Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Visual disturbances: One

This is a collection of 28 photos selected from a total of 200 taken while watching TV on the night of Saturday 21 June 2008. While taking these photos I tried to time the shutter action to fit scene changes or other types of motion. So, for example, a switch between the face of one of the actors and that of another, or a section of drama in which a character was walking across a room. Sometimes people’s faces are blurred and at other times you get a staggered effect as though a movie were being artificially slowed down.

I don’t understand enough about TV or about digital cameras to explain this effect. It might have something to do with the frequency at which the sensor in the camera operates. Perhaps someone can add a comment with the necessary information. I do know however that the kinds of effects that are evident in some of the images included in this post wouldn’t have been possible prior to the advent of digital photography.

The program shown in the images is ‘Silent Witness’, an unfortunately monocultural British TV crime drama that started in 1996 and that is still being made. Action centres on a forensics team helping police investigate violent crimes where a corpse has been the result. Tom Ward played Harry Cunningham and Emilia Fox played Nikki Alexander. Both actors feature in the photos that follow here. The theme music used for the opening credits has a strongly religious feel and was composed by a man born in 1956 named John Harle. The series was created by a man born in 1953 named Nigel McCrery, who had been a policeman.

The narrow categories used for cultural representation in the episode sampled here reflect the program’s origins. I was reminded of this when I went through the images while choosing what to include. My concern was aroused while watching the TV that night – so long ago now it’s almost like a different lifetime – by suspicions of what appeared to be xenophobia; the episode has an Asian woman portrayed in a negative light.

Mediocrity of this kind would be bad enough on its own but in this case the problem extends further. Crime is a staple for many different modalities of art, including TV, literature, and cinema. However, the neat conclusions that characterise crime fiction, which often involve the use of plot points that serve to offset the feeling of suspense that you vicariously enjoy while watching or reading, sit at variance to the complexities of reality.

In this sense, the crime genre is a bit of a con job, although true crime stories also sell well. Crime fiction makes us feel safe on its own terms while the structures and dynamics that condition and control our lives continue to work – often against our interests – even in the absence of individual agency. The neat ontologies of the crim genre – a terrible wrong is examined and its cause is identified and a criminal is, consequently and satisfyingly, placed in jail – can, if we are not careful, dupe us into complacency while real problems, that are far more dangerous though perhaps less easy to see, persist.

Escapism is a bit like religion: it can distract us from real issues that beset us in our lives. A dissatisfying job. A bully for a manager. Stagnant wages. A persistent addiction. A toxic relationship. A debilitating illness.

Like a lot of art, furthermore, works that conform to the crime genre rely on flattery to achieve their aims. We are told stories that we are competent to understand while other, more complex, stories, ones that might more accurately describe our world, remain securely within the province of an impotent minority or else are scattered confusingly across a crowded media landscape.

It is in this context that I offer these imperfect images to the reader. They are reflections of what I see as an imperfect world, a world full of distorting influences that puzzle us as well as dark things that, even given the best of efforts, stubbornly remain outside our control.

Having said these things many works of art that are made these days blend different modalities. You might have a work of crime-and-romance, or one of scifi-and-postmodernism. The times have changed and we are offered a range of options now that didn’t exist even a decade ago. Back in 2008 when these photos were taken such trends were not so evident. The canon was smaller, the lines separating genres were more precisely defined, there was less choice. It was a simpler time, but not necessarily a better one.


roger of bangalow said...

Hi MD. I hope you are feeling better. Regarding the after image distortions you achieved, it echoes to me the old, time-lapse photography effects that are a result of slowing up or increasing the shutter speed - more technical suggestions than that I cannot say. The result reminds me of the proverbial 'ghost in the machine' (as if many TV shows aren't spooky enough already! ). I tend to watch the English crime dramas/ serials more than any other as I guess you may too. One great short series I can recommend at the moment is 'Patrick Melrose' (9.20 pm Sunday, ABC) about a 1980s English aristocrat recovering from a hard-drugs addiction - a sort of surreal Oscar Wildean comedy/tragedy - which some of the images in your blog remind me of. Other than that, 'Vikings' was the last series I enjoyed.

Matthew da Silva said...

Hi Roger. I'll be putting up more photos like these in the next few weeks and would be interested in hearing your opinions. I understand that people use crime drama to relax and this seems perfectly normal to me but seen objectively reality is more strange than fiction, IMO. At least, that's what I have come to think. The emergence of creative nonfiction - journalism that uses literary techniques - is an aspect of this.