/ David Moore: ‘Lisa and John’
Revisiting old documentary projects can be done by rehanging and contextualising as in New Brighton Revisited (2018), featuring work by Martin Parr, Tom Wood and Ken Grant, or critically re-examining the entire project, as David Moore’s Lisa and John (2017) can testify.
The restaging of these various bodies of work does not only tell about the discourses and practices currently prevalent in curating, it also questions how the relevance and role of documentary practices is perceived by photographers.
Moore’s Lisa and John revisits his 1980’s series Pictures from the Real World, which documented working class communities in the photographer’s home-town of Derby. The reworked project consists of prints, theatrical maquettes, audio-visual installation and a theatre performance. It reframes an old project through an archival intervention of a sort. Very fittingly, these works were exhibited earlier this year at Belfast Exposed, a photography gallery that holds an archive of 35mm negatives. Housed in the organisation’s archive, these thousands of negatives are regularly revisited and various edits have been created both within the archive as well as for external consumption.
Archives are socially and culturally constructed as explained by postmodern archive theory.[i] This also impacts the way in which they are used. Archives have the capacity to tell a different story and to be interrogated for counter-hegemonic purposes. While Pictures from the Real World portrayed David Moore’s selection of his photographic archive, Lisa and John, through the intervention the artist himself staged, offers us viewers an alternative edit of the documentary project. However, the intervention is not carried out by external researchers, a curator or historian, but by the very subjects of the photographs.
It could be said that Moore’s photographs have been returned to their owners, for Ariella Azoulay argues in her seminal book The Civil Contract of Photography that “every photograph of others bears the traces of meeting between the photographed person and the photographer.”[ii] These traces inherent in the photographic image contest the very idea that a photographic meaning could be fixed, but also that its ownership would be singular. Lisa and John never owned a physical copy of these photographs, yet they share the ownership with Moore who readdressed the co-ownership in this new iteration of the project by both literally and figuratively returning the photographs to the couple.
Similarly, Jorma Puranen, with his Imaginary Homecoming (1991), returned old photographs from an archive back to their origin. A group of photographs were taken of Sámi people in the 19th century by a French prince for anthropological purposes. Puranen encountered the portraits in the Musée de L’Homme, and wished to bring them back to the place they had been severed from. Mounting the portrays on acrylic boards and placing them in the landscape and rephotographing in this context, Puranen restaged a metaphoric return. The archival documents were incorporated in newly produced artwork, providing a new context for them.
In Lisa and John, however, the photographs remain untouched, their return to the origin and co-owners has not altered the images, rather, the archival intervention has radically altered the contextualization. Through the gesture of returning the archive back to Lisa and John, David Moore invites them to collaborate on an art project, to become co-producers and active co-owners of the photographs.
In the theatre performance of ‘The Lisa and John Slideshow’ at The MAC Belfast it becomes apparent that for Lisa and John, the photographs are not a work of art, but long lost documents of their lives. Through the images, they seek to access their past. However, the archive challenges what Lisa and John wanted to remember by forcing them to remember. At one point John exclaims with surprise in his voice that he was a good father after all, contrary to his memories. They remember different things, they remember differently.
But so do photographs. They remember one corner of the room, omitting what is behind the lens. This gap is what Moore addresses by including 3D maquettes of the scenes in the exhibition. They are an attempt at addressing the Brechtian fourth wall by providing the viewer an access to the situation and moment of the photographic event. The maquettes do this, and at the same time cleverly create a link to the theatre play which otherwise is absent in the exhibition. However, as is well acknowledged, a photographer only captures a single moment, a moment whose representation of the past can be just as distorted as our memories are.
There is a discrepancy between the different elements of the exhibition and the project – and how it is presented. While the theatre performance is experimental; it extends, and expands the very concept of documentary practice, the display of the prints on the wall does nothing to support the project. If Lisa and John is about the collaborative process and the result of an archival intervention, why are the framed photographic prints privileged in the event of an exhibition? The display of the project is controlled and limited by the tradition of photography and the centre stage has been reserved for the photographic prints. However, they do not occupy it, but have a secondary role in the presentation of the collaborative intervention. The attempt at an immersive audio visual element is tucked away in the corridor-like upstairs gallery.
The photographs are not the work; they were the props used to assist the real protagonists in analysing their life. The actual work of art is the way in which David Moore facilitated the conversation between Lisa and John through the medium of photography. The exhibition retells records and retells the process of collaboration through multimedia installation consisting of several elements both conforming to the told story while at the same time contradicting it by deploying elements of repetition, overlapping imagery and audio.
– text by Mirjami Schuppert
[i] Terry Cook, ‘Fashionable Nonsense or Professional Rebirth: Postmodernism and the Practice of Archives’, Archivaria, no. 51 (2001): 14–35.
[ii] Ariella Azoulay, The Civil Contract of Photography (New York; Cambridge, Mass.: Zone Books ; Distributed by The MIT Press, 2008).
‘Lisa and John’ was exhibited at Belfast Exposed 3rd May – 16th June 2018 in conjunction with the performance ‘Lisa and John’ on 10th May 2018 at the MAC Theatre.