Tags, Roland Barthes
4. If Images Could Speak

In a recent contribution to the collection Documentary Across Disciplines, based on a series of events held at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin between 2010 and 2014, Christopher Pinney begins his essay, entitled “Bruises and Blushes: Photography ‘Beyond’ Anthropology”, with a quotation from Barthes’ Camera Lucida: “Society is concerned to tame the Photograph, to temper the madness which keeps threatening to explode in the face of whoever looks at it”. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 17.06.2016
2 Kommentare
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
2 Kommentare
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01.03.–15.04.2014
2. Seeing Machines

In my last blog post, I sketched out some of the ways that traditional photography theory and practice seems to be at a standstill. Contemporary revolutions in photography, from omnipresent digital picture-taking to the advent of hundred-billion image repositories have prompted some practitioners, theorists, and critics to ask whether “photography” (at least as it was once understood) “is over.” I noted that the question has arrived at an ironic time – how could photography be “over” at the exact moment in history that it has achieved an unprecedented ubiquity? mehr

Veröffentlicht: 13.03.2014
4 Kommentare
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15.01.–28.02.2014
3. Meet Billy the Kid (On Portraiture, Two)

In my previous post I raised the question, “why is it that commercial portraiture, which in the 19th century and into the 20th made up an overwhelming majority of all photographs taken, has received comparatively so little attention in the more established histories of photography?” Maybe the “What if God Was One of Us” video, with its weirdly mixed “message,” does not go far enough to answer this question, except to suggest, subliminally or subconsciously, that commercial portraiture is a game of masks, or fools, and an outdated one at that, perhaps even only appealing today to ethnic minorities and punk heads.

One simple answer is that in most portraits encountered in old albums or today in picture-sharing facilities, there is generally nothing to like or to learn—except perhaps numbers, formats, archival procedures—unless the viewer is related to the subject and in a position to reconstruct stories involving the image. Portraits are usually private. Their merits—the knowledge and care that pertain to them, the aspirations of the sitters through their representations—are private, and often ephemeral; memories attached to them fade fast. In portraits, then, there is nothing to learn or to like, unless some significant context or discourse can be recovered or imagined about them. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 04.02.2014
9 Kommentare
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01.06.–15.07.2013
5. Image Couple

Of all the arcana produced by our collective obsession with Roland Barthes’ theory of photography in the book Camera Lucida, by the endless exegesis and investigation this text on photography seems to inspire, I find the following the most impressive. Buried in a footnote two-thirds of the way to the end of Eduardo Cadava and Paola Cortés-Rocca’s essay “Notes on Love and Photography,” a text first published in October magazine a few years ago, we read: mehr

Veröffentlicht: 16.07.2013
1 Kommentare
4. Sharing Seeing

“I am looking at eyes that looked at the Emperor.”

I am citing Roland Barthes, from the opening of his book on photography, Camera Lucida. I want my post this week—a shorter post than usual, a set of questions or ponderings more than an essay—to act as a kind of postscript to last week’s entry.

I intimated there that photography invokes a rethinking of vision, of the look and of the gaze. Surely this is well-trodden territory. But is it exhausted? Does it need to be re-opened? Last week, my subject was the irreconcilability at the heart of photographic seeing, the non-coincidence of the gaze in photography as one of its most essential features. But there is of course another set of relations attached to the photographic gaze that needs further reflection. I am thinking now not of non-coincidence, but of doubling; I am thinking of what I want to call the recursive structure of photographic sight that non-coincidence spawns. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 02.07.2013
11 Kommentare
3. Blind Spot

Not too long ago, I was combing through an antique store in a California town populated today mostly by the remnants of the counter-culture. There was a large selection of used books. To my surprise, I came across a copy of a monograph I had long wanted for my library, Mary Ann Caw’s volume on the photographer Dora Maar. Hippie villages, even post-hippie villages, always have the best bookstores. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 20.06.2013
13 Kommentare
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
12 Kommentare
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1. Photography and Photographs

My first post will be quite long but I will make up for it with shorter subsequent posts. I’m hoping they will add up to an essay on a single theme: the relation between photography in general and photographs in particular, although this may change in response to comments and contributions as we go.

I begin with some thoughts about how Still Searching has developed since it launched last year, and what this might say about the 'Online Discourse on Photography’, as it is subtitled. Back in January 2012 I was invited to be a co-blogger for the first two contributors, Bernd Stiegler and Aveek Sen. Since then I have watched with interest. The discussions have ranged far and wide but I note a polarization between thinking about ‘photography’, which most contributors seem to feel is too complex and contradictory to be a unified field (without quite giving up on the term all together) and considerations of ‘photographs’ (this or that image or specific project). mehr

Veröffentlicht: 14.04.2013
16 Kommentare
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15.09.–31.10.2012
4. Photography and Authorship

My previous post touched on the complications that arise from photography’s dependence on a negative-positive system of reproduction, a system that divides the photograph from itself but also divides the act of photographing into a number of separate elements, each of them able to be undertaken by different workers. The authorship of individual photographs is therefore often a collective enterprise stretched over a considerable time period, even though this fact tends to be repressed in our historical accounts of photography. Those histories instead privilege individuals and the logic of individualism and this allows them to avoid having to address the complexity of authorship in all its various manifestations. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 07.10.2012
7 Kommentare
2. "Form is henceforth divorced from matter."

My first post considered photography in the context of its dissemination within consumer capitalism, a context that, I suggested, secured the medium’s presence within modern culture even while dissipating its identity, thereby making possible the very thing it also makes impossible. This contradictory character, in Benjamin’s view a key aspect of the political economy of capitalism and therefore of photography too, is embodied in every aspect of the photographic experience. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 23.09.2012
6 Kommentare
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2. Notes on Photography and Loss

On the long flight from Los Angeles to London I undertook last week (which at the time of this posting going live, I will be completing in the reverse) I reread “The Photograph as Post-Industrial Object” by Vilém Flusser. In it Flusser asserts that “We are witnessing a cultural revolution”, a revolution consummated by digital images (what he refers to as “electromagnetized photos”) where “one can see how information abandons its material basis,” threatening to usher in “a society dominated by uncontrolled apparatus… thrown back into the terror of blind, absurd automaticity, into a pre-cultural situation.” mehr

Veröffentlicht: 23.04.2012
1 Kommentare
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2. Theory versus Instinct

Thank you Prateek, David, Ray, Martin and Stuart for your varied responses. With each I am tempted to take the blog in a different direction; but that might take promiscuity a little too far!

The question of ‘theory’ comes up, in different ways, in the responses of both David and Stuart, and I found David’s notion of the blurring of lines between theory and literature, especially in the way Phillips reads Freud and Winnicott, particularly alluring and useful. I have always found Barthes’s Lover’s Discourse and Incidents more inspiring than Camera Lucida, for photographers as well as writers on photography – and inspiring in a more oblique, tangential way. (They could be read as Barthes’s great ballads of sexual dependency.)  mehr

Veröffentlicht: 07.03.2012
2 Kommentare
1. Photography - A Promiscuous Life

What we talk about when we talk about photography. This phrase had been going around in my head as I thought about this blog in the last few days. It can’t be an accident that the phrase echoes the title of Raymond Carver’s 1981 short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”, about two couples discussing love as they sit around a kitchen-table drinking gin while the afternoon light slants across the room. The phrase seems to imply that photography, like love, is one of those irrepressibly miscellaneous topics of conversation that can’t help opening up, in a rather unruly way, into other topics even as one tries to discipline one’s thoughts into some sort of purity and rigour. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 29.02.2012
6 Kommentare