Category Archives: Photography

videos from the vault

I’ve been doing some management of my digital assets, and came across two videos I made last spring while abroad in Europe on the CAMS New Media Roadtrip, which never made their way to the internet — but here they are now for your viewing pleasure!  Proof positive of what treasures a little cleaning (virtual or otherwise) can uncover.

From Berlin:

From Copenhagen:

telephone feat. gps

After several years of utter bliss with my Sanyo Katana, I was recently forced to recognize its growing ghetto-ness and make the plunge: upgrading to a smartphone. Consequently, I am now the proud owner of a Samsung Transform with Android technology. (And sadly, no, I am not getting any kickbacks from anyone for these opening lines of blog post. Lovely as it might be to actually make a little money this summer.)

Aside from transforming (!) the way that I communicate via text message, the acquisition of a smartphone presents interesting opportunities and ethical questions to the developing psychogeographer that I am. Many of the coolest things that are happening in (what I am dubbing, for lack of a better term) “organized psychogeography” rely on online integration with mobile technology, such as Tim Clark’s Ice Cream Island at Figment NYC or any number of urban games and reimaginings that involved QR codes and the ability to link an individual in the real world to an online network or augmented reality.

In this overwhelmingly digital age, we tend to assume that everyone is pretty much internet capable, all the time, at least in the Western world. But what about people who can’t afford to upgrade to this new incarnation of the teched-out cellular device? Before I got my own smartphone, I had been ruminating for some time on my own exclusion from large sections of the psychogeographic community and playground, and had some moderately grand designs on creating some psychogeographic trek/art piece that addressed what I see as a modern tendency indicative of underlying issues of privilege and socioeconomic disparity. I may still craft such a piece, but part of me feels that it would lose its impact in light of the fact that I now possess Android capability, wherever I should wander.

More broadly, this raises the question: should the elevation of life by the power of art be restricted based on means or access to technology? In the best of worlds, of course not. On the one hand, not having a smartphone could be comparable to simply not living in New York, if you want access to The Met, but it still presents an interesting opportunity to consider the disparities in wealth and access to art that do, undoubtedly, exist. Also, this isn’t just a psychogeographic issue: consider the $20 entrance fee at the MoMA. (Consider it, artists, and then check out how to culture jamufacture your own pass.)

However. Now that I am Android equipped, there are a lot of cool directions in which I can (and am already beginning to) expand my own practice of psychogeography. Honestly, the main reason that I begged my father for an upgrade was that it was much cheaper and more multi-functional than purchasing the independent GPS tracker that I had been dreaming of as a means to track my progress through the strange and mysterious urban jungle of the Big Apple. Thus, I have initiated myself into the branch of the field that Tim Clark’s professor has dubbed ‘obsessive psychogeography’ (and realizing that I had already been doing this by hand with distances, routes, and times for cycling adventures since the impressionable age of 14 or so). Here is one of my tracked treks as yet, using the opensource technology for Android, MyTracks, exported very simplistically to GoogleMaps (I will do fancier, more artistically abstract things with raw GPS data once I get the hang of this and develop some conceptual frameworks):

chasing light, instead of ice cream trucks

One other worry that I had about getting a Smartphone was that the navigation apps would put an end to my frequent practices of finding myself truly lost – a skill at which I am shockingly adept, given my chosen path in life, although it is perhaps an indication that I will at times diverge, perhaps inadvertently, but ever with the sense of greatest adventure, from that path. Or maybe it’s just that becoming a full-time psychogeographer allows me to legitimize for inherent inability to navigate by the shortest distance from A to B without serious preparation and/or practice.

My sudden discovery that I was deep into Queens for the first time yesterday afternoon was proof that this is not an issue: I can carry a smartphone, and still lose myself. I was attempting to bike to the Upper West Side to do some filming for my documentary on Tick Out of Time, and having made the trip twice before, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could do it now without using the directional assistance of my Samsung. It did prove interesting, in all the best psychogeographic ways. Knowing I had to head vaguely northwest to cross the Pulaski Bridge and then the Queensboro into Manhattan, I set out in that general direction. Unlike the Ritter Sport gridding of The Island, North Brooklyn and Queens (I have yet to discover quite where one becomes the other) comprise a whole different candy bar. I have never been to Queens proper, and somewhere around 51st ave, I turned a corner to be confront be a sea of graves, spreading out beyond the horizon it seemed: the Mount Zion Cemetery.

