Our Photography and Time

Posted: 01/31/2014
By:

0 Time to Go

blog by Jim Austin

Having no alternative, the Florida sun was shining above us. My neighbor in line asked “Do you have the time?”

OUTSIDE TIME

For awhile, her question seemed to hang suspended in mid-air, like a basketball player making a jump shot.

Then, as we moved towards the front door of the Bass Museum at Collins and 21st street in Miami Beach, I said: "Yes, I do."

Quickly retracting the zoom on my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, I glanced at my ancient timepiece.  I told her the Time. It was 11:58 am, on January 4th.

Bass Museum Polypan F ISO 50 Nikon n90s Jim Austin Jimages

We looked inside the entrance, where a museum security guard was glancing at his watch. He started to unlock the museum. A sense of deja vu came over me. Perhaps it was just a glitch, as happened in the film The Matrix, but had I stood here before and told this woman the time of day, just like this, at some time in the past?


FOCUS ON TIME

Try to wake up, get going, process some film, or make it through your day without thinking about time.

Time fills our minds, our work and we even try to manage it. Repeatedly, we obsess about time. We are on-time, over-time, and in its nick. We celebrate it with songs: Pink Floyd's Roger Waters penned TIME, Foreigner crooned about it with “Feels Like The First Time”; Cyndi Lauper, in 1984, recorded “Time after Time"; twenty years earlier, Bob Dylan recorded “The Times They are A Changin'. "

THE FATHER OF MOVIES

Understanding time is an obsession for photographers. Making photographs changes how we perceive time, as does seeing original images from a past century. Walking into the Miami Beach Bass Museum, one of the walls of the Time exhibit featured a set of collotype prints from plates by Eadweard Muybridge.

A 19th century photographer who became obsessed with Time, today Muybridge is remembered as that guy who proved that a horse lifts all four hooves at a gallop. He's also been called the father of the motion picture, because in his discussions with Edison, Muybridge anticipated movies.  Thus, his work is still fresh today for two main reasons: it re-envigorates early "instant photography," and it was a seed that grew into the motion picture industry.

Eadweard Muybridge portrait

THE FATHER OF MOVIES

Understanding time is an obsession for photographers. Making photographs changes how we perceive time, as does seeing original images from a past century. Walking into the Miami Beach Bass Museum, one of the walls of the Time exhibit featured a set of collotype prints from plates by Eadweard Muybridge.

A 19th century photographer who became obsessed with Time, today Muybridge is remembered as that guy who proved that a horse lifts all four hooves at a gallop. He's also been called the father of the motion picture, because in his discussions with Edison, Muybridge anticipated movies.  Thus, his work is still fresh today for two main reasons: it re-envigorates early "instant photography," and it was a seed that grew into the motion picture industry.

Muybridge Exhibit Fuji 200 Olympus Stylus Epic

First, Time appears in the repetition of movement in the people and animals that Muybridge photographed. We perceive time passing in the juxtaposition of a single still frame and the movement implied by a series of stills.

Using a bank of specially-designed cameras, some with 9 lenses, Muybridge sliced action into a series of stills. These still frames made us aware of events that, before he photographed them, were too rapid to perceive.

Muybridge Print Olumpus Stylus Epic Fuji 200 Jim Austin

Secondly, we tend to think that instant photography started in the last century with Edwin Land. Not true.

Muybridge started his Animal Locomotion series in 1875, and his work help found the Instantaneous Photography Movement that lasted for decades. His collotypes, like the series above -- and stunning photographs by many others like Harold "Doc" Edgerton and M. Maret -- all show us that instant photography has a long history.

TEMPORAL ILLUSIONS

Sing about it or try to photograph it: from birth we keep Time and are kept by it. Each one of us has a unique chronological autobiography.

Time is illusory. We do not see Time itself. Holding our watches and reading precise numbers, we constantly reinforce the illusion that we control Time's flow.

INSIDE, THE CLOCK

Back in the Bass Museum in Miami Beach Florida, a clock made of plastic sells for $140. It reminded me of clocks I'd seen in England. More specifically, it's flexible design got me thinking about the non-linear, mental clocks we have in our minds.

Museum Store Plastic Clock Jim Austin 2014

Sometimes, our mental Time drags quite slowly. Events “out there” seem to race past in no time at all. At other times, events outside of us drag slowly, yet our minds race at warp speed. Clearly, we have internal clocks in our brains and our cellular structures. We order our perception by these internal clocks.
We can experience Time as a flexible flow, slowing down and speeding up. As we'll see, it even seems to freeze.

FROZEN TIME

With our film and pixels, we think we are freezing time. Perhaps, we're just framing and printing spatial information that, like sea around a sandy shore, Time will erode.

Some individuals, in their mind's eye, experience frozen time. Certain people who have temporal lobe epilepsy, or who suffer from schizophrenia, are said to go through "time freezing." For awhile their perception slips, they experience time out of synch in blocks, almost as a continual still, unmoving present

1Checking Big Ben Time Copyright 2005 Jim Austin

SLOW AND TIMELESS

Being photographers, we explore Time's paradoxes.

Our consciousness is self-winding. Accelerating our photography, we often think in 0 to 60 mph terms. What if, instead, we let go of this frenetic pace? Well, we could change the pace and quality of our photography.

For instance, on our photo walks, we usually stroll along at 3 miles per hour. But what if we moved, instead, from 3 mph to stop, still, at 0 mph? As the band, The Eagles, advised in their song, we might “Learn to be Still." Being still, we might live more fully with fewer time references.

Keeping Time Copyright Jim Austin 2014

 

We've all made photographs that touch on the timeless. As we craft these photographs, we rarely use methods based on speed or convenience. The more effort-filled and emotional a photographic experience is, the more timeless it seems when we remember it. It takes sweat to make your best prints.

As glimpses of timelessness grace your photographs, your prints become touchstones. They are not copies of objects, but stories that embody your emotions and intentions, and how it felt to make the exposure, develop it, and craft it.

Sundial Clock Jim Austin 2005



TIME TO GO

As photographers, perhaps all we have is slices of Now. Pondering the facts of our future is guess work; we can not feel the future, nor touch it, hear it, see it or photograph it. To search for any Time but now is to chase a ghost.

The more we obsess on speed, the more the pleasure of the scene we photograph seems to elude us. We do not need to rush. We do not even need faster gear to do better photography. What we truly want is to fully experience the Time we have. When we do, we enjoy our photography, eternally, as long as our sun continues to shine.

___

The Author: Jim Austin www.jimages.com

Jim has photographed with slow film including Kodak Tech Pan. He does not own a car, and sails at 7 miles an hour. Teaching creative photography workshops, he moderates the Understanding Bokeh and the Slow Photography  Flickr groups. He has blogged for the FPP for 3 years. 

All your thoughts are welcome, and all comments will get a reply. 


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