Tag, politics
4. Robots, Race, and Gender

Last week, I attended a meeting organized by Gendered Innovations at Stanford University 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.  more

Published: 30.01.2018
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3. Survival Programmes: An Interlude on Varieties of Documentary

In my next post I will pick up the thread of neo-Brechtian practice, specifically looking at questions of production and skill in photography. However, here I want to look at some forms of critical or radical documentary that have been largely passed over in critical writing. It seems an apposite point to do so; in the last two weeks I’ve read two post-graduate studies on Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s work and been asked to referee an article on Half Moon and Camerawork for an academic journal. more

Published: 10.10.2017
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06.03.–30.04.2017
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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09.01.–05.03.2017
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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05.01.–29.02.2016
5. Images in Common

In communicative capitalism, we communicate with words and images – what I’ve been referring to as “secondary visuality.” Communicative utterances that might have once been speech acts – like talking on the phone or sending a letter to the editor – now mix words and images: a text with emojis, an animated gif inserted into a comment thread, a meme. New kinds of visual conversations make stories out of photos and short videos (Snapchat). As interactions that flow across our screens, multiple images envelop us in a montage of humor, horror, the mundane, and the bizarre. Words and images are equivalent. One does not replace or subordinate the other. They intermix, mash, and mingle such that neither alone can be said to be the repository of truth. more

Published: 23.02.2016
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01.05.–15.06.2015
4. Capitalocene Violence

“Climate change is global-scale violence against places and species, as well as against human beings, writes Rebecca Solnit. “Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.”1Rebecca Solnit, “Climate Change Is Violence,” in The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness (San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2014), http://www.truth-out.org/progressivepicks/item/28933-climate-change-is-violence. One way to “call violence by name” is to opt for the Capitalocene—the geological age of capitalism—rather than the misdirected Anthropocene—identifying “human activities” as the agency behind environmental change.2araway credits Andreas Malm and Jason Moore with the earliest usages of “Capitalocene,” in Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin,” Environmental Humanities vol. 6 (2015), 161. The “Chthulucene,” for her, designates the post-anthropocentric and post-anthropos age of multispecies assemblages—named not so much after sci-fi writer H.P. Lovecraft’s monster Cthulhu, but rather the “diverse earth-wide tentacular powers and forces and collected things with names like Naga, Gaia, Tangaroa...” suggesting “myriad temporalities and spatialities and myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages, including the more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman, and human-as-humus”—the basis for Haraway’s additional rejection of the Anthropocene. No doubt any single term is ultimately inadequate. The terminological distinction invites a critical analysis of Anthropocene imagery, especially in regards to popular photography. more

Published: 05.06.2015
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3. Against the Anthropocene

On May 16th, 2015, the “Paddle in Seattle” demo unleashed its kayak flotilla, a mass direct action against Shell’s Arctic-bound Polar Pioneer drilling rig temporarily stationed in the west coast city’s port. Word and images of the “S(h)ell no!” protest spread widely online, accompanying reports in indie media and some mainstream press, distributed by environmentalist and Indigenous movements, adding momentum to the popular challenge to extreme extractivism in the far North. more

Published: 25.05.2015
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2. Geo-Engineering the Anthropocene

“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.”1Paul J. Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind,” Nature 415 (2002), 23; http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/415023a.—Paul Crutzen, 2002 more

Published: 13.05.2015
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5. Beyond Paul Strand: What Can Radical Photography Be?

I started this blog by posing some questions about the arbitrariness of dividing Paul Strand’s career into a late period of political subject matter and activism and an early period that seemed devoted primarily to formal concerns. Certainly, this is something of a straw man, because most of us would agree that the visual arts are inherently about shaping matter, with all its inherent recalcitrance, into form, regardless of the desired or received “meaning” of that shaped form. The other problem is, of course, what we intend by the terms, “political subjects” or “political art.” The gathering together of any people into a governing unit begins to constitute the body politic, so that virtually all social life in some sense can be read as “political.” However, historically we distinguish “political art”—art that is intentionally made to express a political party line or promote a particular government or policy position—from art that can be read as confirming a location within conflicting ideologies (which may cut across formal party platforms or regimes).  This latter sense of art as functioning politically and representing certain values that can be decoded has driven much of the social history of art in the past fifty years and is what I was striving to uncover in Strand’s enigmatic urban views. more

