colour, film, landscape

photography and time

June 20, 2015

Photography is intrinsically bound up with time. Photographs appear as devices for stopping time or preserving fragments of the past.

A photograph is generally understood in terms of being a sign of the single instance: an image thing characterized by singularity and boundedness. It is the frozen moment of time associated with the traditional window and mirror imagery. Hence the idea of the singularity of time premised on the time of exposure of the (analogue or digital) photo. It is generally understood as frozen time.

The metaphor is ‘the decisive moment’ as a single slice of time. When the shutter of a camera clicks, we create a photograph:time sliced outof an event and transmuted into a formed picture (space). The aim of the decisive moment, on one interpretation, that of the snapshot, it is to find and catch the story telling moment; on another interpretation, the formalist one, it is a picture where form and pattern cohere to achieve balance,clarity and order. On the former interpretation the emphasis is on the narrative, and so the interest is how the event starts and ends.


This decisive moment way of seeing a photo is over and above the suggestion that the photograph has a temporal dimension: the time of exposure, historical time, time of development, post-processing, the time of reception and circulation on the web.

This way of seeing overlooks the time shifting and moving towards or away from the moment of exposure–the experience of the storm amongst the sand dunes is that of an event. The photography of a static object–the sand dunes– evokes a sense of having been there in that place at that particular moment. So we infer that we know that place–Yanerbie– in the past–circa 2013.

However, a video (using the same digital camera) would have represented the event of the storm that caused the abandonment of the photo shoot because of the free flowing sand whipped up by the wind and then the drenching rain. Hence the difference between the still of analogue or digital photography and video or cinematic film which implies that photograph as event‐like is a frozen moment that cannot reveal the entirety of the event or the experience of that event.

This implies that the frozen moment of the static photograph is premised on a fiction of the reified image that seduces us into thinking that it is a complete image of a bounded moment. It is reified because when the photograph is perceived as picture‐like it is then an image that no longer has any connection with the event or its experience. It is simply a picture that is evidence of a past moment of time– the situation of a storm at Yanerbie on the Eyre Peninsula.

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