One idea that I found informative in the cultural criticism of the old blogosphere was that of capitalist realism:–the dystopian condition of our contemporary, deregulated, neo-liberal capitalism with its artificial scarcity and extreme inequality structured around longer working hours, stagnating wages and increased job precarity. Climate warming and the current Covid-19 pandemic has deepened this sense of dystopia.
A key idea of the concept of capitalist realism is that the mindset and default outlook of the society of neo-liberal capitalism is that this form has conquered ideological space, leaving no political or imaginative standpoint from which to envisage alternatives. Or if the public spaces are there, then they are dammed hard to find and to creatively exist within in order to counter the aggressive uniformity and ideological complicity of mass visual culture.
The end of the ‘blog moment’ can be associated with, or linked to, the emergence of the digital age, big data, mass surveillance and the enormous impact, both positive and negative, that social media has had on public political and cultural discourse. Along with the centrality of algorithms as forces that order and curate the world we have the deliberately offensive columns and opinion-pieces by ‘brand’ writers/speakers/personalities who have figured out the equation of being offensive with how many people read the writing and encourage others to read it.
Those blogs of a decade ago either cohered into books or fragmented into the mediascape of social media. Only a few people now currently blog consistently, and they mostly do so in isolation with a limited readership and feedback. The photo blogs of old have disappeared. Tumblr has replaced them.
Are there any aspects of that blogosphere moment can be picked up and help us address the isolation, feeling of weakness and the dissociated anxiety in the present? One problem that presents itself is the lack of institutional support for creative or art photography as the prose of the world and the hostility towards, and unambiguous attack on the arts, the humanities and ABC (the engine room of creativity) by the Morrison government though starving them of funds. The art school in South Australia, like those elsewhere, operates within the university system and is subject to shrinking budgets, staff cuts, amalgamations and reduced course offerings. It faces an existential threat and its viability is now in question. What the blog moment suggests in this situation is DIY—doing it yourself— within a loose network.
Doing what though, given that the blog moment is over and the current blogs are invisible? Invisible because our cultural world is governed by invisible algorithms that function and are seen as gatekeepers and which award presence to those who manage to get heard over the rumbling noise of all that digital content? The emergence of the Thoughtfactory newsletter was a counter response to a surveillance-for-profit economy (with all of us as the primary commodity) and the algorithmic governance of Facebook; a counter response to start to build a network of art photographers.
What then? Where to go from a newsletter? What can we do to help us to start to shape the future? Does the blog moment a decade ago presage something of a culture to come? The blog moment suggests creating an alternative creative space; ie., helping to create the emergence of a counter popular visual culture based on creative writing, photographic images and a cultural criticism of the present.
The blog moment suggests starting this by doing something that we could hang onto, and say this is what happened. Initially this would be going public— ie., public or published work— without seeking public fame in the neo-liberal sense of the media’s emphasis on individual charisma and its over hyping everything as the best thing ever. What is needed is some form of going public in a collaborative way that says creative photography matters. One step towards this is an online gallery.
Could there not be a conversation on the place of photographers and images in a world of swift and challenging change of global warming, bushfires, pandemics and indigenous wellbeing after the dispossession of the Indigenous occupants? As Jonathan Green observes in Meanjin …”the world we left behind as the coronavirus took hold is closed to us now, much as we might hanker for it, much as daily life is still formed around our memory of what it really ought to be”.
Ours is a visual culture centred around the circulating logic of the networked photographed image. The emergence of digital technology changed the very nature of photography by moving it from a fixed image to a fluid one. The digital camera is now a data-collecting device with the image file being transformed by a computational process. The way we now relate to images is also changing. Our new relationship is less about witness, evidence and document and much more about experience, sharing, moment and streaming. Given this, what steps could be taken to foster a culture of pictures mattering?
The DIY FoPG model is an attractive: it has created a cultural space, is collaborative in its approach, stands outside Facebook even though it has a Facebook page, is a curated network of large format photographers, and is linked to this blog or hub. The creativity within FoPG’s cultural space is not geared to monetising photography or the push to entrepreneurialism which are central to neo-liberalism’s creative economy. FoPG, to rephrase Walter Benjamin, is exploring the potentials and actualities of the photographic medium by bringing things into view that were previously outside of our awareness — small hidden details, qualities, movements, the granular, and so on. Benjamin’s idea of the optical unconscious refers to the way that the technological processes of photography reveal aspects of existence that elude our conscious grasp.
FoGP’s cultural space shows that photography can contribute some positive value of public good in an unequal society, with its unequal distribution of culture, its highly unequal structure of cultural labour markets and a mainstream public culture that throttles new voices. Seeing the world in photographic images brings with it shifts in what we see of that world. The camera pictures phenomena that the viewer has encountered and unconsciously registered but not consciously processed–what could be called unconscious perception.
Could the first steps be something along the lines of FoPG; something —a hub?—that is South Australian based but open to photography elsewhere? After all, what happens in South Australia is marginalised, usually overlooked and ignored in Australian culture. Creativity is the capacity or ability to create something from nothing within the boundaries and constraints we face. Would such a loose but curated model—eg., Friends of the South Australian Art Photographers Group (FSAAPG)—point to a way to approach fostering a culture of photography as the prose of the world that opens up the unconscious aspects of perception?