John Matturri – Venice Archive

…in the middle of the city should be a repository of objects that people don’t want anymore, which they would take to this giant junkyard. That would form an organization, a way that the city would be organized . . . the city organized around that. I think this center of unused objects and unwanted objects would become a center of intellectual activity. Things would grow up around it. – Jack Smith

I’ve been obsessed with piles of photographs recently (OpEd soon!) so it was interesting when John’s Venice Archive came across my radar. I was able to sit down and chat with John over a beer recently to learn more about his photography and particularly this project. While John was generous enough to put some of his thoughts down into words, he made sure to remind me that they are still only a starting point and he needs more time to dig into some of these ideas. I do too. The selection here represents my time browsing the archive. If I were to go back to it next week, I’m sure I’d pull out a completely different set of photographs.

You can view the entire Venice Archive HERE

Photography has as much in common with finger-pointing as it has with other types of image-making. Each snap of the shutter is a gestural stab towards possible significance — “Hey, this might be worth checking out” – with composition and other formal elements often indicating the nature of that significance in ways unavailable to the bare finger. Such significance comes in many forms, ranging from objects and scenes worthy of a transient glance to those encouraging a more lingering focused attention, from simple observations to the more complex photographs, often at war with the obvious, that we usually most value.

But while photographs do point, they also remove their subjects from the specific contexts in space and time that determine their native significance. Once repositioned as objects apart from their origin in the world, their significance can be re-determined through recontextualization: single prints, books, walled exhibits, portfolios, slideshows, webpages, photostreams and so on all have specific capacities for determining how we look at individual images and how those images interact with each other to form new worlds. Beneath these forms, however, generally lies the more inchoate underlying archive of a photographer’s work, a mostly unseen collection of “fingerpointings, gestures, glances” towards the world that may be catalogued and ordered, almost inevitably somewhat arbitrarily, but which is perhaps best approached through browsed incursions, random walks that allow the transient emergence and dissolution of connections, ideas, reimaginings. Wandering through collections of their work Atget’s objective documents are apt to turn dreamlike, Muybridge’s pseudo-scientific motion studies shift towards psychodrama.

With the emergence of the Internet, with its vast storage capacities, as a primary medium for viewing images the archive comes into its own, retaining its function as a source for more traditional forms of external display, but also as an open-ended form in itself to be freely browsed but also being able to freely accommodate within its boundaries multiple trajectories of glimpsed meaning — sequences, arrangements, videos, essays, whatever – that intersect within its depths.

  • Tony

    “Each snap of the shutter is a gestural stab towards possible significance.” Yes. And if I understand the rest of the quote, the significance in question is not made by the visual context alone but by the subsequent use of the image. Which seems right to me; and the first subsequent use, in both time and importance, is selection by the artist for presentation and attention. The result of “each snap of the shutter” is usually just a snapshot, a failed effort at creating significance. Then there are those few that we pull out of the pile and present, collate, juxtapose, crop, and offer for perusal. John just happens to have an awful lot of those, testament to an unusually canny eye, not to mention great technique. But when he compares it to finger-pointing I don’t think he means drawing attention to the objects that are allegedly “seen through” the photo. The finger-pointing is just the preliminary act of selection; the more important one happens when we go through the results of having pointed here and there and decide that this, that and the other one possibly say something that might be significant. So (Patrick) the finger-pointing does not really indicate the place of origin of the photograph; it’s a gesture towards some possible significance down the road, at which point the origin is only of historical importance.

  • Patrick

    I rise to defend John the photographer from John the critic.  These photographs don’t seem to me to be like finger pointing to their subjects, which is what veduta & now postcards are: “check this out”.  “This” would be gone, anyway. That is, looking at any of his anti-postcard pictures, there’s no impulse to go to the place and to look oneself, even with camera.  One’s very aware of seeing not a view but rather someone’s view,  with beautifully crafted pictures, a view that shows not what subjects there are to see but rather how we might see: with great awareness of everything that’s around us in the most banal situations, if only we will look–a disciplined activity.  

    I think that in many Matturris we find what Robert Adams meant in saying that art produces “shapes nearest shapelessness”, reassuring us that  feared
    incoherence may be made coherent, rather than escaped (e.g. in muddled ‘disinterested attitude’), with “fresh intimations of Form”—continually reassuring us that
    we can keep finding new coherencies, in the “commonplace” in our lives.  Rather than “check this out”, we seem to have, “wherever you are, check that out.”  The possibilities are boundless, & subversive, as there are so many forces seeking to control our experiences, to keep us passive & empty, to gain power over us.  Much of what’s wrong with the world today is rooted in overlooking what we already have.