Over 210,000 departed Jewish souls.

And then, returning, I crossed two bridges over an unexpected tributary of the East River, the first a great green steal rattler that, I noticed only after having traversed it, exhorted cyclists to “dismount and walk across”. This thrust me into the winding, wheel-rattling back roads of an industrial park that seemed to capture my first impression of Queens: towering factorial edifices and trucks scuttling between unreal cardboard blow-ups of Honest Tea and Vitamin Water.

At some point I re-encountered Bushwick Avenue, by pure luck and general reorientation of the self/cycle combo in relation to the river, which I followed home, musing on my first, sweaty encounter with Queens. My thoughts followed my pedaling feet down a consideration of the way that psychogeographing via bicycle transforms the practice. It’s much less tempting, and much more of a hassle, to pause and photograph at such apace, at least in the way that I have become accustomed to making pictures. When I take out my Nikon, I tend to be deliberate, focusing on enigmatic bits of humanistic evidence or pieces of light and angles of buildings that strike me. But, if I learned anything at all from watching Art School Confidential last week, I am awfully young to be having my own style — especially in how I manifest my psychogeographs. I may start taking pictures with my phone, or taking continuous video, or consider means of attaching cameras to my body (ala the Looxcie, which I may get the chance to ogle this evening!), or even going, on occasion, to the Will Self-ian extreme of pure literary presentation (more thoughts on that illustrious fellow to follow in due course, I assure you). Of course, the medium of translating any performance piece, if we are considering psychogeography to be as such (and I think it is, but maybe only sometimes), must depend on the nature of that piece. So ‘psyclogeography’, if you will pardon my coinage of a new and rather excruciatingly punning term, may call for a unique brand of recording and understanding, just as it must influence the nature of the psychological and physical journeys that it enables. Either way, it showed me Queens as I had never (quite literally) seen it before.

My trusty two-wheeled psychogeographic steed.

playing catch up!

It’s been a while since my last post, I know.  And a lot — I mean a LOT — has happened in the interim.  My parents visited, my girlfriend (whoa, my non-heteronormativity is revealed at last!) visited, her mom and sister visited…there was much visiting and rejoicing and theatre and good food to be had by all, for about two glorious weeks.  In that span of time, I also worked my first film festival and saw a fantastic documentary about Bill Cunningham, I experienced an astounding amount of great theatre for pretty decent prices and apparently survived the hell that is Times Square, I enjoyed some Super 8 experimental film by Rachel Rahme at Microscope Gallery in Bushwick (a block from my house, literally), I lost my internet but gained a smart phone, and I turned 21 in style after seeing the opening night preview of Hair at the St. James theatre and watching the sun rise from the window of Yaffa Cafe in St. Mark’s Place.  A great deal of visual culture that I will re-muse on when I have more ample opportunity. 🙂

But now the visitors have all gone home, and I am back to the daily grind of interning at Anthology and the other things that I like to do with my time here in the cultural capital of my rapidly expanding world.  And what, you might wonder, do I do in my ‘spare’ time?  When I’m not traipsing around lower Manhattan picking up Brakhage 35 mm films at the Filmmaker’s Co-op or delivering new Anthology Film Archive calendars to various coffee shops and bookstores, I’ve been spending a number of hours hanging out with the awesome kids who are Mother’s Favorite Pictures.  We are making a (shockingly low-budget, please donate here!) feature film this summer, and I have been honorably tasked with the role of official meta-videographer/documentarian/assistant rush-editor/extra-who-drunkenly-throws-a-Solo-cup, which means I get to be around the set of Tick Out of Time pretty much allthe time, gathering footage for my meta-movie (AKA making-of feature).  After swearing that I didn’t want to do production, I am plunging into in the guise of being a documentary filmmaker…and I’m kind of loving it.

Joey shows Dan, one of our lead actors, our IndieGoGo page; Dan is duly impressed.

Today was our first day of rehearsals with the three main actors, and their utter commitment to the project is incredibly inspiring.  They spent a lot of time discussing the back stories of their characters, read through the whole screen play, and rehearsed one of the opening scenes a number of times.  The attention to their craft was really exciting to have the chance to capture on film — I’m fully looking forward to more amazing shoots in the weeks to come.

