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5. Border

An edge, boundary, or line of demarcation. Few concepts feel as critical to the contemporary discourse on migration as border, for every migrating subject must navigate a physical, political, or conceptual divide. Especially thick structures govern my own country’s national borders, whose markings, surveillance, and protection are the subjects of current debate. Soon they may be fortified at high costs, as US President Donald Trump has issued executive orders proposing the construction of a new border wall between the US and Mexico. more

Published: 20.04.2017
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4. (Im)mobility

Mobility implies the ability – some say the essential human right – to move freely. But the global migration crisis reminds the world that not every subject can exercise that freedom due to their race, gender, sexuality, class, political persuasions, or national identity. Hence certain citizens of a country enter it with minimal restriction, while others and non-citizens are impeded or halted altogether. In the United States, press coverage of restrictions on mobility has increased in the wake of the executive orders in 2017 targeting people from certain predominantly Muslim countries. more

Published: 10.04.2017
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3. Diaspora

To speak of diaspora is to speak of a dispersion or scattering of people. It assumes forced or voluntary movement from a homeland – a geographical or cultural point of origin. It further assumes that people around the world who claim a common origin may share other points of similarity, such as a race, language, or set of beliefs. But as cultural theorist Stuart Hall has written of the black diaspora, diasporic communities are by no means homogenous entities. Rather, they are continuously taking shape through myriad migrations, political conditions, and local forces. more

Published: 27.03.2017
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2. Refugee

The first keyword of this series – refugee – pervades the global discourse on migration, and yet its meaning is not always understood. So let us begin with a definition. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which supports displaced people: A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. more

Published: 15.03.2017
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1. Photography and Migration: Keywords

To consume international news today is to experience one facet of photography’s relationship to human migration. Daily we confront photographs of overcrowded boats and trains; life preservers and backpacks, with or without their human users; fences, tents, and other spaces of containment or restriction; outstretched feet and hands; young children in the arms of parents or strangers; anguished, angry, vacant faces; and countless bodies arranged in lines, standing still or moving forward. more

Published: 06.03.2017
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06.03.–30.04.2017

The photographic medium has played an important role in the movement of people, objects, identities, and ideas across time and space, especially in the human crossing of geographical and cultural borders. Scholars have shown how cameras documented, enabled, or controlled such forced or voluntary movements, while photographers have attempted to put a face on immigration around the world, making visible its associations with transition, displacement, hardship, and opportunity. In this blog series, Tanya Sheehan reflects on the relationship between photography and migration in the twenty-first century by considering photographs in the global migration crisis as well as within her own local, community interventions. Framing her discussion are keywords in photography and migration studies: diaspora, refugee, (im)mobility, and border.

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7. What Do Databases Want?

For the last post in this series I have left myself an absurd challenge: to find a way of thinking through the mass image – that single, vast portrait gathered together from every digitised photo (and every mode of image capture) into one monolithic picture of the world in the accumulated databases of social media, surveillance systems, medical and scientific collections and all the other repositories of unregarded photographs. more

Published: 02.03.2017
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6. Assembling Photographs

Looking at animals is like looking at photographs. Or at least, looking at familiar animals like dogs and cats and horses is like looking at photos. They offer themselves up to us, but they expect us to respond as well. Pictures are the same. As W.J.T. Mitchell asked some years ago, whenever we try to get something from images, we should also ask “What do pictures want?” There is a yearning for comprehension on both sides. There is so much each can understand about the other, but only so much. more

Published: 22.02.2017
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5. The Image Withheld

All that distinguishes a photo as image and a photo as component of the mass image is the simple act of attention. Among all the billion images uploaded, stashed or discarded, only a tiny few secure even a few moments of active contemplation. more

Published: 15.02.2017
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4. The Mass Image

I wrote in my previous post that individual images use the unavoidable division between being and appearance to create negative images of the world, and thereby to create glimpses of happiness as the opposite of the world we inhabit. That seems to be as true of individual prints or photographs as it is of unique paintings and drawings. But can the same be said of images in the mass? more

Published: 09.02.2017
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3. Problems of Happy Images

I ended my last post 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. more

Published: 30.01.2017
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2. Image + After 2: From Truth to Ethics

In my last post I argued that the gradual move of photography from random scatters of molecules to formal grids marks its assimilation into formal modernity. Before leaping to this conclusion, it is important as well to reflect on photography’s place among scientific instruments, one of the major ways it was understood in its early period. Peter Galison makes a distinction between image and logic as two principles of scientific observation. more

Published: 18.01.2017
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1. Image + After I: Photography as Print and as Scientific Instrument

There is a well-known theory on the left concerning British history known as the Nairn-Anderson thesis named after two of its protagonists. Tom Nairn and Perry Anderson traced the peculiarities of the British state to the failure of the country to complete its revolution. Perhaps something similar has to be said about photography. At many points in its history, photography has been on the brink of revolutionising the very concept of the image; and yet the old still maintains its place – like the British monarchy. more

Published: 09.01.2017
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From the series
Processing
09.01.–05.03.2017

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.

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