Tags, Walter Benjamin
4. Production, Collectives and Skill

One pervasive theoretical problem running throughout the radical aesthetic work of the 1970s, and it is retained in much recent commentary, involves recoding Walter Benjamin’s “The Author as Producer” as a matter of attentive viewing or reading, with the avant-garde ‘text’ at its heart. However, in his important intervention Benjamin was concerned with turning readers into worker correspondents, that is to say, producers. The point of the “Author as Producer” was to reject the passive reception aesthetics of the Communist movement in favour of productivism. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 18.10.2017
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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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6. The Liberation of Things

I ended my last post with the suggestion that underlying the recent turn to the ‘object’ or ‘thing’ one might glimpse a certain ‘posthumanist’ anxiety – an anxiety occasioned by the degree to which capitalist modernity is a world “ruled by abstractions”, in the words of Marx; abstractions that have come to assume an objective reality which is ‘quasi-independent’ of the things, objects and individuals that constitute them, but which is not ‘material’ in any usual empirical sense. Such abstract social forms – money, the commodity, the value form – do not merely ‘conceal’ the ‘real’ social relations and objective networks constitutive of capitalism, but, on the contrary, actually are the ‘real’ relations that structure capitalist modernity as an increasingly global mode of social life encompassing human and non-human ‘things’ alike. The actual organisation of social and material relations is driven by a real abstraction that, far from being a question of mere faulty thinking or false consciousness, “moves within the object itself”. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 18.07.2016
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5. If Commodities Could Speak

“A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood”, writes Marx, famously, in the first chapter of Capital. “Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties”. For while, as an ‘ordinary’ object, “the table continues to be that common, everyday thing, wood”, “so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 09.07.2016
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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
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3. If Things Could Speak

“What if things could speak? What would they tell us? Or are they speaking already and we just don’t hear them? And who is going to translate them?” It is such questions that Hito Steyerl suggests, in her 2006 article “The Language of Things”, are posed in an essay written ninety years earlier: Walter Benjamin’s posthumously published “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man”. Here, Steyerl argues, the great German philosopher and critic “develops the concept of a language of things”, where “there is a language of stones, pans and cardboard boxes. Lamps speak as if inhabited by spirits. Mountains and foxes are involved in discourse. High-rise buildings chat with each other. Paintings gossip”. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 13.06.2016
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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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4. From the Kino-Eye to the Postimage

In this last post, we want to explore the relation between vision, image and machine. With film, or already with photography, a new age has started: that of machine vision, of machines that see (for us). The logical consequence is that at some point, these machines will no longer need us to function (we’ve already come a long way from hand-cranked cameras to webcams) or to look at their images (think of automated CCTV surveillance or assembly robots). They may still see for us, but will do so without our involvement, as with self-driving cars for instance. What is at stake then in the age of machine vision is not only the status and concept of the image (what does “seeing” mean for a robot equipped with various sensors, among them visual ones?), it is also the status and concept of the human as the producer and consumer of images. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 26.04.2016
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05.01.–29.02.2016
3. Images without Viewers: Selfie Communism

Selfies are a communist form of expression.

The critical reflex is to dismiss selfies as yet another indication of a pervasive culture of narcissism. I disagree. The narcissism critique approaches the selfie as if it were analyzing a single photograph. It views the person in that photograph as the photograph’s subject. Selfies, though, should be understood as a common form, a form that, insofar as it is inseparable from the practice of sharing selfies, has a collective subject. The subject is the many participating in the common practice, the many imitating each other. The figure in the photo is incidental. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 01.02.2016
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01.05.–15.06.2015
4. Capitalocene Violence

“Climate change is global-scale violence against places and species, as well as against human beings, writes Rebecca Solnit. “Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.”1Rebecca Solnit, “Climate Change Is Violence,” in The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness (San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2014), http://www.truth-out.org/progressivepicks/item/28933-climate-change-is-violence. One way to “call violence by name” is to opt for the Capitalocene—the geological age of capitalism—rather than the misdirected Anthropocene—identifying “human activities” as the agency behind environmental change.2araway credits Andreas Malm and Jason Moore with the earliest usages of “Capitalocene,” in Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin,” Environmental Humanities vol. 6 (2015), 161. The “Chthulucene,” for her, designates the post-anthropocentric and post-anthropos age of multispecies assemblages—named not so much after sci-fi writer H.P. Lovecraft’s monster Cthulhu, but rather the “diverse earth-wide tentacular powers and forces and collected things with names like Naga, Gaia, Tangaroa...” suggesting “myriad temporalities and spatialities and myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages, including the more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman, and human-as-humus”—the basis for Haraway’s additional rejection of the Anthropocene. No doubt any single term is ultimately inadequate. The terminological distinction invites a critical analysis of Anthropocene imagery, especially in regards to popular photography. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 05.06.2015
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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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15.01.–28.02.2014
4. Trove Found at Naval Yard (On History, One)

This week, as happens every so often, a post on the PhotoHistory list forwarded a press article relating the discovery of a “trove” of forgotten photographs — in this case, a collection of 150 glass slides showing scenes from the Spanish American War of 1898, “discovered” in Navy archives in Washington D.C. The article in the Mail Online is entitled “Ghosts of a forgotten war: Naval archivists discover trove of never before seen photographs from Spanish-American conflict of 1898”. Opening with a close-up shot of archivist David Colamaria as he is gazing at a glass slide of the Spanish Admiral, titled “Incredible find,” the article begins: “Archivists at the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington DC were going through a backlog of artifacts this week when they came across an unexpected treasure … ‘The plates were individually wrapped in tissue paper and include full captions and dates…,’ said Lisa Crunk, NHHC's photo archives branch head.” The description of the container follows, with the mention of a title and attribution (“etched on the cover”) to Douglas White, “war correspondent.” mehr

Veröffentlicht: 17.02.2014
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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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