‘Portals - better known as wormholes, in the realm of theoretical physics and science fiction – are locations that have the ability to physically transport us from one place in time to another without traversing any of the geography or passage of time that one usually encounters going from point A to point B. The idea of entering a portal is inherent in photography, a medium that, in essence, freezes an image of what a camera sees at a single moment in time.’

- (Brier, 2014).

Dossier Statement:

The photograph has a surface, one that can be manipulated, altered and adapted in a multitude of ways. Photographs therefore, in my personal understanding, are not merely mirrors and windows to our own world, as labelled by John Szarkowski in 1978, but portals into new iterations of it, as suggested by Jessica Brier in 2014 – portals into a fantastical idea of truth and representation, allowing for a traversal into alternate realities.

These alternate realities are familiar to our own, we recognise them in the photographic images we see from the visual language that is used within them, but they are not replications of the world in which we live. Instead they are provocative vessels in which we draw meaning, using our own personal experiences of reality and understanding of the world. Each spectator can translate something personal from a single image, giving the image a range of potential purposes, values and connotations. A photograph cannot communicate one single world, but many; it cannot be objective, but infinitely subjective; it is not a view, but a viewpoint.

This dossier aims to collate the key areas of contextual underpinning within my continuing creative practice in relation to exploring the ideas mentioned here. Its purpose is to compose relevant research in a concise and critical manner, providing a refined theoretical framework to the work that I create now and in the future, but also participating in the ongoing discussions within contemporary photography happening amongst my contemporaries and in the wider academic field.

At the heart of the ideas that I am exploring, there are two key texts; each of which will be dissected, reviewed and analysed in order to ground my ideas within already established, published theory.

Furthering this, I will look into the Provoke era and the ‘are-bure-boke’ visual aesthetic. Known mostly for their defiant approach to documenting late-1960-Japan’s changing social and political structure, the Provoke artists, and those after who were influenced by the style, also reacted to the medium of photography, looking to play with materiality, reveal falsity in the idea of representation and express the lack of truth within an image. Their aim was to provoke thought in the viewer by defamiliarising the familiar through disruption of visual language.
Defamiliarisation itself leads the next chapter of the dossier. Working as a literature review but also a statement of my work and research’s purpose, the last chapter in this dossier will explore the text Art as Techniqueby Viktor Shklovsky (2012). This text looks at the issues with habitual and automatic perception of imagery and how presenting the familiar as unfamiliar can disrupt transparency and instant consumption of imagery.

Between each of these topics sits image sections, relational to what was discussed prior. These sections aim to visually stimulate and contextualise some of the topics and ideas you will find in each textual chapter that came before it within the dossier. The images and artist within these sections are also influences upon my practice and the work that I create.

Image Section One:
Photographs of fantastical places I’ve never been, but in photographs, they exist




Literature Review:

‘We recollect a single experience from the past again and again, but never in the same way twice. Memories are experienced in relation to the present. As we go through the act of repeatedly recalling our memories, I believe these memories change in relation to what is happening to us now. Although physical experience of time is singular, time at a conscious level can multiply with each recollection of memory and the different experiences of time generated by these actions pass in parallel to a physical time. By recreating those multiplying memories via a series of recollecting actions, I use them as important data that tell me about my current self and my surrounding world.’

                          - (Yokota, no date, cited in Amison, no date).
Although this chapter is labelled as a literature review, it acts more as a conversation, analysing and responding to critical extracts from the key texts that helped develop my ideas of photography. In this manner, it becomes more reflective, incorporating my own thoughts with that of scholars and contemporaries.

Firstly, I will look at Jessica Brier’s 2014 essay, Esther Teichmann: The Photograph as a Portal, which discusses, as titled, the work of Esther Teichmann. However, the text also deliberates critical questions about photography, namely concerning the tensions that exist between the mediums relationship to representing reality and truth-telling and also of its otherworldly powers. Brier uses the work of Teichmann to underline and explore a discourse about the complexities within photography which is sat within its multi-dimensional nature.

Following this, extracts from Duncan Woolridge’s 2016 published essay Visibility and Realism: Photography and the Problems with Transparency will allow a more focussed discussion and development of concepts regarding seeing the world through photography and the mediums ability to mediate imagery and understanding of the world from beyond the visible and indexical.

