Co-creating in the Networks: A Reply to “What is 21st Century Photography?”
New WritingPhotography Science and Technology

Co-creating in the Networks: A Reply to “What is 21st Century Photography?”

n this new essay, writer and researcher Andrew Dewdney responds to Daniel Rubinstein’s essay What is 21st Century Photography? published by The Photographers’ Gallery in July 2015. 

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Daniel Rubinstein has initiated a timely debate on the future of 21st century photography, which needs to be continued and I hope this critical rejoinder is read with this in mind. The essay conjures a complex and convincing vision of how photography now serves a new ‘unknown and invisible puppet master’ and I am with Daniel one hundred percent in the idea that we need to think very, very differently about what we now take to be the photographic image. But (there always is one), in time honoured critical fashion, agreeing with the point of an essay doesn’t mean agreeing fully with its argument.

In summary the essay says that the knowledge paradigm of the European Enlightenment and its representational logic in photography is unravelling. This, it is argued, is a consequence of the new conditions of global neo-liberal production allied to the new technological apparatuses of computing. Analogue photography is seen as a product of Industrial Capitalism and its mechanical technology, expressed as representation. Algorithmic photography is an outcome of the post-industrial, global mode of production, expressed by computational networks.  The essay’s conclusion to this state of affairs is twofold. Firstly that 21st century photography is freed from the burden of representation, which can no longer contain the conditions of the real. Secondly, that 21st century photography names a new immersive economy of the human subject in which the real world is to be understood as nothing more than ‘randomised information in a chaotic conflation of bodies and machines’.

This is a decidedly pessimistic, yet intoxicating position to land us all in and is the inevitable outcome of treating photography in equal measure as technology and as philosophy. Such a theoretical approach creates a strong impression but makes light of historical specificity and the complexity of human agency.

Photographic histories

Photography never has been a single technical entity nor a unified philosophic vision. What we have taken as photography thus far is a hybrid of related technical apparatuses, social values, cultural codes, media forms and contexts of reception. Yes, 20th century photography as it came to be organised played a central part in industrial capitalism’s dominant and ideological modes of reproduction. But, equally, 20th century photography was an ascending art medium taken up by the modernist artist and given exchange value in the art market. It is crucial to take account of the interrelationships and contradictions of art and reproduction if photography in the 21st century is to be better understood. Art is no more an autonomous realm of freedom than photography is a slave to representation.

Historically photography functioned to technically register the visible in the photographic index (one of the much derided horsemen of the apocalypse in Rubinstein’s essay) and control the ways in which the visible could be recognised through the cultural codes of visuality (the other three damned semiotic horseman). Photography in the 19th and 20th century was tied to representation as part of the preeminent field of vision, but it was also entailed in countervailing visual strategies, expressed by a modernist avant-garde as well as sporadically in political agitprop. On the one hand photography was made to function as part of industrial capitalism’s necessary mode of reproduction of the relations of production and on the other, it was regarded by a liberal artistic elite as a formal aesthetic medium.

In effect photography was divided into scientific, political and aesthetic knowledge domains and further separated across the practices of private, public and professional life. This set of divisions of knowledge, labour and the human self, formed the structure of modernist culture, in which the newly emancipated individual was at the centre. It is this order of modernism which is now unravelling in the face of global computational networks and which demands new understandings.

The politics of photography

The problem with this modern settlement, in which the individual became the centre of cultural meaning, was that it involved a deceit of epic historical proportions being played out upon the labouring classes and social reality. The emancipation of the individual and the creation of modern class society, that the engine of capitalism demanded, came at the cost of the collective human condition. The exploitation of the industrial working classes by the system of private ownership of the means of production, the profit principle and wage labour, institutionalised inequality. Yet in a rising democracy that structural inequality had to be made to appear natural and inevitable. Less than fifty yeas after Niépce, Talbot and Daguerre fixed the photographic image, photography was shackled to the worldview of capital rather than to the cause of the emancipation of labour. As Benjamin pointed out the revolutionary aspect of photography and later film was to bring the masses closer to reality, whereas for capital it was crucial to keep the organised working class ignorant of its own reality and photography was enlisted to play its part. In photography this political slight of hand was performed paradoxically by aligning photography with representation and objective truth, whilst at the same time giving to photography the status of an aesthetic medium of subjective expression. In late 19th century photography the working classes were surveyed, documented and classified by an objectifying camera. Conversely an aesthetic lens explored individual subjectivity in the space and time made possible by the exploitation of labour. Only with rising wages and relative affluence of the mid twentieth century did workers en-masse get to photograph themselves through the industrialised and semi-automated snapshot.

Yes, photography in the 19th and 20th centuries was structured by the new institutions of social reform and made to serve as the official mode of democratic and scientific representation. But, to make the point again, the necessary corollary to this was that the technical apparatus necessary to photography’s objectifying role as representation, was simultaneously the medium of interior and individualist subjectivity in formalist photography.

What we now call fine art photography was inaugurated, practised and consumed by an educated class fraction and their photographic output has been accepted selectively as the historical canon of photography. The photographic canon was fashioned in the image of modernity and its formalist rhetoric. In essence the European/North American photographic canon was shaped by and expresses a historical aesthetic and consciousness defined by modernism.

The standard history of photography does not examine this contradiction, in which photography is flipped back and forth appearing here as an apparatus of transparent and mechanical reproduction and there as an aesthetic mode for the exploration of interiority. Really we should see photography, then as now as the paradoxical sum of its technological apparatuses and cultural organisation, rather than simply the ascendency of representation.

Aesthetic Modernism and the Avant-Garde

Aesthetic modernism was founded upon a rejection of the language of neo-classicism, rooted in the academies and based upon universal notions of beauty. Aesthetic modernism rewrote the rules of representation in order to explore an authenticity aligned to subjective intuition and unique vision. Aesthetic modernism promoted the artist rather than artisan, art rather than craft as the means to explore modern individual consciousness, whether in painting, sculpture, literature or photography. The exploration of the psychology of social life was left to the dynamic of the time based-mediums of film and video and their public forms in cinema and television.

“ Currently there is a deep chasm between the computational code of software and the cultural codes of visuality in which very little is known.”

Rubinstein’s essay, What is 21st Century Photography, which so clearly identifies the current moment of radical rupture, formulates its response to this situation in terms of an earlier moment of modernist infatuation with machines and technologies. The idea that 21st century photography names ‘an immersive economy that offers an entirely new way to inhabit materiality and its relationship to bodies, machines and brains’ is strongly echoed in the Futurist manifesto of 1909. Here Marinetti asserted, ‘We stand on the last promontory of the centuries! Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed’.

