I find myself shouting at the radio more and more, and this morning I found myself shouting at the gross hypocrisy of Dawn Airey, CEO of the Getty Stock Images, who is in Australia. Getty scrapes public domain images and then re-offers them for use with its own ‘licence’ fee. Using public domain images for commercial gain is not illegal, as Getty will be the first to point out. But Getty goes further, using bots to ‘chase down individuals’ who unwittingly use the public domain images Getty have incorporated into their digital archives. Thus Carol Highsmith, who donated her collection of 18,000 images to the Library of Congress, found herself on the wrong end of a stiff letter from Getty demanding $120 from her for using one of her own images, because Getty had scraped it from the Library of Congress. She replied with a billion dollar law suit. This morning Airey told the ABC she was confident that thanks to Getty’s lawyers, Highsmith ‘will go away’, in the same way oligarchs are confident that only stupid people pay taxes. But big archives are deliberately blurring the distinction between copyright and usage fees for their own gain and against the interests of image users. When I look at things like Getty’s ‘worthy’ Getty Images Instagram Grant for third world photographers, their behaviour in the algorithmic space of digital archives just makes me shout at the radio.
I’m saddened by the prospect that the fatal algorithms of this app might actually being used by some hapless people on their snapshots. Photographic contingency, the precious flame worshiped by generations of photographic theorists, is extinguished by the cold blast of these automatic operations. Time, memory, and place are all sucked into their frigid black hole. In the future the image will no longer prick or prod us with the unexpected, it must lie supine. Under the tyranny of these ‘healing’ tools photography no longer records but projects pale antiseptic fantasies. Yes, fantasy has always been a part of the snapshot, but at least they were constructive fictions, what is proposed here is solipsistic fantasy through erasure and exclusion.
Some images taken by Alex Hobba of the magic lantern performance ‘Tragic Drowning Fatality’ performed by Martyn Jolly and Alexander Hunter at Siteworks 2016, Bundanon, with: thirty original magic lantern slides from the 1880s to the 1920s; two JW Steward magic lanterns from the 1880s dissolving one slide projection into another; members of the ANU Experimental Music Ensemble (Ben Harb, Andrew Ryan, Jack Livingston and Chloe Hobbs) on double bass, guitar and percussion; and actors from the region (Kez and Libby Thompson, Peter Lavelle and Clare Jolly) reading verbatim coronial testimony of an actual double drowning that happened in the Shoalhaven River in 1922.
“We understand that these limitations will sometimes affect content shared for legitimate reasons, including awareness campaigns or artistic projects, and we apologise for the inconvenience.” Facebook on the removal of the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph The Terror of War by Nick Ut.
‘We apologise for the inconvenience’ is a curious turn of phrase for Facebook to use. It’s something a big company tells a little person when something inevitable is about to happen and there’s nothing they can do about it – a major road widening, or a server upgrade, say. It’s not something you expect to hear when an entire sphere of public discourse is morally recalibrated. Was it an entirely digital algorithm that sampled the pixels in Ut’s photograph, calculated ‘naked child’, and automatically executed the function ‘delete’. Or was it a lowly paid, poorly educated, Facebook shift worker who saw a naked child and knew that there was only one rule to follow in the Facebook rulebook: ‘delete’. Either way, Zuckerberg’s convenient contention is that Facebook is just a technical ‘platform’, so that such chilling acts of censorship, which are occurring frequently in other cases involving breasts or photographs of family intimacy, are just an inconvenience to be met with a begrudging and hollow apology. The alternative seems to be that Facebook is a publisher, and therefore needs editors with a depth of cultural knowledge and personal agency. The former is toxic for the way we are all forced to rely on Facebook as the only game in town, and the latter obviously doesn’t fit Zuckerberg’s globally rapacious business model.
