All images © MacdonaldStrand
Brad Feuerhelm considers the participatory aspects and iconic violence in Most Popular of All Time, a new book by MacdonaldStrand.
Having picked up the latest self-published title from husband and wife team MacdonaldStrand (Clare Strand and Gordon Macdonald), I have come away with a greater sense of what photographic practice can bring about when disseminated through the line of the pencil, darkly. As photography becomes more and more synonymous with that of conceptual art practice, the mantra of the iconic within the medium begins to permeate a greater need for understanding for our own associations with images that take on a totemic value. A photograph with ‘iconic status’ is an instantly recognised yet sometimes little understood visual cadence that explodes across the world in daily consummation of news and media alike. How do we recognise, process, receive, and finally retransmit its symbolic value over time? How do we train our minds to adhere to a group formula for understanding these visual markers of progress and detriment? And finally, how to we reinterpret this material and send it back out into the world to promote its niche capacity for several understandings within the visual language of the time – past, present, and future?
The works contained within the superb Most Popular of All Time invoke such questions. The project results from an online survey conducted by the artist/curator duo, whereby users were asked to name their most iconic images. These photographs have become so ubiquitous that it is hard to see their content and they have become detached from their context.From the information gathered, MacdonaldStrand took the resulting images and reduced them to line drawings with ‘connect-the-dot’ numbered points. Left half-finished, the image is then to be completed by the further drawing on the part of the viewer.
All colour is drained, all traces of photographic grey scale removed. It is a simple yet effective conceit to reduce photography to that of line, but also embedded within the work is the ability to promote the ‘punctum’ of its iconic status with a participatory function – it brings the viewer into a complicit rendering of line and photographic management of iconic status.
Within the works selected for re-purposing are Eddie Adams famous ‘execution’ image and Richard Drew’s Falling Man. These pictures in and of themselves capture very difficult conditions of humanity and the role of observer within. The majority of the images displayed are of a horrific base and coalesce our need to exult difficult imagery into that of lore and legend, that of description and representation which is often fraught with a tension not found in other mediums. In short, they are epic tales of pleasure and pain, ecstasy and absence.
Yet representation is not the exclusive aim within the book nor the works themselves, but rather they evoke a need to understand how we as a collective society enable these icons caught on film (or file) and how we redistribute their meaning and function as the photograph itself. The structures of violence, the poignantly horrific, and the sometimes misunderstood signifiers of our collective photographic imagination delineated by the direct act of hand on paper.
The works are also available for an incredibly economic rate, which is also clever given the material. I have purchased all images within the show for less than £100. But in doing so I understand what exactly it is I am enabling. MacdonaldStrand have chosen a crafty and intelligent way to examine and exclude some of the icons of photography through something as commonplace as a pencil. Time and the flow of chaos have been reduced to the materially manageable.