Some short reflections on the work of Michael Wesley

I have come a little late to the work of Michael Wesley, but I was drawn by a comment made by Edurado Martinez. When commenting on Wesley’s work  he suggests:

In his hands, the time contained in a single picture is dilated to the extent of becoming a matter of days, months and even years.

Wesley appears to have taken long exposure imaging to extremes and has developed techniques and equipment that allow exposures over many years. I have myself been interested in the motion of people in fixed scene and as a film photographer have experimented with extended exposure to solidify a scene but demonstrate the temporal traces of human activity. This sounds perhaps more profound than my work actually is but I have long since thought of photography as ‘stealing slices of time’, my own experiments have been predicated on the notion of stealing bigger slices! It is for this reason that Wesley’s work struck such a chord with me. His ability to make meaningful images over a serious duration of time is both intriguing but also empowering. As humans we move through a solid, and over years in many cases, a world that in general remains static, fixed  and concrete. Whilst there are changes to the built environmen we inhabit, changes are perhaps, incremental and therefore not perceived. Photography can however, as it has done through time, reveal what the eye never sees in real time. Wesley challenges this with his images of the rebuilding of cityscapes, good examples being Postdammer Platz in Berlin and the rebuilding of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His strange almost abstract photographs plot such changes but in a manageable photographic construct. His work is like a time lapse film, but all captured in an individual frame.


Copyright Michael Wesley


Copyright Michael Wesley

In a previous blog entry I suggested that photography offers a form of time travel in its ability to look back in time through the images we make and collect. When I first bought a film scanner and began to scan my archive of negatives I found my self to all intents and purposes traveling in times lol be it in one direction and being reacquainted with my past. When I began to scan negatives and transparencies for family and friends, many taken before I was born, I traveled to moments in lives from their pasts and in some cases long before I was born. Wesley however creates and entirely different construct on photography as a controller of time. In a single frame he captures the signs of change, in a single image, slices of time assembled into a coherent whole which tells us something different about the world we inhabit.

Considering the work of Wesley has been eye opening and has forced me to change my understanding of the concept of the Decisive Moment, for him there is an extension to this concept, time plotted in a single coherent, if unusual image. Indeed Wesley forces the viewer to re evaluate the notion of tim, our environment and out place In that environment. As someone with some education in the sciences I am always a little annoyed when time is described as the fourth dimension, this to me is an over simplification of a more complex quantum concept. A better description is that time is what we experience as we move through the fourth dimension. Unlike any other photographer I am familiar with to to date (I appreciate there will be many out there that I do not know!) using long exposure techniques Wesley for me beautifully captures an unusual perspective on our journey through time. That said I think Martinez captures much more eloquently than me the essence of Wesley’s work, suggesting his images:

show how the time knits presences and unwinds absences, mixing its trajectories as being threads tied at some points.

I will write more on this topic over time but at this stage and in response to Wesley work I am loading two medium format film cameras with Chinese slow speed black and white film and am about to set out to make some long exposure images inspired by this work. I am not going to try and capture work like Wesley made, his took years, mine will be of a much shorter duration! But I do want to try and assemble and record a creative juxtaposition between the solid unchanging forms in the built world around us and movement over time of the people that inhabit the spaces I am photographing. This is fundamentally different to Wesley work, which to my eye records the changing nature of the built environment over very long durations. Again his work encourages thought in that his notion of the ‘duration all space’ demands a different consideration than the image capurd in 1/250 of a second! What images I make will however have been influenced by my interpretation of what Wesley’s work says about time the temporal To be continued!!!


Martinez, E (2012):  Michael Wesely: the experience of time in the longest exposed photographs in


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