The comparison between the essay and the Futurist manifesto goes further when considering what the immersive economy of the algorithm will reveal. In the essay we are told  ‘we come to understand that the “ real world” is nothing more than so much information plucked out of chaos: the randomised and chaotic conflation of bits of matters, strands of DNA sub-atomic particles and computer code.’ In the Futurist manifesto there was a similar recognition of giving oneself up to the absurd: ‘Let’s break out of the horrible shell of wisdom and throw ourselves like pride-ripened fruit into the wide, contorted mouth of the wind! Let’s give ourselves utterly to the Unknown, not in desperation but only to replenish the deep wells of the Absurd!’

How does this avant-garde embrace of chaos in a photography, defined as a new form of consciousness, stand up alongside the more analytical and political idea that this same photography is  ‘the exploration of the labor practices that shape this world through mass-production, computation, self-replication and pattern recognition’. What kind of exploration is this and what form might it take? Currently there is a deep chasm between the computational code of software and the cultural codes of visuality in which very little is known.  Clearly the aim of practical criticism is to develop new understandings of precisely how computation is constitutive of meaning and moreover how the power of the new ‘puppet master’ of the algorithmic image is wielded. Essentially the task of unmasking power focuses upon the new means of reproduction involving the modes of production, the movement of capital, organised labour, military and political institutions. There is an organised, hierarchical social world out there in which art and photography are politically and ideologically entailed and yes, whilst the world is chaotic it is also structured and inequality stalks the world like never before. The investigation of Google, Facebook, Youtube and Instagram, for starters, would seem to be a good point of departure for a progressive investigative practice of photography.

Network cultures

Modernism as the aesthetic and historical logic of progressive time is now confronted by the Internet as the default of knowledge and communication. Modernism as a rationale of contemporary art has reached its critical limit because it has no means of engaging with the decentred nature of networks and data.  Hollowed out by commodification, modernism is recycled as heritage in the global art market, property development, designer interiors, new art museums and affordable art fairs. Knowledge and agency, however, now travel along hybrid network lines, challenging the received authority of the cultural institutions of contemporary art and photography.

The “ networked image” gives us a new historic opportunity to grasp photography as part of capital and labour’s system of reproduction, which is to say part of a system of power. The politics of the historic analogue photographic mode of production were contradictory and opaque enough and those of the algorithmic image are doubly so. Not only is the field of representation still operative and in crisis, but in addition networked computers now have agency to read, sort and circulate images. In the simulation of the photographic image in computational systems the representational image still disciplines and excludes meaning, but in more complex ways than its mechanical predecessor. We are indeed stuck in a general intellectual crisis of representational systems, which the essay What is 21st Century Photography tries to move us beyond. However, this global condition of the algorithmic image continues to function within the field of representation, precisely because it remains as yet the humanly understandable surface of communication operating within common sense.

It is not the stark choice between the past and the future we are presented with but a new complex moment of recycling the past and inventing possible futures. In a time where the future horizon has shrunk to that of the present and the past is endlessly memorialised, it is not a choice between a photographic past of representation and a future of immersive subjectivities. In the paradoxical present representations, data and code all multiply equally and exponentially.

The new conditions of accelerated capitalism and its computational logic does demand that we un-think photography as it has been known. This requires new research strategies, which go beyond enquiries by single academic knowledge disciplines or the individual practices of photography and art. A transdisciplinary approach to understanding the interface between mathematical and cultural coding is needed in order to engage productively with the flat topology of the computer screen. A complete rethink of the boundaries between art, media, society and technology is needed. Art as photography and photography as art is a busted flush trumped by the Internet and its networks. The job now is for the cultural institutions of modernism, galleries, museums and universities to seriously plug into the network and its users. Artists, photographers, curators, students and academics have a great opportunity before then to collaborate and co-create with network users and groups, in order not only to make the networks of power visible but to create new publics based upon equality of knowledge, access and experience.

Notes on Photography and Death: Mourning, Spectacle, Evidence
New WritingThe Death DetectivesThe Digital Image

Notes on Photography and Death: Mourning, Spectacle, Evidence

Image: Marfa Ilinitchna Riazantseva, 1937 © Archives centrales FSB et Archives nationales de la Fédération de Russie GARF, Moscou, copies publiées à partir des archives de l’Association internationale Memorial, Moscou.

To coincide with The Death Detectives, a recent event at The Photographers’ Gallery, we have invited each speaker to contribute their thoughts to our blog. Here, Anthony Luvera shares his.

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The inevitability and unpredictability of death is a fundamental part of what it means to be human. With much of the project of living spent seeking security and attempting to obtain and sustain control, it is the unknowingness of the timing and experience of death that makes it so confronting. Yet, attitudes to death are culturally constructed and coping mechanisms are formed through the meaning systems of social institutions.

The social theorist Chris Shilling has argued that ‘conditions of high modernity have made the modern individual’s confrontation with death especially difficult… Death has become a particular existential problem for people as a result of modern forms of embodiment, rather than being a universal problem for human beings which assumes the same form irrespective of time or place’ (2003: 153). When once the occasion of death was highly social, with public displays of mourning and events commonly taking place with the body of the deceased laid out to mark the occasion, now it is sequestered and privatised within institutions, and understood to be a problem for specialist knowledge and medical science. As the sociologist Norbert Elias observed, ‘never before have people died as noiselessly and hygienically as today… and never in social conditions fostering so much solitude’ (1985: 85). Where once religion provided a ‘sacred canopy… a shared vision of the world, the body and self-identity’ (Shilling 2003: 154) the increasingly secularised formation of Western societies has marginalised the communal spaces for death that once anaesthetised dread about the meaningless of living in the face of the unknowable event of death.

The photographic medium is underwritten by death, in both the production and consumption of images across the contexts of art, science, commerce and personal photography, and in analysis of the histories and ontology of the photograph. Deathly analogies and characterisations have riven considerations of the photograph since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century to today. From as early as 1840 when Hippolyte Bayard posed as a corpse in protest at the lack of recognition by the French government for his photogenic inventions, through to Andre Bazin who described photography as form of embalming life in his influential essay, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ (1960). Susan Sontag likened to the indexicality of the photograph to a death mask, writing ‘all photographs are memento mori that enable participation in another’s mortality’ (1977: 154). And more recently, historians such as Geoffrey Batchen (1999; 2004; 2009), Christian Metz (1985), Margaret Iversen (1994) and Audrey Linkman (2011) – to name a just a few – have all spoken of how the deathly qualities of photographs pose an uncanniness that might be seen as a return of the dead.

