同一肌肤下的姊妹(John Brumfield)

     

同一肌肤下的姊妹

加利福尼亚帕萨迪那市 艺术中心设计学院教授
John Brumfield

    备受争议的美国文化评论家苏珊·桑塔格(Susan Sontag)几年前曾如此评论沃克·埃文斯(Walker Evans):他如果不是最好的美国摄影家,也一定是美国最伟大、最具洞察力的摄影家。确实如此,他的每一张照片,他一生的创作,以及他那影响深远的《美国摄影作品集》(American Photographs),70多年来一直在启发我们思考:我们是谁,我们如何生活,我们珍视什么。其中最具颠覆性的是:我们热爱什么,畏惧什么。他的图片所呈现的景象早已不复旧观,但其所关注的议题尤存。文化认同和社会习俗的传承,一直在潜移默化地影响着人们。一如马克·吐温(Mark Twain)的著作、约翰·亚当斯【John Adams,作品有《灵魂的流动》(On the Transmigration of Souls)和歌剧《尼克松在中国》(Nixon in China)。译者注】的作品或查尔斯·艾夫斯(Charles Ives)的音乐,沃克·埃文斯的影像已经成为阐述美国特性的力作。
    人们往往认为,伟大的艺术在于反映了真实。一直以来,这样的说法数不胜数,其实这是荒谬的。那是一面充满隐喻性意义的镜子,不是纯粹的、毫无情感的反映,更不是绝对的客观和中立。摄影,与其他艺术一样,其影像是被赋予内容和生命的,由天才的作者报以形、色、质。甚至,它只是艺术家的一种自我沉迷?1950年代美国空中监视情报系统甚至可以拍下苏联发射井中导弹的序列号,这种图片肯定被认为是客观的记录,但除此以外,其他任何由具有构图意识和洞察力的眼睛记录下来的影像,都应看作是具有主观选择性的。沃克·埃文斯正是如此,他一如既往,始终关注。
    今天,四处狩猎的摄影家比起沃克·埃文斯和他那周游美国的同伴所处的年代要多得多。人们有时会不甚厚道地说,几位风格独特的摄影家,例如李·费兰特(Lee Friedlander)、拉瑞·萨尔坦(Larry Sultan)、迪姆·戴维斯(Tim Davis),莎里·曼(Sally Mann),还有更多类似的同行,全都从沃克·埃文斯那儿获得些许好处,然后过分地把摄影弄成了一个舒适的职业。其实,更重要的意义在于,沃克·埃文斯把变化的视觉臻于成熟,让当代美国摄影与之形成对话并继续发展。就对话本身来说,有人指出,其中还会聚了一系列精辟的讽刺和感性的关注,并可追溯到刘易斯·海因(Lewis Hine)和雅各布·里斯(Jacob Riis)具有开创意义的作品上去(美国工业初期利用大量童工,由于这两位纪实摄影先驱性的工作,引起世界关注而使政府立法改善儿童待遇。译者注)。他们的视觉包含着一种克制的义愤,其血缘--如果可以如此形容--与疏离、不公,永不休止的剥削、艰辛和受苦的图景一起涌动。这些苦难往往降临于被公认的机构(指宣传媒体,译者注)所忽视的人们身上,产生于一种缺乏守望相助精神的文化当中。那是一种无动于衷、逃避责任、自私自利又矢口否认的文化--其高层统治者可以为所欲为,无恶不作,践踏神圣,只要保证周末有时间去购物、去关注时装和橄榄球。