As established in the dossier statement, the idea leading this research is that infinite, alternate realities can exist within a single photograph through the implementation of our own individual experiences, history and understanding upon its meaning – both as the creators and observers. Photographs in this understanding are not ‘simple mechanical transcription(s)’ (Ritchin, 1989, p422) supporting an objective purpose, but they are also not a record of an instance of subjective expression. Photographs are more fluid and complex than this.
‘I suggest that, in addition to a mirror or window, and perhaps many other things too, a photograph can also be a portal: between the personal, or individual, and the universal; between reality and the supernatural; and between photography itself and other mediums.’ (Brier, 2014)

The ideas I have already suggested along with those from the quote above are fundamental in understanding my approach to making work and the purpose that I want my work to serve. I do not see photography as a two-dimensional form displaying an image. A photograph has a history and a range of contexts that sit upon the potential meaning – whether this be through the history of the medium itself, in the history of that individual image’s creation, in the understanding of those who view an image etc. The contexts impact the image both literally and laterally, some visible to all and some hidden only within the subconscious of each individual viewer.

‘…the camera can convey images latent in our subconscious that we are unable to conjure deliberately.’ (Brier, 2014)

In this sense, and linking to the notion of alternate realities, photographs act as a vessel – vessels that takes us between the thing that was captured and the reality in which it exists, to what we can relate it to from our own realities – realities that sit within our subconscious. Fragments of a reality that we have experienced and now pieced together. The image acts as a provoker of thought, adjoined with our human need for cognising what we see. (Mullen, 1998)

‘This perspective points to the photograph as a portal between our own lived realities and otherwise inaccessible realms beyond.’ (Brier, 2014)

These ‘realms beyond’ are typically a compilation of memories, experiences and understandings, brought together to make sense of what the image is potentially communicating. The realms are inaccessible because they are, as mentioned, ‘latent’ – but they are also fabricated and only created when we cross-reference what we as individuals have experienced, and what we recognise visually within the image we are viewing.

However, this is not to say that the meaning of a photographic image is fixed and utterly subjective to an individual’s reality either. Images do not serve as emptyvessels. They come with an almost overbearing amount of baggage due to the history of the medium, including that of idealistic truth-telling and an ability to record with scientific accuracy. But also, each images creation comes with the purpose that was intended by the creator.

‘…even works of art that suppose an ostensibly objective observation of the world translate or impose subjective experience onto whatever they depict. As humans, artists cannot avoid seeing the world through the filter of personal experience and fascination.’ (Brier, 2014)

Despite perhaps their best efforts, an intent of the artist in presenting the work cannot always be translated in its complete form and is dependent on a range of variables in visual communication and reliant upon the common understandings and experiences of the spectator. Even if these are considered, the manoeuvrability and malleability of photography as a medium can alter how images are consumed – something more concurrent in the digital era we are situated within.

‘Since its invention, photography has been a baffling medium, one that seems immediately to promise truth-telling, yet is inherently manoeuvrable.’ (Brier, 2014)

Duncan Woodridge’s 2016 essay analyses contemporary issues with communication and the visibility of the ‘real’ within photography – mainly with the effect of digital technologies.

‘Can we reconfigure a notion of representation that depends less upon the immediate claim to the presence of the photograph, and one which, in its place, describes instead an attempt to see (beyond visibility itself)?’ (Woodridge, 2016)

The visible is often clarified by what can be seen physically, but there is more to seeing than what a photograph shows us. There are the images that are conjured from our minds-eye, images that are invisible, transparent, but derived from the provocation of the photograph. The reconfiguration in the ‘notion of representation’ is something that I have struggled to find a purpose for engaging in, but I think is explained quite well in the following quote;

‘It is now more than ever the case that the world wants to be represented by the camera, just as the camera wants to represent the world.’ (Woodridge, 2016)

I see this in relation to a modernised, digitalised societies use of photography, wanting to document and share their existence – ‘I document, therefore I exist’ (Shore, 2014, p7) – and therefore capitalist developers of photographic technology are trying to create cameras that are seamless with this pressurised need. John Tagg (1988, p63) suggested that the position of photography as a technology ‘varies with the power relations which invest in it. Its nature as a practice depends on the institutions and agents that define it and set it to work’. If it is commerce and capital that leads the use and developments of photography, its purpose will almost become solely focussed on the practice of politics. If photography reaches a stage where it is only understood and utilised as a representation of the world, the medium will become completely transparent, leading to complete control and unquestioned spectatorship. Society will consume images on their face value.

