For this exercise we were asked to read David Campany’s essay “Safety in Numbness: Some Remarks on the Problems of ‘Late Photography'” and summarise the key points. We also had to note our own observations of his points.
For the second half of the exercise we had to look at Joel Meyerowitz’s images from Aftermath: World Trade Centre Archive and comment on whether these images differ from my memories of the news footage and images I saw at the time. We also had to discuss the value the ‘late’ approach has.
David Campany’s “Safety in Numbness”
I found the essay thoroughly interesting and it gave me a lot to think about.
I found there were a number of key points such as
- the strange notion that photography is required in order to document historic events as television (idea of moving images) isn’t up to the job itself and the distinct differences between the two.
- what ‘late photography’ is, how it has inherited the various roles such as “undertaker, summariser or accountant” and how it is much more similar to forensic photography then traditional photojournalism
- the battle photography has in order to stay relevant and useful
Throughout the essay, there was so much that I found you could easily delve deeper into such as
- Campany includes a rather strange comment from Joel Meyeowitz near the beginning of the essay “I felt if there was no photographic record allowed, then it would be history erased”. In this single remark, Meyerowitz seems to completely dismiss (in the case of the World Trade Centre collapse) the numerous video and images taken by ordinary people and news teams. It also made me wonder if this was a nod to the beliefs held by a number of people when photography was invented; that photography could only produce a true version of what is seen.
- how can photography capture the remnants of events but not videography? Is this because photography captures a moment in time? There are a number of cultures that believe that when a photograph is taken, you take a piece (soul/essence) of the person or scene you are taking the photograph of. Therefore, in the role of documenting, only photography can capture the evidence required for either analysis or posterity.
- the heavy burden that photography has taken on in order to stay current/useful/relevant. It has had a take on a number of roles, as Campany mentions, such as accountant, undertaker and summeriser. Maybe this is because photography has always stood on the sidelines of the art playing field, waiting for a chance to shine and show that it is useful; late photography is photography’s chance
- Campany says “As a result it is quite different from the spontaneous snapshot and has a different relation to memory and to history”. this quote made me think about our previous exercise and how postcards have the potential to alter our memories of the places they show. I feel that this could also be the case with ‘late photography’, because they are always taken in the aftermath of an event (or as Campany suggests “the trace of the trace of an event”) the photographer has the opportunity to carefully consider the image they are taking. This could be by making it more respectful or manipulating it to make the viewer feel or remember the events in a different light then they would otherwise remember.
- why photography is better at documenting than videography? Is it because videography moves through a scene and may miss things that a photograph wouldn’t? Is it because a viewer can make up their own minds about photograph as they can take in more detail? Whereas television requires very little interaction, viewers merely watch and are “told” what they are looking at.
- does ‘late photography’ give a closure that other mediums cannot do? This comes back to my earlier point of the belief photography could only produce a true version of what is seen.
Joel Meyerowitz’s Aftermath: World Trade Centre Archive
In the second half of the exercise, we had to look at Joel Meyerowitz’s Aftermath: World Trade Centre Archive and comment on how they differ from images I have seen or remember. We also had to comment on the value of ‘late photography’.
The title of the body of work, “Aftermath: World Trade Centre Archive”, put me off slightly. It comes across as a post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie title, almost sensationalising the events. I found that some of the images looked quite overworked and they came across as very cold and sterile. There was seems to be very little compassion or emotion unlike images I have previously seen and have included below. I had been hoping to see maybe some of the camaraderie, people’s reactions to events or the tributes to those who lost their lives. Meyerowitz’s images are very matter of fact and as Campany describes it are “a trace of a trace of an event”. From the images you can see the enormity of the clean-up operation and the people tasked to do this after all the news crews etc. have moved onto the next big thing (I know it sounds a little harsh, however this is the reality of the news). This is maybe why they seem a little underwhelming and not like other images I have seen to show the aftermath.
The value of ‘late photography’ is to remind us that even though the events have already happened, there are still consequences; there are still people that have to live through this and rebuild their lives. It can also serve to show the progress or deterioration made from the event throughout the months and years.