A common argument in photographic theory is that the triumph of the digital image as the contemporary form of photography forces a reevaluation of the traditional assumption of correspondence between the image and some form of reality of which it is said to be an imprint. The argument is that digital images that begin their life as binary data and are driven by algorithms cannot be comprehended through the conventional trinity of representation, the index and the punctum. A major shift has taken place with the emergence of the networked image.
As a photographer I understand the digital image to be an evolution from analogue photography: to all intents and purposes a digital image made with a digital camera is little different to the one that is made with an analogue camera. I situate myself in the world in the act of photographing, and then I use these working tools to construct visual representations. The Sony a7R111 digital camera is an automated, computational and pre-programmed tool compared to the entirely manual Leica M 4-P analogue camera that was made in the 1970s. The trajectory in digital photography is towards the expensive professional high end. This means increased automation, a pre-programmed apparatus, and more and more AI being built into the post processing software in order to counter the competition from the increasingly sophisticated cameras in smart phones.
Here is a digital image made with a digital Sony-a7 R111 camera:
Here is the analogue photograph made with the all manual Leica M 4-P analogue camera. The negative has been scanned into a digital file and then processed in Lightroom.
The differences between the two technologies within this logic of representation are minimal when they are viewed on a computer screen after being edited with Lightroom software. The object —ie., the quartz and creek in the two images –is known to us as a representation of the object. Photography is a process that mediates the world with the agency of light to produce legible images.
From my perspective as a working photographer the main difference between the two technologies is evolutionary. The digital technology is more convenient to use and it offers greater flexibility for hand held photograph in low light situations–eg., at dawn. As a photographer I continue to work within the trinity of representation, the index and the punctum, with both digital and analogue cameras. However, I do realise that the image on the computer screen made with a digital camera resembles the look of a traditional photograph because the computational processes are currently designed by the manufacturers to make these data packages look familiar to those working within the photograhic tradition.
I notice that the Tate Modern has an exhibition entitled Shape of Light: 100 years of Photography and Abstract Art, one whose art historical approach refers back to the Museum of Modern Art’s landmark photography exhibition, The Sense of Abstraction in 1960. The Tate blurb states that this is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between the photography and abstract art, spanning the century from the 1910s to the present day, and it includes some of the contemporary work by Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota.
The Tate exhibition basically re-inserts the history of photography into the well-writ narrative of art history to make a necessary point: – that photography merits serious consideration within the category of abstract art, and that the camera’s attraction to the shape of light rather than the shape of solid form as we perceive it, changed the way images of all kinds were composed. It also suggests that there has been a fruitful dialogue between abstract painting (Miro, Riley, Braque, Mondrian, Pollock, Kandinsky) and photography over the last hundred years.
This raises a question: has this kind of dialogue come to an end in the 21st century rather than being continued?
King’s Head abstraction
The curators place the 20th century’s avant-garde’s photographic experimentations (ie., abstraction) in the context of wider developments in art, with examples of cubism, abstract expressionism, Bauhaus and op art providing benchmarks. The curatorial argument is that abstract photography has evolved in step with painting and that there is a shared history. The relationship between painting and photography has been a symbiotic one, a close mutualist relationship that has benefited both art forms.
An alternative interpretation is that abstract photography followed behind abstract painting, in that abstract painters influenced the way photographic artists understood image and that the photos are the monochrome equivalents of paintings. This interpretation reinforces the culturally conservative position of the supremacy of painting. This conservative interpretation overlooks the way that both Rodchenko and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy challenged the supremacy of painting by refusing to see any medium as more important than another and by working in fields as diverse as film, graphic and theatre design, sculpture, painting and light shows. The common tendency in the Australian art institution is to adopt the conservative interpretation. Continue Reading…
I am participating in the Photoforum Members Show at Studio 541, Mt Eden, Auckland, New Zealand. I rejoined Photoforum when I was at Photobook-NZ in Wellington after several years absence. I submitted 3 images (medium format, colour negative film) for inclusion in the Members Show, which were made when I was walking Wellington on a recent visit. The exhibition was oversubscribed, so the curators/organizers reduced the three images to two. However, it was only due to the stirling work at very short notice by the team at Atkins Photo Lab in Adelaide that I was able to get the images printed, framed and couriered to Auckland. We had a week to do it.
