Campany on Photography as a Medium

“The definition of a medium, particularly photography, is not autonomous or self-governing, but heteronomous, dependent on other media. It derives less from what it is technologically than what it is culturally. Photography is what we do with it. And what we do with it depends on what we do with other image technologies.”

David CampanySafety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of “Late Photography”’ (2003)

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Hughes on Television and Rauschenberg

“The Box has done more to alter the direct, discursive relationship of images to the real world, on which the art of painting used to depend, than any other invention in our century. This isn’t a matter of good or bad programming. Almost all American TV is shit tailored to morons. It is a vast exercise in condescension by quite smart people to millions of others whom they assume to be much dumber than they actually are.

But what Rauschenberg got onto is the peculiar role of TV, in so many millions of American homes, as a form of electronic wallpaper. It is more intimate than film. It is casual. It has no ceremonial aspect, like going to the movies. You just switch it on and it leaks its stuff into the room. You can control it to some extent, by changing the channel. In Rauschenberg’s day, when TV was influencing him most clearly, the menu of channels was much smaller than it is today, but then it looked large. So hundreds of millions of people spend time every day flipping from one channel to the next, editing their own real-time montages based on chance while looking for the news program or game show that takes their fancy.

Robert Rauschenberg – Retroactive I – 1963 84 x 60 inches

They don’t think of these montages as imagery in themselves. They’re just a by-product of changing channels. But they see them all the same; and what they see and take for granted is a stream of images that make no narrative sense but whose juxtapositions get surrealist in their incongruity. Love, death, soap, the swing of a batter, the coils and knots of spaghetti, the empty chitchat of a talk-show host. Through TV, and in a chaotic but unavoidable way, we make our own montages while watching the montages of others. So one of the dreams of the Russian constructivist filmmakers and the German dadaists finally came true with TV. Whole societies learned to experience the world through their eyes—to see—in terms of swift unstable montage. Ours is the cult of the electronic fragment, just as neoclassicism two hundred years ago was the cult of the marble fragment.

Television was both real and not real. Its color was artificial: bright, creepy electron color, not the color of paint or nature. Abstract color. Its artificiality increased the feeling that TV messages came in small packages. You didn’t scan the screen the way you scan a painting, because the image was always chopping and changing. And the fate of all those zillions of messages and images, in their casual brightness, was to be equalized, to pour forth in an overwhelming glut. Like radiation, which in fact they are, they were everywhere.”

— Robert Hughes “My Friend Robert Rauschenberg,” in The Spectacle of Skill: Selected Writings of Robert Hughes (2015)

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Bertens on Postmodernist Deconstruction and ‘Avant-Garde’ strategy

“The politics of this postmodern avant-garde, as theorized by Crimp, Owens, Foster, Abigail Solomon-Godeau, and others, are primarily aesthetic. Although the strategies involved, such as appropriation and hybridization, are supposed to open the eyes of the larger public to the fact that representation and culture are always political, they remain aesthetic with an impact that is limited to a small coterie of artists and critics whose eyes are open anyway (at least to the political character of culture). It is doubtful, moreover, that these politics would have shocked the American nation even if it had been aware of them. It is hard to imagine that an electorate that had given a former B-movie actor a comfortable majority in a presidential election would have been seriously unsettled by photographs in which a young woman presented herself as an actress in B-movie scenes.

Kalle Mattsson “Ronald McDonald Trump” from the series “Buffalo Bill Gates.”

(…) in a world where aesthetics and the political meet in the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and where capital has so thoroughly penetrated the world of culture that every avant-garde strategy leads to the opening up of new markets rather than new worlds, to fall back on an avant-gardist stance is deeply problematical. Equally problematical is the avant-gardist cult of the artist, which even outdoes that of modernism. Whereas the modernist artist is our humane guide, leading us towards a realm of timeless knowledge, the avant-garde artist is our dashing heroine or hero, taking risks on our behalf in venturing into the aesthetic/political unknown. In the rejection of origins we find, paradoxically, a reckless and daring originality.”

