Tag, medium
5. The Spectre of the Digital

I finished my last post thinking about shifting notions of ‘importance’ and ‘relevance’. This has, in part, been driven by digital technologies and the financial, socio-political and ethical pressures on institutions to give access to their collections, and in ways that connect to contemporary users. Likewise the massive and ever-increasing swirl of images in circulation is, of course, digitally-based, raising very real questions about the very nature of ‘photography’. more

Published: 20.10.2016
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2. What I Talk about When I Talk about Photography

If one thinks about photography in medium-specific terms, digitization actually hasn’t introduced any significant challenges to the essence of the photographic moment. Cameras and iPhones that produce digital photographs still contain optical lenses that record light from which an image is generated.1The lenses of the digital devices presently used may have regressed in terms of quality, as Hito Steyerl argues in her text “Proxy Politics: Signal and Noise,” and consequently the process of creating an image increasingly relies on algorithmic computations based on a network of visually proximate images. Nevertheless, the optical lens continues to be a necessary component in the creation of a photographic image, despite Steyerl’s convincing argument that algorithms co-write the photographic image by comparing it to already existing images. As such, photography becomes speculative and relational. Hito Steyerl, “Proxy Politics: Signal and Noise,” in e-flux journal #60 (December 2014), http://www.e-flux.com/journal/proxy-politics/. What has changed, however, is the process of image creation that directly follows from this moment. Whereas analogue photography registered light on paper and in this way created an image, digital photography translates light into data out of which an image is calculated. more

Published: 30.03.2015
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5. Photography versus Contemporary Art: What’s Next?

We have reviewed several aspects of the highly competitive—even love/hate—relationship between contemporary art and photography. Is there anything left to say? Perhaps something about the future of both. They will hardly be able to avoid each other. more

Published: 16.12.2014
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4. Photographers versus Contemporary Artists: Whose Crisis Is Deeper?

Photography and contemporary art are engaged in an entangled relationship with unresolved issues of power. Essentially, photography is one of art’s media, while art is one of photography’s applications. Exactly this is immersing both in an endless chicken-versus-egg causality dispute. Indeed, even if photography is obviously younger than art as such, contemporary art might still be younger than photography—it depends on what we define as the former’s beginning. more

Published: 10.12.2014
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3. Photography versus Contemporary Art: The Case of the Lecture Performance

There is less and less photography (and photographers) in contemporary art exhibitions, but more and more photographs. The photograph is a lens through which we see the contemporary world, which comes to us always already reproduced. Almost every static image we see these days is technically a photograph, since even art critics rarely cross paths with original paintings. In a contemporary art context, photographs abound in “research installations” and archival displays of all sorts; they are shown as a sequence of slides; they appear as stills in films. But recently, they have even begun to star in performances—for instance, in the increasingly popular genre of “lecture performance.” more

Published: 28.11.2014
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1. Photographers versus Artists: A Colonial Story?

In this blog, I will explore—in a necessarily fragmented way—some of the paradoxes inherent to the complex relations between photography and so-called contemporary art, as seen through the eyes of a curator, a writer, and, in the first place, a teacher, since for almost a decade I have been teaching at a school that educates both photographers and artists. Just as an aside: The Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia is a small postgraduate or, rather, alternative art school—set in a country where professional art education still produces mainly nineteenth-century-like academic painters, and photography is being taught widely, but in its purely commercial iteration. more

Published: 01.11.2014
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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
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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
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1. Two Radically Disjunct Approaches

This is the first of five blogs I will be writing for the Fotomuseum Winterthur and, as it happens, the first I have ever written. But because almost everything I write is done on commission, the daunting freedom provided by this kind of blog (“write anything on photography”) is more intimidating than exhilarating. Given such freewheeling editorial liberty, I had to decide whether to orient this first blog to the “general,” or to the “particular.” Both approaches have their problems. As soon as photography is invoked as a generality, that is, as an abstraction (as though its technologies, uses, and practices could be considered one thing), differences are flattened, history disappears, context vanishes. But to write about a particular photographer, body of work, or specific exhibition, seemed too close generically to a journalistic review and a blog need not simply ape the conventional form of arts journalism. more

Published: 15.04.2014
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01.11.–15.12.2013
6. Photography, She Said, Makes Me Nervous

Michael Wesely, Jochen Holy (12.06 - 12.11 Uhr, 6.3.2013) © Michael Wesely

Decades ago, when I wanted to be a painter and also needed a job, I thought it might be good to get some hands-on art world experience. I went to a number of galleries to inquire if there might be any positions and—in the era before MFA, museum studies, and arts administration programs made that crazily competitive—was hired by Harold Jones, the founding director of LIGHT Gallery, which had recently opened on Madison Avenue. Harold, who had spotted me looking at shows there previously, took a chance, hired me, and in ways I still marvel at, changed the course of my life. more

Published: 03.12.2013
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3. Posing as What?

