Still Searching…

From 2012 to 2023, the discursive blog format of Fotomuseum Winterthur subjected all aspects of photography and its role in visual culture to interdisciplinary scrutiny. The approximately 50 bloggers that contributed to Still Searching… discussed photographic media and forms within their complex technological, capitalist and ideological networks and negotiated some of the most pressing and relevant questions surrounding photography.

Blog series: Digital Infrastructures of Race and Gender

Safiya Umoja Noble | 06.12.2017 – 31.01.2018
Digital Infrastructures of Race and Gender

Till the end of January, Safiya U. Noble explores the intersectional ways race and gender are embedded in digital infrastructures. Noble suggests that logics and structures of race are a matter of network and platform design, which encode values that cannot be divorced from the digital. To open, she investigates the erosion of humanities and social science courses from the education of engineers, and suggests that the erasure of sociality impacts conceptions of technology’s promise. Later in the series, she explores other dimensions of the social stack and how race and gender are embedded in contemporary conceptions of the digital.

The Problems of Profiting from Internet Pollution

Monday, 08.01.2018
<p><!--[if gte mso 9]>--> Normal 0 21 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <!--[if gte mso 9]>--> <!--[if gte mso 10]>--> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Normale Tabelle"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:Arial; color:black; mso-ansi-language:EN; mso-fareast-language:EN-US;} <!--StartFragment--> <!--EndFragment--></p> <p><span>At the end of 2017, I attended and participated in an international conference on internet content moderation, </span><span><a href="https://atm-ucla2017.net/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span>All Things in Moderation</span></a></span><span>, at the University of California, Los Angeles, organized by my long-time research collaborator, </span><span><a href="http://newsroom.ucla.edu/experts/preview/5877c4372cfac202470891d1/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span>Dr. Sarah T. Roberts</span></a></span><span>, an authority on commercial content moderation. This conference was the first of its kind, bringing in stakeholders for public conversations that reflected the concerns of industry, activists, content moderation workers, journalists, academics, and policy makers. In today’s blog post, I want to talk about the ethical dimensions of regulating the internet and digital media platforms, whether by content moderation, algorithms and automated decision-making systems, or by public policy. </span></p>

Robots, Race, and Gender

Tuesday, 30.01.2018
<p><!--[if gte mso 9]>--> <!--[if gte mso 9]>--> Normal 0 21 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <!--[if gte mso 9]>--> <!--[if gte mso 10]>--> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Normale Tabelle"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-ansi-language:EN-US; mso-fareast-language:EN-US;} <!--StartFragment--><span>Last week, I attended a meeting organized by </span><span><a href="https://genderedinnovations.stanford.edu/what-is-gendered-innovations.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Gendered Innovations at Stanford University</a></span><span> in Northern California. While there, I was thinking about the algorithmically-driven software that will be embedded in anthropomorphized computers – or robots – that will be entering the market soon. In this post, I want to offer a provocation, and suggest that we continue to gather interdisciplinary scholars to engage in research that asks questions about the re-inscribing of gender in both the software and hardware. </span><!--EndFragment--></p>
Blog series: Processing

Sean Cubitt | 05.03.2017 – 28.02.2024
Processing

The photographic image introduced a radical new proposition about representation. Drawing, painting and printmaking required prolonged contemplation of subjects. The long exposures of early photography seemed to parallel that durational encounter. But the appearance of the snapshot changed that. The photogram was an isolated moment singled out that provided a new aesthetic and a new ethical quandary about the instant seized abruptly from the flow of time. The moving image may be seen as an attempt to heal this trauma in the flux of time, but one that created new modes of temporal alienation. Digital imaging, still and moving, alters the conditions of the photogram, bringing it closer to the processing of scientific instruments. In his blog series, thinking ahead of a proposed new avenue of research into the aesthetic politics of truth, Sean Cubitt draws on thinkers from Flusser to Badiou to consider the changing nature and function of time from the decisive moment to data visualisation.

Problems of Happy Images

Monday, 30.01.2017
<p>I ended my <a href="https://www.fotomuseum.ch/de/explore/still-searching/articles/29961_image_after_2_from_truth_to_ethics" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last post</a> with the ethical and political demand for happiness for all. Yes, it is a radical demand. Our world is not a very happy place; and each of us has been schooled, by religion, politics, and what we like to call reality, that we have to put up with pain in the hope of something better coming along when we get to heaven or pay off our debts. Both prospects, in reality, are equally distant. Which means that we have schooled ourselves to accept unhappiness as the nature of life. Casting that off is a huge psychological task, let alone the immense political revolution that would have to happen to realise happiness for everyone.</p>
Blog series: Photography and the Language of Things

David Cunningham | 15.05. – 14.09.2016
Photography and the Language of Things

Until the end of June, David Cunningham will reflect on some current debates around photography and what Hito Steyerl terms “the language of things in the realm of the documentary form”. The blog will examine what seems in such debates a widespread desire to withdraw from representation altogether, whereby the image becomes (to borrow Steyerl’s own citation of Benjamin) “without expression”, not a representation of reality but “a fragment of the real world”, a “thing just like any other”. Engaging with the history of a certain avant-garde that lies behind this, the blog will then pose some questions concerning the political as well as ‘aesthetic’ implications of such a thought of the photographic image.

