Photography, Vision and Representation

Joel Snyder & Neil Walsh Allen, ‘Photography, Vision, and Representation’, pp.143-169 in:
Critical Inquiry, Vol.2, Autumn 1975.

p.143

Is there anything peculiarly “photographic” about photography – something which sets it apart from all other ways of making pictures?

[…] for most of this century the majority of critics and laymen alike have tended to answer these questions in the same way: that photographs and paintings differ in an important way and require different methods in interpretation precisely because photographs and paintings come into being in different ways.

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Something about Photography Theory

Victor Burgin, ‘Something about Photography Theory’, pp.61-66, in:

Screen, Jan/Feb 84, 25:1

p.61

We’re here to talk about theory. Many people are against it. Theory gets in the way of spontaneity. Theory is a realm of bloodless abstractions which have nothing to do with the cut-and-thrust of practice. For us, however, there is no state of Edenic innocence outside of theories.

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Why Material Visual Practices?

Asko Lehmuskallio and Edgar Gómez Cruz, ‘Why Material Visual Practices?’, pp.1-16, in:

Gómez Cruz, E., Lehmuskallio, A. (Eds.), 2016. Digital photography and everyday life: empirical studies on material visual practices. Routledge, London; New York.

p.1

The way we understand the camera, as part of a technology and as a tool, plays a crucial role in our understanding of photography.

Although a variety of differences can be found, many photo practices tend to continue along well-paved paths.

Of all the features taken can be shared over vast distances, shown on publicly available websites are used for a variety of other purposes, not all engage in the possibilities that digital photography affords. But importantly many do.

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Photo-genic Assemblages: Photography as a connective interface

Edgar Gómez Cruz, ‘Photo-genic Assemblages: Photography as a connective interface’, pp.228-242, in:

Gómez Cruz, E., Lehmuskallio, A. (Eds.), 2016. Digital photography and everyday life: empirical studies on material visual practices. Routledge, London; New York.

p.228

Photography, as we have understood it for more than a century, has radically changed and we are still in the process of those changes becoming stabilised.

The opening point of this chapter is that digital photography is shaping different ‘assemblages of visuality’ (see Wise 2013) from those of its photo-chemical predecessor.

I understand ‘assemblage’ following Latour’s (1990) ideas of a fixed arrangement between technologies, practices and discourses.

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Is the camera an extension of the photographer?

Martin Lister, ‘Is the camera an extension of the photographer?’, pp.267-272, in:

Gómez Cruz, E., Lehmuskallio, A. (Eds.), 2016. Digital photography and everyday life: empirical studies on material visual practices. Routledge, London; New York.

p.267

The act of finding meaning in the photograph is, of course, to engage photography as representation. This, in turn (if it is not to be an innocent reading), inevitably entails a measure of academic discipline and methodology: the semiological scrutiny of images treated as texts, with the aim of revealing or interpreting the meanings included within them.

With regard to photography, this is a developed practice that, over the last 30 years or so, became almost synonymous with photography theory.

Now the ongoing convergence of photography with computing and the rapid development of photography as a networked and computational medium have rendered photography radically more transient, relational, dynamic and polymorphous; we have witnessed a kind of supercharging of what it already was!

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Between Bodies and Machines

Eve Forrest, ‘Between Bodies and Machines: Photographers with Cameras, Photographers on Computers’, pp.105-122, in:

Rubenstein, D., Golding, J., Fisher, A., 2013. On the verge of photography: imaging beyond representation. Article Press, Birmingham, UK.

p.105

This discussion has two aims. The first is to move discourse on photography away from the dominant representational framework that often ignores the doings of the photographer.

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On the Verge of Photography

Daniel Rubinstein & Andy Fisher, ‘Introduction: On the Verge of Photography’, pp.7-14, in: 
Rubenstein, D., Golding, J., Fisher, A., 2013. On the verge of photography: imaging beyond representation. ARTicle Press.
p.8

If this multi-layered reality comprising of bits of matter and bits of information appears homey and familiar it is in part due to the ease with which digital images are so readily translatable between different layers of data, code and matter.

However, it now seems that it is the humble photographic image, in all its hybridized digital forms, that encapsulates the interlacing of physical and algorithmic attributes, aesthetic and political forms, which characterise the age of information capitalism.

Note on Figuration in Past Painting

Gilles Deleuze, ‘Note on Figuration in Past Painting’, pp.8-11, in:

Deleuze, G. 2003. Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation. Translated by Daniel W. Smith (London; New York: Continuum)

p.8

Painting has to extract the Figure from the figurative. But Bacon invokes two developments which seem to indicate that modern painting has a different relation to figuration or illustration than the painting of the past has.

First, photography has taken over the illustrative and documentary role, so that modern painting no longer needs to fulfill this function, which still burdened earlier painters. Second, painting used to be conditioned by certain “religious possibilities” that still gave a pictorial meaning to figuration, whereas modern painting is an atheistic game.

