Datum, 2012
01.11.–15.12.2012
6. Reflections on the Effect of Photography on the Sciences

In this last blog I want to turn the conversation toward something that has lately occupied me in my writing and thinking about photography and photographic practice. Many of the arguments put forward in the previous posts are deeply informed by the notion that photography is not passive. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 13.12.2012
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5. Experiment

Experiments have traditionally been set in opposition to observation, although more recent scholarship has begun to seriously question that neat categorization. If photographic observations, the subject of the last blog, are messy, then experiments seem to be even more so. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 10.12.2012
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4. Observation

The next two blogs will deal with the often conjoined activities of observation and experiment, as they pertain to photography and science. They are significant in thinking about photography because they are so very bound up in the arguments about photography’s supposedly prickly relationship with art. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 05.12.2012
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3. Photographic Practice and Photography

Since we are following a trajectory in this blog of asking what it might be like to explore photographic history from a look at particular photographic practices, I want to address one of the comments in the last blog here in a whole new thread. In the last blog, Ulla Fischer-Westhauser rightly brought up Marietta Blau and nuclear emulsions. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 22.11.2012
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2. Photography and the Invisible

For many years, an oft-repeated theme in relation to science photographs has been the revelatory concept of making invisible things visible. Reiterated in exhibition and book titles, the concept has become commonplace without ever submitting to significant scrutiny. It needs scrutiny, however, since scholarship by Edwards, Tucker, Kelsey, Daston, Galison and others have made it very clear that there is much more to photography’'s role in science than as a simple, passive conduit, translating the invisible ‘out there’ to the visible ‘here and now’. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 13.11.2012
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1. Image and Practice

On 24 February 1839, Jean Baptiste Biot suggested in a letter to William Henry Fox Talbot that the fixation of exact photographic tonality, the fine shades, (and depending on how you read it, even the fixation of images themselves), was largely a matter for art. Physics, he continued, was more concerned with the use of the instrument – in this case, photogenic drawing paper. Scientists’ comments about photography, like this one from Biot, illuminate historiographical roads not taken, holding out the possibility of adding new strands to the history of photography. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 31.10.2012
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15.09.–31.10.2012
5. A Subject for, a History about, Photography

My previous posts have explored the various ramifications of photography’s reproducibility, pursuing the way this attribute disseminates the photograph, securing, dispersing and dissipating its identity in about equal measure. I have suggested that this pursuit considerably complicates the traditional representation of photography’s history, undermining any narrative based on single artists or single prints or indeed on chronology or purity of medium—undermining, in other words, much of the traditional infrastructure of published histories of photography. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 17.10.2012
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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
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3. Still Searching: “the dark, repressed side”

My previous post briefly mentioned the negative as one crucial component of the identity of many photographs. It is, nevertheless, an aspect of that identity often ignored by histories of photography, where negatives are rarely reproduced or discussed at any length. Negatives, it seems, are truly the repressed, dark side of photography’s history. True, there is a conference (could it be the first?) on the negative being planned for Munich in February. But my interest is not in reviving the study of the negative as an object unto itself (although photographers in the nineteenth century did often exhibit their negatives, to display their technical prowess) but in pursuing the consequences of the reproductive economy that photographic negatives represent. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 01.10.2012
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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
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1. Dissemination

The theme of my contribution to Still Searching is inspired by Walter Benjamin’s famous essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility’ (1935-36). Or, rather, it is inspired by the striking absence of discussions of reproduction and its effects in the literature about photography since this essay first appeared. So I guess I am searching, in the first instance, for the reasons for this absence, given that Benjamin’s essay has been made compulsory reading for a generation of students and is one of the most cited in serious texts about the photographic experience. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 15.09.2012
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01.06.–14.07.2012
5. Photography and Humanity

In the catalogue essay to the 1981 exhibition he curated at MoMA under the title Before Photography, Peter Galassi traces photography’s origins in relation to the history of Western painting. Much more than being the offspring from a fruitful juncture of scientific, cultural, and economic determinations, Galassi argues, photography is the final, perfected result of centuries-long pictorial efforts to depict the world. The photograph, he writes, possesses an inherently modern “pictorial syntax of immediate, synoptic perceptions and discontinuous, unexpected forms.” mehr

Veröffentlicht: 09.07.2012
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4. Aesthetic Equality

In this fourth posting, I consider a sequence of photographic images and accompanying text fragments that a group of Ramallah based artists and writers - Basel Abbas, Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Nahed Awwad and Inass Yassin - created together with and coordinated by Shuruq Harb and Ursula Biemann (ArtTerritories). Preceded by an introductory essay entitled "Looking Back at Today" – written by Biemann and Harb – this photo-textual work of art was published as an insert in A Prior #22 (2011). mehr

Veröffentlicht: 29.06.2012
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3. Aesthetic Ruptures

