About Me

My photo
MICHAEL SCHREIER Michael Schreier is a professional artist and photographer who has dedicated his considerable professional career to the celebration of both the public and private hero. Recent work includes Storyteller, Waiting for Words at the Ottawa Art Gallery, curator Emily Falvey, 2009, and the curating of the exhibition Dave Heath, A Heritage of Meaning, 2013 at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Selected works are represented in both public and private collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, the National Archives Photography Collection, the Agnes-Etherington Art Centre, the Canadian Portrait Gallery, Visual Studies Workshop, (Rochester, New York), Light Works Workshop, Syracuse New York, Carleton University Art Gallery, and the University of Ottawa Library Special Collections.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Camera Obscura is dedicated to Dave Heath and Jim Borcoman

Post # 6

(cursor on photograph, for detailed viewing
  note: unless otherwise indicated all photographs by 
    Michael Schreier and drawings by Hilde Schreier)

 Tableau and the Anti-hero:

  (Reflections on Staging, theater and the event,)


The tableau has a complex history, both as a theatrical event and as a painting: later also to be embraced by photography. For discussion here, I will refer primarily to the tableau as a most immediate and vivid description of a living scene. Traditionally the tableau vivant has used actors in period costume presenting a moment in history, presumably of some significance. These moments might include classical mythology and storytelling or reflect a prosaic occurrence, granted significance through representation. With the advent of photography, a tableau's truth may be further encouraged by the camera's facility for an objective rendering both of evidence and a specific moment in time. Discussing the most critical aspect to the tableau, absorption, (to be intensely engaged in the moment),

Disturbances in Reading

Michael Schreier

(available on blurb.ca)

 Michael Fried proposes in his iconic tome   Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot,  that any loss or digression from the moment of absorption, (the experience only of the internal event), so that the focus might shift to the beholder, challenges the credibility of the event represented. It would simply be reduced to a theatrical gesture. There is some truth to this concern as the above photographing has not disturbed the moment and the beholder is consequently offered proximity. Imagine that at the moment of exposure she had turned and focused on me, and by association the beholder; I suspect her gaze would have challenged my presence, significantly altering the meaning of this work.

              In the dance where everyone dances,
                       there are some who don't dance, just stare,
better not to go to the dance
            than to be there without being there.

August 4, 1934

The following photograph from my work Tears for an Empty Desert illustrates additional concerns reflected by Fried, however offering a peculiar subtlety, critical to photography. Notice on the top left corner a mysterious unavailable presence. The gentleman immediately below, gestures his right arm towards the gentleman on the right who, while leaning back, eyes slightly closed considers what is being discussed. His line of sight however connects directly to the unknown figure and he seems slightly baffled, briefly oblivious to the suggested urgency for  his conversation. All this, as the central woman's reflective gaze/gesture further complicates the scenario, proffering a consideration excluded from  the main event, (the discussion between the two gentlemen). She draws me in past the two men and for a brief moment in considering her troubled demeanor, I am similarly perplexed. A tableau's notion of time is both constant and fragile. Each moment gains and loses authority and, consequently, voice. So, while remaining empathetic with Michael Fried's argument that the moment of absorption should not be lost, I suggest it is precisely the debate between co-existing elements that offers vulnerability and a more complex truth. Here, the beholder, privileged by the act of framing in proximity is implicated. Additional questions of privilege and the ethics of complicity associated with such a witnessing must be considered. Is it possible that the beholder attains (virtual) membership in this moment, shifting the understood "main event", (a discussion between two gentlemen), to the privilege of participation within the private, yet social arena, claiming the beholder as adjudicator/interrogator, be it from the periphery, the outsider integrated?

       Consider, the film  My Dinner with André 

Diptych: From series Portraits in Silence, 2003, 
 Collection of the Artist, Michael Schreier

16..04..03, 13..45..15                                                 16..04..03, 13..40..11

       (#s metadata timeline for photograph: day..month..year..hour..minute..second)

(note the order for the placement of the photographs in the diptych: the time line clearly indicates that the photograph on the right was taken first. What might this artist's intentional reversal imply?

