Tag, history
2. The Presence of Non-Collections and the Challenge of Photographic Ecosystems

I recently attended a leaving party for a museum photographer of some 30 years service. The usual orations were accompanied by a digital slide show of his work over those last 30 years during which he had excelled in a range of museum demands. He made bundles of sticks look exciting and provided photographs of masks, chests or totem of such technical precision and virtuosic lighting that First Nations carvers in Canada could reconstitute the haptics of their traditional carving practices – retracing chisel marks. It was also a slide show of how a museum sees itself and how it performs its objects. Yet these photographs were, until that moment, invisible as a photographic practice, and above all, they are not understood as part of the photograph collection at that institution. They are non-collections, ‘just there’, everywhere and nowhere. more

Published: 23.09.2016
0 comments
1. Patterns of Collecting, Institutional Mind-Sets and the Problem of Hierarchies

A few years ago I was talking to a curator of social history in a major British public museum service which I knew held substantial collections of photographs of the local region going back to the 1850s. I asked him how he thought about these photographs in his care, and how they related to the museum’s ethos and activities. To this he responded “well I don’t really – they are just there”. I have been thinking about the ‘just there’ quality of photographic collections ever since. How is it that a body of material, maybe 35,000 glass plates, of substantial importance in regional history can be ‘just there’? How are the tensions of specialness and ubiquity negotiated through institutional practices? more

Published: 15.09.2016
0 comments
...
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”. more

Published: 27.05.2016
2 comments
...
3. Here are Lions

In ancient Roman maps, terra incognita at the edge of the Empire were marked with the notation hinc sunt leones – “here are lions”. Specific zootopes, animal-places as places of or for animals, are always connected to certain zootropes, animal metaphors and animal images. This is also the case for unknown places, to which the Roman maps seem to attest.

People, through their historically changing material and ideological practices, are part of this complex situation – along with animals and their practices. Animals thwart not only our dreams but also our bedrooms. They populate utopias and heterotopias, are assigned to certain topologies, and transcend them. Animals are ignored and loved, segregated and caged in, but nevertheless build relationships – with humans and other animals, architectures and cities, environments and ecologies. Werner Herzog’s film The Cave of Forgotten Dreams from 2010 gravitates poetically around this relationship in its search for “ecstatic truth” while dealing with the Chauvet Cave drawings in France. Dating back an estimated 30,000 years, the cave paintings are twice as old as any other visual artifacts of human history. Both the birth of man and the birth of art are depicted as one and the same act – a moment that supposedly was inextricably linked to animals and images of animals.

more

Published: 15.07.2015
0 comments
...
2. Reading Strand’s New York Photographs: City Hall Park

In my last post, I suggested that we should rethink how we might read “politics” into the works of Paul Strand.  I put “politics” advisedly into quotes, because few photographs can translate specific political tenets or party lines into form. Apart from a unique photograph called “Skeleton and Swastika, Connecticut” contrived in 1938-39, Strand was no John Heartfield and never directly attacked scowling financiers or aggrandized noble workers in the fields in his still photographs. He remained above all an artist with a distinct social point of view, who recognized that the power to shift the public’s attention by forcing it to visually engage with the overlooked was his greatest gift. more

Published: 08.02.2015
2 comments
...
5. After Liberalism

One of the most idiosyncratic yet unrecognized trends of the 1970s is how it was precisely then, when the prewar documentary culture from the 1920s-30s began to appear in a new light. Besides the Walker Evans retrospective at MOMA in 1971, which I mentioned in the previous post, the decade started with a series of seminal monographs on the FSA and the 1930s documentary, including Jack Hurley’s Portrait of a Decade (1972), Roy Stryker and Nancy Wood’s In this Proud Land (1973), and William Stott’s Documentary Expression and Thirties America (1973). more