On June 20, 2012, at 7 p.m., Fotomuseum Winterthur will screen Renzo Martens’s Episode III - Enjoy Poverty (2008). For several years, I have been researching (and lecturing on) issues – related to photography and beyond – addressed in this film, which was shot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This has been especially the case within the framework of a research project that T.J. Demos (University College London) and I have been jointly working on. Entitled “In and Out of Brussels: Aesthetics / Histories / Politics Between Africa and Europe,” this project investigates how the figuration of Africa in films such as Episode III confronts Europe – in particular Western Europe – with the image it is keen to uphold of itself. The first chapter of the book that is the outcome of this project (forthcoming this fall) is entirely devoted to Episode III. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 18.06.2012
7 Kommentare
2. An Anti-Archival Impulse

In this post, I want to continue the reflection on how photography can today serve as a contributing motor for social change by turning our attention to the photographic archive. I would like to focus on a concrete example, the long-term project Theory of Justice initiated by the artist Peter Friedl in 1992. This work is composed from the artist’s vast collection of newspaper and magazine clippings. A specific selection of black-and-white photographs was published as an artist’s book in 2006. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 11.06.2012
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1. What Has Photography Done?

In order to grasp what photography can do as an art today, I want to start with looking back, asking ourselves the question: what has photography done so far? What relevant lessons can we learn from photography’s past? Before which carts has photography been put – so to say – ever since it was invented? What intentions has it served, both within the art world and outside of it, in its relation to society? Reflecting on photography’s historical trajectory as an artistic medium is helpful when one wishes to imagine what photography’s future roles can be. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 31.05.2012
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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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4. Aesthetics and Distribution Case (1): Preliminary Notes on Art’s Ability to Radicalize Academia

“…each encounter produces a new position of assemblages, even as it simultaneously defines a new use for these assemblages” -Gilles Deleuze

In this posting, I would like to pursue an earlier tangent, and redirect it. If we start with the idea that a medium is constituted by a dialectic of applied use and technological development, and that it is further defined by the conventionalization of the relationship between the two (a process that occurs over time and is in a state of constant revision) it follows that a medium is never freed from its use, nor is it freed from its position between some agents in a transaction, meaning that it can never stand apart from these conditions. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 07.05.2012
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3. The Question of a Medium's Identity

Last week, I attempted to draw forward a peculiar thematic in photography criticism and theory and the parallel instability of the term “photography.” At its base, a technology that has such a variance of instrumental applications and contextual meanings presents some intractable problems for art historical discourse, and its preference for discrete objects over more broadly systemic social or epistemological conditions. In other words, art history still maintains echoes of the assumption of aesthetic autonomy within its adherence to medium divisions, an interpretive schema that runs into difficulties when dealing with photographic objects, and the elasticity of the term photography to describe practices which range from fine art, to the journalistic, and cover objects as varied as platinum palladium and vegetable dye on paper. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 30.04.2012
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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
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1. Conventions, Conditions, and Practices of Photography Conceived as a System of Relations

As works of art have increasingly embraced the polysemy of images—to the point where the question of what a particular image depicts has become all but minor in the discussion of contemporary art—what we generally describe as photography continues to be understood as primarily depictive (and to that end as a transparent medium) and taken in unitary terms (i.e. taken as discrete pictorial worlds rather than as objects in an expansive aesthetic distributive system). mehr

Veröffentlicht: 14.04.2012
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6. The Grid and More

In 1985, the American photographer, William Gedney, copied out a passage in his notebook from the English writer on landscape, Nan Fairbrother: “The shapes we make for ourselves are geometrical, and the background of civilised life is more or less rectangular. Our rooms and houses are arrangements of cubes, our doors and windows, furniture and rugs, books and boxes – all their angles are right angles and all their sides are straight.” mehr

Veröffentlicht: 07.04.2012
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5. The Tyranny of Context

I have been looking at two things together. First, the excellent Duke University website that collects the photographs, handmade photobooks and notebooks of the photographer, William Gedney (1932-1989), who made a large body of work in India during two extended visits in 1969-71 and 1979-80. Second, the catalogue of the big "India show" last year at the Pompidou Centre, Paris, called Paris-Delhi-Bombay... mehr

Veröffentlicht: 28.03.2012
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4. Photography and Witnessing

I was looking at a collection of photo-essays on jail experience, militarization and the death penalty called Art as Witness, edited by the “photo-artist”, Parthiv Shah, and a teacher of journalism, Sana Das (Tulika Books: New Delhi, 2010). It had begun as an “ambitious and elusive project” called “Art as Activism“ at Amnesty International, India, involving “artists, writers, advocates, film-makers, activists, journalists, police officers and professionals”. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 22.03.2012
6 Kommentare
3. Books without Words

Thank you, Martin, for this anatomy of photography’s proneness to a certain kind of mindlessness, taken by David towards a vision of what a ‘liberal’ education for a photographer might be in the future. I am also grateful to you, David, for the directness of your question to me: “What is it that photography offers you as a writer?

This question has forced me to focus my thoughts over the last few days, and to do this purely on the basis of what I am carrying inside my head and in my computer, for I have been travelling constantly. Sometimes, it is good to be away from one’s books, and to be forced to rely solely on one’s memory, eyes and ears. mehr

Veröffentlicht: 14.03.2012
7 Kommentare
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
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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
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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
6 Kommentare
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
9 Kommentare
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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