The strongest influence on the talk of death that circulates in ontological discussions about photography reverberates out of Roland Barthes’s, Camera Lucida (1980). In this text – arguably one of the cornerstones of contemporary photographic theory – Barthes has this to say:

All those young photographers who are at work in the world, determined upon the capture of actuality, do not know they are agents of Death. This is the way in which our time assumes Death… For Death must be somewhere in society; if it is no longer (or less intently) in religion, it must be elsewhere; perhaps in this image which produces Death while trying to preserve life. Contemporary with the withdrawal of rites, Photography may correspond to the intrusion, in our modern society, of an asymbolic Death, outside of religion, outside of ritual, a kind of abrupt dive into literal Death. Life / Death: the paradigm is reduced to a simple click, the one separating the initial pose from the final print. (Barthes 1980: 92)

Barthes stretches this death analogy throughout his meditation on the qualities of the photograph – written while in mourning for the death of his mother – leading a number of critics to attest it has produced an overbearing melancholic tone in much subsequent consideration of the photographic medium. He argues that the temporality peculiar to the photograph is best thought of as an expression of the tautology of the French grammatical term future anterior, which loosely translates as ‘That has been’. Photography is a past tense medium. As they can only ever be seen after the actual moment depicted, photographs will always intimate death.

Barthes’s comments about the marginalisation of space for death are just as relevant to our conversation here. As society has become increasingly secularised since the mid-nineteenth century – corresponding to the arrival of the photographic medium – space for Death is now primarily carved out in various forms of production and consumption of photographic representation. Communal responses and collective rites and rituals for death, dying and mourning have been tidied away while the hunger to view representations of death and dying has grown: reality programmes set in accident and emergency departments, documentaries about war, websites set up as spaces for memorialisation, and exhibitions in art and photography galleries – not to mention the deluge of violent films and television series that has arisen in recent decades. The forces of consumption that drive the production of the spectacle of death in contemporary culture might be likened to a fissure that forges its way around a blockage, as public audiences continue to seek out systems and spaces to try to obtain knowledge of death.

So, how are we meant to view photographs of death when they are displayed in public? Burden of Proof: The Construction of Visual Evidence is an exhibition of images produced for very different contexts to the one in which they are now on show. The curator Diane Dufour contends this is an exhibition about the visual systems that gave rise to the production and articulation of the images – the product of professional practices of “ evidence” as constructed for the various quantitative purposes of judiciary systems. The crux of this is the interplay of a reliance on the image as documentation and the image as persuasion when tied to specific narratives, measurements, calculations, diagrams, testimonies or the architecture of a courtroom. While all photographs provide evidence of a sort – this happened then – the truth claims of the images in this exhibition are especially vulnerable when seen out of their original contexts. For as much as these images purport to show or reveal something about the act or effect of violent crime, it is what they lack that reveals both the ability and the ineptitude of images to harbour notions of truth.

As a consideration of the role of images in the construction of evidence, Burden of Proof – by stealth or design – appears to me to do just as much to provide space for death as it satiates a public desire to see and to try to know death. To view images of or about death may not necessarily get us any closer to the truth of death, but the sting of their temporality is acute as they evoke the deathly riddles of the ontology of the photograph.

Anthony Luvera

Anthony Luvera is an Australian artist, writer and educator based in London. He is Course Director of BA (Hons) Photography at Coventry University. His photographic work has been exhibited widely in galleries, public spaces and festivals, including the British Museum, London Underground’s Art on the Underground, National Portrait Gallery London, Belfast Exposed Photography, Australian Centre for Photography, Malmö Fotobiennal, Brighton Photo Fringe, PhotoIreland and Les Rencontres D’Arles Photographie. His writing appears regularly in a wide range of publications, including Photoworks, Source and Photographies. Anthony also facilitates workshops and gives lectures for the public education programmes of the National Portrait Gallery, The Photographers’ Gallery, and Barbican Art Gallery.

References

Bazin, A. (1960) ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’. Film Quarterly 13 (4), 4-9

Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London: Jonathan Cape

Batchen, G. (1999) Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Batchen, G. (2004) Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance. Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum and Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, G. (ed) (2009) Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Elias, N. (1985) The Loneliness of the Dying. Oxford: Blackwell

Iversen, M. (1994) ‘What is a photograph?’. Art History 17(3), 450 – 463

Linkman, A. (2011) Photography and Death. London: Reaktion Books

Metz, C. (1985), ‘Photography and Fetish’. October (34), 81-90

Shilling, C. (2003) The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage

Sontag, S. (1977) On Photography. London: Penguin

This is the Life I Got Left
New WritingThe Death Detectives

This is the Life I Got Left

To coincide with The Death Detectives, a recent event at The Photographers’ Gallery, we have invited each speaker to contribute their thoughts to our blog. Here, Matt Gieve introduces the acronym YOLO, its historial precedents and the urgency that death places on life.

In the cult 1979 film The Warriors, Swan – the leader of the gang – and Mercy, his soon-to-be-girl, walk along a New York subway track having just escaped the police. After a series of jibes about her promiscuity Mercy confronts him:

“ Look, what do you got against me? You’ve been picking on me all night.”

“ I don’t like the way you live’ he says, “ I don’t think you can remember who you get on Friday and Saturday nights. I don’t think you can remember what they look like.”

“ Sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t.” She replies “ Who gives a damn? I see what’s happening next door and down the block. Belly hanging down, five kids, cockroaches in the cupboard. I’ll tell you what I want. I want something now. This is the life I got left. You know what I mean? You get it Warrior, huh? Get it?”

There are many limits on life but the most binding of these is time. Death gives life urgency. A sentiment encapsulated succinctly by the latter-day philosopher of excess, Drake in his 2011 single The Motto, where the motto is ‘YOLO: You Only Live Once’. Such is the urgency he uses and acronym to save time.

While YOLO has since become a hackneyed internet meme, an ironic hashtag: ‘just drank a full-fat Coke, YOLO’, it also captures a particular cultural attitude toward death. If we can assume Drake’s major preoccupation is not with the biological fact of mortality so much as the imperative this gives to the living, then it can be read a rap version of the aphorism “ you might be run over by a bus tomorrow.”

Death says: “ Don’t leave it till later, do it now. This is the life I got left. You know what I mean?”

I was reassured, for the purposes of this seeming a sufficiently high-brow piece, to find that YOLO is originally attributed to Goethe, appearing in his 1774 play Clavigo, as, Man lebt nur einmal in der Welt.” – One lives but once in the world (or to give it the Drake treatment, OLBOITW). It then made its way through various iterations, such as Mae West’s longhand version, “ You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough” (YOLOBIYDIROIE), to Drake, to whom it finally fell to bring some much needed simplicity (YOLO). It appears that this imperative to haste is something that people have felt in different historical times, that despite great differences in the way we live, some features of life may be shared: a reassuring communion over the ages?

Phillipe Aries, the great French social historian of death, argues not. Death, like life, is different now. And in fact it is one thing we’ve been getting worse at. Contrary to the prevailing direction of change over the last millennium, death has been getting wilder over time: transforming from the comparative comfort of the tame death in the early Middle Ages, through various configurations to the forbidden or denied death of today (or of the 1970s).

