Mary Price. 1994. A Strange Confined Space

Mary Price. 1994. A Strange Confined Space Stanford University Press. Stanford. California.

Notes and thoughts on: Chapter 6. Mask as Descriptive Concept.

In photography proficiency of execution… (A good picture well shot) may also be a mask?

Does it hide or reveal. Does it hide and reveal?

Concealment of the warts… of harsh reality, or a concealment of goodness.

“We who prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet may be convinced that only surprise will catch a glimpse of the truth.” P117

Barthes: “The mediator of truth.”  The family portrait… “It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture.”

It has studium… but no wound.

That unseen wound invests the photograph with meaning. “Their language directs us to the unseen truth in the photograph.” P117

Camera Lucidia: Reflections on Photography. P73.

The photograph has the assumption of it being the transcription of the real. (A false assumption.) “The photograph thus becoming itself the mask concealing… thwarting confrontation with the real.”

The painting does not. It is painted so it is not “real.”

William Casby (Slave) by Richard Avedon.

The mask is the “essence” of slavery. P119

The picture (the mask) is “the product of society and its history.”

->The essence of the photograph is its mask<- It is a virtual mask over the “real” photograph.

Yet without the picture being textualised.. it would just be a picture of an old black person.. so is the text the mask?

Or in the case of Eisenhower, we know who he is, but he is removed from all contexts of office and power and is presented as “just” a head. That isolation allows the viewer to fell the essence.

Both photographs are isolated contextually, and are mask like in literal form. They also have a virtual mask, and that consists of the captured essence.

Barthes…”Since every photograph is contingent (and thereby outside of meaning), photography cannot signify (aim at a generality) except by assuming a mask.”

Walker Evans with his concealed camera on the NY subway… is at its most successful … “The outer appearance is taken as mask of the true inner being, a mask wrought by the will of the person who displays it but a mask penetrated by the photographer.”

Yousef Karsh: “All I know is that within every man and woman a secret is hidden…The revelation, if it comes at all, will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture, a gleam of the eye, a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize.”

Mary Price makes the observation that the exposed masks of the famous people are themselves obscured by the mask of admiration that Karsh himself displays.

Is that not always going to be the case… unless the camera is set to fire remotely, at random intervals, at random locations…? The photographer will always have a mask that wraps around the entirety of the photograph…? I.e. the camera looks both ways.

Dianne Arbus:  “One seems to be asked to lie in wait wit Arbus until the veil is rent for a second and the trauma both of nature and of the person is exposed.” P126

The mask exposed reveals the indifference both of nature…and the person.

“The oblique suggestion in all of the Arbus photographs is that they are both revelation and concealment. The notion of masks is always present.”

I would also argue that in exposing the masks of her subjects, Arbus… more than most… displays and wraps her photographs in the hint of her own turmoil.