Thoughts on Images - the writing of David Hockney (part 1)

When people ask me how I got interested in photography I give an unlikely response - it was through the work of David Hockney. You know, the painter.

Or so I thought. 

While reading 'True to Life' with Lawrence Weschler, which is a partner book to 'Seeing is Forgetting' reviewed in the previous blog post, I stumbled upon Hockney's photographic collage work.

Reading Hockney's thought process behind the collage work I was filled with a desire to run out and make collages of my own. I grabbed a camera and went out into a local nature park. The same place I learnt to walk as a child turns out to be the same place I started to learn about photography, and I still enjoy making collages to this day.

Collage by Richard Munn

For Hockney, collage work is a Cubist project that aims to expand photography as a medium. It does this by including the two-eyed view of being a human, rather than the monocular vision of the camera. It challenges the ubiquitous camera-view of the world and it's dominant claim to be the most real way of depicting the world-out-there. For Hockney photography is close to reality, but not quite. Why?

The view of the Cyclops. As said above, the camera has one eye, and we have two. We see three dimensionally, whereas the camera sees in two dimensions. Our eyes are constantly moving around, focusing, and refocusing, creating the world we inhabit. The camera however stands outside of the world, stationary, and blinking. 

The History of Cameras. Hockney caused a stir with his book 'Secret Knowledge' because he traced the use of lenses in image making back to the 1400's. What the use of a lens does is create an image that conforms to a single-point perspective, with a single vanishing point.

Photography was not the 'end of painting,' as some claimed, but merely the final point of being able to chemically fix an image projected by a lens. What Hockney is doing with collage is using the medium of photography to subvert itself, and to question the very way of seeing that lenses have instilled in the Western visual tradition. 

Time. As well as seeing with one eye the camera sees by blinking. Most images I make are with an exposure speed of 1/200 of a second. That's not much time. It's also not how we see as humans.

As humans we see over time. We see with memory. We see in layers of impressions. We see things that are changing.

Hockney sat for a portrait by one of my favourite painters Lucian Freud. The portrait took 120 hours to paint, and also included all the hours Lucian would have spent looking at Hockney's face while he wasn't painting him. We can see in the photograph below that the painting looks more real, more 'Hockney,' than Hockney does in the photograph. For Hockney this is because the painting contains a lot of looking, and layers of looking.

Time is also inherently apparent in a collage. The whole image wasn't made at the same time, it's made in layers of time, layers of looking, and layers of space. We feel more part of the scene, close to everything, but also that there's space to move around. A single-point perspective image doesn't allow for this, as the viewer is frozen to the spot, and outside the frame.

Creating images is, as Hockney reminds us, about the hand, the eye, and the heart.

No two alone will do.