coastal, colour, film, landscape

photography and ugliness

October 22, 2015

I have noticed that there are a few  recurring images  in my archives of  coastal erosion of the sand dunes in,  and around,  the  Victor Harbor area of the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. Since these images are a part of  The Littoral Zone  they got me thinking about how to construct the series or as a book.

The initial thinking behind these images suggests that the recession of the sand dunes is  due, by and large  to storm surges which  are causing the sand dunes to slowly recede,  and that with climate change  the sand dune shorelines around the Victor Harbor township and Hayborough will continue to recede. The categories associated with  climate change assume that one of the consequences of climate change in the form of a warming world is rising sea levels and these, in turn, when coupled to storm surges cause the recession of the sand dunes along the coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

sand dune erosion

sand dune erosion

The other kind of thinking or the categories  behind these discrete group of image is the  assumption  that  a (self-conscious) photography as art is the  voice of sensuous particularity against  an abstract economic rationality. Photography as art is more than,  and beyond,  economic reason,   the exchange value of the capitalist market,  and photography as the avatar of  modernity’s technological rationality,  with its mechanical technique, automation and deskilling.

 How do we make sense of  these two modes of thinking: scientific  theory and photography as art?

The images on the computer archive are fragmented, incoherent, ugly. I’ve noticed that I’ve recoiled  from the  photography and ugliness  combination,  and that recently I’ve endeavoured to make beautiful images of coastal erosion.  Another example:

melaleuca, Haybourough

The question is: could ugliness be a photographic strategy in opposition to the beauty system? Could this be a means of seeking an authenticity for photography not dependent on either the easy attractions of the beautiful   form,  the seductions of pictorial illusion, or the controlling beauty in the rationality of  corporate advertising. Could the path to regenerate contemporary art  photography that is an alternative to a photography that is complicit with the long reign of instrumental reason be through harshness, brutality, fearsomeness, disharmony?

If so, then ugliness must be shown to have a meaning that is not simply the absence of beauty,  if its role in contemporary  art is to begin to have any significance. This implies the the goal of photography as art shifts away from beauty to something else— something that shifts the  artwork away from just being a beautiful  form and delivering pleasure to the ideal spectator/viewer.  In other words,  contemporary photography as art possesses goals independent of the beauty of  the harmonious resolution of its material parts.

In modernism, for instance, instead of the material parts of the art work being for the sake of the integrated  whole, the coherent whole becomes a vehicle for the disclosure of its sensuously particular parts. Dissonance, disunity, fragmentariness as forms  underline the disintegration of authoritative wholeness, of harmony and resolution, and these  fragments and dissonance appear as ugly.

But how to work in a series as a pictorial order? The usual way to do this is through  philosophy’s  logical arrangements in the form of a logical/conceptual subordination of complexity  as in if x, then y; x because y; x necessitates y; and so on. Instead of this kind of logical syntax,  the pictorial order or syntax  could be disorganised or  disordered though the images being placed side by side’. In this juxtaposition of images the images are  set next to one another—xy—with the character of their relation to be elicited through reflective consideration of their respective semantic/material contents by the viewer.

This is the idea of parataxis,  in which starkly dissimilar images or fragments, are juxtaposed without a clear connection,  was one of the central mechanisms of modernist art. The  significance of paratactical orderings  is accepting disjunction or divergence and this in turn orientates us towards the object, and allows for a more open way of thinking that is different to the  one of mastery and control. By dropping connectives and ordering devices, parataxis forces or permits each image  to become a concrete particular whose relation to what is placed against it, adjacent to it, side-by-side with it,  to become  what is to be worked out by the reader/observer.

Would this possibility of a pictorial language that ceases to function as a form of coherence and rational order,   that subordinates the multiplicity of the world to the liberal subject’s instrumental ends of mastery and control (knowledge as domination), enable an art photography  to step outside the beauty system?

 

 

 

 

 

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