A great photography teacher once told me that they viewed photography as essentially a mental-health exercise, perhaps akin to meditation. Or, to put it like another photographer has famously said, “photography just gets us out of the house.” Yet, recently, I had a discussion with a street photographer who lamented how the discourse concerning photographs has made it seem more and more like photographs are viewed like illustrations to concepts. I had to agree. But why should photographs as illustrations of concepts be a problem after all? Should I judge the soundness of a body of work containing a 24-page bibliography, appended with 85 abject, muddy-looking plates? Why do I feel the need to judge?
When someone stops making sense to me it is because the sense of the thought that they mean to express has no truth-value, except internally to them. But does that mean that they are not making sense, or is it just that I don’t understand? The deficiency is mine. The purpose of language (and writing with light) may be an anxiety to make an “undestructable survival machine”, as a philosopher put it. Or to put it another way, it is a far cry between internally complete logic to logia. The link between sense and reference is like the tact cited in literature, that a writer should “show, don’t tell,” and the externality of photographs magnifies what Rinko Kawauchi called “the fragility of small things”. What I am trying to convey here is like how, in a therapeutic context, it is said that naming voids a concept of power, or in a confessional mode, “in external things there is liberty”.
A recent book by Joshua Lutz also seeks to find a connection between concepts and objects in order to communicate sense. I hold Lutz’s work in high esteem. His latest book “Mind the Gap” contains pictures that try to cope with making sense out of mental states. If there is actual normativity, Lutz is honestly grappling with the gap between this idea of whatever normal is, and whatever else is considered otherwise. There is an awkwardness to language. What I like about these pictures is how awkward they are.
I was reading an article the other night about how another writer on photography thinks reading photographers own writing about their own work provides “confirmation”. I think that is what Lutz’s writing about his work provides. I found the writing in this book allegorical, and more akin to fiction or poetry. Lutz has made sharp, highly constructed, rigorous pictures that show mental health less like a problem, and more like a gift. I am reminded of an inspirational quote “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”, or of the poet who once wrote, against despair:
“A Raven once an Acorn took
from Bashan’s tallest stoutest tree;
He hid it by a limpid brook,
And liv’d another oak to see.
Thus melancholy buries Hope
Which Providence keeps alive,
And bids us with afflictions cope
And all anxiety survive.”