Saturday, April 17, 2010

Photography, Hunting, Restlessness, Records, Archery and Stillness

A handful of thoughts to escape from the restless, confused territory of editing the feature doco 'Murundak':

I read recently (and apologies to the author/blogger that I wrote this note down without referencing and now can't recall where I read it) that Henri Cartier-Bresson relayed to Fred Ritchin (author of After Photography) that there were 4 essential books for a photographer to read. One of these is Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. As someone with a restless mind, I love the thought of activity, creativity, production emerging from pure stillness, intense contemplation.
“Should one ask… how the Japanese Masters understand this contest of the archer with himself, and how they describe it, their answer would sound enigmatic in the extreme. For them the contest exists in the archer aiming at himself—and yet not at himself, in hitting himself—and yet not himself, and thus becoming simultaneously the aimer and the aim, the hitter and the hit. Or, to use some expressions which are nearest the heart of the Masters, it is necessary for the archer to become, in spite of himself, an unmoved center. Then comes the supreme and ultimate miracle: art becomes “artless,” shooting becomes not-shooting, a shooting without bow and arrow; the teacher becomes a pupil again, the Master a beginner, the end a beginning, and the beginning perfection.”
In a rare vinyl recording posted by Ted Barron on his great record collector's blog Boogie Woogie Flu, Cartier-Bresson talks of how the photographer approaches the world around him, and, most interestingly, of the act of forcing chance, an intriguing way of approaching the act of interpreting the world through a camera (still or moving, in my mind):
"We have to know what to, be clear, on what we want to say. Our conceptions, our, what we think of a certain situation, a certain problem. Photography is a way of writing it, of drawing, making sketches of it. And in the form, things are offered to us in daily life. We have to be alert and know when to pick the moment which is significant. Then, it's just intuition. It's instinct. We don't know why, we press at a certain moment. It comes, it is there, it's given. Take it. Everything is there, it is a question of chance, but you have to pick and force chance to come to you. There's a certain will"
Fiction filmmaking is mostly artifice. It is almost the reverse of the documentary photographers approach where chance is everything and to force chance allows a small moment of structure and precision. In fiction filmmaking where everything is a construction of reality, the more you can introduce chance, the more likely you might be to capture something elusive, enigmatic and 'real' in the most ambiguous meaning of the word. I like the idea of a half-constructed reality where so much - performance, movement, emotion, image - is left to chance, collision and possibility so that the filmmaker, the moving image photographer, has to return to relying on their instincts and senses as to what demands the moment of capture.

Cartier-Bresson's approach to photography and the world around him recalls to me the ideas around traditional hunting that Barry Lopez describes in Eskimo culture of the Arctic islands in one of my favourite books 'Arctic Dreams' (thanks to the esteemed Ross Gibson for tipping me onto this book and this passage):
All of ones faculties are brought to bear in an effort to become fully incorporated into the landscape. It is more than listening for animals or watching for hoofprints or a shift in the weather. It is more than an analysis of what one senses. To hunt means to have the land around you like clothing. To engage in a wordless dialogue with it, one so absorbing that you cease to talk with your human companions. It means to release yourself from rational images of what something “means” and to be concerned only that it “is.” And then to recognize that things exist only insofar as they can be related to other things. These relationships — fresh drops of moisture on top of rocks at a river crossing and a raven’s distant voice — become patterns. The patterns are always in motion. Suddenly the pattern — which includes physical hunger, a memory of your family, and memories of the valley you are walking through, these particular plants and smells — takes in the caribou. There is a caribou standing in front of you. The release of the arrow or bullet is like a word spoken out loud. It occurs at the periphery of your concentration.

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