Tag Archives: photography

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.

(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.

haiku for visuality

Sometimes while I do reading for classes, I write haiku. I am unsure if this is common practice (most people take notes, I think, but I don’t know if textbook-margin-poetry is rampant or not). Anyway, I am currently reading David duChemin’s Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision, which as far as texts for classes go, is rather like getting to eat dessert for dinner. It’s quite provocative, inspiring, and visually snappy. Here are some haiku I wrote while doing last night’s reading.

#1

Every time a
shutter snaps becomes a chance
to see the world new.

_______

#2

Without visionaries
we have senses but no means to
make them meaningful.

_______

#3

All framing is choice
we must exclude in order
to be inclusive.