‘Secondary Revision’

Suffo Moncloa, Walk To The Moon, The Montana Club, 2022

Secondary Revision

by David Campany

Every photograph is a lucid and enigmatic fragment pulled out of context. It is a suspension of time and place, cut off and adrift, part of a now-lost continuum. Every photograph points us back to the time and place of its origin but the path is obscure. Photographs have a way of covering their own tracks. They pile up, and in that piling up they begin to suggest connections not so much back to their origin as with each other, in the here and now. For this reason, photography is often like dreaming, and the putting together of images into pairings and sequences is akin to the process of remembering a dream.

The great Walker Evans was once asked for a definition of photography. He thought carefully and replied: “The essence is done very quickly with a flash of the mind, and with a machine.  I think too that photography is editing, editing after the taking.  After knowing what to take you have to do the editing.” In photography there is image capture, and then come the processes of choice, of editing and perhaps sequencing. The fragments are brought together into something new, but it can never be entirely coherent. Each photograph remains its own elusive entity, and so the arrangement of images remains more like poetry than prose; more like suggestion than clear explanation. When one image is placed next to another what results are resonances and associations, which have nothing to do with being correct or incorrect, factual or fictional.

It is worth returning to Sigmund Freud’s still compelling account of the dreamwork and its complex relation to waking life. Dreaming does not obey the logic of time and space. In a dream, elements of distant memory may combine with elements of what Freud called “the day’s residues”. Different times, places and events may be put together in the dream through ‘condensation’ and ‘displacement’. Moreover, the dream can never be remembered exactly ‘as it was’, in its raw form. In the process of remembering, the dream is immediately and unavoidably subjected to ‘secondary revision’. The waking mind attempts to reinterpret and rework the dream’s material according to its wishes, which may be quite different from the wishes that formed the dream itself.

This process of secondary revision is a little like what happens when we look back over photographs that we have made. We might be surprised by what we find. We might try to guess what our motivations were in making the images. We might try to remember the time and place of which the photographs have become mysterious symbols. We may be left confused by our images. They may feel as if they were taken by someone else, or by a long-lost version of ourselves. Or we might try to ignore all that and live with the images in the present.

The gap in time between the taking of photographs and their secondary revision may be very small, perhaps just a matter of seconds, minutes, hours or days, but it may be longer.  Sometimes it takes years for a photographer to return to their images and shape them into something. Henri Cartier-Bresson had been photographing for two decades before he published a book of his work. It took Walker Evans nearly thirty years to turn his surreptitious photographs of passengers riding the New York subway into a book. Tod Papageorge waited nearly five decades before attempting to make sense of his earliest street photographs.

Suffo Moncloa made most of the photographs gathered here before 2015. That is not so long ago, although anything from before the global pandemic feels like a distant time and place. The social and psychological ruptures of the past year or so have distorted memory, broken continuities, and reset priorities. We are all different now, and we look at our past, collective and individual, with fresh perspectives. We may feel we are profoundly different people from who we were before. We may feel that we misunderstood what we were, or perhaps we have come to realise we do not understand ourselves now. Looking back at photographs we made in the past and making sense of them is really a process of making sense of ourselves. And we can never be sure we have got it right.  All we can do is find new forms, new resonances, new associations that may lead us towards something better.