‘If this is so, might it be that our technologies and media, previously conditioned to re-present the visible world, can be put to work showing us instead the new and invisible world in its place?’ (Woodridge, 2016)

This is where I situate myself and my works purpose – as ‘a cynical, or inquisitive image maker’, which Woodridge states ‘is required’. (Woodridge, 2016)

But how is this achievable? How can I as an image maker be dissident to photography becoming completely transparent? Following on from similar ideas to Brier, Woodridge asks:

‘Can our knowledge – predicated so thoroughly upon the purely visual – the optical – allow for that which we cannot possibly see without mediation, which is held at a distance from us?’ (Woodridge, 2016)

This mediation is similar to Briers mention of ‘conjure’ where images provoke the latent fragments of reality, and the ‘distance’ is the latency. Our connection to imagery sits within different areas of our minds, split between different memories and thoughts. It is what we see visually – optically – within a photograph and in our translation of the different aspects that an understanding of the image is brought together, fabricated. The idea of this being mediated is interesting to consider, as it suggests that what comes to mind when viewing an image can be controlled through the imposition of certain visual cues.

‘The image becomes a discursive object, and in that discursivity it no longer proclaims the ‘I was there’ we associate with photography so conclusively. In its place, the image constructs not an image of the world but a model, one that can be proposed, queried and seen in context: it represents and participates in the world, rather than extracting it from it.’ (Woodridge, 2016)

And this leads us onto the Provoke Era, and the ‘are-bure-boke’ style that it established.

Image Section Two:
Teichmann’s Other-Worlds

Provoke: are-bure-boke

‘The meaning of a photographic image is built up by an interaction of such schemas or codes, which vary greatly in their degree of schematisation. The image is therefore to be seen as a composite of signs, more to be compared with a complex sentence than a single word. Its meanings are multiple, concrete, and, most important, constructed.’

- (Tagg, 1988, p187)

Provoke is a ‘short-lived, small-press’ (Lederman, 2012) series of three magazines created by Takuma Nakahira and Yutaka Takanashi, with Daido Moriyama joining the team in the second issue. The work came as a means of creating a revised photographic language, reactive to the abilities of the written word as well as the shifting social and political structures of late 1960’s Japan. The series was subtitled ‘Shiso no tame no chohatsuteki shiryo’ translated to ‘Provocative Resources for Thought’ and aimed ‘…to grasp fragments of reality far beyond the reach of pre-existing language, presenting materials that actively oppose words and ideas … materials to provoke thought’. (Taki, no date, cited in Amison, no date)

As a collective, the creators did not want to discount the traditions of photography, but instead take what was already in place and understood to re-form, re-imagine and re-direct. It was an effort to expose the unconsciousness within photography and its communicative efforts, presenting the known in a way that was almost unknown – a metaphor perhaps for how they desired people to view political and social issues.

The work that was presented endeavoured to transcend representational purposes of photography in favour of exhibiting an alternative reality, second to the reality in which we live. This reality was thought to be at the ‘edge of consciousness […] a parallel space that is decidedly familiar — even mundane – while it very subtly hints at the unknown’. (Lederman, 2012)

The magazine series presented imagery of an obscure, ominous world, only perceptible through the photographs shown and contextualised by the individuals who observe and experience them. The balance of a fragmented reality and the unknown became accessible within the experimentation of visible photographic processes, processes that ‘contorts and reshapes forms into a language beyond words’ (Lederman, 2012).

This aesthetic is best known as are-bure-boke (grainy, blurry, out of focus). Peggy Sue Amison (no date) states this style ‘allowed photography to be considered strictly for its material nature and removed any sense of a record of reality’. However, I do not believe that it ‘removes any sense of a record of reality’, as it relies on the understanding and recognition of visual languages from our own reality in order to be familiar, then to be defamiliarized.