Aries points to a range of factors to explain this shift: To our waning familiarity with death, both forestalled by medicine and ever more private when it does occur; and to sweeping secularisation eroding a once impeccable confidence in life beyond death. Bound up with this, the consequences of scientific revolution, and in particular the insights of Darwin repositioning human kind within nature itself. The human is now so much more animal, a biological organism with no soul to outlive its flesh. If it were not true before, nowadays we REALLY do only live once.

While this might address the question of Only Living Once, it does not fully speak to the question of who it is that is doing so. The final and crucial factor in our shifting experience of death is the emergence of the individual: the self in its modern form. This change has dual effects. First, the process of greater individualisation starts to undermine a once assumed position in a greater shared continuity, though either family or clan, increasingly isolating the individual within the bounds of their own lifetime. Second, the emphasis on the individual-as-agent leads to what psychoanalyst Adam Phillips describes as the impossible Liberal ideal of self-authorship, the idea that our lives and our actions are or should be entirely of our own choosing. Adding pressure upon the individual to make the most of this most limited resource. The greatest sin now is to have not experienced, to have gone without. A duty that each person bears to themselves. Charging YOLO with ever greater urgency. The effect of this as Aries suggests, is the very modern possibility of one’s life being felt to be a failure:

“ Today the adult experiences sooner or later, and increasingly it is sooner, the feeling that he has failed, that his adult life has failed to achieve any of the promises of his adolescence”.

And this for Aries is why death has become so unspeakably frightening, as he puts it: “ When people started fearing death in earnest, they stopped talking about it.”

The obvious irony of this circumstance is that, notwithstanding misfortune, we live longer now than ever before. We have, in Mercy’s words, “ more life left”. Yet we find ourselves in the peculiar position whereby death is at once further off and at the same time more imminent.

The risk is that urgency of too great an order may sabotage the full life it appears to recommend. YOLO and the attitudes that underlie it are in some ways self-defeating; by further stoking feelings of haste they provoke either a paralysis of choice or a frantic attempt to fulfil multiple possibilities to the detriment of all.

This paradox is foreshadowed in de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America:

“ It is strange to see with what feverish ardour the Americans pursue their own welfare, and to watch the vague dread that constantly torments them lest they should not have chosen the shortest path which may lead to it.”

Like these Americans, of whom I believe we are inheritors, it increasingly falls to us as individuals to trouble the question of what makes a good death, and in answering this, what makes a good life? In the face of fewer certainties and greater choice, where failure is felt to be a real risk, a better question may be what makes a good enough life?

– Matthew Gieve

Matthew Gieve is a researcher and consultant at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. He graduated in politics and philosophy and holds a Masters in psychoanalytic theory from University College London. He works in applied social research across a wide range of fields, centering on issues of social exclusion with a particular focus on children and families and on mental health.

Requiem For London: Lewis Bush’s Metropole
Artist ProfileNew WritingThe Photobook

Requiem For London: Lewis Bush’s Metropole

Metropole, Self published photobook by Lewis Bush, 2015

Metropole, Self published photobook by Lewis Bush, 2015

In this short essay, Lewis Bush contextualises his recent photobook Metropole. By photographing double exposures of luxury corporate and residential buildings in London, Bush reflects feelings of loss and dispossession, in a once accessible and familiar city, now gentrified and privatised. Originally published in March 2015, Metropole quickly sold out, garnering critical acclaim. This month, the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University, present a solo exhibition of the work in London. Full details follow the essay.

• • •

At the start of the last century film makers heralded the life and energy of urbanisation with the city symphony, cinematic celebrations of the benefits of urban living. Today it is sometimes easy to feel that this energy and life has given way to a form of canker or rot. Metropole is about London, and the way the city has been transformed in recent years by a massive increase in the value of property. This has made the city an extremely attractive location for investors, leading to a glut of construction across the city, often only for these buildings to sit largely empty afterwards, their value accruing profit even in the absence of paying tenants. Metropole responds to this issue by taking the viewer on an imaginary walk through the city, visualised through a series of photographs which document these new corporate and luxury buildings.

Lewis Bush, Untitled from Metropole, 2015

Lewis Bush, Untitled from Metropole, 2015

While the structures in these photographs initially appear to be relatively normal, as the series progresses they begin to shimmer and merge into each other, creating impossible arrangements and disorientating scenes where all sense of scale and perspective is lost. In doing this these images intend to emulate the feeling of disorientation that I, a born and raised Londoner, increasingly feel when I traverse the city. Where once I knew swathes of the city intimately, now I often experience a sense of total confusion on emerging from underground stations to find the layout of an area has been changed utterly since my last visit. Long known buildings or even entire streets are found to be missing, as if some great and unknown devastation had been wrought on the city while I was below ground.

Lewis Bush, Untitled from Metropole, 2015

Lewis Bush, Untitled from Metropole, 2015

Metropole is not about criticising change per se. This is in the nature of cities, and it is a large part of what makes them attractive places to live. But it is about resisting a particular malign form of change, a transformation of London into a place where profit comes above other principles, and where as a result the city is becoming an increasingly unequal, unaffordable and sterile place. While the city’s huge wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small minority who often do not even reside in the city, a growing number of people exist on a rent treadmill, spending a disproportionate amount of their earnings simply on a space to lay their head between shifts. Meanwhile a generation of young Londoners remain living with their parents well into adulthood, and for an entire generation the only possibility of ever owning a home in the city will be if they inherit one. Many others have no hope even of that. If the film makers of a century ago made city symphonies, then Metropole is a city requiem, a memorial tune to a city which outwardly still appears sound, but which inwardly is suffering an almost terminal decline.

– Lewis Bush

Lewis Bush, Untitled from Metropole, 2015

Lewis Bush, Untitled from Metropole, 2015

Lewis Bush (London, 1988) studied history and worked at the United Nations before working as a documentary photographer. He has since developed a well regarded personal photography practice, is lecturer in documentary photography at the London College of Communication, edits the Disphotic blog and writes about photography.

The exhibition at Central House is the first installation of the entire Metropole series as well as being the first event of INSIDE / OUT [LONDON], a program of exhibitions of photobooks examining the contemporary city, curated by Andy Lawson. A new print of the Metropole book will also be available during the exhibition. 

See the moon? The Celestial and the Circular in Photography
New Writing

See the moon? The Celestial and the Circular in Photography

Noémie Goudal, Station II, 2015 © Noémie Goudal. Courtesy of the artist and Edel Assanti

Noémie Goudal, Station II, 2015 © Noémie Goudal. Courtesy of the artist and Edel Assanti

I look someone in the eyes: either those eyes are cast down — and this is modesty, that is, modesty for the emptiness lurking behind the gaze — or they look back at me.[1]

I look at the orb. The orb looks at me. Or stares, should I say. We stare at each other, the orb and I. Behind it, a winter scene — wide grey sky, forested mountains covered in snow.

