Freedom

Surfaces and Strategies: Week 4 Reflection

"If nothing else, the advent of post-photography is an uncomfortable reminder that the present we all embody, the photographic presence that is the very guarantee of our being, is no more than one ephemeral effect within history's own ongoing and inexorable processes of reproduction and erasure." 
Geoffrey Batchen, 2002: 127 (1)

"The task of a philosophy of photography is to reflect upon this possibility of freedom - and thus its significance - in a world dominated by apparatuses; to reflect upon the way in which, despite everything, it is possible for human beings to give significance to their lives in face of the chance necessity of death."
Vilém Flusser, 2004: 82 (2)

Freedom!

Freedom!

This massive topic seems to have arrived at a bad time for me. It’s too big, the implications seem too profound. I’m trying to follow the light, but it only seems to lead to new cul de sacs of blinding confusion, with each turn confounded by a shroud of abstruse theory cast in language that leaves the deepest, blackest shadows on either side.
 
We are asked to challenge the very practice of photography, to seek to question the physical form of the image, how its representation comments on the medium or opens new horizons for further exploration. But, in a weird way, all I can think about is death and how photography predicts, reports and simultaneously defers this final state.
 
Maybe the death is that of the idea of human as autonomous photographer with a singular vision. Maybe the death is of the idea of someone seeing something they find interesting, deciding therefore to take a photograph of it, and being satisfied simply with having done so. Or possibly we should just accept that photography as we know it is dead (or soon will be) and so we should all just move along and find something else to do.
 
And what are we supposed to be free from?
 
A simple Google search of ‘freedom’ brings up two definitions:

  1. The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.
  2. The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.

 
I’ve never felt enslaved by my camera, nor have I ever felt my rights to act as I wish impinged upon by the apparatus of photography. Yet this week, I’m repeatedly reminded how tightly chained I actually am to the apparatus and it’s a thoroughly demoralising idea.
 
I understand the reason for a general anxiety to reframe the position and pre-eminence of photography and the physical photograph itself in the rising daylight of the digital age. I support this effort, while feeling somewhat removed from it, existing in a parallel place where the conflict feels a lot less pivotal.
 
For me, right now, the real struggle lies in simply clinging on to the thing that brought me here in the first place…the unaltered, naïve joy derived from taking photographs. I’ve lost it at the moment. I hope it’s buried underneath all this stuff and not gone for good.

References:

  1. Batchen, G. (2002) Each wild idea; writing, photography, history, Cambridge, Mass, London: MIT.
  2. Flusser, V. (2004) Towards a Philosophy of Photography, London: Reaktion.

Positions and Practice: Week 1 Reflection

An interesting and challenging start to the course. I’ve never previously considered, in any detail, the idea of photography in a truly global context. Once the thought is introduced however, it’s difficult not to be somewhat intimated by the potential breadth of the argument and its implications. Photography is an incredibly pervasive practice, that everyone save for those in the most isolated cultures interacts with multiple times per day, often subliminally. The influence of imagery is undoubted, yet how much of the imagery we consume is done so willingly? And how much do we consider the unseen agendas that have selected and presented these images for our attention? If we were privy to these agendas would we be more discerning about what we allowed ourselves to see? Would we try and take a more mindful role in guiding the images that ourselves, and others, create?
 
The internet is a powerful pathway by which images can quickly reach billions of retinas worldwide. It’s not possible to imagine that an image may not have global reach once uploaded. So, is there a responsibility to consider the impact and meaning the image carries when it arrives somewhere you may never see and is read by people whose perspective you may never understand? If so, how much responsibility? There’s no universally acceptable image that appeals to everyone and offends no-one, no image can be truly universal, so is this an unfair expectation of the photographer (or any maker of images)? And surely we have to retain the right to freedom of expression even if this offends? A thorny issue for sure, with previously tragic consequences (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30708237) for those who have crossed a line drawn by others.
 
This week I’ve been challenged to consider the homegenisation of images that occurs as a result of corporate and political imperatives, and the threat this poses to expression and recognition of individuals and cultures that fall outside of the approved categories. As Bate wrote with regard to stock photography:
 
"the more a global stock image-world becomes a homogenous image-bank, the less easy it is to acknowledge or accept different views of the world."

Photography: The Key Concepts. 2nd ed. David Bate, p. 207

 
The awareness of this increasing homegenisation of images makes me more determined to remain open to as many sources as possible, and to seek them out if possible. It also challenges me to seek out common image tropes in my own work so that I can actively decide if they belong there, and remove them if they don’t.
 
This week also introduced me to the idea of photography as a window and mirror. Not an entirely novel idea I suppose, but it’s been interesting to consider whether my work is more mirror or window. I think it’s been more a reflection of internal states and conflicts so far. Gazing into my mirror has certainly allowed me to examine certain things about myself in more detail, even if it’s kinda foggy sometimes!