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 performances intend to expand on the practice of noticing multiple subjectivities while immersed in a camera-form. It is a camera bellows with fabric on the front, viewing screen material on the back and a 3 foot x 9 foot darkcloth to envelop the person using the device. 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.
I 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.
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.
In 2016, the work was used in field-based research into contested territories and shifting boundaries, Studies for Making and Unmaking.
Installation at Mapping Meaning, 2016