    但是,如果没有进一步的限制,上述的总体判断就会过于简单。历史上的分裂、持续发展当中的同质化倾向,使美国文化在矛盾和自欺的仪式中形成。美国受教育的职业人本改革家,差不多是把欧洲启蒙思潮的保守传统,稀释性地重复一次。例如,迟钝的中产阶级对改革没有目标和理想,禁锢不前,被全球系统化的公司文化所超越。这样的企业文化偶尔会称赞自由企业和创业个性,但其字句和语调都是例行公事。在这情况下,前后一致的民主传统其实都是假装的,政治与经济结合下的致命的竞争和大家共有的霸道,使民主已被显而易见又具有敌意的干预大大削弱,公众真正参与政治改革的进程,皆葬于困惑和宣传的瘴气泥沼中。
    尽管美国进步的传统已经变得相当分化、失去连贯性,并且经常不攻自破;但几乎无一例外,任何有益于当今美国所享有的民主,都会引起草根活动分子、社区组织者、当地革命者和愤怒市民的关注,并明确表达其论点,详尽阐述其战略,甚至部署战壕兵戎相见。这种进步的传统,无论成败,多次从劣势中超越了阶级、性别和肤色的颠覆。
    意识形态的切入和教条主义的干扰所造成的不间断的颠覆,已经使得美国摄影一片乱像,神经兮兮和自我狂迷,但是,尽管如此,由里斯(Riis)、海因(Hine)和埃文斯(Evans)所形成的持续的历史性对话具有如此丰富的内涵,可以说从中构建起了一种真挚的传统,融合了承诺与挑衅,明确并激发了人们为真正的民主社会而奋斗。
    因此,它无法削弱表面完全异质的艺术家如拉里·芬克(Larry Fink)、亚兰·塞库拉(Alan Secula)以及刘博智等人的作品的自主性。要考察他们任何一位,都必须像考察他们的前辈罗伯特·弗兰克(Robert Frank)和戴安娜·阿勃丝(Diane Arbus)那样,将之放在一个更广阔的传统当中审视。因为这毕竟是一种相当卓越的知识分子传统,它不是教条的摄影方法,而是对深刻的洞察与明确的关注所拥有的一致认可。
    传播学的研究表明,塑造某人对任何事物--包括观察、关注或其他--的表达,通常都不被认为是“特定领域研讨”的内容,也就是说,这个人可能说什么,不说什么,怎样说。从而,依次地将我们的注意力引导至首选和禁用的词汇所共同关注的问题上来,包括次文化和阶级的方言,措辞、结构和句法的差异。这一切都可以归纳到平面设计常用的一个词:标识(signage)--一种包含记号、标记、图像和指示性符号等具有可读性又相对连贯的理想化系统。
    就最原始程度而言,标识的逻辑在于,让与艺术家拥有相同文化背景的观者能看出摄影作品中的各种元素。博闻强记的观者更是能够看出它们在各种语境中的联系及其对于构图的重要性。总而言之,他能理解作者的意图。这就是迪斯尼的漫画、工具书图册、大多数宣传海报以及当下很多黄色刊物的逻辑所在,同时表明,含糊会造成混乱与误读。另外,事实上还是有人能“领会”蒂娜·巴尼(Tina Barney)或刘博智的作品,有些人则不能。更洞悉细致的解读表明,他还可以认识到,与众不同的标识连贯系统是蒂娜·巴尼和刘博智风格的重要组成。在这里,构成艺术家视觉词汇的标识所带来的明显区别是特别重要的因素。这也从风格上决定了玛格丽特·博克-怀特(Margaret Burke-White)的摄影与苏珊·梅瑟勒斯(Susan Meiselas)的完全不同。只要系统地看过戴安娜·阿勃丝(Diane Arbus)和多萝西亚·兰格(Dorthea Lange)的摄影集,没有人会混淆两者在肖像作品上所表现出来的对世界的不同感知。
