I went to Chicago and walked and made some pictures and let myself do nothing too important for a little while. I went to the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College to see an exhibit called “Limits of Photography”. The idea was to show photographs in which the “viewer loses faith in the veracity of photography”. I looked at collages, rephotographed photos, and manipulations involving ink, drawing on photographs and video (more on that in a minute). The whole time I was thinking,where is the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover photo? When I see that cover every winter, I question the veracity of the photograph on every level. I don’t mind developing photographs to be something other than a flat representation of what was in front of the lens. I have written about that before; however, the SI, Vogue, Men’s Health (etc forever) views of the body and beauty and the meaning of a photograph are designed not to pursue beauty or “art” or even cleverness. In the same way that cigarette makers pack cigarettes full of enhancers, accelerants, and chemicals to draw you to the next smoke, these magazines use photography soley to create a myth that has the same attractants for our brains to want more. And more. The create desire and shame (I don’t look like him!) at the same time. I seriously doubt the veracity of those photographs. The museum’s exhibit of technically manipulated frames felt like first grade stuff compared to the experts at SI.
I walked around a corner in the exhibit in to a small room with a grainy film looping all on its onw. I photographed it after watching it. The mini-review on the wall was gushing…see below. The film, apparently a film repeatedly refilmed to become abstract and cartoon-like, was taken with the camera in the center of an idyllic, Oregon-type scene. The camera panned in a circle across a river scene without changing pace or angle. Trees, running water, a teepee, a fire–wisps of smoke over perfect round little logs, a cooking pot, a little waterfall, more river and back to the beginning. I did love it. I loved that it got it’s own little dark room at the exhibit, that no one else was in there with me while I watched it a couple of times, that it felt like a window looking from Chicago back to the rivers and hills under the Cascades in Oregon. I loved that it was not forgotten even though is it was made in 1972. Even though it looked completely unreal, all I can say is that it conveyed truth anyway. It was the best thing I saw at the exhibit.
From the exhibit materials…
J J Murphy
(American, b. 1947) Sky Blue Water Light Sign, 1972 Video, 8 1⁄2 minutes Original 16mm film, converted to DVD
Sky Blue Water Light Sign is best seen in total innocence. My guess is that if one knows what he or she is looking at before seeing this little film, half of its excitement and a good deal of its meaning disappear. Seen in total innocence, though, Sky Blue Water is a wonder. With Gottheim’s Blues and Frampton’s Lemon (for Robert Hunt), it is one of the happiest, most uplifting short films I’ve ever seen.
-Scott MacDonald, Idiolects