I believe this image: its cool, pallid tones, its calm, placid tenor. But what of the orb, the large white circle that hovers at its centre, paused in the middle of the sky? It snags the gaze, a cataract lens.

I blink.

I blink again.

As if the orb will disappear, as if the sky will magically clear.

Where the landscape is in three dimensions, the orb appears to be flat — pressed flush, full-bodied, heavy-weighted against my vision. Its flatness foregrounds the foreground. This air is not empty space, it seems to say: this air is portentous, full of meaning. The orb looks like it is made of paper — and yet, how could such a delicate thing remain aloft so? Would it not be battered and torn, offset by the merest breeze?

Station II. The orb is grubby and faded around the edges, not white, but grey — as though worn and weathered, assembled by countless hands. I imagine it has witnessed many things during its station here. A station — to station — an observation. And now I am stationedhere, too: watching, waiting, anticipating. No matter how hard I look, how long I wait, the eye before me, though blank and wide, stays shut: the oculi obscures, will always occlude the central portion, the focal point, the iris. A clouded blankness of eye-balling skies.

I look at the orb. The orb looks at me.

But perhaps the eye deceives — perhaps it is not flat. Perhaps the orb does not stay here, perhaps it moves — it is dirigible, a dirigible! Perhaps, if I wait long enough, it will leave — the orb will depart to reveal whatever sits just behind. Just behind, just beneath the surface of the surface. I wonder if there is a there there.

Peter Oosterhuis, Inflating Nadar’s Le Géant (“The Giant”), Amsterdam, 14 September, 1865

Peter Oosterhuis, Inflating Nadar’s Le Géant (“The Giant”), Amsterdam, 14 September, 1865

In 1863, the photographer Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) commissioned prominent balloonist Eugène Godard to construct a 196-foot high balloon, which he called Le Géant. Nadar took Le Géant all over Europe, hovering above countless cities to pioneer the first instances of aerial photography. In a now-famous caricature, ‘Nadar elevating Photography to Art’, Honoré de Daumier pictures a wiry Nadar tensely perched in the basket of his balloon as it tilts precariously in the wind. His top hat has been lost to the air and hovers mid-escape above his attentively hunched body. Beneath him, across the top of every building below — Sacré Coeur just visible in the distance — is written PHOTOGRAPHIE.

Following its second launch, Le Géant ultimately crashed in Hanover, leaving Nadar with a fractured leg. The photographer deemed the balloon, made of 20,000 metres of silk, unsuitably light, and — with Jules Verne — founded ‘The Society for the Encouragement of Aerial Locomotion by Means of Heavier than Air Machines’. But for a brief moment, Nadar was airborne — in flight — above it all — peering down at the world through the eye of his black box camera, a wet-plate Cyclops.

What would it have looked like, the giant, Le Géant, the enormous, silk balloon? Would the fabric have churned and eddied in the breeze? Would the basket have whipped wildly from side-to-side? Or would all have been calm and peaceful — soft ripples — a pause, a caesura — up there, so high above the earth. A sigh, an exhalation, a suspension, stationary, a station.

It’s true, in any case, that the air can sometimes feel very heavy. Or dense, should I say. The air is dense; we seek heavier means of navigation. The light is full of shadows; we devise more precise means of preservation.

In comparison with the long history of astronomy, that of photography is incredibly brief — blink and you could miss it. And yet the two share a great deal, in both technical detail and thematic concerns. Perhaps the eyepiece of the former long-lens telescoped into the viewfinder of the latter — a smooth orbit. Looking in, looking out: the observatory, the camera obscura.

Enter the darkened room, approach the aperture, the eye, and dare to gaze at what it beholds. Wait long enough, let the light sink in — seconds, minutes, hours, days — light — years — until the image is transfixed, solidifies, becomes an object, a meaningful reflection.

Inclusum labor illustrat; it is because I am enclosed that I work and glow with all my desire.[2]

An aperture is a space, an opening, a gap in something otherwise solid. Through the aperture, through a glass darkly — pinhole camera — we are able to circumscribe, to scrutinize, to magnify. But an aperture is also a hole, as in a puncture — that which pierces. Aperture is synonymous with eye. And indeed, we know vision to be a tentative, tenuous thing — a hole that is not a hole — the eye is capable of sight and blindness in equal measure.

Noémie Goudal, Station V, 2015 © Noémie Goudal. Courtesy of the artist and Edel Assanti

Noémie Goudal, Station V, 2015 © Noémie Goudal. Courtesy of the artist and Edel Assanti

Station V. A hole that is not a hole. The moon passes in front of the sun. It appears as a black disc encircled by a halo of light, like smoke, solar flares licking at the darkened surrounding sky. Dangerous to behold, for the light — though ostensibly veiled — continues to radiate: it will transfix, burn the retina: the unholy vision destroys vision.

Until a short while ago, I was — in fact — under the impression that an eclipse was a kind of supernatural event. When I was ten years old, there was a total eclipse visible in Ontario, 10 May 1994. Tuesday, a school day. At my school, all of the students were forced to remain in the gymnasium-cum-cafeteria for the duration of the eclipse. We sat silently, the windows entirely blocked off by large sheets of thick cardboard: to protect us, they said. This event, in conjunction with a 1980s Disney film called Watcher in the Woods, in which the event of a solar eclipse brings to terrifying fruition a decades old mystery of death and paranormal occurrences, produced in me the notion that if you were exposed to a solar eclipse — if you were literally anywhere the sun could see you, whether you were looking at it or not — its rays would seek your eyes and bore into them: you would be immediately struck blind.

I have since been disabused of the notion, but in another sense, in another medium, the question endures: how to trap the light — how to hold it — carefully — and at just the right angle. Don’t burn the plate, the image will be bleached white, exposed beyond recognition, erased, blinded. Heliography, used to describe the earliest photographic process, comes from helios, sun + graphein, to write. Press too hard and you’ll tear the paper.

Like the sun, the moon has similarly been associated with looking, or the eye. Think of the famous scene in Dali and Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou: a night sky with a full moon, long trails of cloud moving quickly — one cleanly bisects the glowing white orb. Cut to a woman with her eye being peeled open by a man whose hand holds a straight razor — as she stares directly into the camera, the blade moves towards her face in a neat horizontal line. Decades earlier, George Meliès’ A Trip to the Moon features a moon with an incredibly animated human face — heavily textured, high ridges, deep craters. When the expedition finally launches, it rockets directly into the moon’s eye and remains lodged tightly within its socket. The moon, bless him, seems strangely nonplussed.

