2015 Greg Hobson, On Time
Greg Hobson, curator of National Media Museum UK
Article for Photoworks Magazine, annual issue November 2015
“We are constantly in isolation, watching, spying on everyone and everything around us.”
These words were spoken to a class of students by Alex Linden, a research psychoanalyst played by Art Garfunkel in Nicolas Roeg’s film Bad Timing. In the film he is subliminally referring to his own relationship with the younger and mercurial Milena Flaherty and they distill the obsessive nature of his relationship with her that will ultimately become tragically and horrifically destructive. He is also talking about observation and memory (and false memory), actions that are embedded in the act of taking, showing and looking at photographs. In Roeg’s film he tells Alex and Milena’s story in a dizzying series of non-linear flashbacks that weave backwards and forwards through time. These half-remembered fictional events so intensely involve the actors that the directed performances become indiscernible from events that may have actually happened. The story shifts perspective, dependent on each more recent event that climaxes in the possibility of a criminal act.
In her compelling photo book Amoureux Solitaires, Belgian artist Tine Guns plays with these cinematic conventions to investigate the myriad meanings of an apparently simple kiss. Guns says of her work “I focus on the constant metamorphosis that we experience as human beings, and the inability to capture the fleeting reality. The influence of our memory on how we perceive images results in multiple perceptions and interpretations. My work tries to open up our linear historiographical point of view by offering new combinations.” She actively plays on the tensions between the still and moving image and extends the usually static viewpoint of the single, singular photograph. The book is unusual in that it invites readings both forwards and backwards, turning the moments in time like examining an object held in one’s hand. The kiss, performed by actors, becomes darker and perhaps more illicit with each viewing. Emerging from or possibly hiding behind a wall, a couple approaches one another and they embrace. A kiss can, of course have many connotations but one that is open mouthed and accompanied by affectionate touching of the face, and a hand on the waist is a far more lustful and sexual act. One might even say dangerous territory. In the montage of images a dog appears briefly in the margins, the only witness to the act, or perhaps a harbinger of the heartache to come. Looking again and again at the photographs one is shifted from an iconographic filmic act of romantic love to an altogether darker place of secrets and lies. The book is a wonderful example of an idea that has the appearance of a simple and straightforward proposition but is conversely complex and layered.
Guns most recent book The Diver continues her fascination with sequencing and experiments with pushing photography to emulate looking. The Diver is heavily influenced by the manga artist Osamu Tezuka and in particular his use of transition from details to wider prospects – from a representation of window or door, to a view of the house that contains them for example. The eye is drawn to details that come to represent a whole and our memory becomes reliant on these fragments for recollection, whether consciously or unconsciously. Guns subtly plays with this fragmentary, piecing together of the memory of an event. We see crumpled bedsheets, a hand, foot, leg then head of a sleeping man. On a beach, seen through the window of the room, waves lift and crash and figures – alternately two then one – are seen on the beach and in the sea. Stairs and a hand rail suggest someone has left or perhaps returned to the room. There is an air of intense sadness about the photographs. They feel like the end of something and could almost be a continuation of the story that unfolds from the kiss in Amoureux Solitaires. Interestingly, she pushes the narrative possibilities by allowing the photographs to be read from left to right as well as right to left, in much the same way. This flickering back and forth echoes the unreliability of our own memories and emotional filters. Spending time with Guns restrained yet emotive narratives is rewarding. They work their way under the skin and leave the viewer with a powerful sense of loss.