This post is another background one for Assignment 2. I first came across the concept of materiality in photography a couple of years ago, while watching Rachel Smith’s (2016) OCA symposium lecture on ‘The Materiality of Images: exploring creative practice‘. In essence the materiality of photographs relates to the examination of objects themselves rather than the images for which they provide a framework. These objects hold information and contextualise the image quite apart from the information held within the frame. For example, the images below are of items I own – a family wedding album (1) and a collection of found photographs taken in 1949-50 by someone working in the Andaman Islands at the time of their appropriation by India (2). The physical objects tell stories of their own, even without looking at the images held within.
This is part of a much larger debate about materiality throughout the humanities which is presented in this article, Sanzo, (2018) and which argues that in any subject one needs to consider the subject’s relationship with its environment as much as the subject itself. Smith argues that the physical nature of the photograph includes its surface, the processes involved, it’s history and its current location. While Geoffrey Batchen argues that in order to see what a photo is of, we need to supress our consciousness of what it is, (Batchen, 2000:82-107) and Flusser defines the object as ‘something that stands in our way’ (Flusser, 1983:84), i.e. both felt that the physical object was an irrelevance and merely a vehicle for the subject, a materialist approach embraces the physical part of the photograph and brings the meaning of that into the equation.
There are a host of photographer/artists who are known for their work in this field, including Gerhard Richter’s over-painted images, Wolfgang Tillmans’ exploration of what makes an image in his Paper Drop and Lighter series, various of Thomas Ruff’s series (see this post for more detail), Aliki Braine’s Folded, Barbara Kasten’s Photo Mixed Media and Thomas Demand’s reconstructed images, to name but a few. These photographers work within the physical sphere, using images and objects that exist in reality.
The arrival of digital photography brought a whole new area for exploration of materiality and the image’s relationship with its location, processes, surface and history and some photographers who are interested in this area of study include Joan Fontcuberta, Anastasia Samoyova, Richard Prince, Sabato Visconti and Daisuke Yokuta. Each of these considers a different aspect of the nature of the digital image, using it as a basis for exploring ideas such as replicability, mass media, mapping, and appropriation.
However, one photographer’s work particularly interests me, because it considers how we, as humans living in our versions of reality (see The Matrix (2019) and Baudrillard(1994) ), relate to the digital world, and how that relationship can be expressed. I came across the work of Mark Dorf on the recommendation of a fellow student, Emma, and was immediately wholeheartedly engaged with it. I would like to specifically consider two of his series of work, which I find particularly interesting and which I would like to use as a starting point for my next assignment.
Dorf is interested in our relationship with our digital as well as our physical environment, and how those two environments function together. In Axiom and Simulation (2011), he considers how the subject of a digital image becomes divorced from its real life counterpart through its computer coding, and the subsequent nature of the digital image as something without its original referent, a copy with no definitive source. He makes landscape images and then overlays them with digital interventions, or even removes the original altogether, to encourage the viewer to consider whether what we are seeing is wholly real or entirely constructed. (At the same time, he is also interested in the colour palette of the images, which is something I have explored before in previous modules using similar techniques).
In Parallels (2014), he reflects upon how the internet has come to overlay our interactions with the physical world in a way that functions in real time and make work that expresses his own navigation of a route between the two and his manipulation of them.
So many interesting ideas to take forward in this aspect of photography.
Batchen , G. (2000) ‘Post-Photography’ In Each Wild Idea: Writing Photography History. London: MIT Press. pp. 82-107.
Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation (The Body in Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism). University of Michigan Press.
Flusser, V. (1983) Towards a Philosophy of Photography.[online] At: http://cmuems.com/excap/readings/flusser-towards-a-philosophy-of-photography.pdf. [Accessed 6 March 2019].
Leigh, D. (2019) ‘From red pills to red, white and blue Brexit: how The Matrix shaped our reality’. In: theguardian.com 21.01.19 [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/jan/21/from-red-pills-to-red-white-and-blue-brexit-how-the-matrix-shaped-our-reality [Accessed 6 March 2019].
Lensculture (nd) About Mark Dorf. At: https://www.lensculture.com/mark-dorf [Accessed 6 March 2019].
The Materiality of Images: Rachel Smith lecture (2016) YouTube video, added by Open College of the Arts. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rRzMeAkULc [Accessed 6 March 2019].
Sanzo, K. (2018) ‘New Materialism(s)’ . In: Criticalposthumanism.net/ 25.04.18 [online] At:
http://criticalposthumanism.net/new-materialisms/ [Accessed 6 March 2019].