These reflections were written by Philip-Lorca diCorcia between the months of November and December 1997. They came about as the result of a series of theoretical questions posed by the editor (Alberto Martin, Center for Photography at the University of Salamanca, Spain) concerning the Streetwork series. Therefore, these passages are the author’s responses to that specific request for reflection on his own work for the purpose of publishing them in this book.
The elements, which call into question the normal relationship of appearance to truth in photography, are, for most artists of my generation, tools to enrich the experience of the work rather than ends in themselves. If anyone were to tell me that what interests them most about my work is the questioning of the norms of photography, I would answer that they had missed the point. It is also tiring to continually see the work as having cinematic characteristics which influence the interpretation rather than becoming another element in the compositional array: there is no “plot” –the plot, as such, is generated by the realities at play at the moment, which include subjective states, objective observations, the interpretation of the sociopolitical dynamics at work AND the desire to give all these elements unprejudiced freedom from the predispositions that photography naturally creates.
I try to leave the meaning as open ended as possible, both as an acknowledgement of my own inability to “define” what we see and the realization that reductive analysis is boring and overly determined. The pictures are “non-events” both because I see that as interesting and because I want to remove photography’s biggest attraction – the offering of second hand experience.
Only the deeply deluded maintain that objective reality can define what is “real”. I don’t propose my work as an advanced definition of reality. I know as little as anyone about it. If the pictures stimulate interest, it is probably the subliminal recognition of the confusion we all face when confronting “reality”. I am only sure that what we see in this world is deceptive, especially in the media. I work on the assumption that nothing is new and nothing is real. That skepticism underlines my strategies as much as the search for any objective truth.
In the sense that the part represents the whole I am interested in society at large. . . The most consistent conclusion I have drawn in my travels is that no one really knows what’s going on –it is apathy and self-preservation, which define the sociopolitical aspects of the cities and their societies. Subjectivity becomes a comforting trap. It obsessively focuses on the self as a standard for an exterior reality. which exists only in the mind. Psychology is reality for many people. I try to show this. It may not, in fact, be the actual psychology of the subject that I portray, but it is played out in the image and the projection of that psychology into the surrounding space. The street does not induce people to shed their self-awareness. They seem to withdraw into themselves. They become less aware of their surroundings, seemingly lost within themselves. Their image is the outward facing front belied by the inwardly gazing eyes.
Unfortunately, the conclusion most often drawn about the people in my photography is that they are alienated. I do not speak to any of them, so I cannot substantiate that. Obviously, urban life is alienating, especially for those with little choice. But, since I choose the elements within my images, maybe it is more me that feels the need to express my own view of the pathos which rules the average life. My work has helped me to formulate that viewpoint and continues to inform it.
Meaning finds you when you put yourself in meaningful situations. One of the least meaningful situations I have found myself in is the professional Art world. I have never directed myself towards that world, but rather worked as a professional photographer since leaving university. I have been as influenced by working in the media as I have by contemporary art. I refuse to practice the job of Art. I have never described myself as an artist – when people ask me, I say I am a photographer. Those that describe themselves as “artists” seem to me to make a presumptive assessment of their worth, and they claim the same moral higher ground that photojournalists do. I have problems accepting either claim to moral authority.
Reality, as I witness it on the street, is a humbling thing. Maybe that is why artists escape into the realm of “subjectivity”? Photographers seem to escape it with the reductive “objectivity”. I would like to give each its measure: the process of finding the proper proportion continues still.
I feel that there are conclusions to be drawn from the work, but I do not start out seeking to explore sociopolitical issues. I feel that that would prejudice me more than I already am. For me, the desire to be right is a form of prejudice- I am not attempting to prove anything and I am far too misanthropic to care about altering people’s perception of their world. That is not to say that I am some sort of back –door formalist. I am conscious of making an aesthetic object that I want to stand on its own without the necessity to be viewed with other images; one that reveals its meaning over a long period of time, both in form and in content.
The content may criticize the media or the state or the history of photography, but I would be disappointed if the work were reducible to any one of those things. The world is too elusive to pin down in a photograph. The image has to create its own world, hopefully self contained, an analog of reality, not a mirror of it. Issues raised in the images are part of their content. That there should be more questions than answers should surprise no one. The strategies involved are too mutable to be given credit for the end result. The exploded view can be imploded to the tiniest of rooms, the most arcane and idiosyncratic of spaces, which intersects the world at large only when excessive focus is directed toward it. That is what I do. I focus excessively and dramatically on that which was never really hidden, but rarely is noticed. My motivations are analogous in the sense that they are small –they only enlarge under the scrutiny of hindsight, which is usually a distortion.