The sun, the moon, stars, nebulae, galaxies — all have been referred to as ‘eyes’, by layperson and scientist alike. It would be easy to speculate that the comparisons, similes, metaphors — when the moon hits your eye, etc. — are due to visual similarity alone. But there is something else: a kind of scopophilia. Things we look at, incline our heads, gaze, peer. Things that look back at us; things that are always watching — permanent fixtures, glittering in the firmament.

“ See the moon? It hates us.” – Donald Barthelme

And why wouldn’t it? At Station V, there are ropes holding the moon in place. They were there too, the ropes, at the other station, with its distant mountain ranges and its wide, white sky. I ignored them, dreaming instead of movement and flight. They were faint enough — their fastening holes slight, barely visible around the circumference, and easy to overlook. But here, the moon is undeniably fixed in place, pinned to the page — tethered to a frame somewhere just outside of the frame.

And why not? Photographers have long desired it so. Like astronomers, they trained their sights on the moon — fixed through lenses — imprinted on silver-plate, wet-plate, paper ­— stereoscope, heliograph, photogravure, astrophoto.

J.W. Draper, The Moon, 1840. Image: London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

J.W. Draper, The Moon, 1840. Image: London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

The earliest surviving image of the moon was made in 1840 by American photographer and scientist J.W. Draper. It must have been a long exposure, the object, with its refracted source of light, and at such a great distance. A few years later, scientists Hippolyte Fizeau and Leon Foucault photographed the sun. Unlike Draper’s image, which is full of detail — craggy surfaces and craters, mountain ranges and pits contoured in shadow, hints of the dark side of the moon — the sun is a perfect white circle with just two small clusters of black marks: sun spots on the surface of the star. The brighter something burns, the darker it will appear, until everything turns black.

In Elisabeth Bishop’s poem ‘The Man-Moth’, the titular figure emerges from beneath the sidewalks nightly, to contemplate the moon ­— he scales the faces of the buildings, nervously reaching for the sky:

Up the façades,

his shadow dragging like a photographer’s cloth behind him

he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage

to push his head through that round clean opening

and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.[4]

One could forgive him the misunderstanding. Black on white. White on black. The light emitting object reverses, eclipses itself in positive and negative. A hole that is not a hole. Perhaps he has transposed the alchemy of the camera to the celestial: a vision becomes real, takes on new properties and dimensions, set in light and dark, deep shades of grey.

Noémie Goudal, Station IV, 2015 © Noémie Goudal. Courtesy of the artist and Edel Assanti

Noémie Goudal, Station IV, 2015 © Noémie Goudal. Courtesy of the artist and Edel Assanti

Station IV and the stars are out in full force. Beneath them, a rocky planetary ground glitters in the half-light. In the lower-right quadrant of the sky is a radiant cluster where the light is snagged, caught — held, preserved: a handful of gems against the obsidian sky, winking, precious. Is it the Crux? Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon cruces — the Southern Cross, cross-hairs, the brightest stars in the Milky Way, easily visible from the southern hemisphere at any time of year? Carro dell’ostro, the ancient navigators called it, ‘southern chariot’: follow it, follow it anywhere and everywhere. The brightest point is Alpha Crucis — blue-tinged, a triple star. Reach out and place your right hand against the sky, make a fist, clench your hand tightly and align the first knuckle with the axis of the cross. Follow the tip of your thumb to find south.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.[5]

Stars like images, images like stars: we study them as guides, as truths — means of navigation, alignment, orientation. We try to read them for what they might reveal about the past, present, future. We chart points of meaning and hold the papers in our hands, tightly; the corners and edges become worn with use.

But light, or should I say illumination, always betrays itself. Blinking past the stars, peering closely into the darkness and I can see a faint circle, a careful incision of light that circumscribes this portion of the glittering firmament. And beyond it, the surrounding blackness has a different, deeper, starless quality. I have been mistaken, dazzled by the constellations. I see now that it is a discus, a saucer, a belt, a ring, a record of stars — not lodged, but suspended within the night sky: a hook and chain above, a tripod below hold it in place. This piece of sky is flat and solid, pierced with stars that act as vehicles for another source of light, unseen from where I stand shrouded in an invisible projected focus hood.

How easy it is to forget that, like meaning, photographs are not taken, but made. To look, to observe, to behold one’s station is to be suspended: a suspension — of — time — space — disbelief. To see is not to believe. Or should I say to not believe. Think of the Apollo lunar photographs, contested to this day. The shadows don’t fit! Too long, conflicting light sources! We couldn’t see the stars! What a great deal we want from the things we perhaps don’t quite understand.

Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the Milky Way?[6]

These balloons, eclipses, constellations — blind, haloed, and punctured with light — keep us on the ground, dreaming of what we cannot reach. They remind, aides-mémoires, they whisper: you, me, I, we are the stations. Any thing, they say, every thing may be eclipsed and overshadowed, if for a moment only. We thereby know its properties, magnitude in lack, and then in restoration. In the ability of things to come full circle: light — darkness — vision. The casual sublimity of the orb, the exquisite tyranny of the eclipse: no beginning or end, all beginnings and ends, in the same, breathtaking trajectory.

On the far side of the moon there is a crater called Niepce, named after Joseph Niécephore Niépce, inventor of heliography and the oldest surviving photograph. It is a worn crater formation, ‘with rim features that have been softened and rounded by subsequent deposits of ejecta’.[7] It is a careful, patient activity, to observe the features of the moon: one must follow the border of the sun’s illumination, the thin region between darkness and light where the shadows are longest — the shadow terminator, this place is called. In Niepce, it has been observed, there is a small crater shaped like a teardrop, likely created by a low-angle impact.

Tell me again, I ask the stations — tell me again how nothing is as it seems. Show me how fine a thing it is to spend one’s time securing moments of illumination for safe-keeping. Convince me — I want to believe — that every twinkling trace, every glance of light is an inscription, a burnishing, a tiny percussion in the surface of time: a still life, memento mori, to its passage. Take me there.

– Emily LaBarge

Noémie Goudal’s Southern Light Stations runs at The Photographers’ Gallery through 10th January 2016. More information on the exhibition can be found.

References

1. Giorgio Agamben, ‘The Face’, Means Without End: Notes on Politics, trans. by Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000) p. 92.

2. Roland Barthes, ‘Leaving the Movie Theatre’, in The Rustle of Language, trans. by Richard Howard (Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989) p. 346.

3. Donald Barthelme, ‘See the Moon?’, in Sixty Stories (London: Penguin, 2003) p.100.

4. Elizabeth Bishop, ‘The Man-Moth’, in Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters (New York: The Library of America, 2008) p.10.

5. Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, in The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 2009) p.519.

