top of page

Michael Prais

Out of Context: Deterioration Loss Memories Photographs

This project is an illustration and an examination of the function of photographs without the attraction of resemblance. I am intrigued by scenes with unwitting arrangements of discarded objects. These human constructions are not designed, but the relationships between the objects found in a scene--like those relationships found in nature and created by composition in photographs--can exhibit structure and can attract attention. I capture these unwitting arrangements in my images in order to illustrate and examine chaos and randomness. Even so, chaos and randomness are difficult concepts to represent and recognize.

The concepts express a lack of structure and organization--a state of uniformity in which any individual structures are unrecognizable if they exist at all. To emphasize and illustrate the randomness in the
unwitting arrangements I find, I slice and dice each photograph into hundreds of small images (blocks) and reassemble most of these blocks into an apparently chaotic image. The discarded objects that I capture in my images suggest concerns of abandonment, deterioration and loss. Thinking about what I could have been thinking when I captured these photographs, I recognize that I often think about the finitude and loss of life. This is significant as I believe that I do not have an afterlife. Slicing, dicing and
reassembly emphasizes the deterioration of the objects in the scene and results in the deterioration and destruction of the resemblance produced by the photograph.

The deterioration of each image refers to its loss of value and points to my concerns with deterioration and loss of ability and life. Slicing and dicing creates hundreds of small blocks whose repetition also emphasizes finitude of the photograph and of life. Reassembling the blocks takes them out of context,
isolates them and further emphasizes their finitude. Making and viewing these images present an opportunity to deal with my concerns in an abstract manner and perhaps vaccinate myself against the discomforting feelings produced by my concerns.

Unlike photographs of abandonment, deterioration and loss, most photographs are made to help us remember comforting feelings of beneficial experiences and to allow us to distract ourselves from
discomforting feelings and concerns. To better understand the effects of reassembly, I reassemble photographs that I have created to remind me of beneficial experiences. Reassembly negates the
resemblance that is the chief characteristic of photography, yet it changes nothing about my memories. In order to regenerate feelings, we must recognize the actors in a photograph that have affected us.

Resemblance, however, is an indiscriminate consumer of parts of a scene and is not recognition. Recognition of actors and regeneration of feelings occur within the viewer and not within the photograph.
Reassembly forces the viewer to focus on the recognition of their own actors and on the regeneration of their own feelings and illustrates that experience and not photographs create memories for
the photographer and the subsequent viewers. Photographs are not memories. Photographs quietly, immediately and forever separate themselves from the scene and the situation of the photographer in it. They lack the context and the connections to make them valuable as explanations and, thus, as knowledge. They are beliefs (hypotheses) about our experiences. Reassembly uses repetition to refocus the viewer’s attention from the content of the original image (its resemblance) to the redundant frames of the constituent images.

Each block in its new context illustrates that the frame of any photograph takes the selected content out of context and fragments the reality that the photograph is supposed to represent--the description of the greater reality that photograph resemblance is expected to provide. The resemblance is relegated to the small blocks that have lost their context, and reassembly figuratively illustrates that photographs in general are taken out of context. Reassembly destroys the resemblance to the scene and, thus, becomes a reaction to the resemblance of images so celebrated by Modernist photography. The literal resemblance within the photographic frame has so enamored us that we have failed to recognize the point of the photographic metaphor: Photographs are metaphors for a finite life as both are defined by their boundaries in space and time. Reassembly of images figuratively tells us that the fragmentation and separation inherent in photographs is part of a process of deterioration and descent into chaos where structure is lost, uniformity prevails and individuals cease to exist. The fragmentation and separation by the photographic frame should direct our attention to deterioration and the descent into chaos rather
than an infinite afterlife of individual bliss.

bottom of page