– Spring 2012

Moyra Davey: Slack Time

Marcus Verhagen

Moyra Davey, 16 Photographs from Paris, 2009, C-prints with postage, tape, ink, 30 . 45cm each, details

Stacks of books and vinyl records, papers arrayed on a table, strands of human hair caught in a dog’s paw, old receivers sitting on shelves: these are among the sights captured by Moyra Davey in her photographs. Shot with an analogue camera, her images turn away from the conventional genres and protocols of photography. They are not portraits, though many are shot in Davey’s home, and so reveal her tastes and habits. They are clearly not street or landscape photographs, though they often treat the home as a territory to be surveyed. They are too casual to be documentary photographs and too dispassionate to be snapshots. Indeed, many seem to probe the limits and failures of photography. Her images of records, receivers and speakers, for instance, speak to a love of music but can’t in themselves communicate any aspect of the experience of listening to music. More generally, her images have no use for the immediacy of the photograph, its hold on a ‘slice of time’. In her work, nothing happens. The moment is always already over: the coffee cups are empty, the dust has already settled. The precise interruptive operation of the news photograph or snapshot gives way, in her work, to a slacker time — to a time without tension or striving. This is not exactly the time of the slacker, though Davey clearly associates it with a given mode of living.

The experience of time which is described in her

  1. Moyra Davey, ‘Notes on Photography and Accident’, Long Life Cool White, Cambridge, MA, New Haven and London: Harvard University Art Museums and Yale University Press, 2008, p.84. Incidentally, her own articles, with their asides and detours, their constant references to earlier writers, could also be described as flâneries.

  2. Susan Buck-Morss, ‘The Flaneur, the Sandwichman and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering’, New German Critique, Autumn 1986, p.102.

  3. S. Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1989, pp.92—96.

  4. W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants (trans. Michael Hulse), London: Harvill, 1993, p.161.

  5. Letter to Scholem, 20 December 1931, in Gershom Scholem and Theodor Adorno (ed.), The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1910—1940 (trans. Manfred R. Jacobson and Evelyn M. Jacobson), Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994, p.387.

  6. M. Davey, ‘Notes on Photography and Accident’, op. cit., p.112.

  7. Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, Illuminations (trans. Harry Zohn), New York: Schocken Books, 1969, p.261 et passim.

  8. M. Davey, ‘Notes on Photography and Accident’, op. cit., p.81.

  9. Ibid., p.84.

  10. George Baker, ‘The Absent Photographer’, Speaker Receiver, Berlin and Basel: Sternberg Press and Kunsthalle Basel, 2010, pp.53—99.