This approach to creating visual language, ‘barely recognisable’ and yet ‘a striking feeling of familiarity’, allows for there to be an openness for the viewer in observing and interpreting the works. It asks them to think about what they are seeing, removing anything completely recognisable for only fragments of the understandable. The gaps in their reading of the images requires them to impose their own experience and knowledge of reality. And in this, each individual will provide a unique and separate story.

Daisuke Yokota, a contemporary explorer of the Provoke mind-set and creative practices, states …

‘There are no stories in my work. There is only what the viewers find within it for themselves. I am more interested in exploring time and multiple possibilities that exist in reality […] I try to keep away from figuring out the exact place, or person in my images. In this way the viewers can easy to put themselves into them.’ (Yokota, no date, cited in Amison, no date)

To clarify further what is being said in relation to some of the previous ideas discussed in this dossier, imagine a photograph of a forest; it is clear, in focus, high quality, unedited and correctly exposed. All a viewer would have to ask themselves is where is this? The image here becomes mostly, if not purely, about subject content - about the place that is shown and not the fact that it is a photograph of the place. It becomes transparent. But in the style of are-bure-boke and with the theories of the Provoke era, an image becomes unclear, familiar, but in parts unrecognisable, and in order to read the image, first a spectator must ask what do I see? before trying to relate to the place. They look at the image as a visual stimulant, requiring them to use their visual literacy and ability to see to pick out the decipherable. So firstly, they must then interpret what the photograph is showing before they question their understanding of the subject content in regard to their understanding and experience of the world.

Within Provoke’s theoretical framework, there is a clear focus on the notion of presenting the familiar but in an unfamiliar way, in itself provoking thought from the viewer, asking them to bring their own knowledge and understanding to realising the work and uncovering a reality that is within themselves yet incited by the image. This indication of defamiliarisation comes from a history of reacting to normalised and seemingly redundant creative conventions, with Brecht’s approach to political and didactic theatre, but mostly deriving from Shklovsky’s ‘Art and Technique’ (2012). In the next chapter, Shklovsky’s essay and some of the ideas explored will be unravelled and thought of in relation to these previous two chapters and also how it can influence my concepts and work.

Image Section Three:
Are Bure Boke



‘What is involved here is, briefly, a technique of taking the human social incidents to be portrayed and labelling them as something striking, something that calls for explanation, is not to be taken for granted, not just natural. The object of the effect is to allow the spectator to criticize from a social point of view.’

- (Brecht, 1964, p125).

There are many iterations and translations of Viktor Shklovsky’s 1917 seminal essay ‘Art as Technique’, some even referring to is as ‘Art as Device’, however one of the most revered is in the 2012, second edition of Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, translated and introduced by Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis. The text provides a contemporary introduction of the essay, which in itself provides an interesting insight into ideas of defamiliarisation. Although the essay itself mainly considers defamiliarisation in regard to poetry and conjured imagery, the theory is opened up to art and imagery itself – mainly discussing perception and presenting the unfamiliar – topics rooted deeply within the purpose of this dossier and in the development of my practice.

‘…”art is thinking in images” and that its purpose is to present the unknown (most often abstracted or transcendent) in terms of the known.’ (Lemon and Reis, 2012, p3)

Shklovsky is mostly against these ideas (which are of another poetry and art-based theorist, Potebnya’s), at least in the literal sense of them, and his opposing opinion is mainly what this essay is based upon. He believes that the thinking is not inthe images or what they present, but instead within the way that the images themselves are presented, as objects for perception. (Shklovsky, 2012) His view is that if images are thought of for what they show in their subject, then they will remain transparent, and the perceptions of them will be automatic and unyielding of questioning.

‘If we start to examine the general laws of perception, we see that as perception becomes habitual, it becomes automatic.’ (Shklovsky, 2012, p11)

In the modern age, where so many images exist and are constantly within our grasp, it is increasingly difficult to give our time and mental capacity to understanding and thinking about each visual stimulus we are presented with. Due to this, we absorb images rapidly in order to consume as much information as possible. (Fisher et al, 2013) But as mentioned in the quote above, when perception becomes habitual it therefore becomes automatic. Lemon and Reis state in the introduction to the essay (2012), ‘automatic’ perceptions lead to ‘minimal’ amounts of information being received from the imagery. This is where transparency lies. Most images are observed on a surface and homogenous level, taking in only what is shown in the image as recognisable subject and not what the image is trying to show as an object.