In the mean time, you can check out what we’re doing on Facebook and IndieGoGo — we’re making a movie, and a meta-movie, kids.  Watch out!

transitory thoughts

So…what was that?

After almost three months abroad, I am about to return to U.S. soil this afternoon.  Taking time to reflect is fairly unavoidable.

I began this blog in Spain; it has followed me from Barcelona to Switzerland, France, Germany, Denmark — and now both The Semioptician and I are returning home, as it were.  It seems a little strange to think of a blog as having a corporeal ability to return to a physical home, but so many of the ideas and curiosities that underlie this project were sparked on the Carleton campus, where I will be arriving roughly 12 hours from now, give or take some time difference.  So if this blog has any home, it may be Carleton.

But of course, part of the beauty of the internet is its lack of fixity — some may argue for it as a ‘non-place’, but there must be a point at which the growing proliferance of non-places in the world simply results in a newer sense of place, such as an online place that is hypertextual and expansive and yes, largely virtual.  But the thoughts in these virtual statements are no different than any thoughts that I might set to physical paper with a real-life pen.

‘Real life’.  An interesting concept.  I was recently discussing (via the ‘virtual’ means of Facebook chat, no less) this established dichotomy between the lives of college students and this nebulous outer world of adults and jobs which is somehow more ‘real’.  Obviously there are inherent contradictions in asserting that any aspect of life is more real than any other, but this invites all kinds of complications about how one perceives ‘reality’ and whether we can ever be certain about our perceptions of it, and other things that keep angsty pseudo-philosophers like myself lying awake late at night.  But in returning to the ‘real world’, as I will undoubtedly slip up and term it in the next few days, after these three months of such foreign and varied and exhilarating experiences in Europe, this is something I am thinking about, in spite of logical fallacies (which I have a habit of pushing past in many of my lines of reason).  My return to the ‘real world’, where that means America and the life I knew before I left in March, corresponds with a departure from ‘real life’, that is, back into the Carleton Bubble, as we term the insulated space in which we academiate, incubated.  Ironic?  Perhaps.  Totally thrilling and daunting?  Yes, very much so.

But am I going back to the same life?  The goal of study abroad, we are so often told, is to change us.  Through academics and language, through experience, through culture shock, through the opening of doors we didn’t know were there.  My study abroad has been more than dynamic, all told.  It has certainly changed my trajectory in the immediate and possibly long-term future.  I have new scars, literal and metaphorical.

"Soft Self-Portrait with Implied Scarring."

At the risk of sounding cliched, my way of looking at the world has changed — quite literally.  As a student of visual culture, I have come in contact with a dizzying array of art and artists (and a bit of academics and academia) over these months.  You know how so many authors tell young aspiring writers to simply read (and read and read some more)?  I think this applies more broadly to the arts (and life) in general, and so much exposure to a billion new ways of visualizing meaning and emotion and experience cannot help but sensitize me to what I as an artist and theorist can and ought and want to be doing.

And on a completely practical level, I have put in the long hours of work that are the foundation of being a photographer — shooting every day, over 10,000 pictures later, I have failed enough to begin to find a style that speaks to me.  There may even be a couple hundred photos among those thousands and thousands that are actually good, and of those couple hundred, several dozen GREAT photographs.  In practice, photography is chance married to concept, and an understanding of why you are shooting.

Conclusions: I really dig concept art.  I still dig modern and contemporary art (already knew that, but good to get some confirmation).  I will probably not ever been in the mainstream film industry in a productive capacity.  I will never be a commercial photographer, but I have learned to love photographs for themselves and, I think, understand a bit the many things they can do and mean.  I may be an experimental filmmaker.  I will live in New York City for at least 3 months of my life.  And I really need to sit down and read, completely, everything that Jacques Derrida has ever written.