6. Henry David Thoreau, ‘Solitude’, in Walden, ed. by Joseph Wood Krutch (New York: Bantam, 1962) p.214.

7. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niepce_(crater)

The Best Photobooks we saw at UNSEEN Book Market, 2015
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The Best Photobooks we saw at UNSEEN Book Market, 2015

Last week we returned from an inspiring long weekend at Unseen Photo Fair Amsterdam. Amongst the programme of events on offer, we were particularly excited to spend some time in the UNSEEN Book Market. With major art book events occurring in both New York and Japan during the same weekend, the market at UNSEEN was small but lively with around 60 publishers taking part and filling a lovely glass room full of printed matter. Here we share some of our favourite new (and re-) discoveries from the weekend. 

Vincent Delbrouck was this years’ recipient of the Outset Unseen Exhibition Fund, being awarded the grant for work shot in Cuba and Nepal across a ten year period. We were struck by the colourful, intense and highly intuitive portrayal of life in Kathmandu in Delbrouck’s newest photobook Dzogchen. His analogue process involves collaging, superimposing and scanning images. Alongside Dzogchen were a couple of other great books by Delbrouck, most notably Some Windy Trees, which is well worth looking out for.

Thomas Albdorf – I Know I Will See What I Have Seen Before

Thomas Albdorf’s new publication – published with TPG Bookshop favourites Lodret Vandret – looks at the construction of Austria within common image spaces and plays with the country’s alpine landscape rhetoric, in classic film, advertising and political propaganda. This beautifully printed book collects Albdorf’s experiments in constructing mountainous spaces through various methods of image production. Besides being one of the books everyone was talking about this year, Albdorf’s photographs were also part of one of our favourite displays within the fair, installed at the Webber Gallery Space booth.

Maurice van Es – Now Will Not Be With Us Forever

Maurice van Es – Now Will Not Be With Us Forever

Maurice van Es originally self-published Now Will Not Be With Us Forever in a tiny edition of fifty copies, editing the whole thing himself. We were pleased to hear that a publishing house would be taking on the book and producing a larger edition and who better to take on this ambitious project than RVB Books? Debuting at the Unseen Book Market, the publication (or ‘bookcassette’ as van Es calls it) is made up of eight small books, each one focusing on a different subtlety or nuance from the artists’ everyday life: his brother leaving the house each day, the textures of his childhood home and the accidental sculptures his mother makes while undertaking her household chores. The book is a touching and impressive body of work.

Melanie Matthieu – Lamo Lava

Melanie Matthieu – Lamo Lava

Lâmo Lâva, which is old French patois for “ Up there, down there” follows artist Melanie Matthieu’s journey to the site of Our Lady of La Salette in the French Alps, where an apparition is said to have taken place in 1846. The black and white images are spare and evocative, and the book is beautifully made – combining photographs, textual fragments and a print within a navy blue hand-folded cover. Other books we loved at the Alauda Publications table were the research books on Robert Smithson and Moldovan museums.

Bruno Ceschel – Self Publish, Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto

Bruno Ceschel – Self Publish, Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto

In celebration of their fifth birthday, Self Publish, Be Happy just released Self Publish, Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto, co-published with Aperture. The book is a wonderful, affordable object that offers an honest and exciting take on the self-publishing scene of the last five years with a cacophony of great voices involved. To celebrate its launch, SPBH embarked upon an ambitious project to create a photobook live in 24 hours across three time zones in Amsterdam, Tokyo and New York. The Amsterdam leg of the project was a fantastic addition to the atmosphere of the book market and included artists Isabelle Wenzel, Justin James Reed and Jaap Scheeren.

Yoshinori Mizutani – Yusukira

Yoshinori Mizutani – Yusukira

After the incredible success of Tokyo Parrots and Colours, we were eagerly (if a little nervously) anticipating Yoshinori’s next photobook release, but he hasn’t disappointed with Yusukira. In what seems to have become a distinct style that the artist has cultivated for himself, the book – following Mizutani’s quest for nature in the dense city of Tokyo – is bleached in colour, with the same magical qualities as his previous publications.

Taisuke Koyama – Rainbow Variations

Taisuke Koyama – Rainbow Variations

Having previously published Viviane Sassen’s Lexicon and Daisuke Yokota’s Site/Cloud, we would say that the Japanese publishing house Art Beat Publishers know how to make a good photobook. One of their more recent offerings, Rainbow Variations, impressed us at the fair for its graphic simplicity. Koyama’s various rainbow projects and experiments are kaleidoscopic and sparkling. This book can only be described as delicious!

Klara Källström, Thobias Fäldt & Johannes Wahlström – A Beach

Klara Källström, Thobias Fäldt & Johannes Wahlström – A Beach

This book was released back in 2013, but we thought it worth mentioning the presence of B-B-B Books at the fair, run by artist couple Klara Källström and Thobias Fäldt, because of the sheer pleasure of experiencing photography through printed matter that they offer in their pubications. A Beach consists of photographs of the Arab city of Jaffa and as an object it’s truly brilliant: through interesting accordion-fold binding and folded poster inserts, it offers a uniquely tangible and physical way of discovering the most simple but crucial of things, narrative.

Laurent Chardon – Dédale

Laurent Chardon – Dédale

At the Poursuite Editions table, Laurent Chardon’s Dédale stood out for us. Released earlier this year the book documents the transformation of the city during the years 2003 to 2013. It’s a book full of gorgeous black and white pictures of architecture in Paris: dark, sculptural and reminiscent of Lewis Baltz’s Tract Houses.

Caio Reisewitz – Disorder

Caio Reisewitz – Disorder

Brazilian photographer Caio Reisewitz focuses largely on the changing relationship between the city and the countryside in a period of economic development in his photobook Disorder. Reisewitz presents photographs, landscape works and Dada-inspired photomontages and the result is a rich publication spanning a remarkable body of work.

Ilkin Huseynov – Mühit

Ilkin Huseynov – Mühit

RIOT Books is a really exciting small publisher (check out You Haven’t Seen Their Faces and Euromaidan for some of their best titles) and their modest catalogue of handmade publications features a particularly compelling publication called Mühit. Now in its second edition, Mühit sees photographer Ilkin Huseynov trace back to his childhood in Azerbaijan and the result is a heady and bittersweet journey in photography.

John MacLean – Hometowns

John MacLean – Hometowns

Over at the Flowers Gallery booth in the main section of the fair we had a chance to catch up with exhibiting artist John MacLean and he showed us the dummy of his new publication, Hometowns. MacLean journeys through the places that shaped the artistic visions of artists that have influenced him and endeavours to depict each place by stylistically referencing the artist in question each time. Every image corresponds to the initials of that artist, for us to then decipher. The photographs are brilliant – keep an eye out for the book to be published!

