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Ross Pulbrook's contribution to the group show Which Art in Heaven consisted of a selection of some 40 or so pictures of the TV news. Using colour slide film in a small (35mm) camera, he has redocumented the Chamberlain saga. These "suburban landscapes" were produced sporadically over the last six to seven years, during the period of the various trials and inquests. Pulbrook has made several other series using the same technique, and these are of the Pope, the Queen, soap operas, and test card patterns.
The framed prints in the exhibition were quite small - the same size as the slide originals. This allowed them to be multiply hung, one above another. The possibility was well exploited, and the resulting arrangement of images deserves some description. The prints were laid out in vertical rows of thematically related images, which viewed from a distance appeared to be single units or an image matrix. Such methodology is quite uncommon. Photography is generally displayed in horizontal, linear rows, possibly forming a chronological narrative. Matrix like groupings were also used by modernist poets to juxtapose words and allow various angular readings of text.
Rephotographing television isolates a single integrated picture from a flow of images, and static images are displayed simultaneously. This effectively reshuffles or telescopes the temporal positioning of each picture in respect to its screening order. It suggests an alternative reading to the sequential, chronological narrative model proposed by the broadcasts themselves.
In linear narratives each image informs and relays meaning to the next. To produce still photographs from television broadcasts is therefore to intervene in this process. Perhaps this is part of the reason why certain singular images were at first glance unrecognisable, such as the picture of Azaria's singlet stained with blood. Affective cues in the broadcast were reassigned meaning spatially, contingent on a print's position within the matrix of images, rather than temporally as in television.
Ross doesn't use a video recorder or rephotograph "file" film. An element of chance is thus at play in determining the precise instant preserved. The imaging process is a play of contingencies, a quality shared by most photographs following the adoption of "high speed" film and small, transportable cameras. Such attributes were elevated to the status of an ideal by the "decisive moment" school of photography. 1 By photographing domestic televisions, however, Pulbrook draws attention to that which photography is inextricably bound: voyeurism. Does the still camera mimic the gaze of the viewer, or the broadcast cinecamera? Pulbrook includes in his images the frame of the television screen and reflections of domestic light fixtures. Like a bubble in the lamination of signifier and referent, this deprives the television picture of its transporting quality - we are conscious of our gaze.
The Chamberlains are portrayed in an environment which is a reconstruction, a hypothetical landscape produced as an attentional lure. They occupy the midground in a montaged territory of conflicting affective cues: somewhere between the icon of Ayers Rock (background/primal mythic) and newsreader (foreground/contemporary mythic). There is something subtly comic about the artifice of this construction. Perhaps it became more noticeable through rephotography, even in that somewhat lofty set of prints shifting in the firmament as the more accessible were examined.
Ross Pulbrook, God Loves Lindy, 1987
1. “Henri Cartier-Bresson, photographer” Delior, Paris 1973