I am not the same person who flew out of MSP almost three months ago; life has been happening, in various shades of reality.  And life is about to continue to happen, for all of the new incarnations of my Self encountering all of the visual worlds there are to see.

weekly update (like snl, but on thursdays)

Ten days have elapsed since my last blog post, but they have been far from uneventful.  In the course of a rather ambitious psychogeographic expedition, I had the opportunity to became intimately acquainted with both the former sites of the Berlin Wall and the German health care system.  I saw Robert Beavers and P. Adams Sitney go head-t0-head, as it were, at the Arsenal Cinema screening of four of Beavers’ films, in a slightly tense but fascinating juxtaposition of the critic and the artist, and had the immense pleasure of seeing the entire first reel of Early Monthly Segments for the second time in the space of a few days — there is truly something to be said for repeated viewing, especially when it comes to avant-garde cinema.

The following day, I returned to Robert and Ute’s to spend a wonderful, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable several hours discussing film, Japan, and life, watching Ute’s latest cut of her film Young Pines (working title), cooking a delicious dinner of salad, potatoes, white wine, and white asparagus (I’ve never had it in the states…so good!!).  I often feel that as a student, there is a sort of impenetrable veil between my status as a student and the ‘real world’ of working artists and publishing scholars and people who are not in a strange transitionary phase between child and adulthood that we call college.  But spending that evening with Robert and Ute felt like that wall was shattering (how appropriate, in Berlin…) — being engaged as, if not a peer exactly, at least a fellow member of this small but dedicated community of people who care about experimental cinema and unique critical and aesthetic ways of approaching the world, as an initiate into part of the world of artists and thinkers that I intend to live my life among.

Since my last entry, I have also survived a psychogeographical experiment in wakefulness lasting 41 hours and producing several pages of automatic text and roughly 700 similarly ‘automatic’ photographs, I have survived the trip to Copenhagen (where we are now comfortably situated for the remaining week of our European adventure), I have survived The Rapture (although not without the intriguing appearance of bleeding holes in both of my palms…), and I have survived my very first real interview, with John Mhiripiri, the director of Anthology Film Archiveswhere I will be working as an intern this summer!

All this is to say, it’s been quite the week or so, on top which is of course the release of the newest Lady Gaga album, Born This Way, which I have listened to approximately 37 times already, in its entirety, and follows nicely on the iPodic heels of the audiobook I just finished last Wednesday, Tina Fey’s Bossypants (both of which are, as aural texts, seminal to the current debates that compromise quasi-4th-wave feminism, and on which I would love to expound in a later post…).  Clearly, my brain is swimming in critical and artistic commentaries and revelations and epiphanies, some of which will hopefully be shared on this forum for thought, but in the mean time, I am also swimming in media projects, the least of which is a massive-ish personal book of photography, theory, and musings from these ten weeks in Europe, which I am theming around the word and concept ‘traces’ (nod here to Derrida, of course).  It will, handily enough, have an online incarnation, so look forward to that in the near future (this is NOT an empty promise — I’m working with a deadline!!), but in the mean time, forgive me in advance for another probable lapse in blogging, and certainly let me know which of the many fascinating recent events of my visually cultured experiences you want to hear about at greater length!

Now to charrette — as John Schott always says, ‘ANDIAMO!’

introduction to psychogeography

Today was my first official psychogeographic walk.

After an individual meeting with John Schott this morning, in which he fully endorsed my new fascination (and me as a person, so thank you, Professore…) then challenged me to create something for Conflux next fall, I set out from Schonhauser Allee at 12:20 pm.  I headed in the vague direction of 188 Brunnenstrasse, where we were supposed to meet at 14:00 at the Neu School for Fotographie to hear a talk by painter-photographer-professor Thomas Anschütz.

The practice of psychogeography, or at least Situationist-inspired conceptions of it, seems to me so far to be defined by the establishment of rules (although they may really be more like guidelines, to paraphrase a great pirate of our cinematic age).  Working from or within restrictions has always been a way of inspiring creativity, whether as necessity giving birth to invention or Lars von Trier reinvigorating Jorgen Leth with The Five Obstructions (incidentally, I highly recommend this film).  So I began by outlining these rules (or guidelines) for myself.

1. I must always be moving in the direction of my destination.

2. I can only walk if am also reading from the Introduction to Merlin Coverley’s Psychogeography as I move.

3. Every time I reach and cross a threshold, such as a gate or archway or either end of a bridge, cross an intersection, or turn, I must stop and write whatever word I have just read on the ground with sidewalk chalk.

