About Me

I am an artist currently living in Los Angeles. I specialize in photo-based work. Contact me at bbisch8005@hotmail.com


The Kinks Take On Photographic Theory

Photographic theory and rock and roll don’t mix often if at all, however I cannot think of a more complex, smart combination than The Kinks last track on The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, “People Take Pictures of Each Other.” Here Ray Davies, the Kinks lead singer and lyrical author, offers us a desperate view of how photographs function against a peppy vaudeville piano vamp.

Davies sings:

People take pictures of the Summer,
Just in case someone thought they had missed it,
And to prove that it really existed.

Here the photograph acts as evidence recording the transitory existence of a season. And what if someone missed summer? Well I could show them a photograph of it as Davies suggests, but what would be represented in that photograph? The photograph could show a sunny beach bordered with palm trees, that whole scene. However, the beach photographed would not be your summer or anyone’s summer in fact. The photograph is generic, ambiguous and even though it describes it doesn’t describe anything specific to you. And this is one of the points Davies reveals about the medium of photography: the reality a photograph describes is subjective based on who is looking at it. Even though this argument could apply to other mediums of art, it is particularly shocking given the faithful mechanical objectivity a camera should produce.

The song goes on:

People take pictures of each other,
Just to prove that they really existed,
Just to prove that they really existed.

Davies sings this lyric ironically since he does not believe photographs prove anything except loss. However, the lyric does present a complex answer to why we photograph anything at all. I believe the key word in Davies hypothesis is existed. He does not say, “Just to prove that they really are existing.” In this argument what is photographed is now dead; photograph as death mask. The existing becomes the existed and the photograph is the proof.

Ray Davies, Age 8 with his Mother, Sister, and Brother, 1952

The overarching theme of the The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society as a concept album describes in nostalgic terms the ambiguous allure of the past, how it can never be experienced again because we are alive and time goes by. This is why Davies cries, “ Don’t show me no more please,” regarding photographs at the end of “People Take Pictures Of Each Other.” To Davies photographs are a poor substitute for the real thing. Take the photograph Davies describes in the song: he is three years old and he is standing with his mother by an old oak tree. This specific event would have lived and died within that moment, but since there is a photograph the event continues. The moment is still dead but the photograph reminds Davies that this event with his mother happened but cannot be relived. A similar thing happens in Camera Lucida when Roland Barthes discovers the "Winter Garden Photograph," which portrays his mother standing in a garden when she was five years old. Given that his mother had recently died the photograph pricks him with a unique loss and deep pain which he concludes all he can do now is await his own “total, undialectical death.” To Barthes and Davies these photographs of their mothers contain the power to move and affect; the medium at its height. However, as Barthes explains if we were to view the same photographs we would feel absolutely nothing.


A Photograph of Morris Louis in His Studio

Doesn’t exist.

Locked away in his home studio Louis perfected painting techniques that are still being speculated by art historians over 40 years later. Why? Because he kept his techniques guarded by not sharing how he made his paintings with anyone.

…no one ever saw him work. Not even his wife was admitted to the tiny studio where Louis worked his magic, and the huge canvases that emerged were canonized as masterpieces of this intimate alchemical process.
(Machine in the Studio, Caroline A. Jones)

So what we are left with is the object, these masterpieces. However, to stand in front of one of Louis’ paintings, to witness the threads of bare canvas, the shift in colors stained through the fabric, and to peek around at the limits of the support, reveals nothing of the creator’s hand. Not a single brush stroke can be seen. It is as if the painting was always present. Greenberg describes this experience, “The fabric, being soaked in paint rather than merely covered by it, becomes paint in itself, color in itself, like dyed cloth: the threadedness and wovenness are in the color.” Because of Morris’ strict work ethic and artistic morality, he never let a photographer near his studio. With no document in existence we are left imagining him pouring, dabbing, mixing, stretching; a mystic figure working, locked away from the public.

What adds further substance to Morris’ integrity is that every other major painter of his generation and the generation before him has a photograph taken of them working in their studio. These photographs of painters, more typologies than portraits, are so common during this period that they all share specific characteristics. All the photographs contain the painter residing in their studio, their recent creations surrounding them. The painter doesn’t acknowledge the camera spying on them as they work. However, the painter is absorbed either in thoughtful contemplation or the act of painting. The presence of the camera changes everything as I have learned, and the person being photographed in this situation becomes a performer in a role. The role in this case is that of an artist working in their studio. The theatricality of these types of photographs stifles the artistic intensions these painters explored, and predate the “stage presence” of minimalist art by decades. But unlike minimalism it is not the art object that is on a theatrical stage, it is the artist, and the photograph remains allowing us to witness the drama unfolding, the artist creating in their studio.

Upper right: Morris Louis, Point of Tranquility, 1959-60
Lower right: Hans Namuth, Jackson Pollock, 1951