— Hans Bertens “Postmodern Deconstruction: The Politics of Culture,” in The Idea of the Postmodern: A History (1995)

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Jameson on Haacke

Hans Haacke “Manet-PROJEKT’74” (1974). Installation with the original Manet painting in the exhibition “Deutschlandbilder,” Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 1997

“Haacke poses the political dilemma of a new cultural politics: how to struggle within the world of the simulacrum by using the arms and weapons specific to that world which are themselves precisely simulacra? This explicitly political work, which reaffirms a certain continuity with older traditions of political culture, nonetheless draws a strategic conclusion on which there seems to be a generous consensus in the left cultural production of the advanced capitalist countries: namely, that it is no longer possible to oppose or contest the logic of the image-world of late capitalism by reinventing an older logic of the referent (or realism). Instead, at least for the moment, the strategy which imposes itself can best be characterised as homeopathic: ever greater doses of the poison—to choose and affirm the logic of the simulacrum to the point at which the very nature of that logic is itself dialectically transformed. Such a strategy—even conceived provisionally—has little of the vigorous self-confidence and affirmation of older political and even porto-political aesthetics, which aimed at opening and developing some radically new and distinct revolutionary cultural space with the fallen space of capitalism. Yet, as modest and as frustrating as it may sometimes seem, a homeopathic cultural politics seems to be all we can currently think or imagine.

— Fredric Jameson “Hans Haacke, or, the Cultural Logics of Postmodernism,” in Hans Haacke Unfinished Business (1986)

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Steyerl on The Poor Image

Apart from resolution and exchange value, one might imagine another form of value defined by velocity, intensity, and spread. Poor images are poor because they are heavily compressed and travel quickly. They lose matter and gain speed. But they also express a condition of dematerialization, shared not only with the legacy of Conceptual art but above all with contemporary modes of semiotic production. Capital’s semiotic turn, as described by Félix Guattari, plays in favor of the creation and dissemination of compressed and flexible data packages that can be integrated into ever-newer combinations and sequences.

Rabih Mroué – “The Fall of a Hair” from “Blow Ups, 2012” – (Inkjet print, 51 3/16 x 35 7/16 inches)

This flattening-out of visual content—the concept-in-becoming of the images—positions them within a general informational turn, within economies of knowledge that tear images and their captions out of context into the swirl of permanent capitalist deterritorialization. The history of Conceptual art describes this dematerialization of the art object first as a resistant move against the fetish value of visibility. Then, however, the dematerialized art object turns out to be perfectly adapted to the semioticization of capital, and thus to the conceptual turn of capitalism. In a way, the poor image is subject to a similar tension. On the one hand, it operates against the fetish value of high resolution. On the other hand, this is precisely why it also ends up being perfectly integrated into an information capitalism thriving on compressed attention spans, on impression rather than immer- sion, on intensity rather than contemplation, on previews rather than screenings.

— Hito SteyerlIn Defense of the Poor Image,” in e-flux journal #10, November 2009

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Batchen on Daguerre’s “Still Life” (1837)

Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre – “Still Life in Studio” – 1837 – (Daguerreotype)

“Of the various daguerreotypes by Daguerre that do survive, one in particular is often reproduced in histories of photography as the earliest extant example, as Daguerre’s first photograph. Dated 1837, this full-plate daguerreotype is usually titled Still life or The artist’s studio (or, in one intriguing instance, Intérieur d’un Cabinet Curiosité). Although frequently published, the image has attracted little close analysis. It pictures a segment of what must be Daguerre’s own studio, showing a section of wall and bench (or perhaps a window ledge) cluttered with various objects typically found in such places. These include the following: plaster casts of the heads of two putti or cupids, complete with small wings; a carved relief panel of a naked nymph holding a branch with one hand and a large paddle with the other, attended by a cupid and with a foot resting on one of the two overturned vessels disgorging liquid; a cast of a head; a corked wine flask covered in wicker, hanging from the wall by a thin strap; an ornately framed picture of a woman, probably an engraving or lithograph; two hanging pieces of cloth; a shallow bowl and several other small implements sitting on the bench. Each object is shown in tantalizing detail, with the disposition of light producing an aesthetic chiaroscuro. (…)

As a source of faithful copies of the classical canon, it amply illustrates the claim made in his own subscription brochure that “it will also give a new impulse to the arts, and far from damaging those who practise them, it will prove a great boon to them.” (…)

Still Life, then, is a manifesto of photography intended to certify its conceptual and pictorial identity. As such, Daguerre’s image once again represents photography as a reproduction of what are all already reproductions (in the case of the bas-relief, perhaps even a reproduction of a three-dimensional copy of an engraving after a sculpture by Goujon). Photographs, this image seems to be saying, are the equivalent of those fossilized shells lined up in another of Daguerre’s early efforts at still life: precise but fragmentary impressions supplied by a nature already at one remove from itself.”