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Published: 09.11.2013
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1. A Moving Target

Using Still Searching as a shared space, what I hope to do over the next six weeks is both to stimulate a dialog and extend a project I’ve been working on lately, which involves taking a broad look at photography as the medium itself is in the midst of transformation. To that end, watch for links I’ll post periodically to online news reports and timely stories about provocative images, events, and issues in visual culture. more

Published: 01.11.2013
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01.06.–15.07.2013
5. Image Couple

Of all the arcana produced by our collective obsession with Roland Barthes’ theory of photography in the book Camera Lucida, by the endless exegesis and investigation this text on photography seems to inspire, I find the following the most impressive. Buried in a footnote two-thirds of the way to the end of Eduardo Cadava and Paola Cortés-Rocca’s essay “Notes on Love and Photography,” a text first published in October magazine a few years ago, we read: more

Published: 16.07.2013
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1. The Relational Field of Photography

At the end of last summer, during one of my trips from Los Angeles to New York, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the artist Zoe Leonard’s first exhibition at the gallery Murray Guy.

I knew what to expect. Leonard is one of the key figures in my forthcoming book on what I’ve been calling photography’s contemporary “lateness” or, perhaps more provocatively, its “afterlife”—a recalcitrant use of the medium that alters its fate today through a paradoxical reconnection to photography’s earlier histories, its specific and unrealized potentials. more

Published: 31.05.2013
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1. Photography and Photographs

My first post will be quite long but I will make up for it with shorter subsequent posts. I’m hoping they will add up to an essay on a single theme: the relation between photography in general and photographs in particular, although this may change in response to comments and contributions as we go.

I begin with some thoughts about how Still Searching has developed since it launched last year, and what this might say about the 'Online Discourse on Photography’, as it is subtitled. Back in January 2012 I was invited to be a co-blogger for the first two contributors, Bernd Stiegler and Aveek Sen. Since then I have watched with interest. The discussions have ranged far and wide but I note a polarization between thinking about ‘photography’, which most contributors seem to feel is too complex and contradictory to be a unified field (without quite giving up on the term all together) and considerations of ‘photographs’ (this or that image or specific project). more

Published: 14.04.2013
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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
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4. A Look Back (Part II)

In my post from two weeks ago, I pointed out that, despite their shared characteristics, film has been traditionally associated with artifice and fiction, whereas photography was supposed to have a preferred access to reality. This is, of course, due to the fact that in mainstream cinema film is used to create primarily narrative works, i.e. it defined the temporality of film as essentially narrative. This has shaped the relation of the two media. It sometimes seems that photography is haunted by its very limited narrative capacity in comparison with film. more

Published: 12.02.2013
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3. A Visit at Plat(t)form 2013

Instead of continuing my last post, I will allow myself a digression. Last week, I attended the annual Plat(t)form event at Fotomuseum Winterthur, where young photographers from all over Europe showcase their work. And indeed one could observe, as befits the topic of my blog posts that young photographers are increasingly beginning to take advantage of the fact that their cameras can record both still and moving images. more

Published: 05.02.2013
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2. A Look Back (Part I)

If one wants to gauge how the relation of still and moving images is shifting, it is useful to look back at the relation of film and photography in the analogue age.  Both media relied on the same optical apparatuses and photochemical processes – they produced images by exposing a photosensitive surface to light refracted by a lens. The images they produced were essentially indexical, and yet this indexicality has played a very different role in the reflection of the two media. more

Published: 28.01.2013
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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. more

Published: 17.10.2012
6 comments
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. more

Published: 07.10.2012
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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. more

Published: 23.09.2012
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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. more

Published: 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. more

Published: 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. more

Published: 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.” more

Published: 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). more

Published: 14.04.2012
6 comments