4. Every time I write a word with chalk, I must photograph it from above.

The goals of this inaugural walk were many: to create an urban poem through chance that could be reassembled visually and would remain transcribed onto the streets for anyone who wished to discover it, to experiment with re-writing the city by physically marking it, to approach written theory in a non-traditional and almost automatic way, to distract my sense of sight from navigation to reading and therefore force myself to rely on my other perceptions to avoid collisions or sense when to stop, to experiment with recording my walks photographically, to inhabit the role of performer as well as observer and theorist of the urban environment.  (Among many other unarticulated or subconscious goals, I am certain.)

So — was I successful?  Although I feel this question cannot be answered negatively when one is engaging in a practice that creates a framework with the ultimate goal of simply seeing what happens, I would say yes, resoundingly so.  Practically speaking, on this first walk, I was able to maintain my guidelines and work creatively within them, and I did feel like my relationship with the city, and my movement through it, was very much transformed by the performance.  Elements of chance — a flower seller stopping to observe me, a delivery truck parking over one of my words before I could photograph it, the brief moment in which I was completely uncertain where I was in relation to my necessary destination — all of these things are part of what made it enlightening and worthwhile.  I am still debating about how best to capture (or whether one should capture) the psychogeographic drift, but the photographic trace (which will be very shortly forthcoming!!) of the walk will itself will prove interesting and poetic and meaningful because it is a street poem that is what photography is to painting — full of the beauties of chance and serendipitous meaning.

this time, it’s personal

One of our major projects in Barcelona was an exploration of rephotography (you can read my brilliant blog post about our first session if you like), but the focus in our work with Arqueologia del Punt de Vista was largely on the historicity and ideas of collective memory and consciousness, as well as the self-reflexivity, of the concept and practice (I’m serious about the self-reflexive stuff — Natasha and Ricard went crazy over pictures of pictures that include the photographer themselves).  So most of our work took the form of rephotographing historical (early 20th century) shots of Placa Catalunya, Parc de la Ciutadella, Hospital de Santa Creu, and so forth.  While this was interesting, from a theoretical perspective, and from a technical perspective, it was good practice with Photoshop and establishing of vantage points, I felt I was left with a question: what about meaning?  I think in its most potent forms, rephotography is an act, a performative process that is as much itself the artwork as is the finished photograph (or, most likely, photo-composite).  And the meaning of this repetitive act, in many cases, and certainly in the workshop we just concluded, is tied to place.

“Place” — a pregnant term, the title of a book (by Tim Cresswell) that I have recently finished as part of the reading for my study abroad program, an idea that has a sense and is, according to most (modern) theorists, differentiated from “space”.  Place has a subjective meaning, place can be personal, place can be non-, place can be imaginary, place can be virtual.  The problem with rephotographing these spaces, I will call them, in Barcelona, is that their historicity is almost completely divorced from our sense of them as places — as transient international students inhabiting the city itself for only a scant month, our sense of place that gives meaning to Placa Catalunya is very much a nowness, of pigeons and Spanish children and the personal ballets we enact through it on our way from school at IES to the La Rambla Carrefore where we could buy a liter of shockingly decent boxed wine for only 55 eurocents.

My first attempt at rephotography ala Photoshop.

Maybe the very act (which I have declared as so very important) of rephotographing these historical vantage points on places we have visited in the present is a creation of a more historically-connected sense of place.  But to be honest, I know nothing about the author of the image I rephotographed for my personal project, only that it where it was taken and roughly what time of day, from the angle of the light and the projection of the shadows.  The only historical connection that the photograph creates for me is a sense of aesthetic or architectural alteration.  Admittedly, I could perhaps have sought out more information about the photograph’s production myself, but part of my point is that while it was interesting, it lacks much matter for me in this particular case of being put into practice.

So, when we approach rephotography as an act, it begs personal meaning for the performer — whether that meaning is in the intended production of art or affect on others, or resides firmly in the psychology of the performer-artist.  Often, deeply personal acts, when made public (through exhibition, through published accounts, through the perennial ‘based-on-a-true-story’…) can themselves be powerful art pieces (case-in-point: the photography of Nan Goldin).  But like photography, rephotography need not always be gratuitously artistic — photography and rephotography can encompass similarly multiplicities of uses and therefore meanings.

