Following my post about Godé-Darel last week, fellow, student, Catherine Banks suggested I look at Leibowitz’s work about Sontag, as well as Briony Campbell’s The Dad Project.
I found an essay titled Mortality in Photography: Examining the Death of Susan Sontag and was struck particularly by the comparison between Tilda Swinton’s performance, The Maybe – where she slept periodically inside a glass box, and the photographic object.
“For Leibovitz, the “glass box” here is represented through photography itself which articulates both the same distance and invitation to the audience. Curation in itself, as illustrated by Araki, with no semblance of emotional input, alienates the audience through the sense of distance already established – between object and audience. Thus, audience participation may be reduced to voyeurism, whereby what is perceived is framed and objectified. A comparison can be drawn between such voyeurism to animals held in glass enclosures. Visitors on the other side of the glass maintain a sense of superiority over the subjects in the glass enclosures, as there is an observer and object relationship that is created, with the observer being the one with the intellectual capability to link such observations to associated experiences, actions and thoughts. Similarly, in photography, the audience looks at an image as they would at a spectacle.” (Lim, 2105)
Campbells’ work contrasts enormously, with a great deal of emotional input in her own curation in The Dad Project. These images are extremely intimate in ways that Leibowitz’ of Sontag isn’t. I don’t mean to suggest there is less or more pain in either work. (See image at top of page here). Leibowitz’s image reminds me of some of Joel-Peter Witkins’ photographs, with the black, deeply impressionistic style. In Campbell’s, which unlike Leibowitz’, is in colour, soft and intimate due to wide aperture, and also close-up in many, there is a clear reciprocal relationship between subject and photographer which one can also see in the paintings by Hodler of Godé-Darel. In fact the subject is that relationship. This work can be relatively easily read as being about facing death, inspecting it, about the dying father allowing the grieving daughter to travel along as far as possible. I can’t help feeling those who would find this type of work offensive in any way are likely to be people who find the idea of death itself intolerable, or simply far too frightening to explore in this way. Whereas Campbell and her family, in particular, her father, have so generously allowed others in to witness their experience, Leibowitz and Witkins seem to be delving into, exploiting and showing us the very human sense of terror surrounding death and the lifeless body (or body parts*) – which in Leibowitz’ case is perhaps another way of dealing with grief. *Witkins uses parts of bodies in his images, and Leibowitz’ image is in separate pieces stitched together perhaps echoing not only the decomposition of the flesh but the disintegrated illusion of a cohesive self, in Lacanian terms.
Returning to Lim’s comments above, I continue to think about correlation and information in Rovelli’s book and try to work out my thoughts about the way in which we humans deal with death, and also about ritual and fetish. When we take a photograph of someone else, we are taking a photograph of ourselves. These images of death, however they are read, are ultimately images of the photographer’s own inevitable death as well as anything else one might see in them.