Three Works by Alice Wingwall
- Audio Description
Alice Wingwall works with the juxtaposition of images.
In her photographs, photomurals, site-specific installations and film, she brings together compositional elements, memories and associations. The spatial arrangements, evocative prints and words that she creates have a very distinctive presence. In Douglas McCulloh’s curatorial essay in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists, Wingwall is quoted as saying, “For a blind person, making a photograph is a choice, a radical choice, a political move. I was tired of people saying to me, ‘How can you take a photograph when you can’t see anything’? And I think they weren’t asking me, they were telling me – ‘How can you do this? It’s unthinkable.” Well, I can do it. What I say to them is that the image starts in the brain.”
Extract from Amanda Cachia’s curatorial statement
Wingwall’s process of creating “marks” with her photographs might also be thought of as an internalized stain that stems from her brain, which is then projected out into the imagination of Wingwall’s camera lens. Wingwall must give some control over to the subjectivity and will of the camera itself, where the thrust of her hand movements grasping the camera will direct the focus point of the lens, and the timing of when the picture is snapped. Indeed, while a mark might be suggestive of spontaneity, for Wingwall, a mark is wrapped up in a complex relationship around cognitive, physical and sensorial exchanges which work together to produce her photographic oeuvre. The act of taking photographs becomes sensorial when Wingwall will feel the heat of the sun in order to get a sense of the strength and direction of the light source, and she may similarly sense the reflected light radiating from her subject. The photographer’s experience in the process of taking a photo is also similar to Papalia’s in terms of the act of viewing imagery as a type of collaborative exchange. She often relies on colleagues or her husbands to describe what they see through her camera lens as a type of visual description. In turn, Wingwall will share her “mind’s eye” image with the collaborator, finding ways for both the camera and her “mind images” to match up. Thus, Wingwall is interested in making compositions of not just what she says in front of her, but also eventually what she didn’t see in front of her. She chooses from big compositions that she imagines exists, which she then photographs.
Although a 50-millimeter lens renders an image close to what the human eye sees, Wingwall is fond of using wider lenses and panoramic cameras that warp the image and represent her newfound inner vision of the world. This camera has to move through space from left to right, and it takes six images and stitches them together. The outcome of Wingwall’s use of the panoramic camera is evident in her two photos, Wingwall Marches On, Triumphantly, (2010) and Thumbs Up at the Grand Hotel (in Lund, Sweden), n.d. In the first image, Wingwall’s moving body enters the left side of the image and moves across to the right side on a sandy beach backed by a clear blue sky. In the second image, we again observe Wingwall’s body at left, although it is now her arm and her hand that is moving and split up into six images, as though it were on slow-animation, giving a thumbs up towards a high-class hotel in Sweden.
In Wingwall’s third image, Untitled, n.d., we see Wingwall, although this time we see the top part of her head leaning down, gazing intently towards the white table top before her, her left hand perched over the edge, feeling around. It is as if Wingwall is searching for something, as she has an intense look of concentration on her face. Or perhaps she is simply enjoying the feel and the touch of the surface of the table. The image is mysterious and even strange, as it is hard to discern what is going on, and what Wingwall is actually doing. As already outlined, Wingwall’s sensations of touching and feeling become an important part of her experience of being-in-the-world. Many “visual” artists have sought to supplement or replace vision with experiences of touching, hearing and smelling in order to counter the ocularcentric nature of art history, and to provide the limits of knowledge through vision alone. Wingwall’s modalities for capturing images through cognition, memory and touch illustrate this trend, and seem somehow more compelling for the fact that Wingwall comes with a certain agency through her blindness. In other words, more than a visual artist, Wingwall can speak of the compelling new avenues of sensorial and especially tactile knowledge and how can this be powerfully applied to photography, from the embodied subjectivity of one who is blind, and from also one who has been blind for some time.
Listen: audio description of The Three Works by Alice Wingwall