Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Animals Inside

Longer-term readers of this blog may recall a post from June last year (Snails in Outer Space) in which I was startled by an exhibition of work which closely resembled some of my own. I attributed the resemblance to a sort of "morphic resonance" (see the post Blogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home from way back in 2008), whereby the same ideas are bubbling under all over the photographic world, and then emerge simultaneously in various places, like cicadas.

Well, perhaps not surprisingly, it's happened again. This time, it is the exhibition and book, "Animals are Outside Today", by Colleen Plumb. When my kids were small and my interest in photography beginning to grow, I found that I was taking a lot of pictures that featured toy animals, or animals in zoos and museums, and became fascinated by the way these ambassadors of wildness had found themselves imprisoned in these domesticated scenarios (yes, thank you, Dr. Freud, we'll let you know). It was, I suppose, my first real "project"; as a consequence, it wasn't terribly good.

This all came about in the time before digital, of course, and most of the images are on 35mm film. I did scan quite a few, but scanning gets old pretty quickly, once you've started to use a digital camera. It's a tedious process with mixed results, at best. I still like some of the individual images, though. But they are now so associated with what now seems like such a very long time ago -- a time when toy animals would turn up arranged in parties and patterns all over the house, or a weekend visit to the local zoo was an Event -- that I almost don't feel I "own" them any more; it's as if someone else took them.

As another example, Paul Graham's new book Films will surely strike a similarly (morphically) resonant chord with many. Who hasn't toyed with the idea of making a set of pictures with those attractive pointilliste colour fields that you see, either using a grain focusser in the darkroom, or at a 100% view in Photoshop? But it seems that Paul Graham didn't, like everyone else, make a few and then think, "Nah, too easy..." Maybe he's running on empty, and looking for a new direction? Or maybe he's had the courage to go all the way down a road that many have contemplated, but few have dared follow?

In a way, that's the essence of "morphic resonance", if that's not too pretentious a term, in this context: many people seem have the same ideas at the same time, but most of us distrust our instincts, and only a few pioneers take the leap into practice. Thereafter, of course, the idea is obvious and available to everyone, and is doomed to become a commonplace. Bluetits pecking the tops off milk bottles? So last century.

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