Rephotography, says Natasha Christia, is a “returning to the scene of the crime”.  So, knowing that I would soon be bidding farewell to Barcelona, I found myself compelled to do exactly this — to engage in personal rephotography.  There are two scenes, and two crimes, that I needed to revisit, to deal with photographically, and somehow I felt that I could not leave the city without retracing these steps.  One was a space of vicitmization, the other of perpetration.  Spaces that were converted into places through occurrences and the memories that I now carry with me, spaces made personal, spaces appropriated now, digitally and visually and indelibly, through the act of taking a photograph.  While I did not engage in rephotography in its strictest sense of taking a specific photograph that has already been taken, the theoretical sense was the same, in that I was using photography to recreate perspective, placing myself in exact locations I had been in with the exact vantage points, and re-enacting my own (recently) historical experience of seeing.

The park where I was targeted, 4 weeks later.

The first place I rephotographed was an area of the Gothic Quarter where I had settled on the Sunday before school officially began, in order to read a book on mapping.  To make a long story short, I was robbed, and chased the thief through alleyways and cobbled sidestreets until I finally shamed him into returning my entire backpack in front of a square-full of lunching Barcelonans.  I was wary of this whole area of the city for several weeks to follow, the memory of my pounding heart and footsteps filling my mind and creating almost single-handedly my ‘sense of place’.

Another view of the park.

So I returned, four weeks later – I sat in the same spot on the bench where I had been conned into looking away from my bag for two seconds too long, and rephotographed the view of the park that I been before me that afternoon.  I walked the streets through which I had dashed in pursuit of my pickpocket, taking a photograph every few feet, recreating my own perspective.  I also took some pictures of vantage points I had never had that day, but which were rephotographic in their intent of reinterpreting that place, and how it had changed in meaning, for me — it was strangely cathartic, but I still felt a lingering unease as I walked through that brightly lit park, past ping-pong players and children set in motion on swing sets.

Presumably, the vantage point of my attempted pickpockets.

My vantage point prior to the robbery, rephotographed.

The square where I had finally received my bag was strangely empty.  What is interesting about the rephotographs I produced is that the ‘originals’ are in my own mind, and they do not reveal a change so much as the act of returning, the act of pressing the button to release the shutter, reveals the change – in me, in my conception of place, in my conception of my own experience, in my relationship with the city of Barcelona as a greater incarnation of place that inherently includes this tighter-cropped circle of experience.

A photographic walk through the beginning of my pursuit of the pickpocket and my pack:

Returning to the scene of the crime can be dangerous, but I also felt compelled to bring my camera back to the site of my own mild misdemeanor.  Barcelona is known for its graffiti (a culture intimately connected with its status as the skateboarding capitol of Europe and the brightness of its modernist architecture and art nouveau designs).  Now, thanks to a few friends (who shall of course remain nameless) and I, that body of work of street art is a little richer.  We headed out from our residence at 1 am dressed in hoodies and dark jeans and armed with two cans of spray paint, with the intention of ‘making spaces into places’ by quite literally inscribing our mark on them.  Ironically, given that we are here as digital photography students, not a single one of us was carrying any device with which to digitally record our exploits.

So I went back with my DSLR, the next afternoon, in order to save my own handiwork for posterity, or something like it.  Perhaps as proof that we had done what we had – a sort of preservation for bragging rights.  Inherent in all rephotography is a temporal shift — broadly defined, this can be anywhere from a few seconds to centuries.  The interesting thing about this case of ‘rephotography’ was the shift in time of day — seeing our graffiti in the light of 16:00 is altogether different from seeing it at the witching hour, freshly painted.  Further, despite the passage of less than 24 hours between its execution and my rephotographic pilgrimage, one section of it had already been painted over!  I rephotographed this as well, as a testament to its short-lived nature, a reflection on the surprisingly strict sanctions that the Barcelona municipality has established with regard to street art.  This sort of conspicuous, or meaningful, absence is itself an entire subcategory of rephotography.

One of my tags.

I didn’t take these pictures with an end goal of art (although I always strive for some sort of aesthetic whenever I release the shutter) — perhaps they are art because they have a sort of process-based meaning that has resulted in some sort of aesthetic.  I don’t have any intention of exhibiting them, except in order to illustrate this discourse on photographic practice.  But even if this is only the loosest form of rephotography, it is a prime example of how meaningful the photographic act can be as just that — an action that carries meaning through its being carried out.

