Relational Photography?

| March 24, 2011
Wonder Wheel, Coney Island

The Wonder Wheel, Pinhole Photograph | Chris Moffett 2007

I just got back from meeting with the photographer for our Relational Drawing gig at the Whitney tomorrow night, and I’ve been reflecting on the whole process. The working premise of our experimentation with “relational drawing” is that movement and drawing belong together, and that exploring the sensory coherence of our postures and actions is fundamentally relational. To “see” in another, beyond just an expressiveness of surface and light, is to find what, in us, responds and moves with them.

This idea that we have been working with finds a beautiful context in Trade School, who has partnered with the Whitney to offer these classes. Trade School, premised on bartering for education, does more than just offer an alternative transaction to that of money. It more fundamentally facilitates meaningful relationship. Do you have an interest in sharing something? Share it. Do you want something? Ask for it directly, and not for a stand in. Are you interested in leather repair? Bring something that someone else values. The result is that the “apparatus” of educational exchange is reduced to the barest of minimums, which is itself met with generosity and interest, allowing for a real sense of collective action.

You can take or teach a class, share the spoils, and go your merry way feeling the effortless value of it. But today, I was struck by the even deeper power of establishing dynamic relationships in these ways—both at the heart of the thing being learned, (as we are doing with relational drawing), but also running through the minimalist structure that supports it. Dynamic relationships of this sort have a tendency to spread. For example the Whitney, in turn, entered into the spirit of the exchange as well, bartering with the teachers and students of Trade School, themselves. And we in turn, wanting some photos, found it natural to barter for services.

But this is where it gets interesting. Talking with our amazing photographer today, not only was it refreshing to be able to engage at the level of passion for what we do, but I learned again what I love so much about working with moving relationships. Once the trappings of exchange and “learning” drop away, something else emerges entirely. Instead of trading for what we have already, we were able to push it into the unknown. Rather than simply documenting an “event,” it becomes an exploration of possibility. So it only made sense that we would also begin to form an idea of what we could call “relational photography,” as a way of thinking about what we could do together. We shall see what other places this seed takes us…

In the end, I suspect, there is nothing magical about bartering, or even education. But perhaps they can bring our attention to the underlying relationships in ways that remind us of their moving, living quality. And that their true value to us is not in their exchange value but in the proliferation of what is possible in engaging with them.

(If you’d like to explore Relational Drawing with us, we’ll be playing on into the future. Here’s how to keep in the loop…)