Published: 08.07.2014
9 comments
4. Heart of Darkness

The 1960s are dark and phantasmagoric, like an ambiguous terrain vague or “nowhere land” in the periodization of photographic history. I’m not free from that uncertainty about the interpretation of this complex decade. It seems like a moment when the past was not quite over and the future had yet to start. Such ambiguity is evident if we compare Steichen’s The Bitter Years with Szarkowski’s New Documents. Both exhibitions were created within only five years of each other, yet stand for two different historical eras in the same decade. In a way, The Bitter Years is the last hurrah of prewar modernism, a living fossil that represents the peak and the end of the 1920-30s’ innovations. more

Published: 29.06.2014
10 comments
...
16.04.–31.05.2014
3. A Tale of Two Mapplethorpes

A large retrospective of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work has just opened at the Grand Palais in Paris. It is coupled with another Mapplethorpe exhibition at the Musée Rodin where Mapplethorpe’s photographs—I am not joking—are displayed with various sculptures by Rodin.

Mapplethorpe-Rodin, exposition at Musée Rodin, Paris, from April 8 to September 21, 2014 (installation view by Abigail Solomon Godeau).

As it happens, Mapplethorpe did photograph sculptures (torsos, heads, and backs) in ways not so different from those he used to photograph living bodies, although it seems not to have mattered if the sculptures were authentic, copies, classical, neoclassical, or kitsch. Somewhat perversely (I use the term advisedly), the photographs of sculpture are in the Grand Palais show, whereas the pictures in the Musée Rodin are mostly of living bodies (or body parts) as well as the miscellaneous self-portrait or still life. More to the point, what the exhibition really demonstrates is that for good or ill, Rodin’s sculptures, plasters, or small studies have nothing whatsoever to do with Mapplethorpe’s work and vice versa. Why would they? more

Published: 30.04.2014
5 comments
2. Boundary Problems: Addressing History in the Image

In the powerful group exhibition entitled Re-framing History at the Galerie Lelong in NYC, only one of the 21 works on view falls under the rubric of “photography.” But even so, in addition to its seven photographs, fifteen 35mm slides, and a contact sheet, the work includes two videos, a set of 20 matchboxes, and four reproductions of printed matter. I refer here to Susan Meiselas’ mixed-media The Life of an Image: Molotov Man. In fact, within the exhibition it is only Meiselas who would be described as a professional photographer, subspecies photojournalist. The others in the exhibition, Sarah Charlesworth, Juan Manuel Echavarría, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Emily Jacir, Alfredo Jaar, and Krzysztof Wodiczko are better described as artists using photography (as well as video, objects, installation, and text). In some instances, such as Sarah Charlesworth’s April 19, 20, 21, 1978 (1978), even to categorize the three b&w prints as “photographs” is something of a stretch.

Sarah Charlesworth, April 19, 20, 21, 1978 (1978), three black and white prints, reproduced same sizes as original newspapers; dimensions variable (installation view), © www.galerielelong.com

These were drawn from her larger series Modern History, consisting of her photographs of newspaper front pages with all the text (except for the masthead) whited out.1Charlesworth died suddenly this past summer and as is so often the case with women artists, there is now—belatedly—a heightened interest in her work, and one may expect a future spate of exhibitions. Her last retrospective was in 1997-1999, organized by the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art. What remains in the blank spaces are the news photographs reproduced on the page.  more

Published: 22.04.2014
4 comments
...
4. Another Threshold

Edouard Manet’s Portrait of Emile Zola, from 1868, currently on view at the Royal Academy in London in the Manet: Portraying Life exhibition is usually interpreted as a testimony of the friendship between the artist and a writer who was one of his strongest supporters in those years. The painting shows Zola seated sideways at his work table, surrounded by papers, objects, and pictures that point to this relationship, and, it has been noted, to Manet’s own tastes: a decorated screen on the left, a pamphlet bearing Manet’s name on the desk, and above, in the top right corner of the picture, a Japanese print and a lithograph of Velasquez partly concealed by a reproduction of Manet’s own Olympia. It is to these last three objects I would like to direct my attention, in order to think about a technological and aesthetic threshold a century-and-a-half back that may or may not serve as a model for the relationship between analogue and digital photography today. more

Published: 28.03.2013
1 comments
...
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. more

Published: 17.10.2012
6 comments