Today I was browsing through some past issues of Lenswork. The printed version is an excellent 8½x7” paperback magazine, printed in duotone, book-quality, paper-based, anthology-style periodical publication which focuses on photography and the creative process, produced by Brooks Jensen. I subscribe to the digital Extended version and it was in one these that I came across a series of images by Michael Crouser, called Sin Tiempo. They are beautiful scenes that really struck a chord with me. They have many of the characteristics that make me like an image, be it one of my own or by another photographer.
In the introduction to his portfolio Michael explains the title of this group of images. One of the things they have in common is that there are no identifiers of a particular time anywhere in the frame. No obviously modern things like cars, current typography or fashion statements, modern architecture. These pictures are Sin Tiempo, ‘without time’ in Spanish. They could have been made yesterday, 20 years ago, 50 years ago, or sometimes even centuries ago (if photography had been invented then…) The monochrome treatment and the fact that Michael uses film helps to create this timeless feeling. Looking at some of the images I saw parallels with my own work and even one or two very similar ones (see below.) Having read the introduction I understood better what it was that I liked about these images and also what I like about some of my own! Often, when asked why I like a certain image, I have to say “I don’t know. There are different things about it that I like, but I cannot put them into words.” This feeling of being outside time is probably one of those things. And yet, photography is the most time-bound discipline of the visual arts. It captures the world at one very specific moment in time (I am simplifying a bit, of course) and that is partly it’s appeal. In real life we cannot stop time and observe the world at one specific moment, the world is in constant flux, movement everywhere, things change constantly. Photographs allow us to stop the clock and see what is going on, we can take time and think about what is happening in a picture. We can read the story that the image tells, or we can make one up, using the visual clues present.
Below are two images that both can be regarded as being ‘without time’. The first one is by Michael Crouser and shows a woman, I think, on the steps of a church, I think. There is no title to give us more clues, but there are some hints in the image itself. The woman is sitting on the steps of what seems to me to be church. I like the darkness of the entrance. To me it symbolises the mystery of religion. The woman is very simply dressed and has a dejected posture that I would associate with someone who begs. I may be totally wrong of course, but that’s my interpretation. There are absolutely no clues as to when this image was made and that’s partly what makes it attractive and what induces me to linger and think about it. There are people in this position all over the world and there have been for centuries. This image makes me ponder the injustice.
When I saw the image above I immediately thought of one my own that I made in Bogota in 2005. I remember being struck by the contrast between this poor woman begging on the steps of the church and the opulence of the interior of that building. Moments before I made this image people dressed in their finest clothes filed past this women, most of them barely acknowledging her presence. Begging outside a church is not something that we see very often in the UK, but in Italy, Spain and Latin America it is not so uncommon. She did not seem unhappy or distressed, it seemed that this was her job, her way of making a living.
If you want to see more of Michael Crouser’s work you can go to his website michaelcrouser.com.