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Sport 30: Peter Black-Real Fiction

Film Noir / Camera As Cinema

page 61

Film Noir / Camera As Cinema

Certainly Peter Black is an essayist—but as much in the literary as in the photographic sense. His oeuvre plots a physical and mental journey that might be described, in an appropriately low-key way, as an odyssey. Like Leopold Bloom in Joyce's Ulysses, his route is a multi-layered one, its vocabulary and grammar mutating along the way. The 1990 series ‘Vox Humana’ drifts through a number of Wellington churches and religious meetings; ‘Autoportraits’ rambles around the footpaths of Wellington over a number of days then reconfigures these ‘moments’ in a new and resolutely unstable order. While linear narrative tracks are laid in series such as ‘Foliage’ [pp128–133] and ‘Sites’ [pp135–149], for the most part Peter Black's narrative is the perambulatory prose of footsteps and sideways vistas, of zig-zagging, at times circuitous journeying. His oeuvre is a jukebox on which the songs might be randomly ordered and replayed. ‘Fifty Photographs’, ‘Autoportraits’ and ‘Moving Pictures’ are such discontinuous narratives, although here too patterns cannot help but emerge. Of the latter sequence, Peter Black's installation instructions insisted they be ‘assembled in a sequence that reads like a novel’.

‘Foliage’ treats the viewer as a pedestrian entering, firstly, the built-up urban environment, moving through a transitional zone of nature and human-construction then continuing towards the final image of untrammelled wilderness on Stewart Island. Texture and light unify the series
Black and white photograph.

Fido Dog Show, Wellington, 1977, from ‘Fifty Photographs’

page 62 like Joyee's unflappable prose style, allowing other narratives to suggest themselves too: the passage of seasons; the time of day, fluctuations in weather and light.

If we have thought of Black's photography as a kind of literature, we might also instructively think of it as a kind of cinematography, full of Jean-Luc Godard-esque explorations of both its means and ends. Take the backlighting so evident throughout Black's work, particularly in ‘Moving Pictures’ (where he was confined to the view out one side of the car only—hence the necessity to photograph both into and away from the light-source). As well as being a staple of the amateur family portrait, the backlit shot was one of Godard's characteristic devices in Weekend (1968) and other films from the sixties. In Peter Black's Selwyn Toogood, Levin, 1981 [p86] the backlighting of the room echoes the light emanating from a television screen. If Hollywood uses backlighting to suggest the arrival of God or the Alien Fleet, here it suggests the arrival of Reality, the broad light of day and a blast of daytime television. ‘It's in the bag’ or, as they say in the film industry: ‘It's in the can.’