    我们知道,审查制度其实是从隐含的侧面证明了,富于象征意义的图像通常在表达某种观点,也许是声明、建议、询问、映射,很多时候甚至是评判或呼吁。如果一个艺术家的作品具有连贯性,那么,我们就可以认定其图像已经构成了一套标识系统。以此为基础,就可以反过来为艺术家的“世界观”下定义:关于什么的“东西”,通过它们,艺术家有“画”可说。正是风格把这一切联系了起来,通过对形记、着色、对象、制品、姿势和人物的象征而赋予了不同的内涵,并给作品以意义,阐述其内在的观点。
    所以传统能够对风格产生影响。与罗伯特·弗兰克(Robert Frank)和戴安娜·阿勃丝(Diane Arbus)相比,刘博智的作品具有更多的沃克·埃文斯(Walker Evans)的痕迹。这对他的观察方式显然是有启发性的,甚至给他以灵感,为其创作提供可有效的参考框架。但假若一味模仿,某种传统的套用也许会变成拘束、狭隘的正统教条,限制了艺术家观察与视觉的能力,禁锢了摄影师自由演绎的直觉需要。
    在我看来,需要审慎考虑的是:艺术家必须忠实于个体对事物的感知,在内心坚守说出前人所未说的承诺。摄影师向我们呈现事物不为人所熟知的一面,用不同的光,凸显那些我们没注意到的,或将司空见惯而完完全全被忽略的置于我们眼前。
    当一切都经过梳理分类,掂量揣度后,刘博智摄影风格可作如是观:在疏离、义愤、怀疑、理解与悲天悯人的身份共同作用下所产生深刻的铭记,促使他养成了简洁却意味深长的工作方法。与前辈里斯(Riis)、海因(Hine)、埃文斯(Evans)和弗兰克(Frank)一样,他穿越了一片颓废、精神衰败的疆域。这片疆域跨越两个国度,既无矛盾,也不谎谬。虽然二者方方面面都悬殊,骨子里相互充满恶意,并摆出反对的姿态,但从道德伦理角度看来,中国和美国--借用著名帝国主义者的话来说--“同一肌肤下的姊妹” (约瑟夫·鲁德亚德·吉卜林,Joseph Rudyard Kipling,生于印度孟买,英国作家,诗人。在对印度殖民地生活的描绘中,经常表露出对殖民主义的支持,认为没有欧洲大国的帮助,印度等殖民地国家就不能生存。人们普遍认为他的作品充满了帝国主义色彩。译者注)。无论是由无所限制的权力下的生活所迫,还是同样无所节制的物欲横流的驱使,两者都沦为了剥削文化,麻木不仁,对任何错事都坚持否认的态度。
    因此,刘博智在某一张图片中将我们的注意力引至洛杉矶一个闷热拥挤的制衣厂,或者深圳经济特区外来工用废料搭起的帐篷(见232页),都无关紧要,因为彼此共同印证悲剧性的浪费所造成的因果孽缘。
    然而,每张图片都是要紧的;也可以说都是重述之处更多,但多少重述才是重要的呢?又究竟经历了多大的变革?香港那表面无形又熙攘的街道昭示了怎样的性格与悖论?旧金山一家单间中的衣架与日历,又展示了怎样脆弱的自尊?
    我相信,这正是刘博智作品的价值所在,影像累积的效果肯定地运作,唤起对摄影传统的单样化,他继承着这一般的传统,其影像的深意无可缩减,看“黑沙发”,它对我们每一个人都说着不同的话。
    与沃克·埃文斯(Walker Evans)多年前那张家喻户晓的记录煤矿工人小屋室内的照片一样在述说,“这是一个人住的地方,他也是一个人。”

