Photography has had a tight connection with the older, some even say parental, medium of painting, since its very beginnings. Some may say the development of photography was driven by research in a variety of elements of visual representation, such as perspective and colour. It seemed that photography offered the holy grail of the painter’s quest—full and accurate representation. And in doing so, raised fears about the uselessness of painting. In the end photography managed to profile as the autonomous artistic medium, not a mere tool of painting, nor its enemy. It emancipated its artistic nature and escaped the qualities assigned to it by the negotiations of territory between painting and photography.
These days, it’s easy to see that the borders have mixed and it’s hard to recognise the body of each medium. Even so, the old fashioned debate, dividing the intrinsic natures of photography and painting is still running. We still try to distinguish media. Although most of the arguments of segregation and media purity, provided within this debate, have been radically shaken with the development of digital photography and more specifically generative photography, some thoughts of the debate may be useful. The elementary part of an ordinary, classical analogue photograph is the reality itself. Semiotics refer to this as an “index”. While the elementary part of a generative image is the pixel, which has no ontological reference to the world of reality. It is a patch of a code, belonging rather to the symbolic universe of information, rather than forming an unavoidable part of any reality. Photography has moved from its indexical nature to the very symbolic, or even more, as Baudrillard explained, “simulacrum-based nature”. It has become a spectre, a ghost to the reality itself, more unreal than the painting ever was, as no matter if a painting has no reference to nature, painting is still painted by a human, while generative photography partially is the work of the machine. Nowadays the real/simulated dichotomy breaks down, especially as there are complicated hybids of the two media, which are neither made by humans nor machines, or they are made by both. At the same time these works are neither paintings nor photographs, but they might as well appear to be both of them, at the same time. One of such are the reproductions of paintings we commonly face in art magazines, catalogues, or art books. Though we are persuaded that what we see are the paintings “through” photographs, what we actually should know is that we see only the photographs of paintings, which are, aside all specific differences of the media, actually always of the wrong size. Similarly, we may be confronted with paintings that actually are photographs. An example of this latter are the photos in Nermine Hammam's series Ana/Chrony.
Seeing these images for the first time I was convinced that they were paintings. They resembled surrealistic representation of time, and had a tight connection to Salvador Dali’s work on time. Melting figures, decentred compositions and the obvious allegory of the desert surely belong to a known surrealist's style. But, on seeing the whole set of Ana/chrony at once, a certain difference appeared regarding the images. Ana/chrony forms a time-period sequence that connects each of the images in the series with a succession of before and after elements. In a terms of medium, they are connected more like film frames, rather than subscribing to the logic of a painting. In this sequential, time-edited world, I could recognise the movement, which had the figure appearing as not being human at the very beginning, but later on clearly becoming a human figure. The figure was veiled.
The figure represented in Ana/chrony is neither erotic nor social. It is surely not political, but it looks nice. The figure we see in Hammam’s set is an allegory—I've found out—a representation of the ultimate truth, in the Arabic world. Her name is Al Haquiqa. It is said that by removing the veil of Al Haquiqa, a person will know the ultimate truth.
I've always wondered how the medium of photography, the medium which cannot avoid its reference to the real, may be used in metaphysical purposes, as for example Victorian photographers did to represented ghosts. The answered lies deep in the history of photography, at its very first steps in Rijlander's and Robinson's representations of allegories which were manipulated in a darkroom. These images were surreal before there was a Surrealist movement in photography. They describe the non-existing, the fictional world of literature. Similarly, Hammam uses complicated methods to revise the original photo. Images are recorded and processed either by film manipulation or via the generative tool of a computer programme. They are taken away, stolen from reality. So, they are paradoxically illustrative, but not representational at the same time. These images form an oasis in which no political message or social drama is hidden, and it is at this place that photography is shifting from the given banality of the real into a more mystic and allegoric representation of the non-given and untold. Hammam is fully embracing the paradox of a medium that isn't capable of recording the unknown.
TEXT BY ANA PERAICA
©picture: Nermine Hammam