Tears for an Empty Desert

Michael Schreier

The Overpass
Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall's The Overpass has always intrigued me in its implied serendipity. I realize that the significance of his oeuvre rests in the contemporary photographic tableau, all elements considered, constructed, and then assembled. On numerous occasions, Wall has discussed his process. One of the more informative conversations was with Thierry de Duve, We Are All Actors. It is well worth considering. In the tableau, The Overpass, the anonymous constructed moment is paramount. It offers all the characteristics of a "snapshot". Yet, while embracing this event's implied casualness, Wall alters its insignificance through framing, the repetition of shape and formal elements, the shadow of the street lamp in the foreground offering an edge as it echoes the conduit above the woman's head. There are other intentional elements as subtle but I wish however to focus on the position of the beholder either standing or walking in concert. By his and their mutual proximity, I can only presume that (all) these individuals must be aware of each other. Yet each is absorbed in their private thought and nomadic; they remain exiled. Ironically, Wall offers a potential meeting with an approaching figure. None of whom, it is suggested, at this moment will engage. 

                                                                Ever upstream from myself
                                                                I advance, implore and pursue myself
                                                                   O harsh law of my poem
                                                                In the hollow of a shadow which flees me.

Edmond Vandercammen, La Porte sans Mémoire

The Poetics of  Reverie
Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos
Gaston Bachelard

Chimney Sweeps Walking, December 1851

Salted paper print, 15.1 cm x 19.7cm
32485, National Gallery of Canada
Charles Nègre

Charles Nègre's title, Chimney Sweeps Walking, December 1851, seems somewhat ironic as it underscores two critical elements regarding photography; truth, (the veracity of an event), and its specific time frame. The time frame here is easily understood: December 1851. As described in the National Gallery of Canada link, this photograph replicates a "snapshot" attitude. However James Borcoman has eloquently described Nègre's intentions, that in posing these three figures he has offered a constructed event. The Chimney Sweeps are not Walking. It is well known that one of Nègre's motives was to provide photographic studies to painters; James Borcoman suggests this may have been one of them. Personally I am attracted by the implied immediacy and the witnessing of a moment. In contrast with Wall's The Overpass, Nègre places the beholder as an observer, at the proscenium's edge rather than as potential active participant. All suggested movement is from left to right as opposed to in The Overpass, from foreground to middle ground to distance. I believe that one of the most critical elements to any work is the implied engagement of the beholder either as an active (suggested) participant or as a silent observer. In either case, an author remains reliant on a reader's ability to recognize from a previous experience.    

Finally, pursuant to Diderot's reflections on the tableau, and just to reiterate, Michael Fried insists the beholder must refrain from any immediate engagement with the drama presented. Resting only in silent observance at the outside edge of the proscenium, the actor remains absorbed, offering no acknowledgement of the audience/beholder. If there were to be a direct engagement, then the tableau would immediately be suspended. Yet is it not in the Shakespearean experience, via the apron/thrust stage that the beholder may be considered not only a viewer of the drama but a member of the crowd within the scenario? According to Fried, in his recent work, Why Photography Matters As Art As Never Before, the position of the beholder as a silent observer rather than participant must also hold true for the photograph as tableau. He further argues that the large scale of contemporary photography must consider those issues for Absorption and Theatricality, initially addressed by 18th century French painting and underscored in the writings of Denis Diderot. I would however prefer a somewhat different reading. I can agree that scale may be critical in considering the contemporary tableau: however, I would suggest that elements concerning time and space are of equal if not overriding value. For me, these elements reinforce the transitory nature of vision and may subsequently contribute to our understanding of place. 

Gallery Muse
Michael Schreier

The next blog will discuss the theatrical nature of time and place.


Michael Schreier

Blog # 7: Theater, installation, and the fragility of time.

(the beholder, lost and standing in place)