(刘博智、梁笑媚 译 Translated by Pok Chi Lau & Smile Leung)


Sisters Under the Skin
John Brumfield
Professor, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California

Several years ago one of the most disarmingly provocative of American cultural critics, Susan Sontag, remarked that if Walker Evans was perhaps not the greatest American Photographer, he was most certainly the greatest and most penetrating photographers of America.  Of course she was right; for in image after image, in the work of a life time, and most profoundly in his book American Photographs, Walker Evans continues to show us, even now seventy some years later, who we are, how we live, what we value, and most subversively, what we love and what we fear.  And while, on the material surface, it might appear that the face of the landscape has changed, the issues remain and the continuities of cultural identity and convention continue insidiously to reiterate themselves.  Like the writing of Mark Twain, or the music of John Adams or Charles Ives, Walker Evans' imagery is an elaboration of the nature of the American Character.
With more variations than any reasonable adult should wish to catalogue, it is all too often said that Great Art holds the mirror up to nature; but this is nonsense; for that metaphorical mirror is neither merely dispassionately reflective nor objectively neutral.  And in photography - as in every other art - its imagery is informed and animated, shaped colored and textured and nuanced by the genius - or is it merely the obsessive individuality? - Of the artist.  In the l950's when American surveillance over-flights produced photographs showing even the serial numbers on the missiles in the silos of the Soviet Union, those images could surely be said to be examples of objective documentation; but short of that, anything framed by an intentionally compositional eye must always be understood to be editorial.  And Walker Evans had a persistently intentional eye.
But there are many more photographers out hunting today than there were when Evans and his colleagues traversed America.  And while it has been uncharitably said that such stylistically distinct photographers as Lee Friedlander and Larry Sultan and Tim Davis and Sally Mann and two or three dozen more have each taken a piece of Walker Evans' pie and inflated it into a comfortable career, it is much more to the point that Walker Evans brought to cogent maturity the visual dialectic with which much of the dialogue of contemporary American photography continues to be engaged.  Yet insofar as that dialogue may also be said to be characterized by a continuum of critical irony and implicitly compassionate concern, then its visual vocabulary must of course also be traced back to the seminal work of Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis.  For theirs is a dialogue of restrained outrage, and its bloodline - if it may be called that - pulsates with an iconography of alienation, inequity, and seemingly endless exploitation and hardship and suffering.  It is the suffering of those ignored by the machinery of recognition.  It is a suffering created by a culture of indifference, a culture of self-absorbed denial, a culture of avoidance whose reigning hierarchies may do anything, commit any atrocity, violate any sanctity as long as the weekends are left free to go shopping and one's attention is available for fashion and football.  It is a culture without an overarching or internally unifying sense of community.
But without further qualification this judgment is susceptible of gross interpretative oversimplification. Historically fissured and perpetually in a process of reluctant homogenization, America is a civilization riven by contradiction and ritual self-delusion. Little more than a dilute reiteration of the conservative conventions of the European Enlightenment, the reformist humanism of the educated American professional is, for instance, persistently clogged by the inhibitions of an ideologically unfocused and phlegmatic middle class while decisively outdistanced by the global machinations of a corporate culture whose occasional celebration of free enterprise and entrepreneurial individuality is prescriptively pro forma and rhetorical.  In this respect any pretensions to a coherent democratic tradition must be understood to be fundamentally compromised by the transparently hostile interventions of those economic and political combinations whose internecine rivalries and shared aggressions shape and indeed drive the de facto political process swamping any hope of genuine public participation in a miasma of obfuscation and propaganda.
By contrast the American progressive tradition has been enormously factious, fragmented, and often self defeating; but almost without exception, whatever benefits of democracy the contemporary American may enjoy, its issues were first articulated, its strategies elaborated, its battles fought and its trenches manned by grassroots activists, community organizers, homegrown revolutionaries and outraged private citizens - transcending repeatedly, and against all odds, the subversions of class and gender and color.
The character of American Photography too has been informed by an unceasing turbulence of ideological tangents and dogmatisms, but idiosyncratic obsession and egotistical chatter notwithstanding, the historical continuity of the dialogue to which Riis and Hine and Evans have so richly contributed must be said to constitute a tradition of genuine integrity.  It is a tradition of commitment and provocation often defining and always stimulating the struggle for a truly democratic society.
So it in no way diminishes the individual validity of the work of such ostensibly disparate artists as, for example, Larry Fink, Alan Secula, or Pok Chi Lau for that matter, to observe that each of them, like Robert Frank and Diane Arbus before them, is a participant in the broad flow of a tradition.  For it is a preeminently intellectual tradition after all, defined more by a shared allegiance to incisive critical observation and articulated concern than by the formalities of method.