Published: 10.03.2015
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3. The Politics of Urban Planning: Strand at Midtown

The same year that Strand shot City Hall Park he took another, somewhat similar picture in a second prominent location, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, New York. Still perched above his subject but physically closer than he was in the courthouse north of City Hall Park, Strand was shooting from the second-floor window of Marius de Zayas’s Modern Gallery at 500 Fifth Avenue. The building is now gone, but from photographs it seems that he had to be behind a window (was it opened?) using a lens that radically compressed the width of Fifth Avenue and brought him nearer street traffic while catching a bit of a unfocused cornice in the lower left. more

Published: 18.02.2015
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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
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1. The Problematic Politics of Paul Strand

The recent retrospective exhibition of Paul Strand’s photographs, organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art to celebrate its purchase of more than 3000 prints and lantern slides from the Paul Strand Archive at the Aperture Foundation and coming to the Fotomuseum Winterthur in March, provides an ideal moment to think about Strand’s contribution and how he has been fashioned as a master of “modernist” photography (if not the slippery status of not-for-profit institutions that sell donated works to raise funds, perhaps the subject of another blog). More particularly, my interest derives from the ongoing debates about Strand’s politics and its importance to his work. At the heart of these debates, I would argue, are critical assumptions not only about what “political photography” looks like, but about how we have defined the winners and losers in our efforts to write a history of avant-garde, twentieth-century photography. more

Published: 01.02.2015
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16.04.–31.05.2014
4. Whitewash: Artist and Models

When one reads this passage [from Martinique by Michel Cournot] a dozen times and lets oneself go; that is, abandons oneself to the movement of its images—one is no longer aware of the Negro but only of a penis; the Negro is eclipsed. He is turned into a penis. He is a penis. (Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks)1Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, (London: Pluto Classics, 1986) p. 169-70. more

Published: 12.05.2014
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01.03.–15.04.2014
4. Geographies of Photography

Over the last few weeks I’ve been laying out some ideas about what photography has become, and have begun to articulate some of the ways I use to think about it. In previous posts, I wrote about replacing a more conventional idea of photography with the idea of seeing machines and put forward the idea of “scripts” to begin understanding how seeing machines function, i.e. how they act upon the world. I wrote about scripts as being the range of activities that a seeing machine “wants” to do, and the range of possibilities that those “wants” facilitate, and the range of possibilities that are foreclosed. To illustrate the idea, I used the example of an Automated Number Plate Reading (ANPR) system, and tried to show how the cameras, shutters, and lenses of such as system are totally irrelevant without the “back end” of signal processing, data bases, analytics, search algorithms, and the like. All of these add up to a seeing machine that “wants” to perform a rather narrow range of tasks, and thereby sculpts the world in some very specific ways. more

Published: 11.04.2014
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15.09.–31.10.2013
1. How Did We Get so Nostalgic for Modernism?

I’m going to use this blog as a way to test out some ideas relating to a series of essays I’m putting together on the retrospectivity of contemporary art. What do I mean by retrospectivity? The tendency, found almost globally, for art to quote and repurpose pre-existing cultural artefacts. Pre-eminent among this tendency is the trend for repurposing Modernist art, architecture and design. There have been a number of exhibitions circling around this theme: think of I Moderni (2003), Altermodern and Modernologies (both 2009), and of course the leitmotiv of Documenta 12 in 2007 (‘Is Modernity Our Antiquity?’). more

Published: 14.09.2013
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4. Optics and Desire

In 1996 I was living in Brixton, south London, during a very hot summer. On July 12 Nelson Mandela came to visit and the crowds turned out to greet him in the thousands. I had been active in the anti-apartheid movement and gathered with some friends opposite the main sports hall where Mandela was due to arrive and address some local dignitaries. As Mandela and his entourage approached the steps of the hall the crowd was ecstatic. I had never seen such emotion and tears of joy.  Mandela stood before us. He waved, smiled and then disappeared with the throng around him into the hall. We had waited hours to see him, and in a very real sense many people there had waited decades to see him.  So actually setting eyes on the man was intense, to say the least. more

Published: 17.05.2013
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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.” more

Published: 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). more

Published: 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. more

Published: 18.06.2012
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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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