neXos. New Perspectives in European Documentary Photography
Photographic Lexis As A Non-Linear Journey In Again He Holds Me By The Hand
Part of the photographic series Again He Holds Me by the Hand by David Meneghello is the installation in which the photographs are hung. In the context of intimate relationships through the specific physicality of the referents, this installation is also an interesting aspect of the series to examine. In this essay, I will look at different concepts of time in the medium of photography as well as representations of place and space, to investigate how these aspects contribute to the production of meaning of Again He Holds Me by the Hand.
The installation consists of a series of framed black and white photographs in various sizes depicting men in wrestling positions from various angles. With regards to perception, the viewer can experience the images as a kind of “journey”. As time passes during the viewing of the images, it is important to consider that this temporal flow is not necessarily linear and thus is built up of contains various phases. This process of looking can be separated into two parts: viewing the surface of the photograph and further examining the subject of the image itself. The installation explores how physical proximity can be perceived through reframing and spectatorship itself. The photographs depicting men wrestling are taken in split seconds. They are taken from various angles and some of the wrestling pairs reappear in several of the photographs, which suggests a partial repetition. Therefore, the main question this work raises is to what extent could it be considered a metaphorical “journey” in terms of a delay of the temporal flow? I will demonstrate in the following essay that the delay of time can be identified in several ways.
With regards to David Meneghello’s installation, the duration of viewing or photographic lexis requires an indefinite amount of time. Film theorist Christian Metz refers to this amount of time as “temporal size”.1 In the case of my object of review, there is no linearity that the spectator is obliged to follow. It is important to note that this process is not linear but rather individual and subjective as “it depends rather on the spectator, who is the master of the look”.2 Viewing the surface of the photograph is a separate process from acknowledging the subject of the image and therefore causes a break in the timeline of viewing.3 The duration of the photographic lexis also involves a physical process as the viewers turn their head or lean forward while observing the photographic work.4 The shape of the installation also contributes to this experience, because it consists of frames of various sizes.
Additionally, physical movement is consistent here with the notion that the grainy photographic surface in fact becomes less visible as the viewer moves towards it.5 The blurred surfaces of the photographs – as it is shown in the image above – play part in the viewer attempting to distinguish the details. This is in turn is also a delay of temporal flow due to our awareness of an existing older source. These photographs are reminiscent of shots found in 20th century newspapers and magazines. Maneghello’s work is a product of “‘remediation’ … [a] process of producing a more transparent version of an earlier medium”.6
The deliberate alteration and resizing of the photographs, initially indicates that, as physical objects, the photographs have undergone a transformation. According to Roland Barthes the photograph cannot be transformed unless disposed of.7 Indeed, the appropriated images cannot be considered as having been transformed. According to the German artist Sigmar Polke, in reproductions “only one layer, that of the signifying system itself remains. It is in the strictest sense, an act of deconstruction: the ostensible analogon is exposed, by enlargement, by exaggeration as a mirage and its rhetorical power is broken”.8 However, in the photo installation the cropped original photographs have become decisive moments. These decisive moments draw on the details of the physical interactions of the men and the title of the series itself, Again He Holds 26 neXos. New Perspectives in European Documentary Photography Me by the Hand. The physical proximity between arms and hands is a recurring theme throughout the photographic series. The repeated shots of these implied homosocial/ homoerotic gestures are the main focus of this installation.
The break in the temporal flow can be connected to the notion of death in photography. “Strictly speaking, the person photographed is dead, no longer present in the state in which he/she was photographed and is therefore belonging to the past now”.9 Like the journey, death is also a metaphor here. Time is fixed within each of the frames. The journey is evident in both the physical and historical context, but also in geographical context. The relocation in this specific instance involves the physical transportation of the photographs, as they have been rendered and relocated to a museum space. Originally, the photographs had been used as press material. To become part of the artwork as they are now, they have been reproduced, cropped, and reframed, and finally exhibited. The metaphorical journey continues with the viewer being aware that the photographs are framed. The viewing time additionally consists of the reflection on that which is off-frame. “The spectator has no empirical knowledge of the contents but at the same time cannot help hallucinating it, dreaming the shape of this emptiness …”10 and this fragmentation implies the anticipated proximity between the male figures. This is a further delay of the temporal flow in the process of viewing.
Repetition functions here in two ways: first, the reproduction of the photographs of the original format and second, there is a kind of repetition of the subject itself through the selection of the decisive moments. The original frozen split seconds – made by the original photographer – have been reframed by Meneghello.
The frames can also be considered as fragments of time as the wrestling men are caught in multiple time periods. However, this concept of cropping an existing old photograph also alters the iconicity of the photograph. The title of the photographic series Again He Holds Me by the Hand suggests repetition of physicality. This is echoed in the physicality of the referents in the framed photographs. The indexicality (the wrestling men) in the decisive moments chosen for this installation, gain a new meaning and a new kind of iconicity (the touching of skin and the homoerotic and/ or homosocial nature of the gestures captured in the frozen split seconds through framing). This ambiguity signifies a break in the temporal flow of spectatorship. The viewer’s eye travels across the surfaces of the individual photographs in the installation and reflects on either the potential presence or absence of intimate physical relationships. Some of the frames have been placed close to another while others are further apart. This can be seen as imitation of the physicality of the subjects themselves, the wrestling of the men, the touching of skin and repeated physical distance. It is evident that the photographic series Again He Holds Me by the Hand relies on the referents and their framing.
The images are not visual documents of a “prohibitionist past” nor do they contain a linear narrative as an installation. The notion of time in this installation involves a journey of the act of viewing as well as a journey of the images themselves having been re-contextualized.. There are several pasts depicted in this work. These are the pasts that have been altered into alternative pasts, alternative timelines. The journeys and repetitions draw attention to the subject of the installation through framing. The delay of time for the viewer can be identified with his or her perception of the repeated gestures in the photographs of the installation and the frames that signify these isolated moments in time. As the viewer’s eyes move across the surface of the installation he or she might experience a break in the temporal flow, a delay of time occurring due to the forced reflection caused by the frames. These frames have created physical borders for the spectator that he or she must cross in order to reflect on the signified moments of physical proximity between the male subjects.
Barthes, R. (1981 ) Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography. Trans. R. Howard. Hill and Wang, New York, NY. First published as La chambre claire. Battye, G. (2014) Photography, Narrative, Time, Time: Imaginining Our Forensic Imagination. Intellect, London. Haxthausen, C.W. (1997). ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its (AI) Chemical Transmutability: Rethinking Painting and Photography after Polke’. Sigmar Polke. Die Drei Lügen der Marlei. Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern, 185-202. Metz, C. (1985) Photography and fetish. October, Vol. 34, 81-90. Van Gelder, H., Westgeest, H. (2011) Photography Theory in Historical Persepective: Case Studies from Contemporary Art, Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA. 1. Metz, 1985, 81. 2. Metz, 1985, 81. 3. Van Gelder and Westgeest, 2011, 58. 4. Battye, 2014, 62. 5. Haxthausen, 1997, 189. 6. Bolter and Grosin quoted in Van Gelder and Westgeest, 2011, 56. 7. Barthes, 1981, 93. 8. Polke quoted in Haxthausen, 1997, 189. 9. Metz quoted in Van Gelder and Westgeest, 2011,