Friday, December 14, 2012

Hanif Janmohamed

Hanif Janmohamed, artist. Taken June 18, 2012.

Photography, being a relatively recent art, is always understood in terms of something else.

Most famously, William Henry Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature (1844) saw photography as a kind of automatic drawing done by nature in concert with the sun. What was remarkable about it was the lack of human agency. The composition (within the frame) and the execution were the result of light and the photographic process itself. One can read the history of art photography from that point onward as an uneasy tension between, on the one hand, the lack of human agency in photography, and on the other, a need to locate and celebrate an "artistic" intention in photography in order to claim territory in the dubious and evanescent landscape of the arts.

It is also possible to understand "the pencil of nature", where the act of creation is not drawing, but rather writing.

Driving to Horseshoe Bay recently, I was listening to the 2007 CBC Massey Lecture, "The City of Words" by Alberto Manguel. As I drove through the snow that was almost rain, I heard descriptions of the craft and interpretation of writing. These I chose to deliberately misunderstand as being about photography. Consider the following passage, as being not about the short story, but rather, about a photo:
"It states facts, but gives no definite answers, declares no absolute postulates, demands no unarguable assumptions, offers no labelling identities."
We may see a photo - especially a portrait - and grant it a state as "true" or "untrue" insofar as it matches what we think of the subject. But there is nothing in the photo itself that can be validated one way or the other.

I write this because, as I enter the third year of this portrait project, I find myself a little suspicious of my ability to say who these people are in words. The goal at the beginning and the end is always the photo. Yet I find myself in an uneasy relationship with the text on these pages as I try to say who the subject is - or at least, how the photo took place.

Hanif Janmohamed has a considerable range of interests. You can find some of his design portfolio here:

Here is an index of portraits.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Twenty-Six

Book Twenty-Six
June 2001 (not yet started)
Handmade Book. Covers are 1/8 thick sheet metal.
Created in Grantham's Landing, Canada
13" x 9.5" 204 pages. 
No entries. 

Sometimes a book is not about what is between the covers - sometimes a book is about itself.

This is the case with book twenty-six. A rather extreme experiment with heft, the covers are 1/8 inch thick sheet metal. The book weighs 14 pounds (about 7 kilos) making it a bit less than portable. On the other hand, if you believe that one must suffer for art, carrying it around might be just the thing.

I went to the local scrap yard to get the metal. When the man finished with the acetylene torch I asked him to leave the dribblings on the edges. "What ya gonna do with these?" the man asked, file in hand and a bit disappointed that he couldn't clean the edge. "They're for a book." I replied. "A book? I've got thinner sheet than this. Wouldn't you rather something lighter?" He said. "No. No. this'll be perfect."

This book has not been started yet. It sits rather uneasily on the shelf with the other completed journals waiting for the right time. What project could fill it? Perhaps an impossible project like Borges Book of Sand would be appropriate.

Here is a list of books.