— Geoffrey Batchen “Pictures,” in Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (1997)

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Scheppe on The Image

“The image, it might be said, is not understood if one only sees through it without seeing the image itself. Only when it reveals its very constructedness, partiality, and artificiality can the image become a cognitive means of insightful seeing. Disruptions of illusion thus bestow a suspension of the suggestive rhetoric of a feigned presence in the image.”

— Wolfgang Scheppe “Field Loss” in Some Works by Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.

Hans Holbein “The Ambassadors” (1533)

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T.J. Clark – “Capitalism without Images”

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Steyerl on The Image

Thomas Ruff “jpeg ny02” from the series “jpegs” (2009) – (105 15/16 x 143 5/16 in.)

“…it has become clear that images are not objective or subjective renditions of a preexisting condition nor merely treacherous appearances, but that they are nodes of energy and matter migrating across different supports, shaping and affecting people, landscapes, politics, and social systems. They have acquired an uncanny ability to proliferate, transform, and activate. Images have become real as junkspace, military invasions, botched plastic surgery. They invade cities, transforming space into sights, and reality into realty. They spread through and beyond networks, they contract and expand, they stall and stumble, they vie, they vile, they wow and woo. (…)

Joshua Citarella “Study in Contemporary Gesture II” – 2012 – C-print, 50 x 80 inches

But how about the Internet? There is a growing sense that both the exodus of images and corporatization might apply to online environments too; even more intensely so, because surveillance and militarization factor more extensively. The post-Internet condition is a process, a transfer, a permanent transition. More generally, it speaks of a transformation of data, sounds, and images beyond networks into a different state of matter. An impulse of data, sounds, and images to surpass the boundaries of information channels and to manifest materially. By which they incarnate as riots or objects, as lens flares, high-rises or pixelated tanks. (…)

It is all over. It crossed the screen, multiplied displays, transcended networks and cables to be at once inert and inevitable. One could imagine shutting down any online access or user activity. We might be unplugged, but this doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. The Internet would persist offline, as a mode of life and organization pervading all social relations. A form of intense voyeurism coupled with maximum untransparency. Imagine an Internet of things all senselessly “liking” each other, reinforcing the rule of a few quasi-monopolies. A world of privatized knowledge, patrolled and defended by rating agencies. A world of hyper-control coupled with intense conformism, where intelligent cars do groceries until a hellfire missile comes crashing down. See: the Internet has already partly crossed the screen. The police are knocking at your door for a download? To arrest you after “identifying” you on YouTube or CCTV? Threatening to jail you for spreading publicly funded knowledge? Posting mug shots of your metadata? Knocking down parts of the web to stop an insurgency? Shake their hands. They are the Internet become real.”

— Hito Steyerl “Walking Through Screens: Images in Transition,” in Carol Squiers (ed.) What Is A Photograph? (2013)

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Lewis on Modernity and Antiquity

“The aesthetic ideas and practices that came to be known as modernism initially had some stake, investment and predicative power in how modernity was going to shape up. Modernism tried to make sense of the modern revolution in the world; it produced aesthetic objects, images and ideas in relation to the fact that modernity was deemed not yet to be complete, nor its ideas fully actualised. Modernism was, in other words, the idea that modernity could be figured and interpolated with Utopian possibility. If one concludes that this power of predication is now impossible, then the grounds upon which today’s artistic ideas and practices stand are littered with the archaeological remnants of modernism. What is shocking is that whereas modernity and modernism were cast as relentlessly forward thinking, we now find ‘signs’ of the modern in the past, in the unfulfilled dreams of what never came but still might. It is precisely this failure (of the modern and of modernism too) that is given a kind of noble profile in its unrealised potential.”

— Mark LewisIs Modernity our Antiquity?” in Afterall Issue 14 (Autumn/Winter 2006)


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