Yet it is by no means certain that these two ideas, taken from Malraux, are adequate. On the one hand, such activities are in competition with each other, and one art would never be content to assume a role abandoned by another.

pp.8-9

The photograph, though instantaneous, has a completely different ambition than representing, illustrating, or narrating.

p.9

On the other hand, the link between the pictorial element and religious sentiment, in past painting, in turn seems poorly defined by the hypothesis of a figurative function that was simply sanctified by faith.

Consider an extreme example: El Greco’s The Burial of the Count ofOrgaz (1586-8). A horizontal divides the painting into two parts: upper and lower, celestial and terrestrial. In the lower half, there is indeed a figuration or narration that represents the burial of the count, although all the coefficients of bodily deformation, and notably elongation, are already at work. But in the upper half, where the count is received by Christ, there is a wild liberation, a total emancipation: the Figures are lifted up and elongated, refined without measure, outside all constraint.

Despite appearances, there is no longer a story to tell; the Figures are relieved of their representative role, and enter directly into relation with an order of celestial sensations.

p.10

Thus we cannot say that it was religious sentiment that sustained figuration in the painting of the past; on the contrary, it made possible a liberation of Figures, the emergence of Figures freed from all figuration.

Nor can we say that the renunciation of figuration was easier for modern painting as a game.

pp.10-11

On the contrary, modern painting is invaded and besieged by photographs and cliches that are already lodged on the canvas before the painter even begins to work.

p.11

In fact, it would be a mistake to think that the painter works on a white and virgin surface. The entire surface is already invested virtually with all kinds of cliches, which the painter will have to break with.

This is exactly what Bacon says when he speaks of the photograph: it is not a figuration of what one sees, it is what modern man sees. It is dangerous not simply because it is figurative, but because it claims to reign over vision, and thus to reign over painting.

Having renounced the religious sentiment, but besieged by the photograph, modern painting finds itself in a situation which, despite appearances, makes it much more difficult to break with the figuration that would seem to be its miserable reserved domain. Abstract painting attests to this difficulty: the extraordinary work of abstract painting was necessary in order to tear modern art away from figuration. But is there not another path, more direct and more sensible?

The Round Area, the Ring

Gilles Deleuze, ‘The Round Area, the Ring’, pp.1-7, in:

Deleuze, G. 2003. Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation. Translated by Daniel W. Smith (London; New York: Continuum)

p.1

A round area often delimits the place where the person – that is to say, the Figure is seated, lying down, doubled over, or in some other position.

In short, the painting is composed like a circus ring, a kind of amphitheater as “place.” It is a very simple technique that consists in isolating the Figure.

p.2

The important point is that they do not consign the Figure to immobility but, on the contrary, render sensible a kind of progression, an exploration of the Figure within the place, or upon itself. It is an operative field.

Not only is the painting an isolated reality, and not only does the triptych have three isolated panels (which above all must not be united in a single frame), but the Figure itself is isolated in the painting by the round area or the parallelepiped.

Why? Bacon often explains that it is to avoid the figurative, illustrative, and narrative character the Figure would necessarily have if it were not isolated.

Painting has neither a model to represent nor a story to narrate. It thus has two possible ways of escaping the figurative: toward pure form, through abstraction; or toward the purely figural, through extraction or isolation

p.3

Isolation is thus the simplest means, necessary though not sufficient, to break with representation, to disrupt narration, to escape illustration, to liberate the Figure: to stick to the fact.

Clearly the problem is more complicated than this. Is there not another type of relationship between Figures, one that would not be narrative, and from which no figuration would follow?

p.4

What is this other type of relationship, a relationship between coupled or distinct Figures? Let us call these new relationships matters of fact, as opposed to intelligible relations (of objects or ideas).

What fills the rest of the painting will be neither a landscape as the correlate of the Figure, nor a ground from which the form will emerge, nor a formless chiaroscuro, a thickness of color on which shadows would play, a texture on which variation would play.

p.5

In fact, the rest of the painting is systematically occupied by large fields [aplats] of bright, uniform, and motionless color. Thin and hard, these fields have a structuring and spatializing function. They are not beneath, behind, or beyond the Figure, but are strictly to the side of it, or rather, all around it, and are thus grasped in a close view, a tactile or “haptic” view, just as the Figure itself is.

If the fields function as a background, they do so by virtue of their strict correlation with the Figures. It is the correlation of two sectors on a single plane, equally close.

p.6

[Bacon] distinguishes three fundamental elements in his painting, which are the material structure, the round contour, and the raised image.

We will see later what the various elements of this system have to do with Egyptian art, Byzantine art, and so forth. But what concerns us here is this absolute proximity, this co-precision, of the field that functions as a ground, and the Figure that functions as a form, on a single plane that is viewed at close range.

It is this system, this coexistence of two immediately adjacent sectors, which encloses space, which constitutes an absolutely closed and revolving space, much more so than if one had proceeded with the somber, the dark, or the indistinct.

This is why there is indeed a certain blurriness in Bacon; there are even two kinds of blurriness, but they both belong to this highly precise system.