen said...

I have read this three times and I still dont understand what he was or is doing. I guess I am not very imaginative either. But to know that people are doing things like this is interesting and thanks for posting it. Maybe Idris Khan needs to get some flowers or a cat.

10:32 PM  
Blogger David Emerick said...

Very interesting work by Salavon, thanks for the link Ken.


7:47 AM  

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