Mental Models – Source Images / Photographs / Flickr and an Atlas

:UPDATE:

Interesting thoughts about photography over here at prison photography, et al… (particularly that the image must now in these times of visual record overload be accompanied with an appropriate caption…)  Perhaps, if the idea of sharing the image is to convey a particular circumstance in a particular situation…  but I wonder, has it been any other way?  Caption as filter that is ?

Original post: Aug 8th, 2007:  After seeing all the responses to Alec Soth’s recent post questioning “where are the great pictures on Flickr?”... I found myself serendipitously picking up my copy of Gehard Richter’s “Atlas” and leafing through the various images that are collected and reproduced in a chronological fashion as his Atlas. It’s interesting and probably just a coincidental circumstance to consider. But I’ve been thinking about the “mental model” lately and what influence that has on the kinds of images one might try to make.

I’m not saying that Flickr is – or even equates to – what Richter’s Atlas is to his paintings… The difference is all about a careful and conscious awareness of intentionality on behalf of the collector / artist… It’s just that there is something profound that I can’t quite fully articulate just yet that has some similarity. Maybe it just a human condition trying to make some sense of the world. Flickr is a wonderful example of both conscientious and unconscious image making.

I think for me, it has to do with the collecting of the images of our lives around us. Whether we make them ourselves through our cameras or find them through some other means of appropriation, these images are important enough to make and then collect. In the collection, they become representative projections of our lives, interests and the times happening all around us in which we attempt to arrange, present and tag for sorting and recollection – to what purpose (understanding?) I’m not entirely sure – but it’s clear the urge to collect and present is passionately pursued. Why else would something like Flickr be so passionately embraced?

Richter’s Atlas (previous post of mine here) is presented as a collection of Photographs, Collages and Sketches from 1962 – 2006 – which I read about in the forward to the images as a collection of “image models” or “sketches” for the body of works that sometimes result in final artistic works. The Atlas is presented as a sort of narrative story of intentionally collected series of images – which we are to consider as a “foil” against the final works. It is about an artist and his collection of models of inspiration.

As a place holder for something deserving of more thought personally…about an artistic creative process… I think it best to simply make note and to quote an entry in the beginning pages which is actually I believe a statement from the artist writings and footnoted as such in the Atlas forward coming from “Notes, 1964”, in : Gerhard Richter, Text-Shriften und Interviews, ed. by Hans-Ulrich Obrist – 1993 p 17.

“I see countless landscapes, photograph scarcely one in 100,000, painting hardly
one in 100 photographed landscapes – I am therefore looking for something quite
specific; from this I can conclude that I know what I want” – from Richter’s
diary dated 12 October 1986.”

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John Gerrard – Sculpture / Photography in Video

Sow Farm, animation still by John Gerrard

Animation still from “Sow Farm” by John Gerrard

More on Gerrard’s website

Currently showing at the Thomas Dane Gallery

Combination of cinematography, sculpture and a quite nice example of creating a sense of mood with lighting and motion to reveal the subject.  Highly recommend visiting this link to a sample vid for a sense of the work – albeit a “web” experience – which not having seen it in person myself I wonder if it has more presence.  Wonderful application of the “inherent” qualities of many computer generated realities – that of being a “bit too clean” and eerily sterile which fits perfectly with the subject matter in my opinion and to great effect.

John Gerrard_ Sow Farm (near Libbey OK)

John Gerrard_ Sow Farm (near Libbey OK) – (animation)

This is the opposite in a sense of the escapism embodied in many popular animations (thinking of that place called Pandora that has the vital element unobtanium – so needed on this ruined earth)  unfortunately this is a reality modeled in  a 3-D world we don’t have to go far experience in real life.  Yet another example of the artist and the “mental model”…

“Storybook wolf” a depiction of a “mental model” and a real thing.

Some considerations regarding the “model wolf” image … over on Conscientious (and I would agree the specifics surrounding the photographer and the resultant image / award / “unaward”  in the specifics of that situation isn’t that controversial itself)…  but I thought that this is something worth thinking over some more!

I saw this “staged” image story earlier this week and initially I thought “that’s too good to be true”…. also… but what I was thinking about, specifically what I imagined was a lot of prep work on behalf of the photographer (the actual planning was alluded to in the related article before the image was in question…(infrared / motion trap / trigger rig)… To me this is a first rate example of a “staged” photo – that is “setting it up”.  This supposes a mental model already exists about what the picture will depict. Seems to me like it might be akin to the press photo opportunities public officials so carefully orchestrate and too this is the skepticism with which many approach the photographic image these days (in certain contexts).  I don’t care and it doesn’t matter if the image was “set up”.  It is just a picture of a wolf leaping over the fence…  but…

I’ve written my own thoughts previously wondering about the “mental model” and photographers who seem to put the photograph into service as a way to create the image of that “mental model” . But in this case two very different kinds of “models” comparing examples by Paul Shambroom and his work in the Security series...  which are depictions representing simulation that of “First responders and law enforcement officers training in large-scale simulated environments…” or “real” simulated events, compared with the work of Paolo Ventura and  “War Souvenirs” – Ventura’s work as pure image invention, simulation and authorship – it reveals itself as such…

The important thing is that the Storybook Wolf picture did make me wonder… would there be any difference between a “real wild wolf”  trapped in the photographer’s image and say a trained / captive “performing” wolf? A zoo specimen perhaps in a good diorama set up might have produced the same photographic object and result…   Maybe a “real wild wolf” would tend to look a little more scuffy?  Who knows?  But it remains that the picture clearly was made to be viewed in the context (and with that all of the expectations)  of it depicting a wild creature in a real situation… this was my expectation…

The idea of what we “expect” of photographs is a great topic… the Morris articles in the Times a while ago regarding Walker Evan’s “documentary” work and the role of “captions” elaborated on this while interpreting photographic objects viewed in the context of documentary work do come to mind…

My first gut response to the storybook wolf is that it is a case of context trumping the photograph especially considering how that object may be interpreted specifically in the context of the competition rules – the photo probably shouldn’t be presented as a representation of anything more than a wolf jumping over a fence.

I think the key is to try and discern as carefully as possible the context with-in which the photograph will be received / interpreted as a visual representation – this is what colors our expectations of what it is we’re viewing.  This becomes problematic when you can’t predict the context. Perhaps this is why we find all these vintage photographs from anonymous sources so fascinating… we can finally look at them for what they are…without the baggage of context.