Jon’s photo series (Abysses, 2010-11; Petra is reading erotic literature, 2013; Landscapes (Kolkata, Varanasi, Goa), 2014)) provoke a question of what photography is able to show. Not a rhetorical one, assuming the impotence of photography as the answer. The question is about what is even (ever) possible to be seen on photographs. More than with the object itself, this dilemma refers to the observing subject and to the location, from where he or she is observing.
As the title itself suggests, the Landscape series was shot in Kolkata, Varanasi and Goa, during Jon’s two-year stay in India. Even though it is a kind of documentary series, the Indian landscape is not documented in a way that we are used to, from images from travel shows or magazines. The series consists of 25 black and white analogue photos in a smaller format, which depict two types of motives – sandy/stony structures or wavy surfaces. Although Jon’s series themselves seem ‘non-narrative’ at first (they are structured against the formation of a coherent storyline, as the scenes do not add up or complement each other, but keep bringing us back to the same problem), the context of their creation does in fact provide some kind of story, which is also highlighted by the titles, that are as such essential for the understanding of the Landscapes series. They concretize and attach these fairly ‘abstract’ motifs to a specific time and space, thereby also giving meaning to the gesture of photographing, since, as Jon himself puts it, he would have never taken photos like that had he remained in Slovenia. Introducing the broader context diverts the focus from purely formal problems of the photographic medium or its language. In this case this does not result in the domination of text – also the photos structure their own context (hence the problems regarding the medium should not be completely pushed aside). In the Landscape series, the caption is not in an explanatory relationship with the image – even though I am at this point writing down the fact that the photos actually show piles of construction sand on the streets of Kolkata and Goa and sheets spread to dry on the banks of Varanasi, this does not mean that they can’t at the same time evoke many other images or that the viewer can disregard the symbolic network, that distinguishes their meaning. In the photographs from the Landscapes series I can actually never see mere sand and sheets. Among other things, the series produces the effect of fluctuations between the near and far, which undermines the tendency of photography to clearly show the object of its interest. Individual photos are focusing on excerpts of ‘landscapes’ in a way that does not allow one to distinguish the “measure” – our closeness or distance to the observed object. Or vice versa: a loss of the sense of size of the photographed object occurs, which thus seems monumental and tiny at the same time. Although we are always dealing with a detail, this does not however provide the definition of the whole it belongs to.
So what do Landscapes bring? Romantic, exotic, monumental or other perceptions the viewer has of India, are exposed as the result of his own projection. These perceptions depend very much on the context (social, political, personal …) in which they were formed. One could even claim that it is rather about the mapping of the observers view, as bases of its attitude towards the observed (unfamiliar) space, than about the mapping of foreign landscapes. Jon’s photos do not offer the alternative image, the „true“ identity of India, no other answer than the fact that we are repeatedly forced to stop at and face the surface, since photography (and our gaze) cannot penetrate any deeper. In this respect the main object of the Landscape series is maybe not so much Indian landscapes, but the limit of photography itself. This limit is not so much a problem of technology, as it is the problem of the gaze. That is why technology is not expected to deliver the most realistic portrayal of the motive as possible anymore and thus the chosen analogue photographic procedure is legitimized most of all by the conceptualization of its materiality. While showing me the photos, Jon namely also talked about how the processes of sand erosion (due to rain that causes the photographed shapes to form) and the old techniques of washing and drying of clothes on the banks of Indian rivers, in terms of meaning, match the processes of development of analogue photograph. Maybe this should be regarded as a footnote to the debate about the role of this type of photography today, when its use often seems obsolete or fetishised.