Difference and Repetition

There is a spate of photographers who take pictures of themselves or the same group of other people at fixed intervals over long periods of time.  One of the first was a father (Tian Jun) taking photos of himself with his son each year starting in 1986 and carrying on for three decades.  This series shows how the younger transforms slowly into a version of the elder.  Given that global knowledge was less accessible in those days, it is probably fair to say that Karl Barden independently arrived at a similar idea, taking daily selfies since 1987.The concept seems to fascinate sufficiently that others following exactly the same or similar projects still receive considerable attention.  For example, Jonathan Keller started an identical project in 1998.

Another, probably independently devised, project is by Zed Nelson, who from 1991 has been taking annual pictures of the same family. These pictures also have a narrative element in terms of birth, marriage, break-up and death within the family:

The Family by Zed Wilson

From “The Family”, Zed Nelson

Taken as a whole, Nelson’s series also touches on some of the thinking of the remarkable French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze.  His book Difference and Repetition (published in 1968) built in particular on his earlier studies of Spinoza, Bergson and Nietzsche set out an ontology that goes counter both to common sense thinking and to the previously fashionable structuralist theories.  In the simplest terms, structuralism grew out of Hegel’s notion that all identity is comprise of the difference born of structures imposed by the mind.  Deleuze went further by rejecting the implicit dualism of mind and undifferentiated substance.  He argued that difference itself generates everything including minds (which are not single entities but assemblages of differences).  Repetition is part of this generative process not through simple copying but by repeating difference and in this way accounting for time.

Difference and Repetition and (the rest of Deleuze’s oeuvre which develops these ideas) is immensely complex and worthy of long study.  For the purposes of this blog, I want to draw out the idea that a photo series such as Nelson’s can help to bring out the idea of difference and repetition, and their effect on our concept of time and identity.  Hopefully, they will also spur the viewer to undertake a more thorough examination of Deleuze.

My Leaf series, through its repletion of difference and its capturing of the notion of time, can also be taken to draw on these Deleuzian concepts.

Leaf 10

“Leaf 10”, Matthew Greenburgh, 2016

The difference and repetition within each leaf is given a further layer in my video of one leaf synthetically being changed into another. In the spirit of Difference and Repetition, I hope to create a series of these serial leaf transformations.  As Deleuze said (in his book on Bergson): “…constructing series on the basis of determinable multiplicities makes it impossible to spread out history in the sequential way…”.

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