On page 384 of Photography: A Cultural History by Mary Warner Marien, under the section heading “Philosophy and Practice: Photography ‘Born Whole’ “, the author discusses an exhibition John Szarkowski organized in 1978 entitled Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960.
This exhibition explored concepts ranging from the idea of the mirror (the artist’s concern with self) and the notion of the window (the appearance of the world). Paragraphs in, it is explained that the inclusion of work by Ed Ruscha leaned toward the latter approach in that he “saw the camera as essentially a bland, inexpressive device with which to record dispassionately a banal human environment”. On page 427, his use of photography was explained in a similar fashion around the context of renunciation of personal expression within the medium. Ruscha uses the camera as a device to record, itemize, and compile images of familiar locations and buildings such as gas stations, parking lots, and motel swimming pools to the end of showing through repetition similarities and differences between specific subject matters.
Considering that photography is a tool he uses largely within the context of the artist book, it seems Ruscha approaches the photographic and book making practices from relativelypure standpoints. For the purposes of this introduction, the term ‘pure’ is not intended to connote the romanticization of content – rather, the realization of the camera/book as a willed objects. From this photographic perspective, the camera is a device whose function is to record and transmit information – information that fits within the photographic program. Similarly, the book (in the general sense of the term) is a venue in which content can be stored and presented to the viewer as a platform for information to be disseminated and received. It is a somewhat open format, relying on content to give it direction. But in the end, it shows what can be shown on the page, or else point outwards to other media that handle content in different ways.
It’s not really important who takes the photographs, I don’t even look at it as photography; they’re just images to fill a book. - ED RUSCHA 2
In his 1968 book, Nine Swimming Pools, Ruscha chose as his content nine different swimming pools, which he presented with numerous blank pages between plates. Using the title as our guide, we trust, even if we don’t initially understand his motive, that there are in fact nine variations of similar subjects rather than a single subject being repeated from various perspectives.
Though, the presence of visual rest as provided by these blank pages tricks us into questioning this fact, forcing us to jump between each variation to analyze and compare their similarities and differences. The act of retracing visual steps encourages the viewer to slow down and focus on the content, despite the familiar nature of what is pictured – familiar through personal experience or visual culture. The repetition of this strange familiarity is what allows a static narrative driven by the content to be developed. This is to say, a narrative about the viewers interaction with content, rather than a narrative that immerses the viewer in content.
Repetition, Iteration, Re-Iteration (Introduction – Part II)