Itinerant Column: IMA, issue 20, 2017, Jason Fulford
In any world, including the one of art photography, those who have devoted themselves to it have a language of their own. They express the ineffable photographically while also producing numerous words about the medium. In variously examining photography and language, photographers and language, and the language of photography, one finds that photography is a medium that requires a surprisingly large number of words. Let us listen to the language of photographers, who spend their days facing reality through the viewfinder and their prints. Simultaneously, let us pay attention to the opinions of others, that have been drawn to photographs. The Language of photography is bound to offer countless inspirations and suggestions.
“I think that any book or picture or composition of any sort, once out into the world, so tosay, produces a different effect on each person who seriously tries to follow it. I certainly do not think that the auther of it has any monopoly in its interpretation”
Jason Fulford (from “I am Napoleon”, 2016)
I Am Napoleon is one of the three volumes of Fulford’s recent slipcase box, Contains 3 Books, published by The Soon Institute. There, pictures and words “play off each other in an associative way” and the texts are excerpts from books he was reading at the time, “sequenced into a narrative”. In one spread he pairs an excerpt from Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human, which reads: “remember that dancing is not the same thing as staggering weakly back and forth between different impulses”, with an image of a foot on a stony beach that has recently come out of the water, as we can see from the drops above the sock marks around the ankle.
The foot is slowly drying in the sun and the pebbles are slowly abandoning the foot as it dries, creating a subtle tension between the little stones and the drops that potentially evokes an idea of dance or at least movement. Image-text dynamics entail a kind of dance for our eyes, which move back and forth between looking at the images and reading the words. It is the power and quality of their association that can transform a ‘weak staggering back and forth’ into a harmonious flow, a dance. Words, as Fulford points out, can “add meaning to places or to objects through storytelling” or, in OTHER words, the importance of words in enhancing the storytelling powers of photographs is beyond dispute.
What is fascinating about Fulford’s approach with images and texts is that it is both fragmental and sequential. When he designs a book, he goes “back and forth between a macro view and a micro view”, where “each spread is an independent unit with text and image, but there is also an overall arc to the book”. He experiments ‘democratically’ with different typologies of image-text relations, without promoting a right way to do it, but championing ambiguity and the reader/viewer’s freedom, as he reminds us in his PREFATORY NOTE of I Am Napoleon. Then, if I were asked to use an impulsive metaphor to describe my encounter with his artwork I would say it’s like being asked to play Aerobie Pro Ring at an exhibition opening.