“O.K. So it’s banal, but ‘The Family of Man’ set me off and I’ve been trying ever since. Trying to become a photographer and not just someone who takes photographs. I became a diarist with a camera. I tried to simply record the things which interested me from day to day. I taught myself enough rough technique and practice continually. Even now I sit in front of the tele and watch junk through an 85mm, move dials, press buttons and go through all the motions. I honestly believe this helps. I became less conscious of the camera and it more a part of me. My prints are rough hard and grainy, which just what Sydney is like. The light is fierce, the summer hot and humid, the bush inhuman and the population complacently cruel enough to accept two decades of flabby self-congratulatory ignorance, cushioned and smothered by the soft folds of the Menzies arse. This is a harsh society with few shades of grey, where paradise is still a Monaro with four on the floor and up you Jack I’m alright.” — John Williams 1974
As John used to say: “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you”
My colleague from the University of Canberra, Louise Curham, and myself are convening a session on reenactment at the conference of the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand, ‘The Work of Art’, to be held in Canberra 1-3 December. Check out the call for papers. Proposals are due to Louise by 26 August. Here is our session abstract:
In the footsteps of others
Louise Curham (University of Canberra) and Martyn Jolly (Australian National University)
This session follows on from the 2015 AAANZ panel on re-enactment and repetition as generative strategies used by contemporary artists. Extending those ideas, this panel explores the broader idea of ‘walking in the footsteps of others’ as an empathic, affective experience. Reenactment has surrounded us in contemporary art and museum practice. At AAANZ 2015, a panel convened by Lucas Ihlein and Louise Curham discussed “Re-enactment / Repetition / Reiteration / Re-performance as embodied research”. Developing from the lively discussion that that panel engendered, we ask again, why re-enact? We know the work re-enactment can do for traditional idea of preservation (Santone, 2008). We know the problems of trying to touch an authentic past, the queasiness of the syncopation of the time of the earlier work and the time of our work (Schneider, 2011). So why do it again? Perhaps it’s different if we ask why walk in the footsteps of others? This session invites reflections on the empathic, affective experience of 2 doing something that’s been done before, a strategy that contemporary curators, historians and artists continue to deploy, as performance studies scholar Rebecca Schneider puts it, we to try to get at a past that is not present and yet, through re-enactment, not not present. Through this lens of we can also again pick over the problems of the authentic original, the work re-enactment can do for preservation, along with what happens when we try to re-stage, re-enact and repeat from within the institution. Contributions are invited for this panel involving (but not limited to): • Walking in the footsteps of others – we think of re-enactment as putting us in a specific material relation to experiences from the past. What happens if this is reframed as an attempt to absorb something of the forces of the past, their affect? • How does re-enactment relate to reproduction? In reproduction the material end-result of the work of art is remanufactured. However in reenactment the process of art work itself is reconstructed. The reenactor becomes a reworker. • The experience of curation, the work of art history and making artworks as re-enactment • The impact of the experience of re-enactment. What might it do to audiences, be they readers, gallery visitors, peers? Why re-enact? • Discussion of ‘contact’ with work from the past – learnings about the original and its preservation and how we do the work of ‘archiving’ • Exploration of specific Australian contributions to this field. We also invite non-traditional and performative presentations which physically enact or re-enact as their creative / scholarly contributions to this panel (pending technical feasibility and approval of the AAANZ conference convenors).
The camera is being reconfigured, so we have to rethink camera/subject relations. Not only is the thing itself disappearing, with production of one of the most emblematic objects of modernity halving in one year (thanks to Jason O’Brien from the ANU for that tip-off), but there are more and more signs that the shuttling back and forth of object and image is becoming a permanent enmeshment. Clothing is being engineered to resist the paparazzi’s blast. Kate Moss, one of the most papped women of all time, models a T shirt engineered just for her. Seemingly an innocent black T shirt, it briefly broadcasts ‘FUCK YOU CUNT’ when hit with a photographer’s flash, thereby supposedly rendering the image worthless in the celebrity marketplace (although, cannily, this anti-pap campaign only adds to Kate’s celebrity value). Apple have also just patented a ‘concert camera blocker’, which undermines one of the main uses of its own smart phones by emitting infrared signals from a stage disabling smart phone cameras, technologically enforcing ‘reality’ onto concert goers who may prefer their pop culture mediated. I’m sure there are other examples. We photo theorists are still too hung up on images and image ubiquity, we need to think about other dissolving technological categories as well.
In 212BC Archimedes supposedly used a parabolic ‘burning mirror’ to set the attacking Roman ships on fire. In 1646 Anthanasius Kircher, in his book The Great Art of Light and Shadow speculated that Archimedes would have had more success if he had used multiple mirrors each focusing the sun in a giant parabolic shape. Kircher’s groundbreaking catoptrics were borne out in today’s solar furnaces and generators. Now Spencer Tunick revises the idea at the current republican convention and with his trademark naked participants. As 100 nude women hold large mirror discs ‘to reflect the knowledge and wisdom of progressive women and the concept of “Mother Nature” into and onto the convention center’ Tunick joins the figurative metaphor of enlightenment to age old catoptric science. However the women are phalanxed to form a series of flat reflective surfaces. The work would have had a different valency if he had organised their naked bodies into a parabolic surface as Kircher suggested, focussing their rays onto Trump , who invites volatility.