Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Stuart Franklin: Narcissus

"After having served three stressful years as president of Magnum Photos, always with a busy schedule of assignments, I felt there to be something missing: the time and space to think. Norway provided this and more", Stuart Franklin writes. And so, in autumn 2009, he moves into a small cabin beside a lake on the island of Otroya, home to about 2,000 people.

In Franklin's view, landscape photography as a genre "has not progressed much from eighteenth-century painting". A rather strange statement, I find, for there was no photography in the eighteenth-century. He also writes that landscape photography's early practitioners "stuck rigidly to the conventions of nineteenth century painting". That is very probably not limited to landscape photography but true for most early practitioners of photography in general. 
Stuart Franklin's goal is "to develop a more personal, subjective, and phenomenological approach to landscape." In the course of his Norwegian work he discovers what makes the landscape magical: "... the unexpected: the random and yet mysteriously purposeful order of things. So the resulting photograph has a greater openness and interest; it exists as a psychological landscape and not a mental exercise." Landscape photography doesn't need to mean capturing scenic views, it can also mean "documenting an experience of place". With this in mind, looking at the images in this book takes on quite unexpected dimensions.
His time in Norway taught Franklin that everything he needed was where he was. He didn't have to travel the world (or the whole island of Otroya) in search for pictures – they were before his eyes.

Photographs cannot express the whole range of one's experience, they can only reveal vision. "The rest we have to imagine and the ambiguity of black-and-white photographs requires we imagine even more. This imagining is, for me, part of the pleasure of looking at photographs."

PS: I've asked myself why Franklin called his book "Narcissus". According to Merleau-Ponty and Lacan, "we see objects 'through the spectacles of memory' and narcissism, or a reflection upon one's own image, is a constitutive act in the production of a sense of self." 

Stuart Franklin
Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2013

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