..."For all the technical discussion, Seale is mostly interested in capturing a compelling image. He likens his slit-scan technique to a finish line camera at a racetrack. “The camera is continuously ‘on’ and trained only at the finish line. The first horse to stick its nose through the plane of the finish line is captured. What I’m interested in is what happens to the rest of the horse.” A kinship exists here to Edweard Muybridge’s famous 19th century series Animal Locomotion, except that instead of stopping the action and differentiating each image in series, Seale’s camera puts them together in a seamless stream of continuous motion. Since time is “flattened”, we don’t see the motion in dimensional space. Movement is typically understood as a change in gesture through time. Changing the time element alters the perception of movement. It’s a sort of still animation; since time is imaged in flow instead of taken in sequence, the movements appear all at once.
This is perhaps most apparent in the series of nude figure studies. These works are a bit like Cubist paintings, in which the human form is viewed from different perspectives in the same picture plane. Our brain can accommodate the painting, but somehow when it’s a photograph, our perception is challenged. Seale comments, “Half your brain says ‘this is real’ but the other half of your brain is saying ‘something is very wrong here.’ Somehow the figure works bring home the idea of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle: that we can know only one thing about a particle, either its location or momentum, but not both.”
In Strive, a female form floats mysteriously in the left half of the picture. The figure is distorted, distended, and attenuated in disturbing ways. Something about the implied motion here arouses a sixth sense somewhere in the viewer’s psyche and puts one on guard. It’s not unlike seeing something out of the corner of one’s eye, when the type of motion signals something fearful—the difference between a leaf blowing past and the slithering of a snake, or the scampering of a rat. The female form in Strive isn’t an ephemeral angelic presence, but a ghostly distortion of human spirit. The isolated studio background provides another level of alienation, much like the characters milling aimlessly about in The Wanderers. It’s an irrational space with no bearings, no sense of orientation. Like many things in life, it isn’t necessarily frightening, just disorienting.
In any event, these images are rife with metaphorical and symbolic possibilities. Interestingly, the nude figure study was not a theme explored in Seale’s earlier, more traditional still photography. Elements of surreal, disassociated imagery such as the untitled group of trees, bending and swooping in the artificial light at their center, suggest a mad dance of gesturing forms. But the self-conscious treatment of the human form in Heisenberg Figure or in Frieze makes the viewer’s orientation to movement a central theme. The gesture is implied, but we don’t know which direction it’s going or when and where to focus our inner compass, either physically or emotionally. How do we respond to this figure? Is it sympathetic or sinister? Frieze is particularly complex as it brings in the notion of stone figures we associate with architectural features. The blurring of the figure is especially pronounced with the disassociated arm swooping at the center of the image, the static figure stretched across an indeterminate time span, the face at the far left spreading in both directions at once.
Despite the disturbing nature of our engagement with the subject, the physical surface of the photograph is compelling in purely visual terms. In all of Seale’s work, composition is paramount: color and texture studies of doorways and boats in water, a sea star curling around a child’s hand, the still life of a dead and decaying bird. Seale says that he has been “always impressed with the abstract expressionists and their existential belief that the paint was all that exists; paintings are just paint and canvas, nothing more. To separate oneself from the subject matter is really liberating as an artist. It lets me explore form, color, line, scale, texture and composition without getting bogged down by the emotionality of the subject. Of course, when viewers come to the picture, they are intuitively absorbed by the subject. That’s the power of photography together with the human mind, to create the illusion of reality. So my job is to try to separate the viewers’ adhesion to reality and bring them back to the surface of the print; to see the photograph as a work of art in and of itself.”
While the images themselves are engaging, one cannot help but react to the fundamental perceptual shifts that they create. All of the viewer’s normal means of orienting oneself become compromised, and our basic sense of place within the time/space continuum is called into question. Seale explains, “These distortions could really be described as a more accurate way of seeing the passage of time although it is unfamiliar to our traditional concept of the depiction of time and space in art. In other words, this camera is recording a reality that exists, but one we cannot see without it.”...