The Unseen Dummy Award 201

The Unseen Dummy Award 201

In the centre of the book market was a display of the finalists of Unseen’s photobook prize – the Unseen Dummy Award. On Friday afternoon, the winner was announced (by a jury including Paul Kooiker and Simon Baker) as Yoshinori Masuda’s Tiger 2. The book is strange, confusing and weirdly brilliant. Other books in the shortlist that particularly stood out for us were Nico Krijno’s New Gestures, Fabricated to be Photographed; Francesca Tamse’s Young men on the English terrain; and Alexander Basile & Alwin Lay’s Landscape of Desire. You can see the entire shortlist

The Voyage of Discovery by Carly Steinbrunn
The Photobook

The Voyage of Discovery by Carly Steinbrunn

Carly Steinbrunn, The Voyage of Discovery (2015), published by MACK

Carly Steinbrunn, The Voyage of Discovery (2015), published by MACK

The French novelist Marcel Proust is often quoted as writing, ‘the real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.  Though largely paraphrased and misquoted* from his original passage of writing, the core sentiment of the sentence remains intact: the forms in which the world appears to us can differ in the various ways we choose to look at it.

Carly Steinbrunn’s new publication from MACK, titled The Voyage of Discovery takes heed of this idea and deals, similarly, with the act of seeing. Drawing on the visual language of research in fields such as anthropology, zoology, geography and botany, Steinbrunn constructs and presents a fictional report from a scientific mission to discover and describe unknown worlds. A series of photographs – Steinbrunn’s own images alongside found ones, both colour and black and white – presented as ‘plates’ depict a small encyclopedic inventory of findings reminiscent of expeditionary narratives.

Carly Steinbrunn, The Voyage of Discovery (2015), published by MACK

Carly Steinbrunn, The Voyage of Discovery (2015), published by MACK

Citing the photography of Gustav Le Gray and Karl Blossfeldt as influences, alongside the travelogues of Claude Lévi-Strauss and James Cook, The Voyage of Discovery is as much about photography as it is exploration, and in this sense traces a loose visual history linking the evolution of both subjects. The ‘report’ that Steinbrunn presents is certainly inconclusive (as a convincing staging of a scientific document it doesn’t hold up) but that was quite obviously never the aim here – all that was necessary was a clear aesthetic nod towards the way that photography has been used in these fields, to question the truth claims of the medium and explore the balance between reality and fabrication. As isolated images we know the things that Steinbrunn presents to us – cacti and tropical fruits, fossils and pyramids – make some sort of independent sense, but by weaving them together in this manner Steinbrunn would rather show us the power of narrative to displace our presumptions of objects we normally consider exotic or otherworldly.

Carly Steinbrunn, The Voyage of Discovery (2015), published by MACK

Carly Steinbrunn, The Voyage of Discovery (2015), published by MACK

The images offer a sense of anticipation and the book as an object is no doubt beautiful – certainly not a publication to be overlooked in amongst MACK’s headlining releases of the season (namely titles by Ron Jude and Paul Graham). The book holds all the wistful momentum of the explorer gathering evidence in a quest to conquer new frontiers. Further highlighting this are aeroplanes and rockets reminding us of the historical race to travel across land, air and sea. The Voyage of Discovery is a clever publication with layers of references to the history of photography and beyond its consideration of expeditionary narratives, Steinbrunn’s most important quest turns out to be one for the viewer – to discover the images and to travel alongside them.

–  Joanna Cresswell                               

MACK published The Voyage of Discovery after it was shortlisted for the 2014 First Book Award. For full spec and to buy the book visit our online shop.

The Social: Commissioning Music Photography: Dan Wilton and Ben Weaver
Professional Practice

The Social: Commissioning Music Photography: Dan Wilton and Ben Weaver

Dan Wilton, Mikaiha Cannot Swim, From the series STOB EHT, 2012 © Dan Wilton. Courtesy of the artist

Dan Wilton, Mikaiha Cannot Swim, From the series STOB EHT, 2012 © Dan Wilton. Courtesy of the artist

The Social is a regular and lively evening event run by The Photographers’ Gallery that aims to provide practical information for artists and photographers in a social environment.

Advice given by photographers and industry specialists is beneficial for people at all stages of their career, from the newly graduated to the seasoned professional. At The Social, the audience is encouraged to enjoy a drink, discuss, and most of all, socialise.

On Thursday 30 July, this regular bar night for photographers brought two professionals in photography together to give their perspectives and tips on a theme. The topic for the evening was getting and delivering music commissions. It was part of a programme of talks and events during We Want More and was presented in collaboration with The Wire. The Social is free to all, with booking essential.

The Social: Commissioning Music Photography

Key advice from We Want More exhibiting photographer Dan Wilton:

  • Don’t wait for someone to commission you. Not only does personal work help in producing commissions but more importantly it’ll help you find your own style and approach.
  • Exhibiting or self publishing zines is a great way to get your work out there. In my opinion it’s much more powerful than a portfolio. Producing project based work helps to clearly show your vision and also your commitment and focus. Plus it’s great fun, I’m happiest when I’m working on personal projects.
  • Saying all that, a portfolio is still important. Try to develop a balanced one of both commissioned and personal work.
  • If you only get five minutes with an artist, be prepared (and try to remember to take the lens cap off!)

Key advice from Ben Weaver, Art Director with The Wire:

  • Think about finding connections between photographers and musicians (eg. if they know or are fans of one another’s work)
  • Be sensitive to how musicians want to be photographed, or how ‘visible’ they want to be
  • Art Directors – take risks, but if you know it’s going to be a difficult shoot, work with someone you can trust to get something good the first time around
  • Be prepared to admit when it hasn’t worked
Loose Associations Vol.1 – A New Publication From The Photographers’ Gallery
Loose AssociationsNew Writing

Loose Associations Vol.1 – A New Publication From The Photographers’ Gallery

Loose Associations is a new publication from The Photographers’ Gallery. Produced quarterly, in novella format, it offers a subjective and varied set of reflections on photography and image culture.

Loosely inspired by the gallery’s activities, this collection of essays, images, philosophies, fictions and other observations reflect a commitment to words and images; photography, publishing and distribution; thought and process. Through an eclectic mix of forms and styles this publication hopes to draw attention to ideas around photography and image-making and provoke new thinking within its myriad contexts and cultures: traditional, experimental, digital, networked.

The first edition takes the Autumn 2015 programme as a point of departure, presenting essays written and visual, accompanied by both loose and precise associations between ideas, technologies and approaches to making work. As well, we offer a collection of lists from various contributors. These seemingly random inventories – artistic, literary, absurd, political, banal, personal – offer an insight into the meaningful, inspiring, irrelevant or disruptive things and events encountered whilst working.

Visit our online store to purchase this publication, or pick it up at our bookshop or reception desk.