If Commodities Could Speak

Saturday, 09.07.2016
<p>“A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood”, writes Marx, famously, <a href="https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S4">in the first chapter of <em>Capital</em></a>. “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.</p>

The Liberation of Things

Monday, 18.07.2016
<p>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”, <a href="https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch03.htm">in the words of Marx</a>; 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 <em>are</em> 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”.<span class="frzfn"><span class="marker"></span></span><a href="#Fn1" name="_ednref1"></a></p>
Blog series: Images without Viewers

Jodi Dean | 05.01. – 29.02.2016
Images without Viewers

2016 kicks off with a new blog series by political theorist Jodi Dean, “Images without viewers“. Until the end of February, Dean will reflect on the repetition and circulation of images in communicative capitalism. In today’s digitally networked communication practices, photographs and images are incorporated and blended together with speech and writing, a process designated by Dean as “secondary visuality” (akin to Walter Ong’s “secondary orality”). How do mass personalized media involve “secondary visuality,” and what are the political repercussions? What does it mean when images are less for view than they are for circulation?

Images without Viewers

Wednesday, 06.01.2016
<p>My seventeen-year-old daughter, Sadie, and her friends use Snapchat, sharing snaps upwards of forty times a day. Sadie tells me that their conversations are “just pics with short captions.” The pic is typically a selfie of a stupid or ugly face (“look at my fucking forehead!”). Receivers respond with another ugly face and a funny retort (“YOU LOOK LIKE A KLINGON”). Sadie and her friends also post “stories,” stitched together photos and videos from their daily lives. Sadie says her stories are mostly “about my sick life” (“sick” apparently means good, fun, cool, or desirable in some inchoate sense).</p>
Blog series: Anthropocene

T.J. Demos | 01.05. – 15.06.2015
Anthropocene

From the beginning of May until June 15, T.J. Demos (professor in the Department of the History of Art and Visual Culture, and director of the Center for Creative Ecologies, at the University of California, Santa Cruz) is planning to engage with the relation between photography and ecology, specifically thinking about the so-called anthropocene and its limits and problems, and how these are negotiated and positioned photographically.

Geo-Engineering the Anthropocene

Wednesday, 13.05.2015
<div>“A daunting task lies ahead for scientists and engineers to guide society towards environmentally sustainable management during the era of the Anthropocene. This will require appropriate human behaviour at all scales, and may well involve internationally accepted, large-scale geo-engineering projects, for instance to ‘optimize’ climate.”<br><br></div>
Blog series: Ideas about the Contemporary Role of Photography within Digital Culture and Artistic Practice

Melanie Bühler | 16.03. – 30.04.2015
Ideas about the Contemporary Role of Photography within Digital Culture and Artistic Practice

From mid-March till the end of April, Melanie Bühler’s blog series will address a number of ideas about the contemporary role of photography within digital culture and artistic practice. She will also examine the role of digital photography within the context of photography as both an artistic medium and a specialized discipline and explore how networked photographic practices are reflected in the work of contemporary artists.

Remnants of the Index: Hanging on to Photographic Values – The Selfie

Monday, 20.04.2015
<p>My last two blog posts, entitled Remnants of the Index: Hanging on to Photographic Values, will each focus on the legacy and the importance of iconic photographic values. The first does so through a discussion of the selfie, while the second considers the installation shot.</p>
Blog series: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant: Postwar Humanist Reframing of Documentary

Jorge Ribalta | 01.06. – 15.07.2014
Centrist Liberalism Triumphant: Postwar Humanist Reframing of Documentary

Jorge Ribalta’s blog series draws inspiration from the title of the fourth volume of Immanuel Wallerstein’s landmark series on the modern world-system. Rather than a theoretical or philosophical discussion on the nature of documentary photography, the blog series proposes a historical understanding of documentary practices in photography, and specifically during the Cold War. Ribalta’s point is that the rise of documentary rhetoric and discourses in the prewar era reflected the need to provide a visual tool for the representation of the working class and its new agency in mass democracy. But histories of photographic modernism, mostly a postwar construction largely determined by Newhall’s contribution, offered specific “liberal” versions of the emergence of the documentary discourse that had long-lasting effects. For example, the hegemony of the FSA documentary overshadowed the rest of the 1930s documentary experiences, particularly that of the Worker Photography Movement. In the 1950s, the large shadow of the monumental The Family of Man invisibilized or re-signified other documentary experiments, like Italian Neorealism or Paul Strand’s photo book projects, just to mention two examples. In both cases, prewar and postwar, centrist liberalism is triumphant. In other words, liberal humanism seemed to be an unsurpassable discursive and ideological horizon in postwar photographic avant-gardes and its historical narratives. The blog series brings to discussion some ideas and intuitions dealing with the humanist condition of postwar documentary photography and its problems.

Centrist Liberalism Triumphant: A Postwar Humanist Reframing of Documentary Photography

Sunday, 01.06.2014
<div>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.<br><br></div>

Paul Strand after Margaret Mead

Tuesday, 10.06.2014
<div>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.<br><br></div><div><br><br></div>

After Liberalism

Tuesday, 08.07.2014
<p>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 <i>Portrait of a Decade</i> (1972), Roy Stryker and Nancy Wood’s <i>In this Proud Land</i> (1973), and William Stott’s <i>Documentary Expression and Thirties America</i> (1973).</p>
Blog series: Photography and Dissemination

Geoffrey Batchen | 15.09. – 31.10.2012
Photography and Dissemination

Photo thinker Geoffrey Batchen will write about photography and 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. But I am also interested in beginning to explore the ramifications of photography’s relationship to reproducibility for our understanding of this medium’s history. How has reproducibility manifested itself in photographic practice and experience? What have been the effects of these manifestations? What kind of history would have to be written to encompass these questions? The invention of this history—of a mode of representation capable of doing justice to these questions–is ultimately what I am ‘still searching’ for.”

Dissemination

Saturday, 15.09.2012
<p>The theme of my contribution to <em>Still Searching</em> 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.</p>

"Form is henceforth divorced from matter."

Sunday, 23.09.2012
<p>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.</p>

A Subject for, a History about, Photography

Wednesday, 17.10.2012
<p>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.</p>