Duration - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto
Duration 3

John Cage recounted a story, said to be a Buddhist teaching, that if something is boring for one minute, give it two minutes. If it's still boring, give it four. Keep going, keep looking, and eventually it won't be boring any more.

White photographs have fascinated me for years, culminating now in my project "Duration". It takes time to see these images: as prints they're nearly pure white, and even with the higher contrast of a screen it may take a few moments to register their tones. This is asking a lot from my viewers, and I can't promise that it's worth the effort. But slowing down can be its own reward.

In a collection of lectures published as "True Perception" Chögyam Trungpa speaks extensively about dharma art. This is not the literal translation of dharma teachings into an artistic representation, but instead is art that comes from a place of non-aggression, without ego, and from a meditative acceptance of things as they are without preconceptions or value judgements. Here Trungpa Rinpoche is quoted in italics:

Any work of art is expressing ourselves in particular terms and concepts. Artistic talent is expressed in media of all kinds. But what is artistic talent? What makes you artistic? What convinces you, if you are uncertain, that a work of art is a real expression of yourself? Or is a work of art something to make sure the rest of the world is convinced about you, so that in turn you yourself find ground to exist?

From this point of view, genuine artistic talent is experiencing a sense of being back to square one… if we feel we are back to square one and completely bewildered, we have a beautiful white canvas in front of us.


The images that make up Duration are simple and straightforward, of a simple and common subject. There's no trickery here or extensive manipulation. They're merely photographs of white plastic bags, taken with an old camera on medium-speed 35mm film.

All of the Duration photos were recorded without refinement or striving for any particular result. This is not an accomplishment – I simply did not know what would work, or what I would prefer, and the film camera provides no feedback during its creation. But of course the eleven photographs that make up the project have been carefully curated, as they remain my personal expression of the subject, and I can't disclaim all responsibility. In the Duration gallery each photo bears the frame number from its place in the capture sequence.


Photographs are also boxlike. We have a square camera with a square perspective, and as we wind our film we see one square after another. That squareness seems to be our general frame of reference. But we don't have to be too concerned with that squareness – we could dance with it…The basic principle of photography from that point of view is viewing things as they are in their own ordinary nature. It is very simple and direct.

We actually should be willing to see a particular vision without expectation or conceptualization. We should have the perspective of being willing to take any kind of good old, bad old shot. The whole point is that we should be extremely careful and inquisitive about what we see in our world: what we see with our eyes, what we actually perceive, both how we see and what we see. This is very important.


When I took these photos, and when I started seeing the results, in my excitement I wanted to pick up the camera again and make more images in the same method. After all, now I know what works, right? But now that these eleven photos are finished and out in the world I that urge has evaporated. They're done, and that's enough.

All that's left for me to do is thank you for your time and attention, and hope that your experience was worthwhile.