Tags, materiality
5. The Spectre of the Digital

I finished my last post thinking about shifting notions of ‘importance’ and ‘relevance’. This has, in part, been driven by digital technologies and the financial, socio-political and ethical pressures on institutions to give access to their collections, and in ways that connect to contemporary users. Likewise the massive and ever-increasing swirl of images in circulation is, of course, digitally-based, raising very real questions about the very nature of ‘photography’. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 20.10.2016
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4. Exhibiting the New Historiographies

Which history of photography is told in museums? We are familiar with the usual parade of nineteenth-century photography such as Linnaeus Tripe, Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron, and then that of the great masters of the modernist canon who repeatedly adorn our gallery walls in some shape or other. These of course have their interest and their merits and such exhibitions have done much to raise the public sense that ‘photography is important.’ But what of the social history of photography, the photography that worked within people’s lives – those millions of humble and unremarkable photographs which mattered to people and which constitute the majority of photographs? mehr

Veröffentlicht: 13.10.2016
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3. More on Categories

This week I want to pick up on the question of categories which has resonated through my last two posts on institutions, hierarchies and non-collections. The extent to which the categories of disciplinary landscapes and languages shape research was brought home to me forcibly when last year I contributed to an ‘at the print’ class for art history students. We were in Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, a major and politically savvy anthropology collection. We pulled from the collection Julia Margaret Cameron’s famous portrait of Charles Darwin. Despite having ‘done’ a Cameron class some weeks before, the students seemed unable to recognise it in any way. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 03.10.2016
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2. The Presence of Non-Collections and the Challenge of Photographic Ecosystems

I recently attended a leaving party for a museum photographer of some 30 years service. The usual orations were accompanied by a digital slide show of his work over those last 30 years during which he had excelled in a range of museum demands. He made bundles of sticks look exciting and provided photographs of masks, chests or totem of such technical precision and virtuosic lighting that First Nations carvers in Canada could reconstitute the haptics of their traditional carving practices – retracing chisel marks. It was also a slide show of how a museum sees itself and how it performs its objects. Yet these photographs were, until that moment, invisible as a photographic practice, and above all, they are not understood as part of the photograph collection at that institution. They are non-collections, ‘just there’, everywhere and nowhere. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 23.09.2016
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1. Patterns of Collecting, Institutional Mind-Sets and the Problem of Hierarchies

A few years ago I was talking to a curator of social history in a major British public museum service which I knew held substantial collections of photographs of the local region going back to the 1850s. I asked him how he thought about these photographs in his care, and how they related to the museum’s ethos and activities. To this he responded “well I don’t really – they are just there”. I have been thinking about the ‘just there’ quality of photographic collections ever since. How is it that a body of material, maybe 35,000 glass plates, of substantial importance in regional history can be ‘just there’? How are the tensions of specialness and ubiquity negotiated through institutional practices? mehr

Veröffentlicht: 15.09.2016
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5. Photography versus Contemporary Art: What’s Next?

We have reviewed several aspects of the highly competitive—even love/hate—relationship between contemporary art and photography. Is there anything left to say? Perhaps something about the future of both. They will hardly be able to avoid each other. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 16.12.2014
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01.03.–15.04.2014
4. Geographies of Photography

Over the last few weeks I’ve been laying out some ideas about what photography has become, and have begun to articulate some of the ways I use to think about it. In previous posts, I wrote about replacing a more conventional idea of photography with the idea of seeing machines and put forward the idea of “scripts” to begin understanding how seeing machines function, i.e. how they act upon the world. I wrote about scripts as being the range of activities that a seeing machine “wants” to do, and the range of possibilities that those “wants” facilitate, and the range of possibilities that are foreclosed. To illustrate the idea, I used the example of an Automated Number Plate Reading (ANPR) system, and tried to show how the cameras, shutters, and lenses of such as system are totally irrelevant without the “back end” of signal processing, data bases, analytics, search algorithms, and the like. All of these add up to a seeing machine that “wants” to perform a rather narrow range of tasks, and thereby sculpts the world in some very specific ways. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 11.04.2014
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01.06.–15.07.2013
2. The Philosophers

And I ask: How did the beauty of that hair,
those eyes, beguile our forebears?
How did that mouth kiss, to which desire
curls up senseless as smoke without fire?

Thus Walter Benjamin breaks into poetry, citing the writing of Stefan George, in the 1931 essay “Little History of Photography”—this essay so strangely titled, sharing its self-stated size and density and intensity, we might say, with the object of its analysis, with photography itself—its images formerly miniaturized and condensed. What is a “Little History,” I’ve always wondered? The best I have come up with is that Benjamin’s is a text that wants to correspond with its object, an essay that wants to be like photography itself. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 11.06.2013
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1. The Relational Field of Photography

At the end of last summer, during one of my trips from Los Angeles to New York, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the artist Zoe Leonard’s first exhibition at the gallery Murray Guy.

I knew what to expect. Leonard is one of the key figures in my forthcoming book on what I’ve been calling photography’s contemporary “lateness” or, perhaps more provocatively, its “afterlife”—a recalcitrant use of the medium that alters its fate today through a paradoxical reconnection to photography’s earlier histories, its specific and unrealized potentials. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 31.05.2013
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5. Toward a Museum of Convention

Last week’s post concerned itself with the academy as a mode of distribution for aesthetic discourse and how the inclusion of art within higher education has the potential to shift the understanding of intellectual research and debate, specifically by forcing intellectual discourse to come to terms with its own monetization. Before going further, I think I should address what I mean by the use of the phrase “aesthetic discourse.” I mean not only that which is written or spoken about aesthetics (this is really secondary, and significant only when it shifts the conditions of aesthetic production). But primarily I mean communications or debates that happen through aesthetics. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 19.05.2012
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