Re-Presentation Rather Than Presentation: A Tool for Re-Awakening Reality?

The image produced in any sort of photographic process is generally regarded as a ‘representation’ of the referent of the photography. I have recently began to wonder whether this is correct, or more the best terminology, in the context of us needing to start to see the world anew if we are to meet with the environmental challenges that we face.

I first came across an artwork being argued to be a re-presentation in the work of phenomenological philosopher, Edward Casey. Best known for his interpretations of ‘place’, Casey has also looked at contemporary painting and published his thinking in a book called ‘Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps’ (Published by University of Minnesota Press in 2002). Here Casey argues that certain abstract paintings inspired by landscapes are ‘re-presentations ‘of the experience of such landscapes by the artists As such they open up the possibility of the viewer also having such experiences through the painting.

Pretty esoteric stuff, but I also found reference to similar thinking in the writing of Australian academic and artist, Barbara Bolt. Writing in her book ‘Art beyond Representation: The Performative Power of the Image’ (Published by IB Tauris in 2004), Bolt argues for an element of art creation which goes ‘beyond representation’ and is purely the energy of the artists.  So again this idea of the painting containing the experiential as much as representation of physical form.

Trying to get my head around how this might relate to photography, I drew pretty much a blank for a long time. I tried to see it, tried to find that ‘experiential’ element in my photographic practices, but it all seemed a bit remote.

I have though recently come across the work of Andrej Zdravič, an experimental film maker who seeks to help us re-engage with nature. Picking up short glimpses of his work from the fragmented archives available on the internet and a good old Google search, I was reminded of a comment I stumbled across in a book called ‘Ecocinema Theory and Practice’ edited by Stephen Rust, Salma Monani and Sean Cubitt (Published by Routledge in 2012). In a chapter of this book, Scott MacDonald argues that:

‘As I see it, the fundamental job of an ecocinema is not to produce pro-environmental narratives shot in a conventional Hollywood manner (that is, in a manner that implicitly promotes consumption) or even in a conventional documentary manner (although, of course, documentaries can alert us to environmental issues). The job of ecocinema is to provide new kinds of film experience that demonstrate an alternative to conventional media-spectatorship and help to nurture a more environmentally progressive mindset.’

Its my emphasis that I have inserted above, cos its that idea that struck me as what Zdravič does with his films so making us look anew at everyday nature (as for example in Riverglass which is a 41 minute film of the ‘scenes’ under the water of a small stream). It was through this that it suddenly struck me that what all photography has the potential to actually ‘re-present’ its referent for the viewer. How many times do we feel cheated when we learn an image has been manipulated. Our underlying assumption is one of realism. In other words the nature of photograph is that it is reality……the very graphic realism of the image compared to painting or other art forms creates this ‘re-presentation’ rather than than representation.

Photography therefore starts to look as the ideal medium with which to challenge mankind to ‘look again’ at our relationship with nature? A tool to help us see anew, before the ecosystems of the world exclude us from their progress?


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