Between Friday the 18th and Sunday the 20th of October 1974, writer Georges Perec sat daily in a café at Place Saint-Sulpice, in Paris, thoroughly documenting what he saw, charting brief details of buses and people, dogs, funeral processions, and all he ate and drank. These notes of “that which is generally not taken note of, that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather” are the material for the book An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, a work focused on the infra-ordinary with obvious links to contemporary photography.
Between 2009 and 2016, I photographed a table and a window in my kitchen in Lisbon. I was first attracted by its silence, later by how the objects received the light, and, finally, by their geometrical composition. I couldn’t help noticing, more and more, how things repeated themselves without truly repeating themselves. Little changes, almost invisible transformations happened every day, according to weather and season. Unlike Perec’s tableau, as he saw it from the Café Tabac in Paris, mine was truly void of any action. In front of those luminous but opaque windows, the objects on the table were replaced in function of everyday needs: dishes, glasses, newspapers, magazines, flowers, napkins, the fruit in season, papers, instruments, maps. Retreating from the outside world, I slowly transformed my kitchen into a refuge, a shelter, a place for introspection and solace. Sometimes, I could see the suspended light as a modest reminder of the light in a church or mosque I once visited in Iran. Everything seemed to remain unchanged in this kitchen while the world outside transformed. A friend died, a government collapsed, a book came out, a war flared, a bomb exploded. One day the world attempted to break in: a constructor knocked on my door and told me the owner of the house wanted to replace the window; that I would feel much happier with a modern window with larger glass panes, more luminous and better insulated. He was still talking when I shut the door on his face. I kept on photographing, started experimenting with other devices, getting different results. Color, black and white, negative, positive, digital, film, instant film. Somewhere, I found an old photo of my refugee great-grandparents sitting on a different table, facing a similar window. Yes, it was the same light, and also they had bathed in it.
As I photographed it, day after day, I realized that images alone would never be able to reproduce the entirety of that minuscule space. And even if we attempted to translate the wholeness of it into identical hours of moving images, the sequence would exhaust our time — much like Ireneo Funes, who didn’t have time to live because he was using his days to reconstruct a full day’s worth of past memories. Moreover, each photo reflects reality in its own way: subtle differences in the color of the digital images, overexposures in the positives, grainy grays on the black and white photos, and the fascinating chemical reactions of instant film. The format we use, or the lens we choose, the film and the bath, each represent a different kind of truth. But as I see the image — slowly but swiftly — materializing in front of me, in my hand, a relationship is established with the photographed object that does not exist in the suddenness of the digital screen: physical contact, the handling of the object-photography, error, things that echo the many mistakes made in the photographic laboratory when photography was still something akin to alchemy. Some of these images had to be developed in the phantasmagorical darkness that once ruled the processes of photography, but that, just like the beauty of the error and the evanescence of the image, is now part of an analog past. There is no flaw in digital, repetition is pointless, nothing is lost, nothing is transformed and nothing ever dies. In fact, nothing ever exists: it is just computerized light. It is not tangible or tactile. Today, photography as object can only be found (cheap) at the flea market or (expensive) in the art gallery.
I photographed more and more. I felt that, in a world awash with images coming from the most diverse geographies, it made sense to photograph always the same place and always the same photograph. But the place I chose revealed to be ungrateful. This attempt is just an attempt, and my window is as inexhaustible as Perec’s café. Nothing moves, and yet everything moves. Hundreds of photos reveal only the smallest interval of time within time: a microscopic fragment, insignificant in the context of its continuous flux. There will be a time when I will not be here anymore and someone will finally change the window. And then, yes, a different light will shine endlessly. Perhaps someone will also find happiness here, in that other time that is not our own.
Daniel Blaufuks October 2016
Galeria Vera Cortês (press release)