Drawing and Photography


Drawing is a noisy process. The noises of mark-making somehow resonate back through the drawing. The marks hold their noise. It is a kind of residue that operates between action and representation, a debris that edges in between the marks and gaps revealed, echoing the frictions and frictions of things drawn across a surface, in pursuit of a object. Noise is information lost in the process of translation: a residue which will not change state and cannot be reorganised. In the case of drawing, residue occurs as the process moves through action, onto mark and representation. The order inherent in the drawing always edges towards chaos.


Photography does not have this residue. There is always a real sense of silence. Perhaps this is why I find photographs so hard to look at: they are so overtly visual. The quite click of the shutter and the subsequent processes hardly amount to noise; these are a tightly formulated set of procedures with little room for extraneous activity. Nothing is casual, nothing in improvised. Even on the level of representation the information provided is densely packed with few pauses in it. There is no room for hearsay, no gossip; everything is in place. What is there is really represented, and nothing is extra.


Drawing is rooted not in what is perceived, but in the act of mark-making, which patterns, arrests, and fixes. What is registered is primarily activity: the marks and traces that constitute this activity are a series of stops and starts, of inter-acting gestures, punctuated by gaps – which all precede any notion of objective representation. Only after this activity has been exposed through doing, may we ask what else the marks may go on to represent. Photography does not have this foundation, for what is initially presented there is a world, like Cezanne’s ‘without gaps’, a surface textured with a basic grain, and modulated within a tonal framework. The parts all serve the same function, i.e. to be receptive to whatever light falls on them. This is a democratic procedure in which each part has the potential to receive more or less light, and where a charge to one part is a change to the whole.


In this sense, the first ground of the photography, the film, is a sophisticated surface already primed with reference. This basic difference between the loaded ground of the film and the blank ground of the drawing distinguishes the two processes: one is reductive and the other is primarily accumulative. To begin with the photograph is a decision to leave something out; with the drawing it is a decision to put something in. The photograph is potentially as complete as will ever be the moment it is taken, and subsequent developing and printing are commentaries on that initial action. Light pattern the film (negative), and this in turn patterns the paper, effecting a transfer from negative to positive, which is direct translation as used in any conventional printing process. The photograph is at its most random when it is first taken; subsequent processes order it, each tightening up on the preceding one. Drawing’s method is self-evolving continually with a potential to discontinue, since it emerges from an infinity of possible marks. Each mark is unique and can influence or ignore any preceding one, so determining its own contribution. Thus the drawing arrives at its own destiny.


There is a sense of authenticity within a photograph because it locates the photographer as well as its subject. The camera’s perspective pinpoints the position of the photographer even as it describes the scene. The one locates the other> to change perspective is to change the location of the photographer. A broader perspective, a multi-view, can only come out of changing frames of reference, i.e. shifting locations. Place is fixed in time and time is held in place. Occasion becomes a very tight specific, and thus highly authentic. This verification of time and space, this ability to specify, make the photograph so substantial a means of documentation. The photograph contains extensive cross-references and clues which indicate its authenticity. Conversely, a drawing cannot document an occasion. It can comment on it, reveal a sense of it, but its inability to verify time in place and place in time prevents the emergence of anything even resembling a fact. The closest the drawing can get to locating the fact of place is in the map, which, through scale, conveys proportions and relationships outside of time. Beyond this restricted use, drawing is always an approximation, always in a state of probability, for speculation and improvisation forever get the way. Sense off place comes only from location of place. The tendency towards a multi-perspective constantly relocates the drawing in the same way that time is distorted through anticipation and remembrance. The drawing cannot reproduce anything accurately (least of all itself).


Drawing and photography are like landscape in that they are able to expose and obscure, reveal and conceal. They can erode and produce an image, or reveal abstractions, or reduce further to expose new ground, new relationships. “It rains, it snows, it paints” (Buren). It draws and takes photographs too. These activities also pattern, arrest, and fix, like rain into puddles of water or falling snow into drifts. Photography and drawing are like the agents of land erosion breaking down and rebuilding surfaces. From drops of rain (individual moments of chaos), rainfall collects itself into an ordered whole, transforming surfaces, and establishing a new grain that mirrors the overall oneness of falling rain. This is a precarious co-existence of order and chaos, where singular drops splashing down onto the surface build up to flowing water that washes away sheets of soil and excavates gullies and grooves.


It has been estimated that the impact of a violent storm can blast more than a hundred tons of soil per acre into the air. Such displacement is never seen, but sensed, and the surface changes record it. Here in the rain prints, in the saturated soil, in the mud-flow, are held the clues that graphically reflect the actions of past events. And through these, the grains and lines, are textures and tones, there emerges a patterning of representation. These patterns describe the profiles and horizons of evidence and limits of actions. Substance grows out of the fields and aggregates that patterns describe, and out of the distance between action and consequence. David Smith said that the earth’s surface depth does not seem important, since depth is visually inaccessible. What is important is patter, the traces of interactions, the patterns of nature in relation to those of man. They are always there, always discernible on the surface of the things that they help to constitute and describe, defining and projection. In collivial deposits, the talus accumulations, the scarring and sealing of etched surfaces, a landscape is codified: so likewise are the drawing and the photograph in the marks, smudges, tones, grains and gaps.


Robert Smithson wrote of the “vanishing, vanishing horizon”, that far and always so elusive horizon of landscape. As you move towards it, it recedes, and disappears, to reveal a new horizon. Never to be stood on or finally located, it has to be continually relocated and redefined. To zoom in closer, in an attempt to find it, is only to change the problem. As fields disappear, furrows appear; as furrows are walked into, clods of earth are isolated. Moving in still closer, evidence of frost-shattering from continuous freezing and thawing may show itself, or signs of sediment relocation from rain washing the soil from the surface are revealed. From one order to another chaos. The landscape moves continually from horizon to grain, from where it might end to what it might be. A transition, restless, and at times reckless. A ground that is inconsistent, that at any moment may shift its inclination, may swerve and tilt, bank and bend, in order to prevent the concrete, the irrefutable. Any kind of foothold is on shifting soil, whose gradient may have to be climbed over or slid down. In such uncertain terrain crevices may in turn expand into crevasses, or contract into hair-line seams almost too fine to be seen. These seams may turn out to be flow-lines, directional indicators of a more fluid state, describing the emergence of a new grain, as yet another change takes place.


Here is the constant conflict, Mondrian’s ideal of horizontal versus vertical, of unification versus isolation. “Landscape is either flat or it is sloping” (K.E.Sawyers). By far the largest proportion of the earth’s land surface is on a slope of less than five degrees. Water, wind, temperature change and organic growth, activated by gravity ceaselessly flatten the land. Duchamp sensed the centre of gravity being somewhere in the middle of the stomach, but to me it seems to be everywhere. Permeating the whole body, it is in everything, eroding and re-distributing in search of an ideal state, a state encouraged by the sedimentation of the earth. In this flow of things there is no cessation, no inertia, just endless movement, displacing, distributing and locating, yet again to displace. This sense of movement, this contradictory co-existence, this continuity and discontinuity, forever uniting and dividing, cementing and fracturing, rejects definition. Attempts to search for either sublime or irrefutable structures, for either metaphysical or possible systems – like the crazy perfections of Borges’ cartographers in ‘Of Exactitude in Science’, where all is mapped, and in the end all is map – lead nowhere.