Mark Kerr: Blog en-us (C) MARK KERR 2015 (Mark Kerr) Wed, 24 Jun 2015 13:23:00 GMT Wed, 24 Jun 2015 13:23:00 GMT Mark Kerr: Blog 96 120 The Water In Which We Swim Fish don't know about water, because they don't know about anything else. Water is everything to them. No alternative could occur to them even if they were capable of rational thought because no alternative has ever been experienced. Rudyard Kipling put it another way: Who knows England, who only England knows?

We live in our time - no other time is available to us. It is to us as the water is to the fish. We cannot truly see it or understand it, still less record it with any accuracy because we can't seize time and inspect it, we can't do anything except notice the symptoms or symbols of our time and remark on them. And even that is difficult. As Mao Tse Tung said when asked about the effects of the French Revolution, "It is too soon to tell." What makes our time different in the truest sense from any other? How do our feelings about common phenomena compare to those of the Romans, for instance, or Regency Britain?  Don't we just assume they are the same throughout time?

Here are some things that we take utterly for granted and which may, over time, change or disappear for ever. Romantic love; motherhood; money; international trade; holidays; unrestricted travel; political freedom. Loss of any one of these is almost unthinkable, but nearly all of them are recent and artificial constructs when set against human history. They appeared, and they can disappear. The exception is motherhood, which although a fundamental throughout time, could become victim to as yet distant technological changes.

There is another category of change to which we might - almost certainly will - be subject: the currently Unimaginable. Many people have tried to imagine the future but few have got even close, and most of them have seen it in terms of contemporary circumstances extrapolated. But it only takes a brief inspection of the recent history of mankind to see that how we live now would have been completely at variance to the imaginings of our forebears only a few hundred years ago. Even Leonardo only imagined discrete manifestations of a future technology.  

So, some things we take for granted will disappear over time and others, whose current absence we also take for granted, will be introduced, although we can have no idea what they will be.

And this relates to photography, how?


]]> (Mark Kerr) Wed, 24 Jun 2015 13:22:33 GMT
The Record So if records are important, what should be recorded? A picture of Cleopatra's Needle on the Embankment taken soon after it was erected there in 1878 would not be hugely interesting now , although if it included a substantial area of background  that would help. The Needle won't have changed much in the intervening 137 years, although the background probably has. The lack of change means there is less in the picture that is of interest. Much the same could be said of an undeveloped landscape, leaving aside small details.

It is the difference between the Then and the Now which is pictorially important and interesting. Our attention is caught by how much change there has been, not by how similar things were in the past. It follows that if we are to take a record of the present it should be of things that can be expected to change over time and which will express this all important difference. 

Much of present phenomena goes unnoticed. A small example: in the 19th century and perhaps before, it was a common custom when dining in a group of people to invite one of your fellow diners to "take a glass of wine" with you. This was an invitation to stand or perhaps remain seated and to toast one another. It was so common, and indeed commonplace, that it went almost unreported at the time. It was just something which had always happened and that one did as a matter of course. This practice of formal individual toasting across the dinner table is unknown today in Britain, although it survives in Sweden as the custom of "Skal". The only record of it appears in incidental contemporary references.

Although that particular example would be difficult (though not impossible) to capture in a photograph, there are many transitory things of course which can be recorded by the camera. "The state of technology" is an easy one: the passing of sailing ships; the coming of the motor car; early televisions, and so on. Fashion is so pictorial and self-conscious that it is almost self-recording. Big historical events - VE Day is a good example - come to mind also. But what about the small things we don't notice or think about: the colour of the light of street lamps? the present custom of queuing for entry to a night club? the appearance of a furrow ploughed by a horse? pub etiquette? shopping procedures?

These are the things this generation and all those alive today in this country and the rest of the West take for granted. They're the dull things, now. It's only when they're no longer being done that they become interesting. And that's what I want to record.

]]> (Mark Kerr) Sat, 23 May 2015 18:35:40 GMT
Portrait Photography 3 May 2015 When a tree falls in a forest, and there is no one there to hear it, no animal or person, is there any sound? When an event occurs, and there is absolutely no record of it happening, no damage, no witness, no written account, no image - has it happened?

The answer to both questions can only be, Yes presumably. We know it must be so, and yet our hearts linger over the idea that it is not and that there is no sound of the falling tree and the unrecorded event remains in a kind of limbo.  

Records matter. If we ourselves leave no mark in the sand, did we exist? The details of the lives of early man are lost to us but when we see prehistoric cave art, these lives leap into prominence. So, they did live and die; they did have our experience of life, after all.

All art is a record of a kind, and photography more so than most. With the camera we can catch the fleeting moment, the off-guard, the person living their life without reference to the future. We can also be formal and aware of ourselves and many photographers succeed in bringing out the reality of the subject in a posed shot. 

Personally, I prefer snatching the moment. This is the style of the present, the Facebook style, the chaotic party or pub shot taken from within a group of friends. It's immediate and relevant to the occasion. Later, it recalls a happy time perhaps better than the participants can recall it themselves; and later still, it gets deleted or lost. The trick is to catch the moment in a way that makes people want to keep the record. To make, in other words, a permanence out of the passing second. The reportage style of wedding photography is pre-eminent in this respect. A wedding confers implicit gravity on a photograph, even if the subject matter itself is anything but serious, and wedding photographs are always taken with the future in mind. But the technique of making a permanent photographic record can be applied to almost any situation.

The heavy burden of time is borne better by the black and white picture. This is strange, and shared by photography and statuary but by no other art. The colour photograph has immediate impact, certainly, but even if the colours don't fade the effect probably will. I can't explain this. It still gives me pleasure to take pictures in colour, and I hope others like the images too, but for the mark in the sand give me black and white every time.


]]> (Mark Kerr) Sun, 03 May 2015 11:20:58 GMT