Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Where is the Universal, and What is its Scale?

A lot of people told me that for a photograph to deserve public viewing (publicity), it had to address itself to "universal themes." Conventionally, the "universal," referred to this way, means sunsets (signifying time, endings, transitions) or an old man's wrinkled hands (signifying age or time or passage). In theory, the "universal" could be anything. In practice, it tends to gather around images which give themselve easily to an available symbolism and which (thereby) erase any trace of the personal.

One thing being said, when someone equates "universal" themes with the right to exist in public, is that images defined as personal (because we haven't known what else to call them? because they embarrass us with their intimacy?) do not deserve publics, or public viewing. Pictures of cats online bear the brunt of this prohibition now. But only slightly less vehemently prohibited are images of birthday parties or holidays in the Grand Canyon or friends out drinking. Of course, Art always redeems the image which is too personal to exist in public; if the tourist image is artful enough, we can forgive its presence before us, in our flickr stream or wherever. We say that the photograph's Artfulness gives us access to it, where, by contrast, the personal blocks this access, bars the way.

But flickr (for instance) does something interesting in this regard. It does not envelop the image as Art does, excusing its publicity by effacing its intimacy. Flickr, it seems to me, strips an image of none of its intimacy. Just the opposite: all images stay embedded within a single person's—the photographer's—narrative, or life, or "photo stream." They may escape into groups or the horizontal vector of a tag, but you can always and easily get back to the individual who took the photo and to whom, presumably, it means something (or, to whom it meant something first). But something else happens at the same time as this intimacy is preserved: through various vectors like tags and groups and memes, photographs escape into a public. Which is to say, I suppose (if we're far more liberal with our definition of "universal" than most uses tend to be), that these images, these minor, intimate, sometimes banal, sometimes ordinary, sometimes humblingly poignant images become universal. Publicly meaningful. Or just: public. And we, as a result, gain more points of entree to intimacy. The intimacy of an image or a life we don't know.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Three Perspectives on the 'Digital' in Digital Photography

William A Ewing (2005): "Digitalisation is changing everything to do with photography. It alters the way we—amateurs and professionals alike—take pictures and the way we look at them. It changes how we pose for them, how we edit them, manipulate them, archive them—even the degree to which we are willing to place our trust in them." ("Movers and Fakers" in Guardian Weekend, 13 Aug 2005).

Lev Manovich (1995): "How fundamental is this difference [between digital and "traditional, lens and film based photographs"]? If we limit ourselves by focusing solely, as Mitchell does, on the abstract principles of digital imaging, then the difference between a digital and a photographic image appears enormous. But if we consider concrete digital technologies and their uses, the difference disappears. Digital photography simply does not exist." ("The Paradoxes of Digital Photography" available under "texts" heading on above site. First published in _Photography After Photography_ exhibition catalog, Germany).

Don Slater (1995): "…rather than investigating a specifically media revolution, or focusing on changes in media technology under the impact of the digital, look instead at structures of domestic leisure in relation to family dynamics on the one hand, and new forms of commodification on the other. A framework for considering photography in digital culture might then involve looking not at a specific technological transformation of photography at all, but at the circulation of images within a domestic life structured around these forces of commodification and privitisation: what emerges more and more clearly are convergences of media and communication technologies in the home and on holiday but in the form of consumer leisure and entertainment” (“Domestic Photography and Digital Culture” in (ed) M. Lister _The Photographic Image in Digital Culture_, p. 133).

"Movers and Fakers:" article on new photography in Guardian Weekend

*"For better or worse, the photographer as hunter has given way to the sedentary farmer."

*this is the sentence which immediately precedes the one above: "But spontaneity, surely one of the great natural attributes of the medium (cameras really can capture things the eye cannot see), is in short supply."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Looks Like the Start of Something

I like when newspapers notice new internet phenomena. I like how their reporting of the phenomena-as-news makes them look just a little bit too earnest, just a little bit uninformed (especially, I'm sure, to people who have been actively engaged in that phenomena). The alternative, of course, is when they notice it (e.g. blogs) in order to throw up a big wall of resistance—typically futile, but potent at the level of public consciousness. Of course, what we're seeing when we see something like photoblogs emerge into popular newspapers isn't the newspapers noticing for the first time, it's them deciding that the phenomena merits their attention, and by proxy, the attentions of their readers, i.e. when it becomes interesting enough (and what are all the ways *that* is measured? horrific enough, popular enough, outlandish enough, queer enough, dangerous enough...which one applies to blogs and photoblogs?).

