Unmaking the archive: Archival photograph (shown below) Timothy O’Sullivan, 1868. Source: War Department. Office of the Chief of Engineers. U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel. (1867 – 1881).
The Breath Camera is a multi-part project that involves still images and performances. The Breath Camera mixes the fleshy with the fleeting: It is a wearable form made to expand on capacities for noticing while immersed in/as camera. Bellows removed from a 4×5 large-format view camera were modified and attached to a soft front standard with simple lenses and a soft back standard holds a viewing screen. Users shroud themselves in a long 1 x 4 metre darkcloth and supports the camera in their hands. Controlling the flexible bellows, air circulates through the camera, and images slip in and out of focus.
It is a continuation of my interest in time-based still photography. In one version, I guide the person wearing the camera and we have conversations beginning with the experience of cameras and impermanence. In another, groups work together to become the breathing camera.
I first produced a prototype of the work while Artist-in-Residence at the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at UVic in 2015. I was researching connections between photography and Buddhism. I became interested in John Cage’s work, particularly the work 4’33” and ideas in art about indeterminancy and ongoingness.
A space for noticing
Lenses I pilfered from an old optician’s kit act as the simple lenses. The motion of the bellows move in and then out to simulate breath. The image slips into and out of focus as we hold the camera, our own bodies in movement effecting the image, the wind rustling that which we fleetingly represent. I am interested in expanding that moment of realization out — the breath camera is a noticing you can see and manipulate.
Photo: The Breath Camera at Mapping Meaning 2016
Punctum, affect and connectivity with life
In the moment, holding the breath camera, the user takes hold of mind through the breath as it comes up against the unarchivable reality of experience. The affect of being drawn to looking, to representing, to an image, to moving towards and being repelled from, by focusing and losing focus, by breath, by holding one’s breath, being reminded to breathe by the camera, by the teeming infinite escaping unexpected things: Breathing the life of awareness.
The unsettled, unfixed nature of representation comes up against the surprise of the image. Roland Barthes’ provides a word for magical relations we have with images, what he names punctum. Punctum denotes a wounding, a personally touching detail in a photograph, that establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it. The Breath Camera is a co-activity, a fluctuating field firming up and then drifting, inhale, exhale, then giving way to focus — a snap — it becomes something, a representation with punctum: the wound of connectivity with life.
Photos: Seminar in Digital Cultures and Creativity. Fleshy Futures: Technologies and the Body. University of Maryland. Workshop on Respiration and Photography. Students work together as The Breath Camera. Photos courtesy Jarah Moesch.
In 2016, the work was used in field-based research into contested territories and shifting boundaries, that resulted in the video and performance work, Studies for Making and Unmaking.
The Breath Camera is an anticapitalist camera. Anticapitalist cameras are not governed by corporate logics, profit, dominant systems or capitalist worlds. They oppose the hold that corporations have over photography and cameras and challenge the idea that relations between humans and photography began with the “invention” of fixed images 200 years ago.
Photo: Installation at Mapping Meaning, 2016