(layers upon) layers upon layers

New Post on Grid-City photography!

In order to add yet another layer — I’m meta-posting here about another post of mine elsewhere, namely my latest contribution to my current New Media Seminar’s blog.  If you like photography, or you like meta, or you like the way I sometimes put words of the English language in a certain order, check it out here!

including photography!

Normally when I’m at Carleton, seeing the campus announcements Digest arrive in my mailbox produces a groan, or at least a sigh of resignation.  This is because the Digest always arrives around 2 am (standard central time), so being awake for the moment of its digital transmission is a clear indicator that I should actually be in bed.  Unfortunately, I was in the habit of experiencing this early-morning herald way too often last term.

But now that I am living in Barcelona, where everything happens seven hours in the future (and I do of course still check my Carleton email), seeing the campus announcements arrive is a good thing – it means I’m awake and functioning at a reasonable enough hour to take the time to caffeinate before catching the metro to class near Placa Catalunya.  (That being said, the fact that I am checking my email first thing in the morning/often enough to see this particular missive arrive is itself a rather interesting reflection of the centrality of the digital, technology, and of course the internet, to life in the modern Western world – a reliance that was made all too clear to me this morning when I arrived at class and discovered I had forgotten my laptop and felt utterly cut-off in both a social and academic sense…)

But what struck me about this issue of the campus announcements was not so much the way in which how my temporal shift influences my interpretation of how I receive them, but rather a minor semantic choice in one of the announcements itself:

“Send submissions of poetry, art (including photography), short stories, plays…”

I have no intention, as some photographers might, of taking any offense at the Manuscript staff for the implication that photography is in fact not art (as the need to specifically include it under this category suggests), but this minor detail reflects a major historical debate that I find fascinating, and this is an excellent excuse to revive it.

The question: IS PHOTOGRAPHY ART?  Back when Pictorialists like Rejlander and Robinson were exploring the newness of the medium in a way that would not forget the art of painting, with photo-composites and darkroom manipulations, photography was considered as something of a ‘hand-maiden to the arts’, to quote Rejlander.  The struggle to legitimize the practice in the face of accusations about its mere mechanical nature has shaped much of the history of photography since then, with movement away from such blatant manipulation in the late 19th century now coming full circle in the era of Photoshop, such that some current branches of photography are, to my mind, a sort of Neo-Pictorialism, although with differing goals than the original Pictorialists.  Modernism and Post-Modernism have removed the driving need for authenticity, or for strict adherence to a definition of art that is classically painterly or sculpturely – opening up expansively the extent to which photography falls into the classification of ‘art’.

The Two Ways of Life, Rejlander's most famous and controversial photograph, which is actually a composite of seven different images.

In trying to say whether or not photography, as a massive and polysemous practice, is art, we forget about the multiplicities of meanings and uses it can have.  Commerical sports photography is not Paul Strand is not Cindy Sherman is not the contents my most recent Facebook album.  Perhaps not all photography is art, and of course not all art in photography, but if art is that which is expressive and interpretable (even if that expression and interpretation is located, meaning-wise, in the viewer-interpreter), then by all means a photograph can be a work of art.

The underlying question, then, is what is art?  I want to claim that photography is not not art, but part of me has a hard time saying that most of the pictures on Facebook fall into the category.  I have further reservations about my own reservations, because I sense the cultural and societal construction of the meaning I attach to this word ‘art’ – or rather, an entire shifting discourse that surrounds it.  A discourse structure by the gallery, the art museum, the whole world of ‘art’ which privileges some things over others – high art over low, or when we wish to be provocative or transgressive, sometimes low art over high.  Perhaps in broadening a definition of art, we need to privilege the very fact that art cannot be simply segregated into low or high – there is a continuum, and the point along that continuum where any given practice or piece of art (including photography) falls is steeped in its own socialization and subjectivity.

picturing pictures: a rephoto intro

This post appeared originally on the CAMS New Media Roadtrip blog, which you can access here!

If you listen to much Jack Johnson, you may be familiar with his classic chorus “pictures of people taking pictures of people…” and so on – as irreverent and poppy as he may be, he’s got something right.  Photography is a very self-reflexive medium, and perhaps one of the newest and most exciting trends right now is the field of Rephotography.

