(selected by Karen Ingham)
Amsterdam, 1973 (200 Seconds), 2008
In his most recent work, photographic artist Hamish Gane explores themes first developed in his 2005 series ‘Apron’. Using his immediate family as subjects with the domestic space as the ‘stage’ upon which his images are enacted, Gane investigates the relationship of family photography to memory. However, where ‘Apron’ was concerned with the interior domestic space and still photography, ‘200 Seconds’ extends these ideas into the outside world and includes home movies, which are implicated in the making of the work but are not explicit.
The reason the action has shifted to the exterior domestic space becomes apparent with the artist’s explanation that ‘200 Seconds’ refers to the exposure time required to produce his pinhole photographs. Conceptually, ‘200 seconds’ also refers to the duration of a 50 ft. spool of Kodak super-8 film played at the standard rate of 18 frames per second. The films in question were home movies shot by Gane’s father and stored in a small leather suitcase, inherited by Gane following his father’s death. The artist converted the suitcase into a pinhole camera, and the relationship of a father documenting his family was re-enacted - with the original films becoming the conceit for ‘200 Seconds’. Even the titles of the photographic images refer to the original cine footage, as in ‘Benjamin’s Christening, 1979’ or ‘Kew, July 1969’.
The play on theatricality and mise en scène is still present (a reference to Gane’s background as a lighting technician in London’s West End), but whereas the images in ‘Apron’ were still and focused, ‘200 Seconds’ suggests movement and transition. This is hardly surprising given the long exposure time, and it plays on Gane’s interest in the relationship of the still and moving image to time and memory. Christian Metz suggests that film gives back to the dead a semblance of life while photography, through its signifier stillness, maintains the memory of the dead as dead.1
These relationships are seldom as clearly defined as they may first appear. As the first photographers soon learned, trying to capture stillness with a long duration is challenging. Even though the images in ‘200 Seconds’ are shot outside on a bright day, slight blurring caused by the subject’s involuntary movements is inevitable. In ‘Amsterdam, 1973’ the artist’s partner holds the family dog in place. Similarly, in ‘Kew, July 1969’ the artist places a hand on his daughters head, a gesture that is reminiscent of the head braces used by Victorian portrait photographers. Despite these gestures the images produced are unquestionably not ‘still’ and as such they remind us not of the photographic death of Christian Metz but of Thierry De Duve’s assertion that ‘…the photograph indicates that life outside continues, time flows by, and the captured object has slipped away’.2 The subjects of Gane’s evocative photography may be held but it is only the memory of them that is captured.
Karen Ingham, February 2009
1. Christian Metz, October, No 34, Boston, AW Press, 1985
2. Thierry De Duve, ‘Time Exposure and the Snapshot: The Photograph as Paradox’, October, No. 5, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 1978
Hamish Gane is Programme Director for BA (Hons) Photography in the Arts at Swansea Metropolitan University. His photographic work has been exhibited widely in a number of solo and group shows, most notably the recent Unreliable Truths: Transformation and Illusion in Contemporary Photographic Practice (2008) at the Glynn Vivian Gallery, Swansea, a solo exhibition Apron at Mission Gallery, Swansea and the internationally touring exhibition Sitting Room (2006-8). Having worked as a stage and lighting technician in London for ten years, he moved to South Wales in 1997 to study photography, attaining a BA then an MA with distinction. He is currently writing his PhD - A Pensive Sadness: Photography and Melancholy in the Digital Age.