‘After we see an object several times, we begin to recognise it. The object is in front of us and we know it, but we do not see it – hence we cannot say anything significant about it.’ (Shklovsky, 2012, p13)

The intention of defamiliarisation as a technique is to present normalised concepts, theories or practices in a way that is almost familiar, but different, in order to provoke thought. It works on ‘quasi’ sensibilities, something that is ‘resembling; seeming; virtual’. (Dictionary.com, 2018) Shklovsky himself states that to make something familiar seem ‘unfamiliar’ increases the ‘length of perception’, forcing ‘us to notice’. (Shklovsky, 2012, pp 11-12) One way he signifies that art can impede perception is to ‘call attention to [itself]’, make the viewer aware of its existence as an object for viewing. (Lemon and Reis, 2012, p4)

In order for a photograph to be observed past the point of being a straight, recorded document of reality; to ask the spectator to apply their own understanding and questioning of reality; to stop habitual consumption and disturb transparency, it is critical to first make spectators recognise that a photograph is itself an object for perception and not just an image of the world. The Provoke artists used a range of devised techniques to achieve this, and these techniques have close similarities, if not direct takings from the construct of defamiliarisation.

Image Section Four:
Caspar David Friedrich

‘Just as the reverent man prays without uttering words, and the Lord hears him, the sensitive painter paints, and the sensitive man understands and recognizes him, but even the more obtuse carry away something from his work.’

(Friedrich, no date, cited in Rosen and Zerner, 1984).

‘Every truthful work of art must express a definite feeling, it must move the spirit of the spectator either to joy or to sadness […] rather than try to unite all sensations, as though mixed together with a twirling stick.’

(Friedrich, no date, cited in Vaughn, 1972).

‘If a painting has a soulful effect on the viewer, if it puts his mind into a soulful mood, then it has fulfilled the first requirement of a work of art. However bad it might be in drawing, color, handling, etc.’

(Friedrich, 1809, cited in Bôrsch-Supan and Jàhnig, 1973).

Conclusive Comments

The texts, artistic movements and theories explored in this dossier all explore different ideas or areas of creative practice, but within them are relatable, transferable aspects that all point towards a questioning of perception, truth and myth within art imagery, and the relationship between the spectator and the image as both object and subject.

In consideration of my creative practice, it is these perspectives that continue to form the critical, theoretical framework, developed and built upon with continued reading and visual research.

As mentioned earlier within the dossier, my newly realised interest in embedding and embodying these theories comes from a concerned and ‘cynical’ (Woodridge, 2016) attitude towards the rising transparency within photography; one which is evolving in a technological age of rapid consumption due to both social and capital influence. This transparency, I worry, will lead to images becoming unquestioned by the general populas and politically, this can be damaging to the communicative uses of the medium. As said by Hayes, transparency amounts to ‘a massive dehistoricisation and decontextualization which, if it had occurred with documents, would create a massive scandal’. (Hartmann et al, 1999, p6)

According to defamiliarisation theory, transparency occurs when perception is habitual and automatic. When we don’t pose questions of the viewers ability to perceive objects or images, then they don’t question it themselves. If we want spectators to be active rather than passive when they view an object or image, Shklovsky states (2012) that we present the familiar, in an unfamiliar sense. This forces an engaged perception. But how can this occur?

The Provoke era and its embracing artists provided some interesting ideas in their approach to not just to creating pressing photographic images, but also in provoking the understanding of societal and political conventions. They took the normalised cultures at play within both photography and society and represented them in a manner that was an obscure view of the world around them. The photographs were not documentary or truth-telling in a way that was an accurate reflection of reality, but open and provocative for the impression of meaning from those who viewed the images. The work was allowing of interpretation by presenting its own materiality as an aesthetic and making aware the fact that photographs are manipulatable where reality is not.

The interpretation of photographs from each individual spectator allows, as I suggest in the title and dossier statement, for the traversal into alternate realities; realities conjured from the memories, experiences, understandings and relationships between society and the world. Brier (2014) states that in this case, photography in this understanding takes the form of a portal, taking us to somewhere outside the realm of our own reality, rather than it being a clear, accurate reflection of it.  

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