Tags, realism
3. Survival Programmes: An Interlude on Varieties of Documentary

In my next post I will pick up the thread of neo-Brechtian practice, specifically looking at questions of production and skill in photography. However, here I want to look at some forms of critical or radical documentary that have been largely passed over in critical writing. It seems an apposite point to do so; in the last two weeks I’ve read two post-graduate studies on Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s work and been asked to referee an article on Half Moon and Camerawork for an academic journal. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 10.10.2017
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2. Brecht’s UK Tour

The 1970s conjuncture in Britain that I want to discuss saw photography, and specifically documentary photography, aligned with what Sylvia Harvey termed ‘political modernism’ (strictly speaking, this would be second-wave political modernism). Examples might include works by Jo Spence, the Hackney Flashers Collective, the Women’s Workshop of the Artists’ Union who created the Women and Work exhibition, the Berwick Street Film Collective, Peter Dunn and Lorraine Leeson, Mary Kelly and Victor Burgin’s works between 1975 and 1976. These practices were closely identified with the work of the film-maker Jean-Luc Godard, particularly his collaborative Dziga Vertov Group films, but Bertolt Brecht’s ideas from the second-quarter of the twentieth century were pivotal for many artists, photographers, film-makers and theorists to the extent that collectively this work is often described as ‘neo-Brechtian’. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 19.09.2017
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2. The Return of the Real (Again)

In my previous post I tried to sketch out some of those questions provoked by a contemporary desire, in the words of Hito Steyerl, to side with and affirm the object. While this affirmation has coincided with a more general turn towards the object or thing in recent theoretical writing – and, consequently, away (or so it is said) from earlier concerns with language, text, discourse and sign – it has also been attached, in Steyerl and others, to a more specific call to rethink the character of 'the image', and of 'our' relationship to it, as one framed not by an “identification” with the image “as representation”, but precisely “with the image as thing”. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 27.05.2016
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1. Photography and the Language of Things

In her short 2010 text “A Thing Like You and Me”, Hito Steyerl traces what she describes as a shift from an “emancipatory practice” that would be tied to the “desire to become a subject” (of, say, politics or history) to the emergence, today, of a “different possibility”: “How about siding with the object for a change? Why not affirm it? Why not be a thing?” mehr

Veröffentlicht: 18.05.2016
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15.01.–29.02.2012
6. Invisibility

Perhaps photographs stemming from worlds invisible to the human eye are precisely those that we tend to perceive as real. The realm of the unseen is often the most “real.” It is a sphere that we endow with such trust due to the appearance of its images, that we not only allow ourselves to be guided by such photographs but we also use them to make consequential decisions. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 20.02.2012
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5. Form

Form might seem to be the absolute worst candidate as a means of reflecting on and mapping out photographic realism. But isn’t this simply a reflexive response based on an interpretive tradition that associates form with simulation and the formless snapshot with the captured moment as evidence? On the one side is an entire tradition extending from the difficulty in controlling the overwhelming richness of details in the early phase of the medium, to snapshots, press photography and social documentary. On the other is the opposite, an approach working with controlled, well-composed images (such as those of Rejlander or Peach Robinson), the golden mean, or painterly parameters. One the one side is the unpredictability of the moment, which for this very reason is perceived as being “realistic”. On the other is the imperative to control form, which is therefore viewed as “art” and not as “nature” or “reality.” mehr

Veröffentlicht: 13.02.2012
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4. Practice

Up until now photography has perhaps been conceived too much in terms of images, and its social function has been neglected. But ultimately it is the way photography is used that affirms or negates its realism. In talking about photographic realism, one should not talk about the images but about photographic practices. Practical application decides the function of photography and defines its epistemic fields of reference. It decides about good and evil, conviction and rejection, images and their meaning. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 05.02.2012
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3. Order

When I recently visited the Diane Arbus exhibition in Paris (to be shown at Fotomuseum Winterthur from March 3 till May 28, 2012), I realized to a greater extent than ever before that Arbus in effect stages a photographic order of the world in a highly ostentatious manner. She uses photography to define, critique, and ultimately subvert the order of the world, which, in and of itself, is only first perceived and shown through photography. If one were to create a list of her criteria for this order, it would be long: fat - thin, young - old, person - doll, alive - dead, original - copy, black - white, face - mask, naked - clothed, idyll - horror, war - peace, inside - outside, singular - double, observed - observing, human - animal, friend - foe, original - copy, tragedy - comedy, private - public, dwarf - giant.  mehr

Veröffentlicht: 29.01.2012
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2. Reflection

A second approach for considering photographic realism is to define photography as a “reflective medium.” In a theoretical context, this term (“Reflexionsmedium”) featured prominently in Walter Benjamin’s dissertation Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik (The Concept of Art Criticism in German Romanticism). Benjamin writes, “Reflection constitutes the absolute and constitutes it as a medium” (“Die Reflexion konstituiert das Absolute und sie konstituiert es als ein Medium”). [Walter Benjamin, Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik, ed. Uwe Steiner, p. 39.] He continues: as the absolute, reflection is a “metaphysical credo” (“metaphysisches Credo”) that claims to be the “interpretation of all things real” (“Deutung alles Wirklichen“)[p. 67]. What for Benjamin is the absolute, is, in my opinion, replaced by the concept of the real or realism in photography. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 22.01.2012
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1. Imperfection

In looking at both contemporary exhibitions as well as photographs as they are used in everyday aesthetic applications, one notices that imperfection plays a key role. Far removed from the ideals of the Group f/64, New Objectivity, or even the Bechers and their school, to name a few positions, photographs that consciously employ technical errors have become common sense in photography. There are photographers who use deficient cameras; Lomography aficionados sell their photographs along with this type of camera in stores in major cities; snapshots are in demand, and blurriness is the aesthetic rule. Imperfection is the new ideal of contemporary photography, even if celebrated, staged, and represented in a kind of perfection. My thesis is that imperfection serves as the contemporary modus of the real in photography. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 11.01.2012
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