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Sport 30: Peter Black-Real Fiction

Ground Rules

page 67

Ground Rules

So, where do we, the viewers, stand in relation to these narratives of confinement and liberation, of muteness and moments of speech or exclamation? Who is doing the talking and who is listening? Is Peter Black's critical distance also ours?

In relation to this positioning of photographer, subject and viewer, the first photograph Peter Black ever took is instructive in establishing a few ground rules. It is a street scene in Brisbane, 1973, backlit, of a family selling newspapers [p73]: a heavily built woman looks our way, a man in a sailor's hat sits beside his newspapers while their helper—a Frank O'Hara look-alike—takes up his position beside an intersection, where cars are about to leap forward. The light hits the beautifully polished shoes of the subjects. The ‘tone’ of the scene is hard to establish: not quite disaffected but not enobling; neither judgemental nor aggrandising. At the very outset of his career, Peter's objective was, to borrow from Maurice Duggan, to inscribe a few co-ordinates so that ‘the map of the way of our going and of our being may begin to be exposed’. It is a position he has maintained—keeping a certain distance from his subjects which then becomes the distance they keep from us, the viewers. It is also the distance he, the photographer, keeps from us. It is neither a position of remoteness nor of particular closeness or intimacy. He is one point of an equilateral triangle.

What view of humanity is on offer here? I imagine Peter would agree with Ezra Pound's
Black and white photograph.

Untitled, 2002

page 68 definition of Man as ‘chemically speaking … a few buckets of water, tied up in a complicated sort of fig-leaf’ but capable of having his thoughts in him ‘as the thought of the tree is in the seed’. While acknowledging the often grimy material facts and conditions of human life, these same materials can function as metaphors. If you look to the lowest shelves of a shop window, with their stuffed toys, faked birds and Tweedle Dums [p153], you might find kernels of meaning. These materials also happen to be the base matter of Pessoa's Disquietude, of Joyce's Dublin or Robert Frank's America, and of Maurice Duggan's ‘Magsman's Miscellany’.