Tags, working class
5. Women and Work

It has often been claimed that the radical documentary practice of the 1970s attended to class politics to the exclusion of gender. This was one of the core arguments for a staged practice of photography. However, it is notable how much of the documentary production of the period was focussed on women’s labour. Victor Burgin’s UK76 includes a photograph of an Asian woman working in a textile factory and Photography Workshop and Jo Spence were centrally involved with the education of working-class women in east London. I’ll discuss the Hackney Flashers below. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 24.10.2017
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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. Towards a Theory of the Zoopolitical Unconscious

There are utopian spaces knitted into the fabric of the seemingly pessimistic film La Haine.1 One famous scene in La Haine condenses this “fleeting utopia”2 more then any other moment in the film: Hubert packages and smokes weed in his bedroom, listening to “That Loving Feeling,” sung by Isaac Hayes, and looks outside the window of his “rabbit hutch” (cage à lapins – as the identical flats of the cité are called). His gaze falls onto the inhabitants of the banlieue below. While the sound of a police helicopter immerses the social landscape in a tense mode of being watched by unfriendly eyes, Hubert’s gaze arrives at another window. Here we see a DJ, Cut Killer, positioning the loudspeakers by the window to sound outwards into the space between the buildings. The non-admission of young migrant men into discotheques is a recurring theme in banlieue films3 and also later in La Haine; here, the loudspeakers transform the open space of the banlieue into a grand dance floor.4Cut Killer stages an ingenious mix with samples of U.S. hip-hop artist KRS-One’s “Sound of the Police,” French rap formation Supreme NTM’s “Nique La Police” and Edith Piaf’s notorious “Je ne regrette rien.” mehr

Veröffentlicht: 27.06.2015
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1. Last Night, During the Riot, I Ran Into a Cow

Without cows and their appetite there would be no photography as we know it, argues Nicole Shukin in Animal Capital.1 The scientists at Kodak’s research laboratory had a problem at the beginning of the 20th century: The gelatin used by Kodak to bind light-sensitive agents to a base had produced results of poor quality. Only after mustard seeds had been added to the cows’ feed were satisfactory photographic results achieved. If cows hadn’t accepted their new diet, the photographic and cinematic history of the world would probably have been quite different.2 mehr

Veröffentlicht: 15.06.2015
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4. Rear Windows: Strand’s Backyards

In 1916, the same year that Paul Strand made his remarkable studies of lower-class types caught unawares by a disguised camera lens, he moved away from New York’s crowded streets to capture backyards visible from a bird’s-eye perspective.

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Veröffentlicht: 26.02.2015
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3. Excursus: Politics of the Victim

I mentioned in my first post that the rise of documentary discourses between the World Wars resulted from the political need to visibilize the working class in the new media culture corresponding to the era of mass democracy. Both in its “from above” (state/liberal/Griersonian/FSA) and in its “from below” (social movements/revolutionary/worker-photography) versions, documentary rhetoric contributed to this political need, in part through the dissemination of an iconography of a victimized working class.

The production of a poetics of dispossession is a key contribution from documentary methods emerging from the 1930s to social struggles for justice and democracy. Beyond the specific historical prewar context, I think this poetics was a central contribution to the 20th century universal citizenship democratic imaginary, which finds precisely a key historical iconic source in the worker-photography documentary project. I mean, the iconography of a fragile and precarious life is constitutive not only of the project of proletarian documentary, but is in the root of the poetic construction of democracy and justice. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 19.06.2014
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2. Paul Strand after Margaret Mead

In this second post I’d like to expand the scenario somewhat by introducing a few other possible significant references for an interpretation of the logics of the 1950s.

In 1949, Beaumont Newhall’s 1937 catalogue of the MOMA exhibition, Photography 1839-1937, appeared revised and enlarged as an autonomous book: The History of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day. Postwar liberal modernist photographic culture now had its foundational text, its Bible. Chapter 10 in Newhall’s book was devoted to documentary, and the genealogy it proposes on the subject remains as canonical as Newhall’s history itself. The genealogy is as follows: first we have the 1860s and 1870s geographical surveys as a pre-history of documentary. Then we have Jacob Riis as the precursor and Lewis Hine as the founding father of 20th century documentary photography, which reaches its complete and most self-aware form with the FSA. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 10.06.2014
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1. Centrist Liberalism Triumphant: A Postwar Humanist Reframing of Documentary Photography

Hello world!

This is my first blog. I’m not a blogging person and I confess I’m feeling uneasy about the vulnerable improvisatory condition that blog writing involves, a kind of performative public conversation open to doubts and suppositions and maybe to banality :)), rather than solid demonstrative writing. But, anyway: let’s try it.

This blog takes informally, maybe perversely, the title of Immanuel Wallerstein’s recently published fourth volume of his landmark book series on the modern world-system. I will attempt to bring to discussion some ideas and intuitions concerning the postwar reframing of documentary photography as a liberal humanistic (or humanitarian?) discipline. I’ll come back to definitions of humanism further below. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 01.06.2014
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