Photography Matters Conference: notes to my presentation

Art through science: a methodology

References for conference presentation in Doncaster – 21st May 2016

Images referenced:

Hockney, David, ‘Pearl Blossom Highway’, 1986 and ‘Pembroke studio interior’,1984. Print collages

BJP April 2016 (Weird Science issue)

Barbieri, Olivo BJP December 2012 pages 28-31

Nishino, Sohei Cartographic city dioramas (collages) Berlin, Delhi, Rio. BJP September 2014

Akira Somekawa ‘Housescapes’ BJP May 2012 pp68-69

Lowy, Benjamin Iraq/perspectives series shot from inside a U.S. Army Humvee.

MacLean, John, Two and Two, 2010 (project & book) (Maclean)

Graham, Paul The Present (Graham 2012)

Aden, Menno

Revelations: Experiments in Photography (Burbridge, Hobson et al. 2015)

Quotations and texts referred to

Stier & Ferreira

Ferreira astrophysics prof at Oxford University ‘I found experimental work to be a different way of doing, unlike art or theory, yet, in some ways, much more organic, irrational and intuitive.

Stier ‘It goes back to that evidential idea of photography where we are documenting something, but there’s a before and there’s an after, and somewhere along the line there’s an image that grabs that one moment.

Stier ‘I find it magic, the idea of doing experiments to get somewhere with the in-built possibility of failure. I am interested in the experiment, the idea of work that people do without any clear outcome. This constant loop of doing something, maybe failing and then starting again. That is exactly what we do as artists [my emphasis]. (Ferreira, Stier et al. 2016)

‘[architectural photography]…the craven image, a lifeless piece of flattering deception foisted on an unsuspecting public by an unholy alliance of architect, photographer and art editor’ (Elwall 1991 quoting Tom Picton, p 63)

Reference to Tom Gunning’s ongoing dialogue with the ‘truth claim’ of photography:

To represent “truth”, it must resemble the object it represents, which is not an inevitable characteristic of an index. (Gunning 2004)

”…photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished, there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again,” (Bourdieu 1996, p 136, paraphrasing Henri Cartier-Bresson)

‘…in order to catch another layer of reality and not to render the real idealistic.’ (Meireis 2012).

“Concepts of stillness, movement and time were articulated in a manner in which those differences could be both identified and maintained. It seemed to us that this implicit understanding was in need of re-evaluation. The primary reason why such a re-evaluation was necessary – and perhaps even made possible – is undoubtedly the impact of new image technologies. Technological developments and the emergence of the digital interface have seen the progressive erosion of the boundaries between the still and moving image.” (Green and Lowry 2006, p 7)

‘Let us reflect for a moment on this “present” which alone is considered to have existence. What precisely is the present? If it is a mathematical instant, it could be to time what the mathematical point is in the line – it is clear that such an instant is a pure abstraction, as aspect of the mind; it cannot have real existence. You could never create time out of such instants any more than you could make a line out of mathematical points. Even if it does exist, how could there be an instant anterior to it? The two instants could not be separated by an interval of time since, by hypothesis, you reduce time to a juxtaposition of instants.’ (Bergson, Mullarkey et al. 2001, p 261)

So, what is it we are discussing here – how do we describe the nature of this photographic creativity? My modest skills are insufficient for such things, but let me make an opening offer: perhaps we can agree that through force of vision these artists strive to pierce the opaque threshold of the now, to express something of the thus and so of life at the point they recognised it. They struggle through photography to define these moments and bring them forward in time to us, to the here and now, so that with the clarity of hindsight, we may glimpse something of what it was they perceived. Perhaps here we have stumbled upon a partial, but nonetheless astonishing description of the creative act at the heart of serious photography: nothing less than the measuring and folding of the cloth of time itself. (Graham 2010)

This echoes Deleuze’s conceptions of experiential time where the experiential world is folded (Deleuze 1988a,p 96), based in part on “Bergsonian ideas of memory as a kind of sensation of time” (Sutton and Martin-Jones 2008, p 108).

photographer’s peculiar and truly formative effort to represent significant aspects of physical reality without trying to over­whelm that reality—so that the raw material focused upon is both left intact and made transparent. (Kracauer 1965, p 23)

Kracauer’s ‘flow of life’ referring to cinema’s ability, over stills, to capture the essence of life. “…films tend to capture physical existence in its endlessness. Accordingly, one may also say that they have an affinity, evidently denied to photography, for the continuum of life or the “flow of life,” which of course is identical with open-ended life. The concept “flow of life,” then, covers the stream of material situations and happen­ings with all that they intimate…” (Kracauer 1965, p 71)

“What appears to him [Sergei Eisenstein] are not so much sharp-contoured individuals engaged in this or that definable pursuit as loose throngs of sketchy, completely indeterminate figures. Each has a story, yet the story is not given. Instead, an incessant flow of possibilities and near-intangible meanings appears.” (Kracauer 1965, p 72)

“…an experience of a slice of time in the life of a building” (Elwall 2004a, p 26, quoting John Donat)

Marta Braun Picturing time: the work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) (Braun and Marey 1992)

Bergson, H., et al. (2001). Key writings. New York, Continuum.

Bourdieu, P. (1996). Photography: a middle-brow art. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Braun, M. and E.-J. Marey (1992). Picturing time : the work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904). Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Burbridge, B., et al. (2015). Revelations. London, Mack Books & Media Space.

Elwall, R. (1991). The Specialist Eye. Site work: architecture in photography since early modernism. M. Caiger-Smith and D. Chandler. London, Photographers’ Gallery.

Elwall, R. (2004a). Building with Light: The International History of Architectural Photography London, Merrell.

Ferreira, P., et al. (2016). “Trial and Error.” BJP(7846): 54-66.

Graham, P. (2010) The Unreasonable Apple.

Graham, P. (2012). The Present, MACK.

Green, D. and J. Lowry (2006). Stillness and time: photography and the moving image. Brighton, Photoworks.

Gunning, T. (2004). “What’s the Point of an Index? Or, Faking Photographs.” NORDICOM Review 5(1-2): 39-49.

Kracauer, S. (1965). Theory of film: The redemption of physical reality. New York, Oxford University Press.

Maclean, J. Retrieved 19/05/2016, from

Meireis, S. (2012). On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time. Still Architecture. Cambridge, UK.

Sutton, D. and D. Martin-Jones (2008). Deleuze reframed: a guide for the arts student. London, I. B. Tauris.


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