Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Preserve of...

If they hadn’t have been voting to ban the burka, in Belgium today; and if the actor Lorne Green’s middle name hadn’t have been Hyman, I might have left this most mysterious of ‘found’ negatives, unprinted and in the dark, forever.
Barthes states, "the photograph becomes ‘surprising’ when we do not know why it has been taken…" Some years ago I found (rescued?) this 5x4inch black and white negative from the ‘lost student negative box’ of a college darkroom. The fact that it was found in an educational establishment suggests that it was made to fulfill a photographic brief. We don’t have the recipe (brief), and we don’t know whether the image was considered a success (its possible abandonment suggests not); but we can consider the ingredients:
A bed of oats
An unidentifiable vessel covered in cling-film
Large preserving jar covered with greaseproof paper
Half a hand
A bit of thigh
Two eyes (no face)
Two onions (hairy)
The desire to preserve is at the core of all photographs, but this is still a difficult image to penetrate. The cling-film could have been standing-in for muslin (often associated with jars of preserve), and the greaseproof paper - standing-in - for a Sheik: muslin and Muslim – it’s a construct of the ‘student imagination’, remember. The entire image could have been a rehearsal for ‘the real thing’ – whatever ‘the real thing’ was meant to be. The picture seems to be about ‘the act of preserving’, in an unnerving (perving?) sort of fashion. A sealed, concealed image with its intention preserved. And when the photographer took the picture he/she would have had a dark-cloth over his head and have seen the image upside down.
The one-time Goon, Michael Bentine, had a pretty topsy-turvy view of the world, and the closest I can get to this ‘lost preserve’ is an image from Bentine’s children’s TV programme, ‘Potty Time’ – a strange puppet-theatre show from the mid 1970’s.
Frank Zappa wouldn’t have banned anything even though the American media were always banning him. His brilliant album, ‘Sheik Yerbouti’ (1979), comes to mind. Zappa was as topsy-turvy as they come – he sang about dental floss - and might have gone on to pen a song about cling-film, if he hadn’t died so young.
And Belgium has a nerve - trying to ban the burka. Rene Magritte - their most famous son and export (after Stella Atois) - made several surrealist paintings of women whose faces are hidden beneath fabric. 

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