Two and Two

2010 - Before and After - British Journal of Photography, Diane Smyth

470 Words

“In Shimmer, I relaxed and recognised that it’s about the moment before and after as much as it’s about the ‘perfect’ moment,” said Paul Graham in a recent interview for Aperture, referencing his 2007 tome, A Shimmer of Possibility. Made up of 12 small books, published by Steidl, it includes various sequences of images, in which Graham shot the same subject from a variety of angles and distances. “Could I be the devil’s advocate and argue that this sequence represents a more natural way of seeing; that we as photographers have become too obsessed with looking for this ’special moment’, this one punctum in life?” he asked.

Graham is not alone in his thinking, as sequential images have become something of a small trend recently. George Georgiou won BJP’s Project Assistance awards last month with a proposal that includes pictures captured close together and then displayed alongside each other in pairs and groups. Examples include a woman walking down the street towards the camera, and candid portraits shot from the same angle over a short period of time.

“It’s something I’ve been playing with for the last five years,” he says. “I’m fascinated with comparing the same space over time and seeing how it changes.”

John MacLean, whose images are shown here, just finished a project called Two and Two, in which he experimented with “different ways of shooting the same thing”. It was shown at London’s Flowers Eastgallery in June. “I was inspired by Robert Rauschenberg but also, perhaps in a spirit of contrariness, by William Eggleston. I had read an interview with him saying, ‘I believe in taking one picture of one picture’, and it stuck in my mind. I began to wonder what taking two pictures of one picture and printing them side by side could show.”

Why this trend right now? It’s partly to do with digital technology – Georgiou points out that digital capture has made shooting multiple images more affordable, while Graham says that he was part-inspired by flicking through images on his computer. But maybe it’s also just time for one of photography’s most famous dictates to be reappraised. “Someone I know, who is working on the 2010 Henri Cartier-Bresson retrospective at MoMA and has seen his contact sheets has said to me, ‘The decisive moment is bullshit’,” said Graham in Aperture. “There are ten pictures before and ten pictures after every one of them. He actually took 30 pictures of people leaping over that puddle.”

“I’m not sure that I ever really cared for the concept of the decisive moment,” agrees MacLean. “It has always sounded rather rigid. I think it is far more exciting to consider that there is more than one way for a photographer to take any picture, and exploring that fully means exploring the medium itself.”

British Journal of Photography, Diane Smyth. July 2010.