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Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Image by Hugh McCabe (2018)

What’s new about new media? Or in this case, what was new about new media way back in 1999 when Butler and Grusin’s Remediation 1 was first published? The book was one of the first full-length attempts to define and contextualise this emerging field, coming a year or two before Manovich’s influential Language Of New Media 2, and several years before the whole concept of new media came to be seen as not quite so new at all. Bolter and Grusin’s book anticipates this by challenging the notion that new media represents some sort of epistemic shift or radical break from established practices. They take aim at the techno-fantasists who are permanently plugged into VR headsets and feverishly declare the birth of new digital realities where the troubles of the past can be left behind. In fact, much of Remediation is concerned with how various forms of digital media (virtual reality, computer graphics, the World Wide Web etc.) are inspired by, have their roots in, or simply mimic, earlier forms. By stripping away what is not new about new media we can perhaps zero in on what is.

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Right from the start I saw Dublin’s Vicar Street venue as being ideal for this project but it took me quite a while before I managed to get in there to try it out. The venue management were very helpful and open to the idea from the start, but the problem was that it’s a rare occasion when the Vicar Street balcony is not full of punters. My chance finally came on March 3rd thanks to Leagues of Foggy Notions who was promoting Daniel Johnston there. Johnston had the BEAM orchestra in tow which made for a pretty interesting gig and a more interesting photograph than I would otherwise have got. (more…)

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Most gigs I go to have one, if not two, support bands. I wondered early on whether to try and shoot both acts, or just concentrate on the main attraction. The problem is that two different bands, on the same night, will share a lot of equipment, so there are similarities between the resultant pictures. The one above is of the excellent Subplots, who opened up for Retribution Gospel Choir (see previous post). Looking at both shots is like playing spot the difference – or maybe more accurately spot-the-similarity. If you look at them both you’ll see that they are sharing the same drum kit, and bits of the RGC back-line are visible behind Subplots. (more…)

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This is Retribution Gospel Choir, shot in Whelans back on the 13th of March. It was a pretty sparsely attended gig, which surprised me, as the band are a side-project of Alan Sparhawk of Low. I only decided to go in on the day, and the extraordinarily helpful Alastair Foley of Whelans/Foggy Notions sorted out access for me.

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This shot was the first successful one I took in Whelans. The first night I tried to photograph there was at a Xiu Xiu gig and I was immediately faced with the problem that I couldn’t hoist the camera up far enough to clear the balcony railing. The next time I went, I solved the problem by poking the camera through the railing, but got the exposure all wrong. The third time was a Dublin Metal Events gig, featuring Polish metal band Vader, and the shot above is from that night. It’s not Vader but one of the support acts, As You Drown. I didn’t photograph Vader because by then the balcony was rapidly filling up with punters, and I didn’t want to be the annoying person with the camera getting in everyone’s way. (more…)

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This post is part two of an essay on Paul Seawright’s Invisible Cities project. You can read part one here.

Invisible Cities clearly must be considered as part of a tradition of documentary photography and as such it raises a number of interesting questions that I will now turn to. The first of these is the problematic issue of a photographer from outside a particular culture or environment trying to make meaningful work about, or within, it. Martha Rosler has been deeply critical of the documentary tradition, particularly when it involves a privileged outsider shedding light on marginalised or disadvantaged communities. She would see this practice as merely reinforcing existing power relations and doing little to address any of the root causes of the situation. Similar difficulties are identified by Stuart Hall: he describes how stereotyping is used to maintain power in a society or culture by marginalising certain groups, and how photographic representations, whether intentionally or not, play an important role in this (Edward Said has also written persuasively of how Western representations of the Orient  have played a pivotal role in maintaining the power relationships between East and West). As a white European working in Africa, with its historical and contemporary difficulties with colonialism and post-colonialism, Seawright runs the risk of falling into this trap, a situation he is by no means unaware of:

Until I accepted the Imperial War Museum commission in 2002 to respond to the war in Afghanistan, I’d never considered making work that extended beyond my sphere of direct experience. I wrestled with the problems that making work in another country presented, not least that I have been critical of non-indigenous practice in Northern Ireland

(Paul Seawright quotation from interview with Russel Roberts)

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This post is something of a departure from the usual business on this blog. It is an essay I wrote on Paul Seawright, focusing in particular on his Invisible Cities work. This work comprises of photographs taken over a three-year period in sub-Saharan African cities. In many senses the work goes against the grain of common photographic representations of Africa. I describe the work and deal with a number of issues that arise from it. The essay is quite long, so I’ll split it into two parts. This is part one.

