Much 21st-century architectural discourse has orbited around two dominant paradigms of urbanism: on the one hand, the rapidly growing city-region, exemplified by the Pearl River Delta; on the other, the shrinking post-industrial city, exemplified by Detroit.
In its own right, photography, and in particularly those genres of photography primarily focused on events in the world, is underpinned its own set of apparently self-evident truths. Many of these concern ideas about the correct way to use photography, in other words what it should be able to do that the other representational tools we have available to us cannot. This is significantly a little different from the often-discussed medium specificity of photography, in that these beliefs do not necessarily need to have a direct relationship to the actual technical qualities of photography (indeed sometimes they ignore these qualities altogether), but in many cases originate elsewhere in society and culture, often in ideas which significantly predate photography’s invention. The problem with these beliefs, and the value in exploring them, is that they shape and direct the ways we use cameras and photographs in ways which sometimes prevent us using photography as dynamically as we might, and as a result undermine rather than strengthen the goals we seek. For this reason, if no other, we should try to draw them out and assess quite how useful they are.
Is it possible to describe a photograph without interpreting it? Can a viewer ever be as dispassionate as the mechanism of a camera? And how far can a photographer’s intentions determine responses to their image, decades after it was made? These are just a few questions that David Campany eloquently addresses in On Photographs. In the tradition of Susan Sontag and John Berger, Campany explores the tensions inherent to the photographic medium – between art and document, chance and intention, permanence and malleability of meaning – as well as the significance of authorship, performance, time and reproduction.
Recently I had call to revisit some of my receipts for taxation purposes. I was reminded immediately of a couple of purchases that I had not delved that deeply into in the 2 years I had owned them. One book required little more than a flip through the contents page to reveal useful but not burning questions buried within it. I was looking for idea and inspiration for my classes as well you see. This book entitled , ‘Rethinking Digital Photography Making & Using Traditional & Contemporary Photo Tools’ by John Neel will come in handy for exploring bespoke and handmade image making classes.
The other book, ‘The Camera Essence And Apparatus’ by Victor Burgin will hopefully float on or around my desk at home for a while. It may even get dragged to work. Burgin is a renowned Artist, Marxist and Theoretician. I have on loan from the RMIT library a copy of his photobook ‘Between’ published in 1986. ‘Between’ is a kind of retrospective catalogue, but is also a photobook unto itself, predominantly about the pictures with in it.
I am going to assume that both my readers know of my long interest in photobooks. They will also appreciate that I own the 3 volume set of the ‘History of the Photobook‘, by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger.
Reading the Burgin book, ‘Between’ got me wondering. Was it listed in the 3 volume set by Parr and Badger? Well the short answer is no. At least not in the index of any of the books. Another author/critic whose writings I admire is John Berger. He has co-published a photobook that is also very interesting, ‘Another Way of Telling’. This too is not listed in any of the 3 volumes. My question then to Mr Parr and Mr Badger. Why are these two Artists and their books omitted from your histories? Even though Martin Parr talks about the size of the task and the impossibility to include every photobook ever made in the introduction to Volume 1. Surely including ‘Between’, and ‘A Different Way Of Telling’ should have been a no-brainer?
In exhibitions of contemporary art, the “Anthropocene” has become a cliché, folded into the usual mix of art jargon. Recent exhibition titles that include as subtitle some variation of “art and climate change” or “art and the Anthropocene” are too numerous to list. The rhetorical construction alone is telling. Framing the climate as a distinct concept for art, another notion to explore, creates an illusion of intellectual distance. But the reality of climate change isn’t a topic for some art to address; rather, it is a historical condition that informs all contemporary art.