Arts Review : March 1997
Photography
By D.G. Lee


Guide books instruct us as to the finest vantage points from which to view a scene. This authorized form of the vista will approximate closely to the treatment of landscape as depicted by academic painters and photographers. (In fact, early photographers incapable of discerning the picturesque for themselves had access to manuals containing precise instructions on where to position the camera.) Irrespective of subject matter the scene as witnessed from the carefully selected observation point will be accessible for pictorial appreciation and supply a detached visual gratification. Through guide books and other media the modern traveler is now well-programmed with the rules governing the stationary, picturesque attitude, and appreciably skilled in their application and evaluation. The views became paintings and photographs made real and reflect the continuing presence in our consciousness of the conservative approach to the land evolved as long ago as the 17th century. Some painters have fought successfully against this tradition but the inherent static constraint of the photograph has made more problematical the photographer’s rupture with longstanding convention. Jenny Okun, a young artist whose large colour and monochrome pictures are exhibited at the ICA, addresses the restriction of the fixed viewpoint: the abstraction of the picturesque. In order to achieve circumspection and the inference of the eye’s roving consumption as it accumulates the unfolding aspects constitutive of experience, the limitations of the fixed exposure have had to be overcome. To achieve this Okun pulls the film through the focal plane to release it from the constructions of the format. The result is a strip effect superimposing image upon image: each individual section incorporating elements of the whole. This may sound mechanical, if not superfluous in the age of the movie camera, but it allows the simultaneous gathering of several moments within the confines of a still picture. After careful deciphering the prints reveal the vision of a constantly changing world at variance with the sophistical timelessness engendered by the picturesque.