To take a snapshot is to capture a moment of time. A decision is made by the photographer, the shutter is pressed and there you have it. What Jess Loseby has done is to discover the photos of others by searching for particular phrases via a search engine and seeing what images are brought up by keywords like “at the shops” or “in the lane”. It’s a bit like finding photos at a flea market that have been arranged by subject matter. There is an anonymity that comes from not knowing the people in the photos, yet there is also the intimacy between the subject and the photographer in the most successful images: whether it’s a dead on gaze at the camera, or a vulnerability that might only be allowed to be captured by someone trusted.
” A remnant of the witness. In places I have never been, people I have never seen Jess Loseby finds other people’s moments and instils new meaning by choice of focus.”
The piece opens up with an image that has one central point in focus and the rest blurred out. Almost imperceptibly the focus shifts to a different subject and then slowly returns to the first. Then equally slowly the image changes altogether. On the bottom of the screen the keyword search is indicated with blinking text. This is the format of Jess’s piece. Initially, I spent some time clicking on the screen expecting interaction and thinking that the focus points might be due to where my mouse was. Once I realized this was not the case I settled down to observe the work and found myself utterly engrossed. The slow pace of the piece and the lack of interactivity work in Jess’s favor. One is forced to just observe, and take time doing it. After a bit I found it impossible to watch the shifting within the images and not create a narrative. Some of them seem to simply create different protagonists. For example “at the shops” focuses on a man facing the camera on the street who seems to be just caught on film rather than posing for the photographer. The image shifts and the focus rests on a woman walking in the other direction. The feeling is not of a relationship between the two subjects. Rather simply two different stories that could be told depending on who is seen clearly.
As there are many different images which are manipulated in the same manner, the piece runs the risk of becoming a bit gimmicky or turning into merely a guessing game where the viewer is only trying to ascertain who will come into focus next. I found this to be particularly true with images like “up a mountain” and “at the end”. These had less human interaction within the chosen image and thus ran the risk of becoming an exercise of the technique and rather flat with no new dimension added by the manipulation. Conversely, “afterwards” and “out at night” were two that stood out as having additional depth through Jess’s choices. In “afterwards”, in the center of the photo there is a woman in a formal dress on the beach with a bouquet of flowers looking down and smiling. There are a few other women in the image out of focus and on the periphery and the back of the man in the foreground. With the woman in focus it is as though whatever is the occasion, it belongs to her. The moment is seen through her perspective. When the focus shifts she becomes blurred out and it is the man in the foreground, observing the scene with his back to the camera who becomes the subject. With this shift in focus the meaning in the image changes. Now it is as though he is an outsider looking in. He is the only man in the picture and compositionally he is removed and the sharp focus reinforces this. Perhaps there is a relationship between the man and woman, or perhaps we are simply privy to their points of view on a particular day. It is open to interpretation, but regardless of the meaning the manipulation creates a connection between the viewer of the image and the subject.
“Out at night” shows some older couples dancing. At first the man in the central couple is in focus. Although he is part of a couple, his being singled out creates a sense of isolation and loneliness. When the image shifts focus it is to a woman who is part of another couple. Again there is a sense of isolation, but now a connection has been created between these two people and one wonders if they are unknowingly soul mates.
Jess created an interesting exercise: put in search words, choose among the images that correlate, and manipulate them in a particular manner. Through the timing, selection and choices this work at times transforms to more than an exercise and becomes instead mini-narratives that reveal more about human nature and through our interpretation can reveal us to ourselves.