All the images in the Photoforum exhibition are posted on Studio 541’s website along with the bio’s and artist statements. These show a diverse range of work that stands in opposition to, and digs beneath, the NZ is beautiful or a paradise school of photography.
Photo Forum Members’ Show 2018.
Photoforum was co-founded in 1973 by John B Turner, Tom Hutchins and Max Oettli to promote photography as an artistic and expressive medium, to encourage co-operation and collaboration amongst the photographic community, and to provide mentoring for photographers. A secondary, but crucial aim, was to encourage photographers to actively engage in the public risk-taking of critical writing and curatorial practice, outside of the universities and polytechnics.
Over its 40 years history Photoforum has also helped to nurture a critical environment, but there is still a lack of critics and historians to better cover the field of photography in New Zealand. My memories of the early years when I was a member was that documentary photography has been the dominant language of PhotoForum photography.There is nothing like this community-orientated non-profit organisation, which has made valuable contributions to New Zealand art and art history, amongst the art photographers in Australia. We independent Australian art photographers are much poorer as a result of not having a similar DIY community of expressive photographers. Continue Reading…
In early March I spent a week walking Wellington, New Zealand as well as photographing in the city, whilst Suzanne walked the Grand Traverse, Queenstown way with her Adelaide walking friends. I had studio apartment in the Aro Valley courtesy of Air bnb, and I spent about 8 hours a day walking the city in a Situationist mode. I drifted through central Wellington with two camera bags on my shoulders: one containing a Rolleiflex (TLR) a Leica M4-P rangefinder whilst the other held my newly acquired Sony Alpha A7r111, which I was slowly learning how to use.
2 houses, Wellington
I loved Wellington. It’s a funky, vibrant cultured city. I was so at home being there. Even though Wellington is a much smaller city than Adelaide in population terms, it is so much more alive in an urban sense. Despite the revitalisation since 2013 of the central city and the liquor-licensing reforms Adelaide remains a doughnut city. Wellington was much more alive than it was when I worked there in the 1970s as an economist in the public service. Then it was empty of life at the centre with little in the way of depth of character. The central city is a much better place these days.
Wellington also has a strong art photography culture which, unlike Australia, is connected to, and a part of, a literay culture. There is also a vibrant café culture with excellent coffee scattered amongst the Wellington ‘walkability’. The funky changes in the urban culture happened in the 1990s apparently, but I am not sure what the driving forces for the city’s transformation were, given that Wellington is largely a public service town. Was the emergence of a lively urban culture caused by the acceleration of diverse migration flows? Continue Reading…
I have been reading Ming Thein’s recent post on The Rise and Decline of Popular Photography and connecting it to my recent experiences in continuing with my urban documentary style of photography in Melbourne. His observations on the current shifts in popular photography are interesting, and they help to put this low profile project of mine into a market and cultural context and, in doing so, highlights what is needed to continue to work on projects such as this.
A core point in Thein’s post is his insight that simple economics means that the business model of the professional photographer isn’t what it used to be, and that the incentive to invest in skill is lower. He says that we are seeing a number of studios going out of business and pros switching to doing other (non-photographic) things. The contemporary visual saturation means that as there are more images being made than ever, so it’s difficult to make an individual image stand out or to justify the time and effort (and cost) invested in its creation.
I am finding this to be the case with the 3 year+ Mallee Routes project. It requires a lot of time, effort and money to make the images for this project and then to exhibit them in a gallery. Similarly with the road trips project or the low key urban documentary work project in Melbourne:
Moonee Ponds Creek, West Melbourne
Take the latter as an example. The recent roadtrip to Melbourne and stay coincided with a spike in the summer temperatures. It was hot (40 degrees Centigrade), very humid and the light was terrible when I was out scoping the remains of industrial Melbourne in the West Melbourne area. So I was limited to scoping for a future session, even though I had the large format gear in the car. This meant that the scoping on this trip was just location searching–much like someone whose job it is to go out and scout or look for good locations for a movie film shoot. Having found the gritty, grimy location in West Melbourne I now need to make a return trip to Melbourne in the autumn. This is time, effort and money with no exhibition or book in sight. Continue Reading…