by Nuno Faria
1. the formation of the image inside the eye
Click. Cancel. The moment when a photographic image is captured, the moment that defines the temporality of each image, is like a shutting of the eyes. Photography, in this sense, is akin to blindness and to death: two different ways of shutting the eyes.
The notion of cutting - used to designate the moment that forever captures reality's appearance in an image, as if it were inside the eye - highlights the idea of simulacrum, so central to photography. Conclusion: photography, rather than adding images to the world, takes them out of it.
We know all there is to know about photographic images; otherwise photography wouldn't be a commonplace with such wide appeal. But what we don't usually know, or remember, is that the images aren't so much illusions as they are elisions. Placed between the observer and the reality they apparently reproduce, they enclose whatever possibility there is of recognizing the object they render visible.
There is a strange divorce between the gaze that captures the image and the gaze that discovers it after it's printed, as if the disappearance of the capturing instrument had instantly hurled the image onto a different plane of perception, as if the image had become its own reality. Photography is a place of knowledge more than of recognition. That makes it illusory, yes, but also defines it as immanence and contingency, as presence.
As such the photographic image is an entity without absolute time. Its time is defined by comparison with the image that's potentially next to it,adjacent in a tiny interval of time, separated by a cut that, like a guillotine, separates the head from the body, the time of representation from the time of reality.
Photography is perhaps one of the strangest activities practised by humans,and it is often practised with no awareness of it far-reaching consequences, with no awareness of its commerce with death, to which every photograph is a visible proof. To freeze time, like a Gorgon - such would seem to be the purpose of photography.
2. the gaze's range as delimitation of the field
With "borrowed landscape", the series of photographs now exhibited, Mariana Viegas seems, first of all, to be asserting the transitory nature of photography. Basing her rigorous selection of images and their subsequent presentation on a logic not unlike what Aby Warburg defined as "Iconology of the Interval", she seems to predicate the original character of the photographic image on invisibility and transience. Photography, after all, does not have a cohesive character, it lacks its own body; the photographic image is always in a space between - between two images - paralyzed, more than suspended, in a strange temporality. Mariana Viegas proposes two possible perspectives for viewing the images presented: a horizontal perspective - space - defining an imaginary trajectory, and a vertical perspective - time - through the subtle deconstruction of the moment of cutting, by presenting alternate images captured at moments slightly different from those that make up the series proper.
But a certain moment is frozen, a choice is made. The photograph captures and fixes, but what clearly interests Mariana Viegas is everything leading up to that moment of cutting: waiting, wandering, delineating a trajectory, drawing a purpose.
So what we have is a series of images from different periods, grouped under the theme of landscape, though the common characteristics that unite them go beyond the theme of landscape as such. (Landscape is obviously a problematic notion; we think it designates something outside it, when it is already designation).
Here the landscape is not an escape or an opening out but a field of forces in tension. It seems to be corseted by the limits of the image and appears to us as a vestige, a contraction. This impression is confirmed by the title, whose evocation of Japanese gardens ("borrowed landscape" is the Japanese expression for "garden") makes us think of landscape as construction, as an artificial entity, resulting from a relationship - landscape as translation, therefore.
Our gaze constantly meets obstacles within the image, reminding us of the concreteness of what we're viewing. The landscape (lakes, rocks, mountains, or walled-in trees and bushes) is there not so much as an object of enjoyment but as a strange entity, a gentle otherness, mitigated by the presence or intervention of humans, sometimes in the background, sometimes as obstacles to our view. In these photographs the image is not like a window onto the world, or like a mirror of the soul; the concrete features of the landscape embody the signs of human presence; the landscape has a body to the extent that a body has given it its shape. "Landscape" is a term that perhaps disturbs these images more than it classifies them. Behind the title, which contains a warning (landscape here is a "borrowed" notion), we meet an ensemble of elements that seem to construct an image through the language specific to photography: light, framing, depth of field, etc.
And yet this series of images is close to painting, not because it bears any trace of pictorialism, but because its composition is a work of construction, the construction of a body.
The landscape becomes doubly reflexive: it is the projection of a gaze, and it projects (gives back) to us our own gaze. This could be the caption of the most disturbing and ineffable image of this series: a hooded figure who looks at us without us being able to unveil his eyes, in an eerie and eloquent play of mirrors.
Translated by Richard Zenith
this text was presented with the folio edition for the show at Galeria Promontório Arquitectos with Vera Cortês Arts Agency, Lisboa, 2004