Does the “mechanical” nature of photography make it uniquely suited to portraying time and the passage of time?
Although obvious, I think film is a particularly useful way to present time and the passage of time. There seem to be different ways of doing this including the time lapse images that show for example, decomposing fruit or changing light across a landscape.
Still photography can be effective particularly with comparative photographs. These can be still images of a person or object taken at different times, for example a girl with long hair sitting in a chair. Sometime later the girl can be sitting in the same chair in the same position having had her hair cut. The same girl could be in the same chair some years later as a young woman. In all cases the passage of time is clear.
I think what works well is the potential to capture the detail, to manipulate the light and to create a similar mood.
Can other art forms deal with time to the same extent?
Images can be drawn or painted in the same way as described although this would be more challenging and the sharp details might not be as clear. Music, by the measuring of beats in each bar is in itself a passage of time. The passage of time can be seen in something woven such as a rug or blanket, where a pattern might tell a story.
As the eye follows the original movement of the loom, it is following the passage of time taken to create the piece. The same would apply to any craft with a specific process. A piece of glass holds the story of its creation from sand, but in each of these it would require the viewer to be conscious of that story and perhaps interested in it.
Theatre, literature and dance all offer a narrative that spans time, but perhaps photography is the most immediate offering. Strangely, it could be the swiftest, showing the passage of time by speeding it up or by freezing a moment such as the image below.
Reading “On Photography” by Susan Sontag, I am curious about her thoughts that photography is a medium through which works of art are made and that photography itself is not an art form. She writes that from photography one could make different images such as x rays, weather pictures and passport pictures. I had not considered that perspective and of course few people would consider the practical and working aspects of photography as described, to be an art form.
I like Sontag’s analogy that out of language one can make shopping lists and bureaucratic documents as well as poetry, in the same way that photography can create different forms.