April has been a very interesting reading month.

Apart from focusing on a number of artists and practitioners, I have been reading a collection of very interesting books.

In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki

“The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s end”. (Tanizaki, 29)

First published in 1933, In Praise of Shadows shines a light on Japanese aesthetics and how, when light falls upon spaces and objects, grace is cast in its shade.

On their blog, Percy Bruce comments “Shadows are the places where our imagination is given free rein. In Tanizaki’s book, he delights in suggesting that the corner of ancient temples where very little light penetrates, allow the mind to find quietness and a space in which to dwell.” (Bruce, 2015). I really connect with this.

And for an upcoming exhibition in May, photographer Baud Postma has taken the book as inspiration for their work: “For Baud Postma’s solo exhibition ‘In Praise of Shadows’, he explores the role played by ambiguity and uncertainty in promoting subjective responses to photographic images. Taking inspiration and his title from 1977, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s essay of the same name, Postma has created a series of landscapes, interiors and portraits that place emphasis not on minute detail and forensic precision but rather on the indeterminate, the murky, and the obscure.” (Postma, 2021).

Postma is very interesting as within the text for this exhibition is the statement that “these works expand the assertion of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s that “however fake the subject, once photographed it’s as good as real”. (Postma)

Family Secrets by Annette Kuhn

There is so much to take from this book. So many quotes and thoughts.

The journey through the book is very intense, as Kuhn draws us into the memories of her childhood, and how these remembrances of the past still have an impact and bearing on her current and future self. This ties in with my thinking of the formation of self and identity through what others think of you and what you think of yourself.

“It suggests that the future is rooted in the past and that the past will leave its mark on the future” (Kuhn, 44)

What makes this book different from others regarding a past self, is how Kuhn then pushes it into an examination of collective memory (Golden Jubilee) and the concept that we use the act of remembrance as a process of mourning. To promote this theory she compares two films: “Listen to Britain, a documentary film made two years after the Blitz by Humphrey Jennings and Stuart McAllister” (Kuhn, 126) and “Derek Jarman’s 1987 film ‘The Last of England’ (Kuhn, 130). Both films are attempting to portray a different vision of Britain, and using the same stock footage but presented in different formats and with different intentions. Kuhn’s conclusion is that Listen to Britain is “offering wholeness, unity, harmony” while The Last of England is made of “memory fragments…. that painful and obsessive passion of remembrance, that struggle to come to terms with loss, which marks the work of mourning” (Kuhn, 145).

Photography and Belief by David Levi Strauss

This is a taut book. Bringing together Berger, Barthes and Benjamin, with a hint of others, Strauss is asking “Visual images become more like testimony than like perception… Belief in images has become the test case for the social. If we do not find a way to believe what we see in images, we lose the ability to act socially.” (Dwirner, 2020)

Through this thoughtful and insightful book, the impact of photography upon society today is highlighted. Will we be able in the future to fully believe what we see as we are continually challenged and presented with imaginary that later proves to be fake.

“After offering this sympathetic account of the “struggle of photography to be accepted as art,” Strauss fixates on the lesser-known ideas of Vilém Flusser. The Czech-born philosopher wrote presciently in the 1980s of “the tendency of the universe toward disinformation,” and is now trendy in academic circles as a result. With bespoke microtargeting on Facebook and galaxies of “computational propaganda” swirling around on Reddit and QAnon, Flusser’s ideas obviously resonate today. As algorithmic protocols circulate a dizzying stream of dubious imagery and misleading information, it might seem that we are moving toward a kind of Flusserian cognitive entropy––an accelerated version of what the philosopher perceived in the 1980s as an imminent “heat death.” (Goldman and Langstaff, 2020).

“We are trapped in the double bind of being increasingly suspicious of photographs, yet more and more reliant on them to organize our world. Strauss imagines a way forward if we can embrace an epistemology not of suspicion, but of uncertainty. Seeing, as the cliché goes, is believing. But believing is also a way of seeing.” (Goldman and Langstaff, 2020).

References

Artforum.com. 2020. Addis Goldman and Alex Langstaff on David Levi Strauss’s Photography and Belief. [online] Available at: <https://www.artforum.com/books/addis-goldman-and-alex-langstaff-on-david-levi-strauss-s-photography-and-belief-84294> [Accessed 30 May 2021].

BRUCE, P., 2015. In praise of shadows — Bruce Percy. [online] Bruce Percy. Available at: <https://www.brucepercy.co.uk/blog/2015/12/5/in-praise-of-shadows> [Accessed 30 April 2021].

KUHN, A., 1996. Family Secrets, Acts of Memory and Imagination. London. Verso.

STRAUSS, D., 2020. Photography and Belief. 1st ed. New York: David Zwirner Books.

TANIZAKI, J., 2001. Translated Harper T & Seidensticker. In praise of shadows. London: Vintage Books.

ZWIRNER, D., 2020. Is Seeing Believing? | David Zwirner. [online] David Zwirner. Available at: <https://www.davidzwirner.com/news/2020/david-levi-strauss-on-photography-and-belief> [Accessed 30 April 2021].