The exercise of photography editing, by Rubens Fernandes Junior

18 May 2016, 7:06 pm


Not everything that sparkles is gold. (popular saying)

(by Rubens Fernandes Junior)

The practice of thinking, reflecting and even theorizing about technical images, particularly photographic, is very recent. This issue became clearer once photography became central and also one of the main keys for understanding contemporary art. Therefore, seeking to understand its production based on the dividing of history, critiques and esthetics, among other analytical perspectives, is to try building, for photography, consistent bases for a broader investigation that definitively contemplates its importance for visual arts.

The systematization of a more thorough reflection about photographic production began with the National Photography Week editions, promoted by Funarte and Instituto Nacional da Fotografia in the 1980s. It was later reflected on with the International Photography Month of São Paulo editions held by Nafoto between 1993 and 2011, and expanded through many other events scattered throughout Brazil. More recently, this concern has a guaranteed participation in almost all events associated to visual arts, with emphasis on the seminar Thought and Reflection on Photography, with four editions already organized by Estúdio Madalena and held at the Museu da Imagem e do Som de São Paulo (MIS-SP). The last edition, in May 2015, had as central theme Edit, Mount, Compose – the coexistence of images, curated by Ronaldo Entler and Rubens Fernandes Junior.

The main issue that involves photography is still how to materialize and concentrate in a single image all the experience lived by the artist when making the photographic act. If we think about analog photography, an image was chosen based on a universe of images limited to a few dozen or at the most a hundred clicks. Today, in the digital photography universe, an image is selected from among thousands. The exercise of selecting and editing has become more complex in view of so many options.

Critic André Rouillé says that “an image is not the automatic product of a machine, nor the direct reflect about a thing, but rather an artistic creation”. This means that when looking at a photographic image, we are looking at a visual synthesis that requires not only technical knowledge a priori, but – and especially – an experience that involves the ability to attribute to this image all the density and emotion that accompanied the artist in the different procedures used towards its materialization. Such competence, believe it or not, is for a few. I would risk saying that the best I know are Maureen Bisilliat and Miguel Rio Branco, who create relevant and unique syntheses and narratives in today’s visual arts scenario.

Since always, a photographic image is not just a click, an act and that’s it. It comes about after a rigorous selection that still includes intense postproduction work. The act of editing, thinking and reflecting on an image we have access to in galleries, museums and other cultural institutions passes through numerous interventions that contemplate various expectations, especially the artist’s. The constant and many times extenuating practice is what produces the appearance of the edited and finalized image after fulfilling the stages of the process.

The artist’s mission is to teach the spectator to see things. And more: in the case of photography, it itself is continuously learning to see. Learning and capturing are, therefore, inseparable perspectives of the photographer and of photography, but editing is almost always a solitary operation, tensioned by the different variables that influence the act of choosing and must be coherent and iconically representative of the artist’s trajectory.

In the curatorial text of iv Thought and Reflection on Photography, we say: “Photographic creation involves other players – editors, curators, critics, other artists – and also a very extensive temporality. That’s because it’s necessary to return many times to a collection, or it’s necessary to allow images to be circulated and almost lost, in order to discover in them a discourse that is built slowly and is never definitively resolved”. This reinforces the idea that in today’s world, more and more, images result from different articulations and strategies that seek to potentialize a stunning and perturbing experience. Eustáquio Neves adds: “the instantaneous does not exist in my work; there are many times present in an image, since memory is more poetic than reality”.

In seeking to understand the work of an artist, it becomes evident that the main issue is concentrated in the moment of editing images. Richard Avedon defends that “a photographer can only go beyond the surface working on it. I have great faith in surfaces. A good one is full of clues”. The statement characterizes the shift in attention – from the photographic act to the choice of photographs that will synthesize the intensity of the moment, in view that reality per se is an attempt to understand man through artifices created by the artist throughout the process. More and more, we see that forms gain notoriety only after they have been totally digested by their creator, who gives the image a free interpretation pass.

But there needs to be clarity that there isn’t neutrality in choices, in the selection of certain photos in detriment of others. This intervention, however, must be conscientious. We can understand the work of an artist as if it were an atlas, trying here to recover the discussion motivated by Aby Warburg’s (1866-1929) proposal: a sort of tension between distinct polarities – Apollonian and Dionysian, contemplation and trance, opacity and transparency, that is, opposites that open up an ample field of interpretation, connecting the historical process and importance of the subjectivity of affection in the production of knowledge.

Photography, whether chemical (grains) or digital (pixels), metaphorically has intense porosity, where it passes and exhales the creative energy of its creator. When we see a work such as that of German Lorca, for example, it becomes clear that his journeys through photography are a sort of atlas that tells the story, since we can articulate analogies, identify influences, establish territories. His innovative experiences, produced in different moments of his trajectory, are surprising for their longevity. While Lorca saw the world with a keen desire to investigate and discover, today his photographs remain small enigmas that are able to remain up to date. They are photographs that show us the transience of life and existence. Concentrated and always aware in his wanderings, he looked at everything with generous patience in pursuit of timeless singularities, free of cultural circumstances.

In his new series, Geometria das Sombras, held in 2014, the thorough edition done of his solitary exercise emanates sadness. It is the emotion of the artist who consciously relives the experience of integrating into his feelings and emotions, the perception of reality revealed in the silence of forms and shadows projected. A trip that demonstrates a certain anticonformism with the passage of time and maintains the spirit of Brazilian modern photography practiced at the Fotoclube, as if wanting to relive with today’s wisdom the intense aesthetic propositions of yesterday. To immobilize shadows, ephemeral phenomena that requires an acute eye, and detain its spontaneous movement is to try to understand how the shape’s projection varies as time advances. The projection of the shade that was there for decades stimulates our senses, which try to once again find in the photographs the true objects in that house, now empty, but full of imaginary sounds and images that arouse the artist’s memory. Even so, the concise edition revitalizes his famous vision and creates a few powerful images that outline his trajectory. The series is already a contemporary classic.

German Lorca’s career is a sort of atlas of the impossible – an expression created by Michel Foucault in relation to Jorge Luis Borges’s disconcerting erudition – which allows us to travel through his works, in fact, a rare and brilliant constellation in Brazilian photography. And all this thanks to the surgical selection and editing process he practiced throughout his entire trajectory. We still need to clearly understand that less means more: more quality, uniqueness and permanent pulsation in the reader’s imagination.

In the era of exaggerated communication provided by digital media, photographic images are able to stand out as contemporary object of desire. For many, good photography is that which is able to materialize the terrible effect of strangeness, which intensity provokes a momentary silence that stems from the uncertainties experienced by its creator. Art has as its basic principle to remove, even if momentarily, the spectator from its comfort zone and provide pleasure.


Rubens Fernandes Junior is an independent researcher and curator. He holds a PhD in Communication and Semiotics from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP) and is professor and director of the Communication School at Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado (FAAP). Rubens is also curator of the Wessel Photography Award and a member of the São Paulo Art Critics Association (APCA). Books published include Labirinto e identidades: panorama da fotografia no Brasil (Cosac Naify, 2003), Geraldo de Barros: sobras + fotoformas (Cosac Naify, 2006) and Papéis efêmeros da fotografia (Tempo d’Imagem, 2015), among others.

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