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Life, Love and Death: The Work of Adam Fuss

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Essay title: Life, Love and Death: The Work of Adam Fuss

Life, Love and Death: The work of Adam Fuss

Peanut butter and jelly, a common combination of two separate entities, most people have heard of this duo, many enjoy it, but only one manufacturer packaged them together in a handy snack. Much like the tasty treat that is Goobers is the tasty duo of Adam Fuss and Roland Barthes. Two separate men, Adam Fuss and Roland Barthes put together in one reading, complementing and accentuating each other. Fuss and Barthes, they share an interest in photography, they share an interest in the foundation and principles of photography, more over they share an interest in photography that is deeply personal. Fuss takes the camera out of photography. Barthes takes photography out of art. Both men want to get to the essence of what a photograph is, one by thinking and writing about it and one by doing it. In this paper I will show how Adam Fuss' work matches up with and demonstrates the ideas of Barthes' in Camera Lucida. I will look at one body of work at a time and show which parts of Barthes' ideas are present in the work, in its creation and its theory. I will start with his first professional body of work, move through to his most recent work and then look back to some of his childhood pictures. Whether Barthes' ideas actually influenced Fuss' work I am not sure of, I have not found any text or interview that leads me to believe that it is, however I would not be surprised if it has.

Camera Lucida was Roland Barthes' last written piece, published posthumously in 1980. This book deals with the topic of photography and the death of Barthes' mother in 1977. The role of photography is questioned; he asks what about photography makes it a valid media? We read about the operator (the photographer), spectrum (the subject) and spectator (the viewer), also about the studium (what we see in the photograph) and the punctum (the unclassifiable, the thing that makes the photograph important to the viewer). According to Barthes the photograph is an adventure for the viewer, but it is ultimately death, the recording of something that will be dead after the picture is taken. This idea is the main focus of Barthes' writing, the photograph "that-has-been", in Latin "interfuit: what I see has been here, in this place which extends between infinity and the subject; it has been here, and yet immediately separated; it has been absolutely, irrefutably present, and yet already deferred" (Barthes, 76). This topic of life and death in photography is what connects Barthes with Fuss and makes Fuss' work easier to understand.

"The Photograph's essence is to ratify what it represents" (Barthes, 1981, 85). This idea is the foundation upon which Adam Fuss has built his career. From childhood to his most recent works Fuss has created photographs that are statements of being. These photographs do not hide what they are; they are bold in their content, yet subtle in creation and meaning. The theme of life and death is woven into the whole of Adam Fuss' work, in his earliest childhood photographs, his early pinhole camera prints and his extensive body of photograms. This theme seeps into his work through the method as well as the material, through the studium and the punctum (Barthes, 26).

If the photograph's essence is to ratify what it represents, then the photogram's essence is to ratify what it is. The photogram, by its nature is an index of a thing; there is a one to one ratio between the subject and the photogram. There is no way to enlarge or reduce the size of a photogram because each piece is unique, unlike camera and film photography that can be reproduced without end. Fuss' early photograms, made between 1988 and 1992, deal with water and its movement, rippling water, a few beads, a bucket of water crashing down on the paper surface and the wake of a snake's movement. Water is not only a symbol of life, but the water in these photograms is in motion, alive in its activity. An untitled triptych made in 1991 is composed of three separate photograms of water crashing onto the paper's surface, next to these in Fuss' 2003 catalogue is a piece entitled Arc (1988) which is composed of three ripples stretching to the edges of the paper with several tightly clustered concentric ripples in the center. These pieces comment on the same idea, the death of the motion. The viewer sees the record of the water, but we know that it is gone; the motion ended a few seconds after it began. Similarly the snake photograms of 1988 and 1998 record the movement of a snake in water. The snakes are now dead; their wake is no longer rippling outward. We cannot create the moment again, or make a copy of the photogram because it is a unique piece that has no negative to reproduce; it is Barthes' interfuit.


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