It is axiomatic in communication studies that shaping anyone's expression of anything - observation and concern or anything else - is an often unrecognized "specific universe of discourse", that is, what one will or will not talk about and how.  And this, in turn, introduces to our attention the allied issues of preferred and prohibited vocabularies, dialects of sub-culture and class, distinctions of diction and, of course, compositional structure and syntax.  All of which may be summed up by the term, signage, a word from the toolbox of graphic design, indicating, ideally, a reliably readable and relatively constant system of marks, signs, icons and signifying symbols.
At its most reductive level, the logic of signage implies that any number of readers sharing the same culture as the artist will, on looking at his or her image, recognize all of its components.  The informed viewer will recognize their contextual relationships and their compositional significance.  He or she will, in short, understand the artist's intention.  This of course is the logic of the Disney comic book, the visual how-to-do-it manual, most propaganda posters and much contemporary pornography and it reflects the recognition that ambiguity can be confusing.  But it also tells us that some people will "get" the work of Tina Barney - or, Pok Chi Lau - and others will not; and a much more nuanced interpretation suggests that one will also recognize that distinctively consistent systems of signage are the identifying components of Lau and Barney's style.  The critical elements here are the significant distinctions in the signage comprising one's visual vocabulary.  Thus the ways in which the imagery of Margaret Bourke-White differ from the imagery of Susan Meiselas are in this respect indices identifying each photographer's style.  Having seen an ample selection of the photographs of Diane Arbus and Dorthea Lange, one would never mistake a portrait by one with the work of the other.  Nor would we confuse their sense of the world.
Censorship, as we all know, is an implicit testimonial to the fact that representational imagery is always a kind of utterance: a statement, a suggestion, a reference, an allusion, often even a judgment or an evocation.  If an artist's work is consistent one may say that his or her imagery comprises a signage system which in turn defines that artist's universe of discourse: the "stuff" about which - and through which - the artist speaks.  And it is the artist's style that brings it all together.  It is style that distinctively contextualizes the marks and smears of color, his or her representations of objects and artifacts and gestures and people.  It is style that generates the meaning of the work and it is style that enunciates the artist's underlying world view.
Tradition, of course, may influence one's style.  As Pok Chi Lau has remarked of the work of Walker Evans and to a lesser degree of Robert Frank and Diane Arbus, the influence of a way of seeing may be inspirational, even catalytic.  And certainly it may provide guidance.  It may provide the operative frame of reference for one's life work.  Followed slavishly however, the syntactic patterns of a tradition may also become restrictive and constricting, formal dogmatisms inhibiting the artist's ability to see and visualize - inhibiting the photographer's intuitive need to interpret freely.
The critical consideration here, it seems to me, resides in the probably inexplicable persistence of the artist's commitment to his own ineluctably individual take on things, the internal assurance that he or she has something important to say that has not been said before.  The photographer presents something that we have not seen quite this way, in just this light, and with an emphasis that we had somehow overlooked and we are confronted with an understanding of the ever so familiar world that we have missed entirely.
And, after everything else has been sifted, sorted, weighed and measured, it is this above all that characterizes the photography of Pok Chi Lau: the indelibly personal mix of estrangement and outrage, disbelief and understanding and compassionate identification that drives all other aspects of his succinct and eloquent method.  Like Riis and Hine and Evans and Frank before him, he too traverses a landscape of depravation and spiritual depletion.  And it is neither a contradiction nor a paradox that this landscape is two nations.  For as different as they are in so many ways, as fundamentally malignant as each seems to the other, and at such opposing purposes, from a moral perspective China and the United States are, to borrow the language of a famous imperialist, "sisters under the skin." (Rudyard Kipling, British most influential Imperial poet who helped ignited the Britain to start conquering India, Africa, South America and other continents.  He has a famous essay called Gungadin which described all colors of skins other than white were the burdens of the world.  Therefore Brits should save the world like good old Christians go.)  Driven by the consuming necessities of uninhibited power and equally unimpeded material aggrandizement, both have become cultures of exploitation, indifference and denial.
So it really doesn't matter very much if in one image he channels our attention to the sweltering and congested clutter of a sweatshop in Los Angeles or the desperately thrown together tents of scavengers in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (p.232), each bespeaks the same tragically wasteful consequence of parallel lines of cause and effect.
Still, the individual image matters; and while it might be said to be more of the same, how much more is important.  And through how many permutations?  What revelations of character and contradiction are to be seen in the apparently shapeless bustle of a Hong Kong street?  What fragile dignity is to be found among the coat hangers and calendars of a San Francisco family's one room home?
And this, I think, is where the virtue of Pok Chi Lau's work resides, for while the cumulative effect of his imagery assuredly operates as an evocation of the kinds of generalizations predictably associated with the tradition within which he works, it is the irreducible and terrible eloquence of such images as his "Black Couch," that speaks uniquely to each of us.
It says, like that famous image that Walker Evans made so many years ago of the interior of a Coal Miner's Cabin, "This is where a man lives.  He is a man too."

 


 

 



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