My interest in this isn't to mock newspapers (&c.) for their hoariness, it's to say that the appearance of hoariness in respect to certain topics, i.e. their awkwardness (and when do newspapers (&c.) ever look awkward? It's their business to look natural and right and authoritative in almost every situation) seems to me like a sign that here is something to notice, that something is changing in the role played by newspapers in the production of news. Anyway, I stumbled on this today while rooting around:

"Blogs as Photo Albums," NY Times February 27, 2003

It's the first mention of photoblogs in the New York Times newspaper. Photo albums? They're pretty promiscuous, for photo ablums, I'd say.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Viewing "Vanishing Point" by Mauricio Arango

Photo from the launch of the aforeposted Low-fi show. This is "Vanishing Point" by Mauricio Arango (Columbia/U.S.). You can also just see James Coupe's "Difference Engine" (UK) in the background.

Low-fi: new works by international artists using networked media

low-fi (a collective to which I belong) has launched its not-really-eponymous show at Stills in Edinburgh: Low-fi: new works by international artists using networked media. I mention it here because I'm a self-aggrandising egomaniac and also because I think the six artists in the show are in league with photographers who put their photographs online, in at least one interesting way. Viz. all are quite consciously and purposively materialising networks, an act which sort of splits in three: in doing so, they are 1. revealing the pre-existence of those networks, their workings 2. materialising those networks as if for the first time and 3. sitting back and seeing what happens once the network is visible and in action (because, who can predict). Photographers use photographs and cameras and computers and software and stories and links and friends and family and places; the artists in "low-fi" use (in order of the artists, as they are listed below): world maps, newspapers, scrolls + webcams, metaphysical search engines, the most popular and most hunted African animals, coffee trade routes, and live sonic input (plus, in all cases, the internet—our uber-network). Here are the show details:

6 August – 02 October 2005
Open daily 11am – 6pm

Stills, 23 Cockburn St, Edinburgh, EH1 1BP

Mauricio Arango (Colombia/US) www.low-fi.org.uk/vanishingpoint
Cavan Convery (UK) www.low-fi.org.uk/verticalscroll
James Coupe (UK) www.difference-engine.net
Radarboy (South Africa/Japan) www.radarboy.com/zoo
Kate Rich (UK) www.feraltrade.org/courier/
UK Museum of Ordure (UK) www.museum-ordure.org.uk/Audio_Library

Low-fi commissions exist to support the production of new artworks that use networked technologies. Although these artworks thrive on the internet, in this exhibition the artists use sound, projection and other methods to inhabit the physical space of the gallery. They work in tangible, engaging and sensory ways to convey ideas about our relationships with the media, technology and digital and commercial networks.

Among the works, Kate Rich forges new routes of import while Mauricio Arango's map of the world reveals how international news media is creating new cartography. James Coupe's sound installation dispenses wisdom gathered from metaphysical travels on the net, while the UK Museum of Ordure invite you to add to their gradually degrading sound files.
Throughout the exhibition, the works react and grow in response to visitors' input - unroll familiar contemporary technologies as one would ancient scrolls in Cavan Convery's Vertical Scroll and take responsibility for the maintenance of radarboy's Big Five Digital Zoo.

Low-fi is an artist collective focused on net art, mediation and distribution systems. www.low-fi.org.uk

Monday, August 01, 2005

Writing and Loving

There's an irony in the fact that writing requires two processes to happen at once:

1. learning to love what you've written (writing successive versions which are ever more lovable)

and

2. cutting the great bulk of what you've written (much of which you had just come to love).

We could call it tough love. Or simply editing, which seems to demand from one all possible versions of love towards one's own writing (from tender to sado-masochistic to abusive), plus a few of the lesser and more perverse forms.
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