A rephotograph by Sergey Larenkov.

On Monday evening, we (the Carleton New Media seminar students and the great John Schott) had the pleasure of attending a presentation on rephotography by Arqueologia del Punt de Vista, a research and photography collective working here in Barcelona.  It is the first in a series of five sessions we will be conducting with them as a joint academic and artistic endeavor that brings together a variety of viewpoints, especially contrasting their perspectives as local photographers with ours as newly arrived cinema and media studies majors (and budding photographers, of course!).

Arqueologia del Punt de Vista, from L to R: Isidre Santacreu, Ricard Martinez, and Natasha Christia.

Arqueologia del Punt de Vista is a 4-member non-profit organization based here in Spain whose primary focus is conducting research related to visual elements of the past – exploring connections between history and collective memory, how Spain conceived and conceives of the Franco regime, and other facets of the rephotographic method.  Three of the group’s four members were with us on Monday: Ricard Martinez, the founder and guiding photographer of the project, Isidre Santacreu, an architect and photographer who spearheads the design of Arqueologia’s public installations of their work, and Natasha Christia, a Greek researcher and archeologist who works extensively with the theory of rephotography.

So what, you may be wondering, is rephotography?  To quote Natasha, it is “a reflexive tune that explores photography’s creation of time”, a creative and critical approach that “allows us to consider the in-between of the photograph”.  Simply put, rephotography is the (performative) act of taking a photograph of something that has already been recorded – usually photographically, but also that which has been mapped, drawn, filmed, and so on.  The basic principle is to record changes, as rephotography is inherently an invitation to comparison, an adding of our gaze to the gaze of other people who have been here before, an interrogation of viewpoint.  Our photographs in turn may be themselves re-photographed, making us part of a chain through time.  Photography, and rephotography, can allow us to position ourselves in respect to past and future.

Ansel Adams’ day at Yapavay Point Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, 2008. Combined record of Ansel Adams’ photographs made over the course of an entire day, Yavapai Point.

The lecture, which Natasha presented with compelling fervor that made even some very complicated theory seem quite intuitive, outlined the history of the movement up till now and some of its most prominent and provocative practitioners, starting with the work of Edward Muybridge and working up to modern approaches by foundational rephotographer Mark Klett (who the Arqueologia team have worked with quite recently).  She discussed how rephotography can be urban, can concern the body, can work specifically with absence, can play with the liminal space between the original and the simulacrum, with a wealth of examples among contemporary and recent photographers’ works.

What Arqueologia del Punt de Vista has been doing in Barcelona over the last several years has been a series of installations in the city itself, spurred by a desire to create a direct connection between urban space/place and memory, memory and collective history.  Some of their works have included Repressio i Resistencia, Runa, Autoretrat, and most recently, Working Across Time (with Mark Klett).

An earlier verison of the Centelles Walk produced this rephotograph.

Monday’s meeting with Arqueologia del Punt de Vista was just the beginning of series of very exciting events that we will be engaging in during the remainder of our time in Barcelona – we will add our creative and critical powers to theirs in a joint project that will add our subjective point of view to the perpetual chain of time.  Starting on Saturday, we will have a rephotography workshop with the team, working from  old photographs and seeking out the precise vantage points from which they were taken, working with drawings and perception of space.  We can also look forward to two visits with the team (one to the Catalan Archives and one to the Library of Catalunya) that will allow us to explore the evolving vision of Barcelona through maps and aerial views, piecing together both historical perspectives and our own perspectives as newcomers to the city.  Most exciting, perhaps, is the walk we have planned with Ricard, which will see us actually tracing the historic July 19, 1936 walk of the photographer Augusti Centelles (the first day of the Spanish Civil War) through the careful reconstructing of negatives.  The walk will be both an experiment in rephotography and an exploration of history and place and image – about how we know what is happening around us, and how to interpret the world through photos.

Perhaps, as Isidre warned, it is true that “photographs are pre-mental; you will end up doing a photo-Barcelona that reflects the photo-Barcelona you have in mind” – but now that we are delving into rephotography, it seems that the tools for discovering a “true” Barcelona – even if that truth reflects, inevitably, our own subjective viewpoints – are at our fingertips.