Human tessellations: Repetition as a mode of isolation in Ray K. Metzker's urban photography
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Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics were the first texts to define art, not uncontroversially, as mimesis, the Greek term for imitation or representation. Artistic representation is often considered a mediation of a person or thing. Photographic representation is implicated by similar claims of inequality, complicated by the privileges the medium holds for its putative objective depiction of “reality.” Many photographers after 1945 have self-consciously exploited photographic difference to resist habitual perception of the photograph and world. In 1964, forty years before Facebook launched, one such Milwaukee-born photographer, Ray K. Metzker, said “the single image [is] losing its appeal for me,” and began a series entitled Composites that would continue until 1984. Each composite is a meticulously arranged assemblage of street photographs that vary from 12 x 12 inches to 75 x 38 inches. The composites question standard notions of perception, and in so doing, photography, by constructing a different visual experience out of quotidian activities and settings. Metzker questions the viewer’s habitual perception for similar reasons as he self-consciously resists standard photographic composition: just like the image of things in one’s mind, the photograph is not necessarily a result of pure or “natural” vision, but a function of rote, an internal predisposition that can be altered. Metzker’s Composites suggest repetition in order to create a tension between sameness and difference. Many of the concepts outlined in Gilles Deleuze’s first book of philosophy proper, Difference and Repetition, help elaborate on this theme.