Photographic representations of Africa tend to be dominated by certain well- worn themes. We have the photo-journalistic images of war, disease and famine – portraying a continent riven by seemingly intractable problems and a living hell for its inhabitants. We have the ma jestic grandeur of the landscape and the animals – suggesting a timeless, Edenic paradise. We have the National Geographic style portrayals of indigenous tribespeople, often accompanied by well-meaning articles describing how their “way of life” is under threat. A pertinent illustration of this can be had by typing “Africa”‘ as a keyword into Google’s image search facility. The majority of results returned are maps of Africa, but if we exclude these, almost all of the rest fit into the categories mentioned above. Those that don’t form minor categories of themselves: smiling schoolchildren; white aid workers or volunteers interacting with Africans; and most interestingly, images illustrating the growing influence of China in sub-Saharan Africa. None of these do much to expand the outsiders knowledge of, or insight into, the continent.

Paul Seawright’s Invisible Cities comprises of photographs taken in the sub-Saharan cities of Lagos, Addis Adaba, Lusaka and Johannesburg, and goes very much against the grain of these common representations. Seawright is, of course, not the only photographer working in this manner. A close parallel would be the work of Guy Tillim who has carried out similar projects on urban Africa. In fact, there is a growing body of contemporary African photography that challenges the common representations – for example, the Snap Judgements exhibition held in New York in 2006. I do suggest however, that such work is the exception rather than the rule. (more…)

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In this essay, written in 1995, Lev Manovich explores the ramifications of digital technology and photography. He asks if such a thing as digital photography really exists, and to what extent this really differs from traditional photographic practice.

Manovich starts by referring to a range of digital innovations that have transformed the practice of image production and manipulation, innovations that would lead most people to the conclusion that the fundamental nature of the photograph has radically changed.  The aim of his essay is to question whether this is really the case, and to expose a number of paradoxes at the heart of digital photography that become apparent when we attempt such questioning. His position is that it does not – that, in fact, digital photography does not exist.

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This essay appears in Solomon-Godeau’s Photography At The Dock collection. It deals with a number of post-modern photographic artists, explaining their work, and situating it in opposition to the established canon of modernist art photography. It is deeply critical of many of the fundamental assumptions of modernist photography that would have been elaborated in the work of critics such as John Szarkowski.

Solomon-Godeau begins by noting the extent to which the use of pastiche, in the sense of the appropriation of previously existing styles and work, has become dominant in both the art world and in popular mass media. In tandem with this, much criticism has been leveled at previously sacrosanct notions of the value of originality and authorial autonomy, and many artists are using pastiche as a means of questioning and probing these issues. At the time of writing, not much of this had reached the art photography world though, where most work was still reliant on traditional modernist notions: a key one being that an art photograph functions as an expression of the photographer’s interior, a vehicle for his/her thoughts, feelings and so on. The reason for this can be thought of as an insecurity at the heart of art photography. It had only recently received full status as an art form, and having done so on the back of precisely those modernist notions that post-modern artists are currently questioning. It is therefore reluctant to abandon, or even question, those notions that were integral to the elevation to its current lofty status.

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Peter Wollen’s Fire and Ice is a meditation on time and tense in photography and cinema. It deals with issues regarding what sorts of temporal experiences can be embodied within both forms and how the viewer’s means of engagement impacts upon this. The essay was first published in 1984 but later included in Liz Well’s 2003 book, The Photography Reader.

Photography is inextricably bound up with time. A photograph stops a moment and preserves it as a fragment of the past. The moment captured is of near-zero duration and located in an ever-receding ‘then’. By contrast, the spectator’s ‘now’ is of no fixed duration – the spectator can spend as long as he/she wishes, looking at the photograph. This contrasts sharply with cinema where the spectator’s experience is of fixed duration and often only available at set times.

Wollen applies these observations to Barthes, and claims that this temporal distinction between photography and film explains Barthes’s love of photography and antipathy towards film. Barthes privileges what the spectator brings to the work over the input of the author (as evidenced for example in Death Of The Author), and hence favours a medium like photography, where the spectator is in control over the time and circumstances of the viewing of the work, over film, where that control is ceded to the author. As Wollen puts it: ‘Time, for Barthes, should be the prerogative of the reader/spectator’. The implication of this is a bias against an author-imposed narrative structure and a preference for a freer, more interpretative approach controlled by the spectator. (more…)

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