Time is constant, it is unavoidable, it can be unattainable, and it is a commodity. When someone we cherish is gone, we wish we had more time with them. When a deadline is approaching we say, “If only I had a little more time.” People say that life is short, but what they really mean is that there isn’t enough time. We spend our days in the hustle and bustle, sending e-mails, eating lunch at our desks, multitasking, scheduling meetings, and doing everything we can to make the most of our time. Everything we do and everything we have done, everything, is in one way or another dependent upon time.
It was an amazing day when the first cave drawing was created, freezing a moment in time. What sparked in that person’s mind, motivating them to make a record of history? Was he aware that he had virtually defined the word “history” as we now know it? Was it hard for others to grasp the idea that time not only marched steadily forward, but was also made up of distinct points in the past that we could capture? Until that moment we only had memories of events that we could recollect by saying, “Remember the time when…?” Over the ages we began to invent better ways of capturing history, whether it was carved in stone, drawn on paper, or a painted on canvas, but these methods could only show a rough portrayal of the actual event. That is, until the invention of photography.
“Photography appears on the scene as though someone had found a way to freeze the water of passing time; appearances that were once fluid as water running through one’s fingers became solid objects.” – Rebecca Solnit
Even today, photography continues to reinvent itself, striving to record history in as much detail and as accurately as possible. Once relying on fragile glass negatives and alchemy, it graduated to the more sturdy and predictable use of film. Camera obscuras were replaced by f-stops and shutter speeds. And over the past couple of decades we’ve been perfecting the ability to capture time digitally, in excruciating detail, using 1′s and 0′s. However photography is not only about capturing an image, it’s also about printing it, and making it last as long as possible for future generations by using by archival inks and shielding it behind museum quality glass.
It’s this fascination with making things last as long as possible that makes the concept behind One Hour Photo so interesting. Created by Adam Good and curated with Chajana denHarder and Chandi Kelley, the exhibit consists of 129 photographs that were created by 129 different photographers. Unlike a typical gallery or museum show, these photographs won’t be printed, framed, and hung on a well-lit, white wall for several weeks or months. Instead, they will be digitally projected on a wall for one hour only, then never to be seen again. From the website:
“In One Hour Photo, photography’s original impulse to capture a moment, to freeze and frame it, is turned outward, to the experience of viewing itself. The hour is the exposure, the moment that is captured in the frame of a temporary, provisional observation. Each work ceases to be a photograph: it erases its medium, its status as art object, as it becomes a pure moment of perception to be experienced, framed, and captured by the viewer. In this sense, the viewer becomes the camera, recording the moment on the unreliable format of memory. The viewer also becomes photography itself, as it feels its familiar constructs slip away: permanence, reproduction, ownership, control.”
It’s interesting that there are currently two photography exhibits on display in DC that look at time in two completely different ways. The Eadweard Muybridge exhibit at the Corcoran shows work by a man who was in some ways more of an inventor than a photographer, looking for new methods to capture precise moments in time. The photographs on display are kept in dim lighting and in controlled humidity in order to preserve them and their value for as long as possible. On the other hand, the creators of the One Hour Photo project have opted to add value to the photographs by taking away what we cherish most: time.
One Hour Photo is a refreshing look at photography, at the world of art, and at the definition of time itself. I encourage you to participate by stopping by the Katzen Arts Center to view one or more of the photographs on display. Think about how you feel at the end of the hour knowing that what you have just seen is now only a memory and all you can say is, “Remember that one photo?”
One Hour Photo
American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center Washington, DC
May 8 – June 6, 2010
Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Tue-Sun
Saturday, May 8th, 6 – 9 p.m.
“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” – Saint Augustine
“Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can’t buy more hours. Scientists can’t invent new minutes. And you can’t save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.” – Denis Waitely
“Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.” – Louis Hector Berlioz
“The time you think you’re missing, misses you too.” – Ymber Delecto
“A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours.” – John B. Priestly
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”
- William Shakespeare
“Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.” – John Archibald Wheeler