Thinking about the ‘photographic’ nature of practice

This week’s presentation raised the question of what a photograph is, with the task of writing a post on the inherent characteristics and contexts of the ‘photographic’ nature of our own practice.  There was much food for thought in the presentation, including reference to a 2014 exhibition at the International Centre for Photography, New York entitled What is a Photograph? curated by Carol Squiers.

“This major exhibition brings together 21 emerging and established artists who have reconsidered and reinvented the role of light, color, composition, materiality, and the subject in the art of photography. In the process, they have also confronted an unexpected revolution in the medium with the rise of digital technology, which has resulted in imaginative reexaminations of the art of analog photography, the new world of digital images, and the hybrid creations of both systems as they come together.” (2014, www.icp.org)

Photography for me is a process I have engaged with for most of my life, but one that remains inexplicable, not only on a personal level but, I feel, on a wider human one. The multiple theories that have emerged since its inception, and continue to emerge, often seem to divide; and technological developments which naturally lead to diversified technique and style, seem to be increasing the division between opinion whilst at the same time blurring the boundary of what a photograph is.  I find I am more drawn to Rexer’s question of what a photograph is for (Rexer, 2014)and why humans create images, why we feel driven to fix, preserve, collect, reflect etc.  The photographic image itself is a necessary part of this exploration. There are different approaches to exploring, too, through the scientific and the philosophical, and I can only continue with my own experimentations whilst considering these questions and how I might move forward.  What I see as a problem is that I am interested in it all, and human nature itself is much too large a question to address.  I must narrow my focus in some way.

In terms of inherent characteristics and contexts of the ‘photographic’ nature of my own practice, I am located in all of camps at the moment; I continue to take replicable, representational digital and film images.  I take images which intentionally remind the viewer that they are looking at an image and not the thing depicted.  I take and use photographs to create other images, combining mediums, sometimes making one-off objects that some might refer to as artworks. I also play with sound, moving image, word, paint.  I am not really a Photographer in that sense, though all of the above are helping me to explore photographic practice.  The constant thread for decades of my life has been the photographic image and the camera, hence my continued interest in studying it. The root of my practice has become in recent years a deep questioning of why I do it at all.

Part of my photographic work is becoming, over time, less recognisable as photographic images whilst still relying entirely on photography/cameras to create it.  Recent work ‘Imagined Landscapes’ was created using more than one camera, whilst considering my relationship with photography and what I was doing; the process; my process.  The images came about at first as a result of this consideration rather than a planned body of work. Sometimes the thinking is the most important part.  What comes out is like a by-product of the thinking.

I would very much have liked to have seen the exhibition in this week’s presentation: What is a photograph? I will look at some of the practitioners in the exhibition and write on them in future posts as  I am interested in the ways photography is taken and adapted by individuals and the rationale behind their practice.

Though not my opinion, I can, however, see how a comment of the exhibition mentioned in the presentation might come about; , that its curation was “tone deaf”.  To take a quantity of works and put them together into a space on the basis of ‘they’ve all used photography in a different way’ is perhaps seen by some as not finely tuned enough.  I get that.   A comment that some of the work is “cartoonish”;  I get that, too – it may well appear that way to someone who is in the division of traditional, replicable, images with directly representational subject matter. Lyle Rexer, in the article linked to in this week’s presentation, finds a common thread for the artists featured in the exhibition in that, “… they all begin with the assumption that photography never did simply open a window on the world; instead it created new worlds through the complex process of making images.”  (Rexer, 2014). It is this complex process which continues to challenge and enthral me.

I do not believe that the exhibition was backward looking as some comments also suggested.  If something is created now, it is created now for a reason.  It is of this time and can only be made now.  If the thing made happens to utilise historical approaches or ideas, then it does so because it is saying something about current times.  The fact that the exhibition generated (and continues to generate) discussion is demonstrative of its international success.

 

International Centre for Photography (2014) What is a Photograph?https://www.icp.org/exhibitions/what-is-a-photograph
[Accessed 29th January 2019)

Rexer, L (2014) A New Exhibition Asks, What is a Photograph Anyway?’ in Time Magazine [online] (30th January 2014) available at: http://time.com/3806650/what-is-a-photo/ [Accessed 29th January 2019]

Robertson, Mariah [Photograph of Exhibition Image]
in International Centre for Photography (2014) What is a Photograph?https://www.icp.org/exhibitions/what-is-a-photograph
[Accessed 29th January 2019)

Squiers, C. (2014) What is a Photograph? New York: International Centre for Photography (in Presentation Week 1)