Text by Ilia Philipenko, photography curator, co-founder of F11 gallery
Technological development of photography is related to the attempts to register and comprehend the visible reality. Each new technology appeared when the previously existing methods of obtaining images were unsatisfactory for the purpose of expressing contemporary reality. Thus lightweight compact cameras came into being in the mid-1920s, and the miscellaneous colour photo films emerged in the early 1970s.
Both photographers and photography theoreticians soon came to comprehend the enigmatic paradox of photography: that the camera “sees more” than human eyes. Moments of life look more comprehensive, more multi-layered when viewed on a photographic image than when viewed naturally, with a human eye. A camera is able to register some kind of a reality of its own, a reality the existence of which the author did not even assume. Attempts to release the camera from any limits of author’s vision have resulted in the emergence of an entire trend in artistic photography, such as the free camera — that is, when the photographer does not even look into the visor during the shooting; he or she merely uses an automatic camera. The snapshot technique has allowed to retain and relay the perception of immediate experience, making the author all but a participant of the occurrence. The author—being the creator of the artwork—only emerged on the stage of selection of the photographic images that have been produced—when he or she, as a caring artisan, screened tonnes of visual ore, in search of the gem he or she was striving to find.
Digital photography—employing an entirely different technology—is, nonetheless, following the pattern of interaction between reality, camera, and author that have solidified back in the pre-digital age. The only changes that have come into being were related to the speed and the accessibility of image acquisition and its quality—construed as the most detailed and accurate reproduction of what is being seen, as well as the boundless possibilities in terms of image manipulation. In this respect, photography—being a technological product not affected by the author’s eye—is only affected by a technical error. The aesthetics of a glitch gives birth to new means of expression that are possible in digital technology—but these means are mostly about reproduction, not creation of an image.
Marine Smith’s works are representative of a different approach. Using digital filters designed by artist and engineer Sergey Egorov (St. Petersburg, Russia), disintegrating the image in the course of shooting, whereby the camera not only releases itself from the dictatorship of the author but subdues the author’s view to a reality of its own. The independence of the camera may, in this particular case, be the most precise metaphor of the contemporary times. Who may now dare claim that infinitely and bilaterally overflowing images have an author, after all? The mobility of any boundaries—from politics to aesthetics—is perhaps the one and only peculiarity of our times. That said, Marine Smith’s approach is also intriguing in view of the fact that, with this variety of technology being used, no precise frames of an anticipated shot may be outlined: they are, instead, replaced by the angle of viewing. Frames of a shot in photography stand for a metaphysical borderline. By defining an object within these frames, a photographer separates himself from the world. As far as Marine Smith’s photos are concerned, the photographer is—from a purely technological standpoint—unable to achieve this so long as she remains a part of the abovementioned reality she observes. With this approach, photography is the outcome of the photographer merging with the material she creates. In this regard, Smith’s photos are akin to abstract expressionism in pictorial arts. The emotional impact of the combination of colours, shapes, fragmented environment turn out to be more powerful for the viewer than information— which, still, does not vanish entirely off the image. This perception of reality overwhelms the beholder with extraordinary tension, making him or her crave for ever new and new images. And if a photographer is not able to confine what he or she sees with the framework of a shot, the viewer is not able to dwell on a single image.
The concept of “the death of the author” — which, in the 20th century, had found its successful implementation in the realms of literature and visual arts—is now manifesting itself in the realm of photography.