You have referred to yourself and your work as being involved in a “mimetic game”. This began explicitly with a mimesis of the tropes and genres of painting, but also of cinema, literature, sculpture, etc., at some point turning to include photography as such, which we could itself call the mimetic form par excellence.
There may be many reasons to enter the “mimetic game”. A mimic, of course, is not a copy but rather an emulation; by turns a caricature, an adaptation, a re-interpretation, a translation. Above all it’s a reconfiguration of a given quantity that nevertheless provides the means to respond with, to, or against it.
In your 1982 photograph Mimic, the mimesis of your own depiction, present in both your re-staging of a real event which you witnessed and in the nature of the photographic medium and of depictive art in general, has its echo in the violent mimicking gesture of the Caucasian man’s emulation of the Asian man’s eye, simultaneously presenting a personally directed attack and a form with which to consider the conditions which may have led to it. As such it is also a mimesis of painting (scale), of cinema (cinematographic technique), of photography (reportage), and even photo-journalism (with its encapsulating title/caption: Mimic).
On top of this entanglement of mimeses, your work of the past forty years has careened through and in relation to works and subject matters ranging from reconstructions of existing artworks (pictures, images, texts, etc.), re-enactments of observed events, and “straight” depictions of the world as-found (produced primarily through your working models of the “cinematographic”, which includes, crucially, its subset “near-documentary”, as well as “documentary” as such).
The “Reconstruction” category produces reconstructions, re-iterations, and re-readings of motifs borrowed primarily from painting and literature, which range from the contemporary adaptations of A Woman and her Doctor (Manet) and A Sudden Gust of Wind (Hokusai), to the didactic diagrammatics of Picture for Women (Manet) and The Thinker (Dürer), to the re-consideration of your own earlier works, such as An Eviction (from Eviction Struggle) and Still Creek (from The Drain).
The “Re-enactment” category, best described through your dictum “I begin by not photographing”, involves a kind of displacement or postponement of the camera, while maintaining, perhaps even underlining, the potential of its power to report. By preserving an observed moment and scene as memory, and waiting for it to germinate (or not) as a re-articulation of itself, with all of the idealization, forgetting, and mis-remembering that this implies (we could certainly call it the most Proustian project in the history of photography), the evidentiary value of photography is replaced by a belief that a picture need not be unmediated in order to show a true view of the world; need not because this assertion might imply that a picture which goes through this mediation is alternately better equipped to do so if it weren’t for your third category of picture, which is more than satisfied with depicting the world “As-found” (where you, in fact, begin by photographing).
Crucially, here, these simultaneous threads have evolved within an increasing insistence on a de-hierarchized view of each of these modes, which eschews a value system based on varying levels of production or referentiality, and instead insists on each being considered and judged on its own inherent pictorial terms. That this insistence has not coincided with an abandonment of using pre-existing works (painting, film, book, etc.) as a model or starting point – what we might call a “script” – for its inception, seems to imply not a repudiation of those tactics, but rather an assertion that moments found within the passing world, and within cultural forms produced in relation to them, can be seen as equally occupying (and therefore being equally occupiable within) the physical and discursive world of images and potential images; that the nature of a picture’s production is immaterial to the innate quality of the work, negating the phenomenological value of a differentiation of perception which may be produced by the knowledge or ignorance of its construction, while maintaining that a multiplicity of production methods can and must be available to the producer.
Your continued insistence on developing all of these methods simultaneously belies a belief that no “occasion” for a picture is more satisfactory as method than another. Here the given, the observed, and the pre-mediated visual worlds (including motifs from the literary world, your “accidents of reading”) are equally available as potential subject matter, none of which can or should be privileged above another, but are rather gestures of attempting to observe or enter the world from as many points of view as possible, keeping in mind your statement that “a different type of picture is a different way of experiencing the world, it is a different world almost”.
So then we ask: what kind of game is the mimetic game?
There are games in which the winners and the losers are clearly defined (javelin throw), and games in which the players merely enact algorithmic permutations (chess). The first type is a dead game: as soon as it ends the players are irrelevant to it. The second type is an inanimate game: it does not require players, its possibilities can be equally or better enacted by a programme than by players. It seems, rather, that the mimetic game is an immortal game. An immortal game is a Vampiric game, one whose temporality can be predicated on a promise of eternality; the game continues as long as there are players, even waiting for them when there are none. It’s a game where the past moves of former players are remembered and utilized within a ever-changing field, where our best hope is to learn something new about it and the world it occupies in order to play it again, and to play it better: an endgame without end.
But then: are we the spectators of your playing, watching it unfold? Or are we the players and you the gamemaster, re-setting the terms and rules as we move around, keeping us unstable, ensuring its permutationality and unwinnibility, and therefore its continuance? Or are we all spectator-players, more or less involved, more or less engaged, but nevertheless complicit in a field of potentiality; where we can either look at what we are and what we are doing, or choose to look down and ignore it, as the world coils around us, in time?